The Ministry of Defence Police plans to cut recruitment in order to make £12.5m in savings, continuing a pattern of cuts since austerity measures began in 2010.

Audio: Eamon Keating, chairman of the Defence Police Federation

 

This latest round could reduce the real amount of officers guarding the UK’s nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous devices on the planet.

There are roughly 16,000 around the globe. Around 10,000 are currently in active military arsenals, the rest decommissioned and awaiting dismantlement.

Of those active, the UK has around 225, according to the latest figures from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a publication set up by Manhattan Project scientists in 1945.

Responsibility for guarding the UK’s nuclear arsenal against sabotage, terrorism and infiltration attempts lies with the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP).

This is a civilian police force, the same as any other force in the country, only maintained by the Ministry of Defence.

The force is armed and are responsible for protecting all of the MOD’s highest-end critical assets, including the continuous at-sea deterrent system known as Trident and the naval bases where the nuclear stockpiles are housed.

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Replacing the current class of Trident’s nuclear submarines, approved 472 votes to 117 in the commons last year, is “likely to cost a total of £31bn (including inflation over the lifetime of the programme)” according to a government report.

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There will also be a contingency of £10bn to cover additional costs and a further £250m is earmarked for maintaining the nuclear missiles themselves.

In that context £12.5m might not sound like much but it’s a lot to take from an already-overstretched police force tasked with protecting the UK’s nukes.

“About 12 years ago we were sitting at just over 5,000 officers,” says Eamon Keating, Chairman of the Defence Police Federation, the representative body for the force. “Our complement now is sitting at 2,600-odd and this cut will take us below 2,300 if it’s taken forward.”

After years of cuts the department is already running on the bare necessities of equipment and processes, and are only able to meet this new savings target by reducing staff. The force will accomplish this by cancelling recruitment efforts to replace current vacancies and officers leaving service.

Keating says he thinks the Ministry will attempt to limit the reduction in security around nuclear establishments as much as possible but as a significant proportion of the MDP are committed to nuclear protection, it will inevitably be affected. This means, in real terms, fewer people could be protecting the sites where nuclear weapons are stored.

We can’t lose 300 people and not have an impact on security, and part of that security is the nuclear deterrent.

The cuts do more than just reduce the amount of police. According to Keating, the impact on the morale and performance of the remaining force is significant.

There are fewer officers (but) there is still an expectation that we’ll deliver the same product. That’s an additional strain on (MDP officers) because they’re working that much harder, they’re working overtime.

The Ministry of Defence, along with all other ministries, has faced multiple cuts under the Conservative government over the last decade. The particular issue of police cuts loomed large in the recent election cycle, with Labour accusing the Tories of weakening the countries defences by reducing the number of officers as well as the resources available to them. The Tories in turn accused Labour of not supporting the UK’s nuclear deterrent, arguing it is the country’s greatest defence against attack.

Though both sides of the commons are now in agreement on renewing Trident and a budget has been earmarked, cuts such as those in the MDP indicate the auxiliary services essential to maintenance of the nuclear deterrent might fall short.

Keating believes those making the cuts genuinely lack an understanding of the risks they are generating.

I think it’s a ludicrous idea that you would put a cost limit on your security and then decide what your response will be against risk.

When reached for comment, the Ministry of Defence said in an email: “We are confident that the strength of our force keeps our people, sites and equipment safe.”

The ministry also stated the strength of the MDP has remained consistent at around 2,500 for the past few years and with that number was able to provide a significant number of officers as part of the Operation Temperer response to the Manchester attacks.

But Keating said that, though the force are doing their best to maintain the current situation, it cannot last under increased pressure from cuts. “(It’s) not sustainable. We’re doing it at the moment, but it will collapse if it continues this way.”

Eventually you break, people will collapse under the weight.