This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 24 June 2022
This is the report summary, read the full report.
Scotland is experiencing a new era of confidence and investment in the defence sector. Record UK Government spending on defence has led to major MOD investment in Scotland, primarily at HMNB Clyde and RAF Lossiemouth. Clyde is in the midst of a £1.6 billion infrastructure project—which will see its personnel grow from 7,000 to 8,200—and has become home to the UK’s entire submarine service. Lossiemouth—which in 2011 was at threat of closure—has now become a ‘superbase’, receiving £470m in infrastructure investment. It is one of two RAF Quick Reaction Alert stations protecting UK airspace and has become home to four Typhoon squadrons, two Poseidon squadrons and, in 2023, will welcome the new E-7 Wedgetail aircraft. Scotland’s contribution is vital to the defence of the UK and pivotal to the UK’s contribution to NATO.
The defence landscape in Scotland is not limited to the MOD’s activities; there is also significant defence activity in the private sector amongst both prime contractors and SMEs who are able to benefit from increases in MOD investment. MOD spending with Scottish industry was close to £2 billion in 2020/21, which was almost 10% of the MOD’s total spending with industry that year; higher than Scotland’s 8% population share of the UK. We heard that the UK’s status on the world stage is very dependent on the defence industry facilities it has in Scotland. That said, defence SMEs in Scotland are currently losing out. The MOD admits that Scotland accounts for a small proportion of the MOD’s spending with SMEs. Only 2.5% of the MOD’s total spending with UK SMEs in 2020/21 was spent in Scotland, far lower than Scotland’s population share of the UK. We heard that culture change was needed in the MOD, and in its prime contractors, to address perceptions of engrained hesitancy towards working with Scottish SMEs.
The MOD has embarked on a great rationalisation of its bases across the UK, including in Scotland. It says it is working hard to deliver a fit for purpose, affordable and smaller defence estate, with the goal of a 30% reduction by 2040. MOD Caledonia, Forthside Barracks and Meadowforth Barracks are scheduled for closure in Scotland this year, followed by Redford Cavalry and Infantry Barracks in 2029 and Fort George in 2032 (although some bases may be retained in part). We heard that the impacts of base closures depend on where they are. In prosperous areas bases can become much-needed sites for housing or businesses but, in less affluent areas, the consequences can be damaging and long-lasting, exacerbating falling and ageing population challenges facing much of rural Scotland. The MOD should intensify its collaboration efforts with all Scottish local authorities facing base closures and base expansions, and engage with them at earlier stages in those processes, for example by jointly producing and acting on impact assessments.
Collaboration between the UK and Scottish governments on defence matters is viewed very differently between governments. While the UK Government says it is committed to working closely and positively with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Government says that, although MOD basing decisions often have consequences for devolved areas of policy, the UK Government is failing to maximise opportunities through robust intergovernmental dialogue that would bring benefits to both governments. The MOD admits that collaboration on defence matters has suffered disruption due to the pandemic, but is keen to do better. For the benefit of military communities who rely on locally-provided services, and communities nearby to MOD bases who share the same local services, it is important that collaboration improves.
Military personnel and their families can face many challenges when moving bases between England and Scotland—for example in relation to child education (due to differing education systems and learning styles), the transfer of healthcare between NHS services, differing income tax rates and spousal employment, especially the transfer of professional qualifications between UK nations. The importance of providing useful information to such personnel and their families—and in varying and accessible formats—is vital to a smooth transition. While improvements have been made, there is scope for the MOD to be more proactive in the information it routinely shares with Armed Forces personnel and their families when they move to bases in Scotland, and from Scotland. The UK Government should also accelerate work with relevant responsible bodies across the UK to reduce barriers that military spouses and partners face when attempting to transfer their professional qualifications between UK nations.