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Parliamentary Report w/c 12th May

By DPF Admin21st May 2014August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

The Metro newspaper reports that £660,000 of MOD equipment has gone missing in the last year. Items missing include computer equipment containing military secrets, high-tech night vision goggles, laser sights and ration packs. The newspaper says the losses could have security implications because 11 desktop computers, 103 laptops and 115 memory sticks have been lost or stolen. 

The biggest hauls of missing property were £57,000 worth of radio gadgetry that vanished from Tidworth and £52,000 of bridge-making equipment from Warminster. A Taxpayers’ Alliance spokesman said the MOD “must take more care of expensive and sensitive tax-payer funded equipment”.

The Times reports that there has been a surge in the number of Afghanistan veterans seeking help for mental health problems. Some 358 former military personnel sought help from the mental health charity Combat Stress last year – an increase of 57% over 2012, when 228 sought support.

The charity’s Chief Executive Commodore Andrew Cameron said that one fifth of all veterans are likely to suffer from mental illness. Commodore Cameron warned that the numbers seeking help are likely to increase over the coming years.

Contents

·      Oral questions on defence

·      Written questions

·      New Defence Select Committee Chair elected

·      Defence Reform Bill receives Royal Assent

·      Home Affairs Committee publishes report on reform of the Police Federation

·      Defence Ministers worried of hidden costs from MOD underspend

·      MOD agrees new contracts to manage military estates

Oral questions on defence

·      In an oral questions session on Defence Conservative MP David Mowat asked what progress has been made on    improving the efficacy of the Department’s procurement since May 2010.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Philip Dunne said that when Government came into office, the Major Projects Report for 2009 identified procurement overruns of £1.2 billion and delays of 93 months in the top 15 defence equipment programmes, after 13 years of inaction by Labour. Mr Dunne said that by contrast the Government has taken decisive action and made considerable progress in improving the efficacy of defence procurement. The last major projects report from the National Audit Office for 2013 showed that the cost of 10 of the 11 largest equipment programmes had been reduced by almost £50 million in the last year, and some 98% of key performance measures are set to be achieved.

But the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said a previous proposal to move Trident to the US, in 1981, foundered because of a range of potential problems.Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said: “The principal obstacle is that moving nuclear weapons to another state is in contravention of Article I of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates states to not transfer nuclear weapons to 'any recipient whatsoever'.She added that housing the UK's nuclear deterrent in the US would end “the myth that Trident is in any sense independent”.

·      Later on in the oral questions session, Conservative MP Mel Stride asked what assessment the Defence Minister has made of the effects on the defence and security of Scotland of being part of the UK.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Dr Andrew Murrison said Scotland is an essential part of the UK’s defence. He said the integrated approach protects all nations in the UK and underpins considerable international influence and clout, and sustains defence industries, which employ around 12,600 people in Scotland. He said that together the UK’s defence and security effort is truly world-class.

·      Mel Stride said the Scottish Government’s White Paper proposes that Scotland’s territorial waters should be protected by two warships and no submarines: however, Scotland comprised approximately 50% of the UK’s total territorial waters current protected by some 17 warships and five submarines. He asked if the Minister agreed that the proposals by the SNP in the Independence White Paper represent a significant diminution in the protection of Scotland.

Defence Minister Dr Murrison said the Scottish Government claims it will spend £2.5 billion on defence, but highlighted that a leaked memo by Finance Minister John Swinney MSP on Scotland’s budget says that “I have made clear to the Defence Workstream that a much lower budget must be assumed.” Dr Murrison said he therefore doubted that the Scottish Navy would even have the two complex modern warships to which the Scottish Government aspire. Moreover, Dr Murrison said their White Paper makes no provision for the refueling and reprovisioning at sea. It implies that they will leave that to the Royal Navy.

·      Labour MP for Glasgow North West John Robertson asked if the Minister agreed that voting no in the Scottish independence referendum will mean that shipbuilding on the Clyde will flourish, and that Glasgow will be all the better for it.

Dr Murrison said he absolutely agreed with the statement and said that it is impossible to imagine that the jobs to which he refers will be sustained in the event of independence, given the very small number of ships that the Scottish Government would purchase.

SNP MP Angus Robertson said the MOD is responsible for ensuring that Scotland is a maritime nation with no maritime patrol aircraft and no ocean-going vessels. Mr Robertson said the MOD is also responsible for the closure of two out of three air bases in Scotland the disproportionate cut to personnel and spending, while at the same time committing to Trident, which the majority of people in Scotland oppose.

