Fancy sponsoring my navy, Mister?
Why aren't we looking towards sponsorship of our armed forces to solve our budgetary shortfall, like we have in the past?
I was looking at a painting in my Territorial Army drill hall the other night. It was a great oil painting of a parade of soldiers on a green lawn in front of an impressive old red brick building. The soldiers were in their finest uniforms, looking very grand, it must have been painted in the early Victorian period.
Something struck me about this painting, which I have not been able to stop thinking about, it was not the way the painter mange to capture the light, or the grandeur of the soldiers but rather it was the description underneath.
It said the soldiers were on parade to the City financiers who funded their Battalion.
Tax payer money has not always been the sole benefactor to fund the armed forces. This is a relatively recent phenomenon of funding which came about during the socialisation of the way the UK funds and controls the nation’s services and resources in the twentieth century.
Britain defeated Napoleon and grew its Empire under Victoria without the full burden of cost being passed on to the tax payer. To this day you can see some of the quirks from this diversity of funding.
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment Band can only wear their yellow tunics on parade if they have been given permission by the Queen or by the Lord Mayor of London, because in the past it was the City that paid for them.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear the United Kingdom needs to spend less tax payer money on the armed forces. The sad thing, in doing this it will seriously undermine the military capability of the country and as a result undermine British power on the world stage.
So the time has come for the UK to be practical if it wishes to carry on in the role and manner it plays.
Britain’s closest ally, the United States, spends almost five percent of its gross domestic product on its armed forces; the UK spends just under three percent. It is untenable for the UK to match America on military spending when it has a welfare state so heavily burdening it to little avail. It is clear however, that we must pull our weight in this alliance – many would say at a cost to any European military project also.
Since the Vietnam War Britain has been in almost all of the conflicts America has and if you throw the Falklands in, the UK is well matched with the US on the frequency of military deployments. If we still want to be a major world player, cutting down the size of our armed forces won’t help.
There is a very practical way to fund the British military which won’t affect the combat capability risk. That is to go back to the ‘good old days’ of benefactors sponsoring our military.
Maybe it is time to approach the big UK based insurance firms to strike a deal which will see them sponsor the Royal Navy in a similar way Barclays Bank sponsors the Boris Bikes in London. It could even be in their interest and save them a lot of money.
Big insurance firms such as Lloyds of London and JLT (who insure fourteen per cent of the world's commercial shipping fleet) are teaming up to fund their own private navy to deal with the Somali pirates. They are calling it the Convoy Escort Programme (CEP) which will see a private navy escort the ships the firms insure, though danger zones.
So instead of new private navy, the insurance companies should throw their coppers at the Royal Navy. If they help to fund the Navy with their sponsorship, which could go a long way in acquiring the aircraft carriers the UK needs, in return the Royal Navy could escort the insured ships though the pirate hot zone.
It’s not like it is unheard of for the Royal Navy to act as escort to private shipping; it’s what they did to great effect during two world wars.
Insurance companies build private navies, companies in danger areas use private armies. If we can tap into this market to help subsidise the finances of our armed forces, it will be a win-win situation.
Nic Conner is a freelance writer who tweets at @NiConner
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