The £73m annual bill for policing the UK's military nuclear programme

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Providing police cover for the UK's military nuclear programme costs £73m a year according to the latest policing plan for the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP). The MDP are a police force who patrol the sites connected with the UK's nuclear weapons including Aldermaston, Burghfield, Devonport and Faslane. The MDP patrol a total of 120 sites, but the costs for nuclear policing account for almost half their annual budget.

The £73m for providing police protection is a hidden cost which is not generally considered in the debate about the costs of the UK's nuclear programme. The cost of providing armed policing at military nuclear sites is budgeted as £53.8 million over the 2016-17 financial year, with a further £6.0 million allocated for nuclear tactical support. The MDP's policing plan gives separate costs for police escorts for nuclear convoys (£5m a year) and marine patrols at the submarine bases (£8.9m a year). Other costs – such as the share of headquarters, training, and criminal investigation costs relating to nuclear policing – are not included in these figures, and nor are the costs of providing additional policing resources for large demonstrations at nuclear bases. The costs of providing military protection for the UK's nuclear weapons and submarines, provided by Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, is also accounted for separately.

The £73m total includes the cost of police protection for nuclear powered Trafalgar and Astute class submarines as well as the nuclear armed Vanguard class; because all the vessels use the same bases at Faslane and Devonport, it would be difficult to account separately for their policing costs.

The MDP was formed from the amalgamation in the 1970s of three forces, who had separate responsibility for the Army, Air Force and Navy. In recent years their numbers have been cut by a third since 2010, and a further cut of 15% is proposed, prompting criticism from the chairman of the Defence Police Federation, who said that current staffing levels were “not sustainable without risks to employees or security”.

The necessity of a dedicated police force for Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites has been questioned in the past and the government are currently holding a review on the possibility of integrating policing for critical national infrastructure, which could see the MDP merged with other forces such as the British Transport Police, who patrol the railways and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, who patrol civilian nuclear sites. The current MDP policing plan pledges to work with this review while talking up the “unique policing services” of the MDP, which include specialist dog units and protester removal teams. Intelligence gathering and analysis is also listed as one of their 'core competencies', after providing security to the nuclear programme and bases.

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