The Royal Navy has operated a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent for 49 years. The UK’s current Vanguard-class submarines are due to be replaced from the early 2030s by new Dreadnought-class submarines. As of March 2018, the National Audit Office estimated 30,000 people were involved in the structures and industries that support the deterrent, known as the Nuclear Enterprise.
A recent National Audit Office report has evaluated the scale of the Nuclear Enterprise and challenges it may face. It expects a total spend on supporting the Nuclear Enterprise of £50.9 billion between 2018 and 2028—£2.9 billion more than the available budget. This figure assumes the Department will manage to make £3 billion in efficiency savings over the next decade.
The Department also must fill 337 important skills gaps to support the Enterprise whilst managing a complex supply chain of four main contractors (BAE Systems, Babcock, Rolls-Royce and AWE Management Ltd) and approximately 1,500 subcontractors.
The Committee has previously expressed concerns about management of the Defence budget. The Committee will take evidence from the Ministry of Defence and Submarine Delivery Agency to explore whether the Nuclear Enterprise is sustainable, and what they can do to ensure that new submarines are delivered on time and on budget.
(EDITOR’S NOTE/ On May 22, Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP has commented on the National Audit Office report on the Defence Nuclear Enterprise issued that day.
"The budget pressures on the Ministry of Defence’s nuclear programme are significant. In the next ten years, the MoD must find £2.9 billion to plug the gap in funding, despite already requiring £3 billion of savings.
“The department will need to make some critical decisions to get the programme on track financially.
“The Public Accounts Committee will be turning its attention to this programme, which accounts for 14 per cent of total defence spending this year.")