Defence procurement slammed as 'broken'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
10 September 2021

UK defence procurement has been attacked by MPs as “beset by delays, costs spiralling out of control and poor oversight”.

During a House of Commons debate around the Ajax armoured vehicle, Ministry of Defence (MoD) procurement was slammed as “completely broken”.

MPs’ ire was drawn after Jeremy Quin, minister for defence procurement, told the House 310 service personnel had been identified as at possible risk of hearing loss due to vibration and noise following testing in the Ajax vehicle, the Army’s tank replacement.

“The Army continues to identify and monitor the hearing of all personnel exposed to noise on Ajax, with additional testing being put in place where required,” he said.

“The Army is also in the process of identifying any health effects in those potentially exposed to vibration.”

John Healey, shadow secretary of state for defence, said: “This is a programme that has cost £3.5bn to date, delivered just 14 vehicles and is set to be completed a decade late.

“The minister’s statement now puts Ajax on an end-of-life watch.”

Quin said the cost of altering vehicles to solve the noise and vibration issues would fall on the supplier, General Dynamics.

“What we have with General Dynamics is a firm price contract,” he said. “That means that it has undertaken to deliver 589 vehicles for a set specification, and we have undertaken to pay it £5.5bn for that number of vehicles, at that specification. There is clarity on the contract. It is a strong, firm contract on which GD is determined to deliver, and we are working closely with it.”

Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab) said: “Time and time again, when it comes to defence procurement, programmes are beset by delays, costs spiralling out of control and poor oversight – in short, the abysmal contract management of public money. Ajax has been no different.”

Mark Francois (Con) referred to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority traffic light assessment of MoD programmes and said: “Ajax is red, unlikely ever to be achieved. How many of the 36 were green and successfully on track? None. Zero, zilch, nothing. Not one major MoD procurement programme is successfully on track.

“This is over £100bn of British taxpayers’ money. The procurement system at Abbey Wood is a shambles, and presiding over this steaming heap of institutional incompetence is the minister.”

Andrew Murrison (Con) said: “The Royal Dragoon Guards based at Battlesbury barracks in my constituency operate, or are meant to operate, the Ajax fighting vehicle, and many of them will be very concerned at the hand-arm vibration syndrome and noise-induced hearing loss that some of them may be victims of. It is a betrayal of the military covenant.”

In March the Public Accounts Committee said it was “deeply concerned” about defence procurement, describing the MoD’s 10-year equipment plan as “unaffordable”.

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