Government to act on MoD review

19 October 2009

20 October 2009 | Allie Anderson

The UK government has pledged to actively respond to recommendations made in a report savaging Ministry of Defence (MoD) procurement.

The review, authored by former defence official Bernard Gray and published last week, said the average defence programme overruns by around five years and is £300 million over budget (Web news, 15 October).

The government must hold routine strategic defence reviews, Gray said, and the MoD's delivery arm, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), needs to be better skilled and resourced.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, defence secretary Bob Ainsworth conceded government must take steps to "deliver a radical improvement in performance".

He will publish a Strategy for Acquisition Reform in the new year. This will in turn contribute towards work on a 'strategic defence review' that Labour will undertake directly after the next election.

Ahead of that review, Ainsworth said, the government will examine "legislative frameworks" for implementing Gray's suggestion that a strategic defence review be conducted early in the term of each new parliament.

He also agreed to balance equipment requirements with availability of resources and plan spend over a longer time frame, as well as pledging to "accelerate the improvement of key skills".

In addition, the MoD will implement tighter controls over new projects - particularly changes in cost, performance and timing - and further clarify roles and responsibilities at the MoD head office and DE&S.

On Thursday last week, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox criticised the government's decision to publish the report on the same day as a defence policy debate in parliament, giving MPs less than one hour to read the 297-page report before putting questions to Ainsworth.

Responding to Ainsworth's statement yesterday, Fox said: "The handling of this report reflects much of the content of the report itself: unnecessary delay, incompetence and an attempt to avoid responsibility.

"I don't think I have ever heard a more damning set of indictments. The procurement process is broken and needs fundamental recasting. Many of its structures are upside down with cost control at the end and not the beginning.

"There are dedicated people working in [Ainsworth's] department in procurement. Yet they are stuck in a department... [with] no one in control, yet we are at war. What more damning conclusion could there be?"


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