As the prime minister gives evidence to the Iraq inquiry today, accused by leading military figures of underfunding the armed forces, it is worth looking at yesterday’s House of Commons defence select committee report, which confirms long held suspicions that the Ministry of Defence is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds each year in poor procurement and planning practices.
The report accuses MoD witnesses of giving “disingenuous” information on the £21bn budget shortfall, saying that officials’ answers were:
“At best confused and unhelpful and at worst deliberately obstructive.”
The committee specifically criticised delays and cost increases in MoD plans to spend £16bn on the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), a programme to design a new generation of military vehicles and deploy thousands of these machines on operations in years to come.
As committee chair James Arbuthnot said:
“We have tried on many occasions in the past to elicit details about Fres from the MoD without ever receiving clear answers. We conclude, with regret, that the MoD has none to give.”
The Obama Administration last year cancelled its own Future Combat Systems project after repeated cost increases and technical setbacks.
The report was highly critical of decreases in the defence research and technology budget with Defence Management Journal reporting planned cut backs from £540m in 2007/08 to £471m in 2009/10. The budget is expected to decrease further in 2010/11 to just £439 million in comparison to a spending level 15 years ago of £947m 2008/09 terms.
With regard to the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, the report confirmed that “the trident decision was being delayed for a few months” and that it is “more likely than not” that this decision will be taken after the general election.
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