Today, Tuesday 21st November, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee took evidence on the Ministry of Defence’s Annual reports. Witnesses included the department’s Permanent Secretary, Stephen Lovegrove, Cat Little, Director General Finance and Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability.
As the MOD undergoes a National Security Capability Review, questions from the committee’s members turned towards what this would look like in practice, especially following rumours surrounding the future of the Royal Navy’s amphibious capability.
Johnny Mercer, Member of Parliament for Plymouth Moor View, quizzed the Permanent Secretary on reports in the Sun last weekend that the new Defence Secretary had sought additional funds from the Treasury. Mr Lovegrove replied simply, “No”, going on to say that he was “not aware of a formal request going from the Department to the Treasury for more funds.”
The inquiry session quickly turned onto the national security review and the implications that had on the Better Defence Estate Strategy, published by the MOD last year. In it, Plymouth was drawn up to benefit from the consolidation of the Royal Marines into a ‘superbase’, with units being transferred to Plymouth from Chivenor Barracks and Norton Manor Camp. Devonport itself would become an Amphibious Centre of Specialisation.
Yet, some of the speculation regarding Royal Marine numbers and the future of the amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, appeared to call into question Plymouth’s role as a centre of amphibious specialisation and the Moor View MP pressed the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, saying “There’s one part of your answer that is slightly open, General Poffley. In that strategy, the rebasing strategy, is Plymouth still going to remain the centre for the Royal Marines as stipulated in that document?”
The General’s curt reply, “It is”, will put to bed some of the rumours swirling by reaffirming the MOD’s commitment to Plymouth as a centre of amphibious operations, which will see the city benefit from the relocation of thousands of Royal Marines and the economic boost that will provide.
Speaking after the session, Mr Mercer, said:
“While some of the answers we had from today’s witnesses were not necessarily what I wanted to hear, I am pleased that the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff was able to reconfirm the MOD’s commitment to centralising the Royal Marines around Plymouth.
“The Better Defence Estate Strategy is a good thing for Plymouth. It will lead to an increased presence within the city from the Royal Marines and the economic benefits that entails for the city at large, but also improved accommodation and training facilities, worthy of such an elite force.”