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A toothless tail

I just picked this up from a Jane’s newsletter:

UK Conservatives plan procurement overhaul. The UK’s procurement process will undergo “root and branch reform” if the Conservative party wins the next General Election, Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the Jane’s UK Defence Conference on 7 September. The Conservative politician said that the current procurement team was bloated and required significant changes in personnel. “How can it be that, while we have a navy of only 34,000, we have almost 24,000 people working in procurement alone?” he asked. “Military personnel are routinely placed in roles inside the procurement process for which they do not have the required skills or experience.

As Glenn Reynolds is wont to say: “Indeed”.

10 comments to A toothless tail

  • Ed Morris

    The earlier stages of this was the basis of study by C. Northcote Parkinson. The Preface is priceless.

  • RAB

    “Military personnel are routinely placed in roles inside the procurement process for which they do not have the required skills or experience.

    Oh really?

    At least they know what kit they need to fight a war with.

    My wife works for the MOD, and Abbey Wood in Bristol is the main procurement centre.

    It’s not he Military personnel we need worry about, it’s the thousands upon thousands of civilians who work there who wouldn’t know a rifle from a rolled up newspaper!

  • Sunfish

    Part of the problem is, some of them may not know. I wouldn’t really expect a bomber pilot to know about rifles, for instance, and yet one selected a rifle that US troops have carried for 40-odd years.

    (What’s really sad about that: on balance, I think Gen. Lemay actually did pretty well.)

    Part of the (US-side) problem is, the surest way to get a project approved is to have parts of the work done in 300 different Congressional districts. I don’t know if the Parliament likes to shovel defense pork around to buy votes like that, but if that flavor of corruption is beneath them then I’d be surprised.

    And then there are the MoD/DoD civilians you mention. Plenty of them (here) are retired service members who’ve merely changed clothes and job titles and are now doing the same job in the civil service, but not all.

  • Verity

    “I just picked this up from a Jane’s newsletter …”.

    Only on Samizdata.

  • guy herbert


    I don’t know if the Parliament likes to shovel defense pork around to buy votes like that, but if that flavor of corruption is beneath them then I’d be surprised.

    No; pork doesn’t work like that in the UK, because members of parliament are not noticeably independent and their votes aren’t generally bought individually. We have a huge amount of regulatory and producer capture however – which is how we have an MoD the shape it is. And there’s a certain amount of pork that serves the party of government of the day.

    Historically large civilian public sector facilities have been nationally centralised and positioned to provide huge payroll voted in (Labour-voting) poorer areas. There’s a massive Inland Revenue processing centre in Cumbernauld near Glasgow, another in post industrial West Yorkshire. The unnecessarily complicated structure of the Contributions Agency and Pensions Service is run out of Newcastle upon Tyne. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and its cousins is in Swansea, the centre for passports in the otherwise largely desolate Peterborough.

  • Paul Marks

    There have been great campaigns to “reform procurement” many times before.

    I remember Peter LaVene’s (spelling alert) efforts way back in the 1980’s.

    Always the promise is the same an end to “cost plus” budgets. Companies will just bid for what the military wants and the cheapest big will get the contact – and be held to the contract price.

    However, the companies then say “in the middle of the project you have changed what you say you want – in fact you have changed everything X number of times” so the original price can no longer be valid (back to cost plus prices).

    As Guy Herbert points out it is not really “the military” who decide what is to be bought (and keep changing their minds) it is the vast civilian administrative structure of the MOD – and the politicians.

    For example, a fortune (a large proportion of the Defence budget) just vanished on the “European Rapid Reaction Force” (which hardly exists at all – it is a “paper army” accept the costs are real) this was on the personal orders of Mr Blair (when he was Prime Minister) as a sop to the European Union as a “sorry” for failing to get Britain into the Euro (the E.U. currency).

    Yes – there is no money for armoured transports to save lives in Afghanistan (as there was none for Iraq) partly because Mr Blair spent the defence money on a E.U. stunt.

    On equipment – “Bomber” Harris (head of Bomber Command during WWII) may have been a butcher, but he had the right idea on buying stuff.

    Harris decided what equipment military needed and personally went to the various family owned (and non family owned) business enterpries that then existed in Britain and bought it .

    He wrote out the cheques then and there – and dared the government not to pay up. Tottally ignoring the official process.

    This meant his bomber aircraft got the equipment they needed (fast) and the taxpayer saved a lot of money. Because the official process (in both Britian and the United States) not only slows everything up (fatal in wartime of course) but also vastly INCREASES costs.

    “But what about a corrupt commander?” – I suggest that a corrupt commander who accepted bribes to supply his men with defective equipment or equipment at an inflated cost would be spotted and exposed with much less difficulty than trying to moniter the vast MOD administrative structure where no one really knows who made what judgement.

    So here is something that could be tried……….

    Tell the commander of a force (army, navy or whatever) “here is your budget – now get on with it”.

    He gets no more money – and must use what wits he has to get the best and least expensive equipment for himself and his men to use in combat.

  • RAB

    You are quite right Paul.
    When we were allowed to act solely in our own interest in matters of Defence, we got roughly what we thought we needed, and at a reasonable cost.
    Now we are compelled to cooperate with our European partners we get into situations like the Eurofighter saga, which is massively behind schedule, obscenely over budget, and not suited to the kind of warfare we find ourselves currently engaged in.
    Read this. If you can keep your temper till the end of the Wiki entry, well you are better man than I.


    Oh and Gurnin Gordon is on the radio as I speak, talking of cutting our nuclear submarines.
    He hasn’t said he will cancel Trident yet, but he is within a hairsbreath of it.

    And what is he going to spend the money saved on?

    Fighting Climate change.

    Yep, our Politicians know a thing or two about Defence alright!

  • Kevin B

    A fairly relevant article from Popular Mechanics, via Instapundit of course including this quote:

    The GAO found that the Air Force unfairly evaluated overall cost of the Boeing bid, and did not properly consider the long-term cost savings of the bid. In essence, the GAO said the Air Force did not understand airplanes enough to buy them.

    The last sentence pretty much jibes with what Liam Fox was saying. Of course I’m not sure that civilian experts and government civil servants will be much better at kitting our armed forces out for the sort of wars we might face now and in the future, but they surely can’t be much worse.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “And what is he going to spend the money saved on?
    Fighting Climate change.”

    Leaving aside the fact that there actually isn’t any money as such, because every penny of it is borrowed anyway, “fighting climate change” translates to lots and lots of lovely public sector employees – or quasi-public sector via consultancies, tame suppliers (I’m looking at you, Crapita), and all the boondoggles that go with every large state activity.

    So Gordon is taking money away from Defence (Huh! Which way to they vote?) and giving it to various sandal-wearers and Guardianistas.

    Pretty much what you expect, really, is it not?