08 December 2008 | Jake Kanter
"Farcical" and "delay-inclined" procurement procedures at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are responsible for the deaths of British service personnel, according to a former buyer for the department.
Bill Kincaid, a retired brigadier who spent 19 years in MoD purchasing roles, said "bureaucratic" and "wasteful" procurement processes mean equipment is not reaching war zones quickly enough, directly resulting in the loss of lives.
The comments come in his book: Changing the Dinosaur's Spots: The Battle to Reform UK Defence Acquisition, published at the end of November by military think-tank the Royal United Services Institute. After compiling public documents, personal experience and interviews with internal sources, Kincaid called on the MoD to address its lack of leadership and reform its purchasing strategy.
The MoD has criticised the book for being "outdated" and "sensationalist", but Kincaid argued his findings are accurate up to October this year. His condemnation is not the first complaint the department has faced. MPs said the MoD must address "systemic weaknesses" behind cost rises and delays (Web news, 22 July).
Kincaid referred to the "Future Rapid Effects System" project to build a new generation of armoured vehicles, which he said had been held up by slow decision-making and unnecessary bureaucracy. In the book, General the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, who has held many senior British army positions, added that if the programme had been delivered on time it would have saved lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kincaid told SM the department should appoint someone from outside the public sector to introduce a more commercial strategy in procurement.
"We need someone with a lot of teeth and a big whip to come in and change the culture.
"There is no single figure at the top; there are ministers, civil servants and heads of departments, but no one is leading. People need to feel motivated to get things done quickly but that message is not coming from the top."
He argued the department could learn from private sector firms, who aim to complete big capital spending projects quickly, while costs are considered secondary.
A spokesman said the MoD has made "substantial" efforts to improve and speed up its procurement procedures. "Key to this is a sense of urgency - we are more conscious than anyone that time matters."