The Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) latest Briefing Paper warns of the risks of steep spending cuts across those UK departments and agencies directly responsible for tackling illegal migration and organised crime and supporting UK diplomacy.
Were the 25% or 40% cuts now being considered by Her Majesty’s Treasury in these areas to take place, the “implications for national security could be considerable”. Defence and security Think Tank RUSI feels such cuts would cast doubts on the “credibility and coherence” of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), despite the assurances made on rising real-terms budgets for defence and aid.
Furthermore, the Briefing Paper goes on to suggest that an additional £400 million in annual spending by 2019-2020 would provide real-term protection for each of these capabilities.
Entitled ‘The Missing Links in SDSR Financing: Organised Crime, Migration and Diplomacy’ and authored by Professor Malcolm Chalmers (RUSI’s research director), the Briefing Paper argues that, ahead of the forthcoming SDSR, the Conservative Government has made commitments that the UK “is willing to devote the resources necessary to remain a serious power on the international stage, backing up its ambitions with real increases in funding for both defence and development.”
However, if the SDSR were to be accompanied by steep reductions in spending on the diplomatic network, or by significant cuts in the resources available for combating organised crime and illegal migration, it could risk undermining the wider coherence and credibility of the review.
The Government would be open to the criticism that it was prepared to devote substantial resources to meeting international norms for defence and aid spending while at the same time cutting spending in areas more directly related to national security, foreign policy and prosperity objectives.
The Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The RUSI report identifies how the Government has not been willing to match the budgetary protection for defence and official development assistance with similar commitments to other security-related departments which, at least in part, also fall within the SDSR – specifically, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Instead, these two departments – as is the case with most unprotected ministries – have been asked by the Treasury to model the effects of reducing their recurrent budgets (ie the Resource Departmental Expenditure Limit, DEL) by either 25% or 40% over the next four years.
Despite the emphasis placed in the SDSR on the value of international partnerships, the key department charged with realising this aspiration – ie the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – has seen a 19% fall in core recurrent spending in real terms and is being asked to model further cuts of 25% and 40% in its budget.
RUSI’s Briefing Paper suggests: “If the core departmental budget was to be subjected to take cuts comparable to the 25% and 40% scenarios currently being discussed with the Treasury, the consequences could well dominate perceptions of the 2015 SDSR just as cuts in defence dominated coverage of the 2010 review.”
The Briefing Paper identifies how “no budgetary protection has been provided around Home Office capabilities for tackling organised crime”. For example, the National Crime Agency’s £427 million budget is considered to be part of the Home Office’s baseline budget, while local police forces have seen their budget fall by 25% in real terms. Both play a big part in tackling organised crime.
Close relationships to organised crime and conflict
RUSI suggests that tackling migration has not been a major issue for the SDSR so far, “but there’s a strong argument that issues of illegal immigration and refugee flows should be, given their close relationships – respectively – to organised crime and conflict.”
In addition, RUSI suggests: “Given the pressures that they now face, it’s hard to believe that cuts of the magnitude that the Border and Immigration Directorates have made since 2010 could be repeated in the next Spending Review without significant adverse consequences for the ability of these agencies to respond to the national security problems created by poorly regulated movements of people.”
The RUSI Briefing Paper estimates that an additional 2019-2020 allocation of £400 million would be required to provide real-terms protection to the agencies with lead responsibility for combating organised crime, managing migration and conducting international diplomacy. RUSI states: “This might well be possible given that the Chancellor has some room left for relaxation in the pace of departmental spending reductions, while still keeping to his objective of generating a substantial budget surplus by 2019-2020.”
In conclusion, the RUSI Briefing Paper comments: ‘Such protection would not be a magic bullet but, alongside the much larger investments now being promised for defence, development and counter-terrorism, it would go a long way towards financing the three ‘missing links’ in security provision that could otherwise emerge as a result of the Spending Review.’
*Download the RUSI Briefing Paper ‘The Missing Links in SDSR Financing: Organised Crime, Migration and Diplomacy’ by visiting: https://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/SDSRMissingLinks.pdf