NATO forces thinned out significantly in past decade

05 January 2015

The NATO has in the decade+ seen its forces supplied by the EU5, both in terms of personnel and hardware, shrink dramatically. Its manpower has decreased by nearly a third, while the number of tanks has dropped by more than 75%, reveals a study from Roland Berger. The drop in armed power is the consequence of structural cuts in defence spending, and a shift in focus to more state-of-the-art combat approaches and warfare machinery.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance, which spans the Atlantic. The organisation constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO has 28 member states, with much of Europe member, while Canada and the United States make up the bulk of the contribution from the Americas. It is funded by its members at an agreed on guideline of 2% of GDP, with the United States contributing the largest share of defence spending.

Manpower and Combat Aircraft

In the recently released report ‘Whither Defence? Preparing for the next SDSR’ from Roland Berger, the strategy consultants assess among others the state of NATO’s forces. One analysis the authors shed light on is the NATO contribution of the five largest European countries (EU5*) between 2000 and 2013. The findings show that defensive capabilities in both personnel and hardware have reduced significantly in terms of numbers. Since 2000, in terms of manpower, there has been a 31% reduction, from 1.3 million to 907,000 people, across the five key member states. The number of combat aircraft too has decreased significantly, falling 35.6% from 1,973 to 1,270 across the key states. The starkest decrease has been for the armoured divisions, tank numbers have plummeted by 75.4%. The battle tank stock across the five states has decreased from 5,878 to 1,447, with Germany reducing its tank division by almost 90%, from 2,808 to 322. The Navy has seen its forces, in numbers, reduced by 33.6%.

It needs to be noted that a quantitative reduction need not mean a qualitative one. For instance, with the phasing out of third and fourth generation fighter jets, to be replaced by less of the more versatile fifth generation fighters, capability is not necessarily reduced while numbers drop. The addition of drones, state-of-the-art espionage technology and modern warfare machinery are other examples of areas where effectiveness is has been boosted despite lower numbers.

Principal Surface Combatants and Main Battle Tanks

UK reductions
Besides the cut in NATO forces, the UK too has been cutting into its defence departments. In its 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the UK government set out its plans for the defence of the realm for the coming five years. During this period the UK government has undergone the biggest spending cuts in a generation, in response to severe fiscal challenges following the 2008 financial crisis, few government departments have come out unscathed. The department of defence is no different, losing 8% of its funding in real terms during the four years since the review. Compared to thirty years ago, total spending relative to GDP halved, from around 5% in the ‘80s to just over 2% in 2014. In comparison, the US – the world’s biggest spender in the domain – spends 4.3% of its GDP on defence last year. 

UK Defence Spending

For the UK this has consequently meant a number of reductions in capabilities. The implications for the Air Force: personnel to be reduced by 5,000 to 33,000 by 2015, reduced Tornado fleet, removal of Harrier fleet from service, reduced F-35 JSF procurement, removal of a number of support aircraft like the C-130J Hercules. For the Armed Forces this has meant that personnel are to be reduced by 7,000 to 95,500 by 2015, a 40% reduction in holdings of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, replacement of four regional divisional HQs with one UK support command; closure of at least two of 10 regional brigade HQs, and much more. The reduction in the capabilities of Naval Forces has meant a personnel reduction of 5,000 to 30,000 by 2015, a number of frigates have been decommissioned as well as the aircraft carrier the HMS Ark Royal.

* Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kindgom.


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Manchester Mayor criticised for £250,000 consulting spend

19 March 2019

The Mayor of Greater Manchester has been criticised for splurging hundreds of thousands of pounds on consulting fees before determining that the region’s fire brigade must slash its budget by millions. Andy Burnham put more than £250,000 towards work from ten consulting firms as part of a review into the region’s emergency services.

Despite the continued argument that projects like the Northern Powerhouse initiative are helping to address the North-South divide in the UK, statistics still show that the North has borne the brunt of austerity in England. Northern English cities have been disproportionately affected, with their spending cut on average by a fifth since 2010, while cities in the south and east of England had average losses of 9%.

The impact of spending cuts has been keenly felt in Greater Manchester in particular, where local government spending has fallen by as much as £650 per person since 2009 in some parts of the region. As the area looks to find further savings, while the Central Government continues to fail to deliver on its pledge to end austerity, it has been announced that the fire brigade for Greater Manchester faces a reduction of up to £10 million from its budget.

The swingeing cuts to hit the emergency service would likely see its fleet of fire engines reduced from 56 to 47, while six fire stations face closure, and 113 support staff could suffer the axe. The news follows an investigation from Mayor Andy Burnham, which was triggered in part by the admission of Chief Fire Officer, Jim Wallace, that since 2015 the service has failed to deliver “its own efficiency plan”.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham spent £268,300 to review the city’s fire service

The review itself has been far from inexpensive, however, and it has led some to accuse Burnham of hypocrisy. During the review of the fire service, which has delivered demands for the service to find major efficiency savings, the Greater Manchester Mayor reportedly splurged £268,300 in public funds on consulting work for his root-and-branch review.

According to local newspaper Manchester Evening News, Burnham tasked ten different consultancies with helping to compile the review, receiving payments ranging from £101,000 to £7,000. The largest amount was handed to Leicester headquartered P. Cooper & Associates for the expertise of a “senior change and transformation programme specialist,” while it was reported that another of the consultants gave “guidance on leadership and culture”.

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) spokesman said of the spending: “The Programme for Change programme has required input from specialists who are expert in areas such as organisational transformation, operating models for fire safety and estates.”

Manchester’s fire brigade was criticised in 2017 when, in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing, a report by Lord Kerslake noted crews had been held back from helping. Contrary to helping deliver a more efficient service, Unison has told the press that it believes the proposed cuts will make the residents of Greater Manchester “less safe”. With the expenditure of the review on private sector consultants now public, meanwhile, the union has slammed the report for throwing away public funds while jeopardising vital public sector work.

Unison represents the 113 staff who may lose their jobs, and a spokesperson for the union told Manchester Evening News, "It's disappointing that when finances are clearly tight, priority has been given to hiring external consultants rather than engaging with the workforce. This will be a shock to our members who were only told on Monday their jobs were at risk."

In recent years, a succession of local authorities have come under fire from officials and the general public for their consulting spending in the UK. Earlier in 2019, a freedom of information request by The Times revealed that local councils across the UK have spent around £400 million on consulting firms in the last year alone. According to the report, this represents a rise of more than a fifth since 2014, with critics using the figures to call into question the value added by engaging external expertise.

Commenting on the criticism many councils face, Tamzen Isacsson Chief Executive, Management Consultancies Association, said, “Consultants play a vital role in the public sector, [providing] transformational impacts, innovation and increased efficiency… Vital front line services continue to operate uninterrupted [while] consultants often help local authorities get better results with less money. As the MCA awards this year demonstrate consultants are delivering social benefits across the UK – from work on getting better outcomes for children in care to finding better processes for finding homes for vulnerable families in London these examples offer a true reflection of the consulting excellence that operates across the UK to the benefit of councils and the wider society.”