Defence industry needs PR rethink

September 2, 2009

defenceBritain’s defence industry held its annual public relations exercise on Tuesday at London’s swanky Atrium Restaurant in Westminster.

The “charm” offensive –- held under the auspices of trade body the Defence Industries Council (DIC) –- began with executives from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and QinetiQ, among others, telling assorted media that the defence industry needs more investment (not less) even during a recession.

The head of Rolls-Royce’s defence and aerospace business went so far as to say that Britain’s armaments sector could “lead us out of recession”, thanks to the jobs it creates and the exports it fuels.

The industry may well employ 300,000 people in Britain and generate an annual turnover of £35 billion but to say it needs more investments — it gets around £38 billion a year from the government — at a time when unemployment is at its highest level for 13 years smacks of greed.

Perhaps the remarks were made as a warning shot to political parties not to cut the annual defence budget at a time when spending is under the microscope.

Next year Britain conducts its first strategic defence review in more than a decade and with a general election due by June 2010, the issue of how to cut a record budget deficit will certainly be one of the central themes.

However, Britain has some 9,000 troops in Afghanistan and critics say a lack of helicopters makes them particularly vulnerable to roadside bombs so perhaps a redistribution of resources is the right move.

After all, 210 British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

But to flag up the government’s annual spend on education (£88 billion), health (£119 billion) and social protection (£189 billion) as reasons to show how the poor old defence industry needs more cash is surely unrealistic –- and rather tasteless — in the extreme.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I’ve always been amused at the label ‘defence’ industry, when the vast majority of what it produces is dedicated to ‘offense’.

Of course, spending on defence to lead a country out of a recession isn’t a new concept. I think a certain Mr. A. Hitler also followed that strategy.

The trouble, of course, with spending on defence is that someone standing at the nasty end of what that spending creates is going to cop it…

Posted by Alexander | Report as abusive

Oh, where to start, inaccuracies from the beginning…

* This is not an annual industry event. It is the first time anything like this has taken place.
* The Atrium is actually a restaurant in the same building as several news organisations, it was held there to encourage them to attend and it worked.
* The industry demonstrated why more money spent on defence makes sense for the troops, the economy and national security. It was made clear that any decision on spending was for future Governments and the reports were intended to inform the Strategic Defence Review to demonstrate the industrial aspect of any such decisions.
* In the Oxford Economics report commissioned by the DIC it clearly demonstrates the benefits that more spening on defence can bring to the broader economy to help us move out of recession. The industry would not simply say something and expect people to believe it as is written here, the research backs up the statement. As we need to re-balance our economy, high-tech manufacturing will be a major part of that. 10% of manufacturing jobs are in defence.
* The reports make clear that a quarter of the £38bn defence budget is spent on equipment.
* With unemployment so high and with every 1 new job in defence identified as creating 1.6 new jobs elsewhere in the economy, doesn’t this make an argument in favour of more defence spending?
* The reports demonstrated that other Government department budgets have risen as a proportion of GDP over the last 20 years while spending on defence has fallen from 4.4% to 2.3% of GDP. The point being that if public expenditure is to be cut after the election it cannot be in defence, that sector has already been cut and the results of that are seen regularly in the media.
* With 4,000 industry personnel in Afghanistan the sector is fully committed to the armed forces and our reason to exist is to equip them.

Make your own mind up at

Posted by Matthew Knowles | Report as abusive

The author of this blog is spot on: Why would British citizens want to see yet more cash spent on pointless wars abroad during a recession and when countless people are losing their jobs at home?
The cash could be better spent on creating jobs in the UK, not on weapons etc…
Cut the defence budget, don’t increase it!

Posted by simon stewart | Report as abusive