Over the past few weeks we have had ever more terrible stories about the procurement ability of the Ministry of Defence. They send soldiers to battle with guns that won’t fire; procure all major contracts years late with a massive overspend; and build an aircraft carrier without having any planes to fly from it. This would be a joke if they weren’t wasting large amounts of taxpayer’s money and possibly, even worse as we saw with the purchase of armoured troop carriers wasting the lives if our fighting forces.
Why does this happen? Because there is no professional procurement function within the MoD and there is too much of a two way traffic between the Military and the defence manufacturers. Clearly there needs to be a strong relationship between the two in the interests of national security but in two ways this relationship has got too close:
- It is obscene the way in which top Generals etc wander off in the shortest amount of time to become consultants for the arms industry. This clouds their judgement after they have left active service and I am sure that the idea that they would get a job must cloud their judgement on what to buy and who from during their years at the top inside the Ministry. One wonders if General Sir Bufton-Tufton’s first instinct is his own future.
- There is too great a connection between sales and our needs. We must procure firstly what we need as a country, we must then look at who we procure it with (as in the European Joint fighter contract) we must then consider if there are any sales implications for these products.
There is also another parameter which seems to be too easily ignored. Who should we sell products and services to. It would seem to me that there should be no sales of products or services outside NATO and even then with some constraints about products that could be used internally by some NATO members.
So what would I do about this long-running scandal?
- Create a professional procurement unit within MoD which has external public and private sector procurement experience:
- Allow the only role with the military for procurement to be the development of a specification
- Ensure that the specified products meet the overall strategic needs of the sector.
- Ban senior military staff from entering consultancies or joining directly arms and equipment suppliers for at least 2 years after leaving their commissions.
So what do I know about the military and their needs – absolutely nothing. But good procurement follows the sorts of principles and stages outlined above. Specification has to be allied to objectives; Procurement has to be allied to specification. Transparency must be paramount in the spending of government cash.
At the end of the day there is no difference between the procurement process of a computer for missile guidance and a procurement of one for social services records. The specification must come from service users – in this case the military – and then procured by people who know what they are doing.
So was I joking about municipalising the MoD.? YES you will be relieved to know but we have a much better record in procurement than any other part of the public sector. If you doubt that just ask whether any central government department has procured an IT contract on budget on time!
But, of course, I return to my old theme. Before hacking away at local government, which is the most efficient part of the public sector central government needs to look at its own departments and quangos. There are billions to be saved by removing the amateur Sir Tufton-Bufton’s of all departments. Go to it George and Danny and we can give you good advice and share with you the good practice of local government!