David Cameron's pledge to boost defence spending 'just spin'
Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of using "PR to silence his critics" after pledging above-inflation rises in the defence budget after the next election.
The Westcountry has been hit hard by a series of cuts to personnel and warships following 2010's strategic defence and security review (SDSR).
Plymouth's Devonport Naval Base has been stripped of four warships while hundreds of servicemen and women in the region have been made redundant.
During a briefing with journalists on his trip to Algiers, Mr Cameron said he "did not resile" from the commitment in 2010 to increase the defence budget above inflation from 2015.
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But Duncan Garratt, who served in the Royal Artillery and was South West branch secretary of the UK National Defence Association, said: "The Armed Forces have been cut to the bone and many would say that it has gone far deeper than that.
"The SDSR was a shambles, it was not a strategic review of how we could face future threats, it was a cost-cutting exercise. It was about how the Government could trim the defence budget.
"David Cameron, like a lot of politicians, is very good at making promises that, given a general election, he may not have to deliver on.
"Much like the referendum on the EU, it is a bit of PR to silence his critics. But one of the key elements is whether Labour would also match the commitment he has made."
There was confusion within Government yesterday as Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was unable to confirm the Prime Minister's pledge.
Mr Hammond has published a detailed equipment plan for the next ten years which, he said, had finally eliminated a £79 billion "black hole" inherited from the former Labour government.
The £159 billion programme includes £35.8 billion for a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines, £18.5 billion for combat aircraft for the RAF and £17.4 billion for Royal Navy warships, including the Type 26 global combat ship which could ultimately be based at Devonport.
Tory backbenchers are among those voicing fears that the long-term capabilities of the military could be degraded unless more money is found.
The issue has been cast into sharper relief by the Government's commitment of up to 330 personnel and air support to the campaign against rebels in Mali.
Protecting defence budgets, along with NHS spending, could mean harsher treatment for the police and other services.
Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Mr Cameron of trying to cover up cuts to the armed forces by making "hollow promises" about the future.
"It's totally unclear to everybody what he's promising – he is saying one thing and his Defence Secretary is saying another," he said.
"Instead of trying to spin his way out of difficult decisions, as David Cameron is trying to do, he should just be straight with people and only make promises that he can keep."