Defence purchasing should be recognised career path

22 September 2011

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22 September 2011 | Angeline Albert

The Labour Party’s defence review recommends making equipment procurement a professional career path for military officers.

Labour published its independent report Ideas for Future UK Defence Procurement based on its defence review, which was launched last year by the party’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy.

Today’s report recommends the creation of a Weapons Engineering Service to manage the training, development, career and pay of defence purchasing staff, which would recognise equipment procurement as a professional career. It said: “This would be a mixed civilian and military organisation and provide the opportunity for officers to enter as a permanent career move.” Labour said this would maximise the expertise of military personnel in the procurement process.

It said preventing waste and slippage in cost and time estimates could be achieved by setting clearer targets for delivery for both industry and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It also said the department must be prepared to cancel contracts that overrun.

The document said too few contracts are let as a result of competition. “Our analysis of the MoD’s major project data, reported in annual National Audit Office reports, shows that only 30 per cent of current major projects nearing their service date (by value) were let by competition. Where a sufficient market exists, open competition is the best procurement policy,” it said. Labour said competition should be used where alternative equipment or systems could be purchased and there is a market of at least three competent suppliers.

The party also recommended fixed-price contracts “become the norm”. These deals – where the price remains set regardless of resources costs or time taken – aim to incentivise the supplier to reduce costs and manage the project in a timely manner. Such contracts also discourage the MoD from repeatedly modifying specifications.

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