When does the autumn end? It’s a question I’ve certainly asked in the past and today it was the turn of MPs on the Defence Select Committee to try to find the answer.
'Is it before the last leaf has dropped from the trees?’ Labour MP John Spellar mused.
‘In this country, or the US?’, Conservative Mark Francois MP pondered.
In the end, it was Stephen Lovegrove, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, who attempted to shed light on the matter.
'There’s always a debate as to exactly when the autumn comes,’ he said. 'Certainly, by the end of the year.’
He’s not wrong. Autumn ends on December 21st.
But that sentence is the latest admission that results of the Modernising Defence Programme could be pushed back even further.
For months now, we’ve been waiting to hear details of the latest review of the department’s finances, resources and staffing.
First, we were told it would be before Parliament broke for summer. Then ‘in the Autumn’.
Now it seems late December is the backstop.
Stephen Lovegrove told the Defence Select Committee that most of the diagnostic work on the project has now been done but, in order to make decisions on the future of Armed Forces capabilities, a settlement needed to be met with the Treasury.
The Head of that Department - Chancellor Phillip Hammond - will walk out with his red box for the 2018/19 budget in three weeks’ time. But the chances of any more money being given to defence is, sources say, unlikely.
Though with every day that goes by without an answer, threats are evolving, and the Modernising Defence Programme becomes more out of date.
The admission that decisions may not now be made until the end of the year does not make making them any easier.