On Thursday in the Notebook column I reported the early stages of a merciless bureaucratic assault on the army stables.
It makes passing reference to Dudley, a six-year-old Irish-bred grey gelding, who is fitted with a leopard-skin saddle as mascot for the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
The article suggests that Dudley, like the other MoD horses, has a “through life cost” to the taxpayer of £150,000. This deserves to be corrected. A reader has let me know that Dudley may actually be a private military company, only indirectly benefiting from taxpayer support.
I would like to point out a quite significant misconception in your notebook piece: Dudley is not paid for by the defence budget but by the officers of the regiment, who all chip in to fund his procurement, through-life costs, and personal equipment. Technically he may therefore be a Private Military and Security Company.
Dudley, please accept my apologies. The full notebook extract is copied below.
Vicious horseplay puts army in spin
By Alex Barker
Few generals imagined it could come to this. Sure, the defence budget is shot. Aircraft carriers, jets – all the fancy kit is under threat. But horses? The Queen’s ceremonial horses? The mounted bands? What will be left?
It is, admittedly, at an early stage. But merciless bureaucrats at the Ministry of Defence are clearing a path to the knackers. The first step is complete: a full cost review into the likes of Dudley, a six-year-old gelding who proudly dons a leopard-skin saddle as mascot for the Queen’s Royal Hussars. The results do not bode well for his kind.
Applying for the first time the type of rigorous financial analysis usually saved for battleships and tanks, penny-wise defence officials have calculated the “through life cost” of a horse from birth to knacker’s yard.
The figure comes to about £150,000 per beast – a third of the shelf-price of a Mastiff armoured vehicle, one of the “workhorses” in Afghanistan. Axing one of the 22 army marching bands saves £3m over three years. “Astonishing,” said one old hand at the MoD, who denies any ill will to ponies. “We’re reliving history. This is a real horse or tank moment.”
An unholy row is brewing over the calculation, which presumably covers shelter, training and mucking out. Guards officers spit with rage at the monstrous impudence of even putting a price on these noble public servants. But – given that 200 horses paraded for the Queen’s birthday alone – if the maths is anywhere near correct (no small hurdle at the MoD), it does add up to a tidy sum.
Even so, imposing such cuts is almost impossible. Britain’s mounted cavalry (and musicians) are no longer a potent offensive force. But today’s generals still find important uses for them, not least as a decoy in tricky budget negotiations.
When army chiefs are asked to find savings to fill the perennial MoD deficit, one old chestnut is innocently to “put up” the horses or ceremonial units for cuts. Why? It shows willing but the generals know it can never happen. The Queen’s ceremonial horses and 22 marching bands have a sacred political standing on a par with Trident and the Red Arrows. Axing these national treasures would amount to political suicide.
Most ministers quickly adapt to this law of nature and pay homage to the power of Red Arrows’ plumes and mounted trumpeters in deterring Britain’s foes. The defence chiefs are politely asked to find more realistic cost-saving options, such as cutting helicopter funds. Watch out for more ingenious horse-trading to come.