·      Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell asked if, were Scotland to become independent – improbable though that may be – if the Minister could conceive of any circumstances in which the Government of the rest of the UK would wish to place orders in what would effectively be a foreign country.

Dr Murrison said that the UK had not ordered warships from another country for 100 years, outside the two world wars. He said that Article 346 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU makes the situation clear: it would not be possible to order such vessels in the event that Scotland and the UK became foreign countries to one another.

·      Shadow Defence Minister Gemma Doyle said there was not a single costed commitment to build or purchase any defence equipment in the SNP’s manifesto over and above UK Government plans. She asked if the jobs of those working in the defence sector in Scotland, which are reliant on UK contracts, are some of the most at risk if Scotland becomes independent from the rest of the UK.

Dr Murrison said Scotland receives a lot of defence spending and contract work from the UK and it was inconceivable that Scotland would be better defended in the event that it became independent.

Written questions

·      Angus Robertson asked the Secretary of State for Defence on safety-critical posts and contractors, where each vacancy is located; and what the role of each position is.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne said that Safety-Critical posts are fielded across the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation in a number of areas. He said the role of these posts is defined in DE&S policy as having specified safety-related, decision-making responsibilities and accountabilities, and must be filled by people competent to make such decisions. Mr Dunne said that should a post become vacant, priority is given to recruitment action. Until the vacancy is filled, the post responsibilities are either transferred to other competent people or, to ensure safety, related activities cease.

Safety-Critical post data is reviewed on a monthly basis and as at 1 April 2014 there were 97 vacant Safety-Critical posts in DE&S out of a total of 1,321. The number of Safety-Critical posts and vacancies will change regularly to reflect project requirements and as the result of staff turnover. He provided a table with the locations of current vacancies.

·      Madeline Moon asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library a copy of all Employment Tribunal judgements made against his Department since 2008 to date; and if he will make a statement.

Defence Minister Anna Soubry said that there have been six such judgements to be placed in the Library of the House. She said she was aware that in a previous answer she had advised that there had been seven judgements made against the Department, however the number of judgements for 2012 included a claims which was settled before it went to tribunal.

Soubry said that one of the six judgements was subject to an Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and then Court of Appeal – she provided a copy of the Court of Appeal decision.

New Defence Select Committee Chair elected

Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart OBE, has been elected as Chair of the Defence Select Committee. Stewart is well-respected figure on defence matters, having frequently voiced his opinion and advice on foreign affairs and defence matters to the Government since his election in 2010. It is reported that his election as Chair was influenced by his willingness to ask awkward questions to Government ministers on defence issues and he is said to have good cross-party support.

Stewart briefly served in the Armed Forces with the Black Watch before studying at Oxford and going on to work as a diplomat for the foreign office in Indonesia and Montenegro. He went on to work as Deputy Governor for two Iraqi provinces in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and as a consequence has become a critic of interventionist policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received an OBE for his service. He has good knowledge of the Middle East after journeying through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal in a 6,000 mile walk, and speaks five languages.

Asides from his foreign policy credentials, he is a well-respected figure academically, being awarded several honourary doctorates and working as a Professor at Harvard for six years. He has also authored two bestselling books about his experiences in the Middle East and several papers which criticise interventionist foreign policy. At one point he also worked as a Royal Tutor to Princes William and Harry.

We will be contacting Mr Stewart’s office to request a meeting as a means of ensuring he is briefed on the role of the MDP and the DPF.

Defence Reform Bill receives Royal Assent

The Defence Reform Act was given Royal Assent on Wednesday 14 May. The Act was initially expected to pave the way for the Government to turn MOD procurement over to a private sector contractor – however a lack of interest from the private sector in bidding for such a contract and restrictions on some prospective service providers bidding for the work have ensure this model will not be adopted in the short term. The Act does open the door for greater private sector involvement in MOD procurement and leaves the Government with the option of introducing a ‘GoCo’ (Government Owned and Contractor Operated) model in the future. The main provisions are as follows:

·      Reform of the DE&S organisation, which is responsible for defence equipment procurement and supply.

·      Part 1 of the Act relates to arrangements that the Secretary of State may make a for a commercial organisation to provide defence procurement services under contract with a Government Owned and Contractor Operated (GOCO) company in future should ministers decide the model offers the best value for money.

·      Part 2 of the Act creates a new statutory framework governing Single Source Procurement and an independent Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) the Single Source Regulations Office, to oversee the framework.

