Procurement policy at the crossroads, say defence experts
14 Jul 2009
Can industrial strategy help to win the war in Afghanistan? How can government improve the flow and quality of equipment to the UK’s forces in the field? Those were two of many questions addressed by a unique seminar devoted to the crisis over defence spending and the future role of UK defence policy.
"Punching Above the Budget" was unique for bringing together representatives from all parties to the defence debate – government, industry, parliament, academia, trade unions and the media – for a full and frank discussion on what has gone wrong at the heart of Britain’s defence effort. And for highlighting the deep divisions that exist on defence policy between government ministers and almost every other defence expert.
Contributions to the seminar, held at TUC Congress House in April this year and organised by Prospect, are published today in booklet and PDF format. They lay bare some of the key issues behind the current debate raging over the capability of the UK’s armed forces and the Ministry of Defence, such as:
- Is there a funding deficit in defence and if so, how big is it?
- Is the government’s Defence Industrial Strategy coping with the demands being made upon it and is it time for DIS Mark 2?
- How should the UK’s defence procurement be organised and what are the lessons to be learnt from the Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) programme?
- Does the UK have the resources in specialist skills and manufacturing capacity to meet the changing demands of the UK armed forces?
Among the contributors to the debate, were: Quentin Davies, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support; Tony Edwards, Defence College of Science and Technology, Shrivenham; Robert Key MP, Commons Defence Select Committee; Adam Ingram, former Minister for the Armed Forces; and Tim Ripley, freelance writer on defence. Senior figures from BAE Systems, the VT Group, QinetiQ, Prospect and the TUC also spoke.
The overwhelming verdict of the conference was that there is a large and growing funding deficit (strongly denied by Quentin Davies); that DIS Mark 2 needs to be set out and implemented without delay; and that the UOR programme holds valuable lessons which could revolutionise standards of procurement practice by the Ministry of Defence.
Mike Clancy, Deputy General Secretary of Prospect, said: “The contributions in this book are a warning that the UK is in urgent need of a Strategic Defence Review at the earliest opportunity. That must include major reforms to the way MOD procures equipment and an updated Defence Industrial Strategy so that MOD can return to being an intelligent customer in its dealings with contractors.”Clancy said the armed forces were now paying the price for MOD’s past failure to adequately fund its equipment programme or its own research and development.
While Prospect did not question the value of the UOR programme, Clancy said it had diverted £4.2 billion of resources from the day-to-day work of the department, for instance hitting the provision of equipment for pre-deployment training of the next generation of troops. Wear and tear and ongoing support and maintenance required for the UOR programme “is draining the defence budget,” he said.Prospect represents 18,000 scientists, engineers and other specialists working in the private and public defence sectors, including MOD and its agencies, BAE Systems, VT Group, QinetiQ, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Rosyth and Devonport dockyards, Serco Assurance and other companies.
You can download a copy of Punching Above the Budget, with edited contributions from all 12 speakers. Printed versions are available from Sherri Hoppen (tel 020 7902 6607 or email email@example.com).