£74m: the cost of guarding nuclear bombs and submarines 3

£74m: the cost of guarding nuclear bombs and submarines

More than £74 million of public money is spent every year to guard Trident warheads and nuclear submarines on the Clyde and across the UK, according to official figures.

Nearly half the total budget for the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) goes on armed police protecting the nuclear bases at Faslane and Coulport near Helensburgh, bomb factories in Berkshire and the nuclear convoys that shuttle between them.

The spending has been attacked by politicians and campaigners as a hidden cost of maintaining Trident weapons of mass destruction. If Trident were scrapped, the money could be better spent on public services, such as improved policing, they say.

A “policing plan” just released online show that the MDP’s annual budget amounts to £159 million. Of that, £74 million is spent on safeguarding the nuclear defence programme.

This includes £54m on “nuclear armed policing”, £9m on “nuclear marine policing” and £6m on “nuclear tactical support”. Some £5m goes on guarding the 20-vehicle nuclear bomb convoys that drive between Berkshire and the Clyde up to six times a year (see table below).

Some of the rest of the budget will also cover nuclear policing, including quick response, counter terrorism, training and headquarters operations. One of the main aims of the UK’s 2,600 MoD police officers is “the secure and uninterrupted operation of the UK nuclear deterrent”, the plan says.

To help deter and prevent threats from terrorists, criminals and enemies, the MDP has a tactical support group providing “high­end specialist police firearms capability”. A “special escort group” accompanies nuclear convoys on every road trip.

There’s an operational support group that can be deployed at short notice. Its capabilities include arms and explosive search teams, maintaining public order and “firearms response”.

The MDP also has “protester removal teams” to deal with people who have locked themselves to each other or to fences. “This capability includes specialist policing at heights teams, who can safely deal with protest activity that takes place at height,” it says.

John Finnie MSP, the justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, described the MDP’s spending as “yet another cost to the public purse as a result of this immoral and unusable weapons system.”

He said: “At a time when the budget of Police Scotland is increasingly under strain many people will rightly question how this money could be better spent in their own communities.

“Whether that means more officers on the beat or retaining a call handling centre, this money could and should be better spent in communities, not guarding the MoD’s vanity project.”

The SNP’s defence spokesperson at Westminster, Brendan O’Hara MP, lambasted Trident as immoral, obscene and redundant. The costs of policing it were “another worrying sign” of the massive cost of nuclear weapons, he said.

“We face new and different defence and security challenges in the 21st Century and dumping the biggest nuclear arsenal in history half an hour from Scotland’s biggest centre of population is not the answer and never will be.”

According to David Cullen, from the Trident watchdog group Nuclear Information Service, the £74m nuclear policing budget was “a huge extra cost that is hidden from the public”. He questioned whether this was the best use of public money.

“There is very little public accountability and local people will rightly wonder what benefit they are getting for the millions being spent,” he said.

John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, argued that Trident diverted money from projects that could make life safer. “If this £74 million was given to Police Scotland then we would have more police officers on the ground,” he said.

“If we scrapped Trident then we would no longer have to spend millions on nuclear convoys, protecting nuclear bunkers and escorting Trident submarines in Garelochhead and Loch Long.”

The Ministry of Defence pointed out that the policing costs were publicly reported. They in-service costs of the nuclear deterrent, including its policing, were only six per cent of the annual defence budget.

“The nuclear deterrent is the ultimate guarantee of our national security, which is why MPs on all sides voted overwhelmingly to renew it,” said an MoD spokesman.

“Needless to say, safeguarding that deterrent is vital, and the MDP’s role in that essential task is openly and unashamedly reflected in their annual plan.”

Ministry of Defence Police annual spending

Nuclear armed policing £53.8 million
Nuclear marine policing£8.9 million
Nuclear tactical support£6 million
Nuclear convoys£5 million
Nuclear sub-total£73.7 million
Non-nuclear policing£37 million
Quick response, counter terrorism£16.7 million
Policing for others£12.7 million
Training£7.3 million
Headquarters£6.6 million
Criminal investigation£4.5 million
Community policing£0.6 million
Non-nuclear sub-total£85.4 million
Total spending£159.1 million
Source: Ministry of Defence Police

Photo thanks to REadyphotr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A version of this story was first published by the Sunday Herald on 28 August 2016.

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