·      Part 3 of the Act extends the MOD’s powers to call out reservists so that they can be called out for any purpose for which members of the regular forces may be used. It also allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for the making of incentive payments by him to employers of reservists. The Act also provides greater employment protection for reservists by disapplying the statutory qualification period for the purposes of claiming unfair dismissal from civilian employment where the reason for dismissal is connected with the employee’s membership of the reserve forces. The Territorial Army will now be known as the Army Reserve.

As previously highlighted, Clause 5, (Part 1) which extends the jurisdiction of the MDP over property, possessions and vehicles of contractors is included in the Defence Reform Act.

Home Affairs Committee publishes report on reform of the Police Federation

In conclusion of its inquiry in to the reform of the Police Federation, the Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report that advises how reform of the Police Federation should be undertaken. In the introduction to the report the Committee says that the last few years have been a period of significant change for British policing, including the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the establishment of the College of Policing, the effects of cost savings on the delivery of police services, and the impact of changes to pay, pension and employment arrangements on officers themselves.

The Committee says that the Federation is entitled to uphold the right of officers to publicly oppose measures which it believes are detrimental to the police and public good. However, it says the Federation has been accused by some of adopting a politicised, oppositional approach that has left ordinary officers marginalized. The Committee highlighted concerns over the perception of the Federation which has been damaged by the ‘plebgate’ incident, accusations of extravagant spending during a time of austerity, and a failure to command the confidence of its own members.

A number of recommendations have been made to ensure reform is properly delivered. The Committee said that the money held by the national rank committees and Joint Central Committee should be returned to Federation members at the earliest possible opportunity. Furthermore it says that the Federation should be fully open and public about all sources of revenue. The Committee says that communication with members should also be improved and recommended that the Police Federation HQ establish a national database with members to allow the Federation to reimburse subscribers. In addition to this, the Committee says that the treatment by some elements within the Police Federation of successive national Chairs, cited as bullying, “has been quite disgraceful” and says that re-establishing the post of National Chair with “unassailable authority” from a direct election of whole membership of the Federation is essential if the Chair is to be a credible and authentic voice of rank and file officers.

The Committee finished by saying that reforms should be introduced in the most expeditious way and warned that if reform was not taken forward, Parliament and the Government would be inclined to enforce reform from above. It says the preferred option would be for the Police Federation to reform from within.

Defence Ministers worried of hidden costs from MOD underspend

The Financial Times reports that defence ministers are uncertain why they were able to spend £1.2 billion less than they had on planned equipment for the Armed Forces last year, raising the prospect that they might be hit with extra costs in the future. A report published by the Public Accounts Committee said the MOD could receive unexpected bills from its suppliers in years to come.

Chair of the Committee Margaret Hodge said the Ministry has no idea whether the underspend of £1.2 billion was because of “genuine savings or whether costs are simply stored up for later years because of delays on projects.” The report said that underspending could be caused by more efficient processes, renegotiated contracts or, more worryingly for taxpayers, by suppliers failing to complete contracts in time.

Ms Hodge also warned that if the Department continued to undershoot its spending targets, the Treasury was likely to cut its budget for future years. If the Chancellor does choose to target the MOD because it is underspending on equipment, those savings will not come from the equipment budget itself, which has been guaranteed to rise above inflation until 2020, but it will come instead from the 60% of the Department’s spending that has not been ring-fenced.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne said the Department had taken decisive action and made considerable progress in making savings in the defence equipment budget. The FT highlights, however, that while ministers are starting to tighten controls on the defence procurement budget, it continues to be badly managed in parts. Philip Hammond has vowed to get a grip on the MOD’s equipment spending, which has been criticised for failures such as overspending on Britain’s next generation of aircraft carriers. The Defence Secretary has recently argued that the most pressing problem he faces is the lack of ability to recruit and maintain the best civil servants to negotiate with big defence companies over procurement deals.

MOD agrees new contracts to manage military estates

City AM reports that the MOD has agreed up to £2 billion of new contracts to manage its military estates. The winning bidders, London-listed support services firm Carillion and another firm, Amey, have won contracts to manage defence infrastructure potentially worth up to £1.7 billion. The firms won a £625 million five-year deal to provide facilities management services across the UK, which can be extended for a further five years. In addition they have also won a five-year contract to provide facilities and asset management services across military sites in Scotland and Northern Ireland, worth £150 million and extendable for another five years.

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