Following last week’s Government reshuffle, Conservative MP Anna Soubry has been confirmed as the Minister for Defence Personnel.
In a backbench debate on Defence reforms, 92 MPs passed a Parliamentary motion noting concerns over the Government’s Defence reforms and urging the Government to delay implementing cuts to the regular forces until recruitment to the reserves had been shown to work. Defence Minister Mark Francois MP insisted the plans to replace 20,000 regular troops with 30,000 reservists by 2018 were on track, despite figures showing that army reserve recruitment was struggling. Mr Francois admitted there had been issues in recruitment and said part of the problem was the bureaucracy involved.
The Government’s plan to outsource procurement to private contractors is running into increasing difficulties as it has been revealed that a partner in one of the bidding groups is currently being investigated for malpractice in another part of government outsourcing. Labour has said that “serious questions” need to be answered and sources close to the negotiations have warned that the situation is becoming “uncomfortable”.
Answers to written questions
- Labour MP David Hanson asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment she has made of the total cost of mutual aid provided to the Police Service of Northern Ireland by the Home Office and other police forces for the policing of the G8 Summit in June 2013.
Home Office Minister Damian Green MP responded that the Home Office has not yet received deployment claims from all forces in England and Wales that provided mutual aid for the 2013 G8 summit. Mr Green said that his Department estimated that these will total approximately £9.7 million. Mr Green also said that mutual aid costs for the 2013 G8 summit relating to Police Scotland, the British Transport Police and the MDP are not held by the Department.
- Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon asked the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to tackle lost property in his Department and the Armed Forces.
Defence Minister for Personnel Anna Soubry MP said the MOD has an ongoing security improvement programme which, through education awareness and training, seeks to improve its performance in this area by drawing on existing policy and guidance, its knowledge of the evolving threat faced by the MOD and evidence derived from incidents involving the loss of theft of Defence assets.
Ms Soubry added that despite these efforts, in both the public and private sector, losses or thefts of equipment will still occur. To reduce the security impact, the MOD has a number of measures in place to minimise the risk of compromise of information.
- Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell asked the Defence Secretary what steps his Department is taking to ensure that any overlaps in procurement are kept to a minimum thus ensuring a joined-up approach to Defence procurement.
Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP said the MOD has in place a range of policies and processes to ensure that all Defence expenditure is managed in a joined-up manner. Mr Dunne added that for procurement of goods and services, the Department has been working with the Government Procurement Service to transition appropriate common goods and services to centralised procurement, creating opportunities for savings through rationalisation and economies of scale.
Ministerial correction to written answer on lost MOD property
Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP has published a Ministerial Correction to an answer given to Madeline Moon when she asked the Secretary of State for Defence:
- how many items were lost at COD Donnington and; COD Bicester since September 2012
- what value of items lost at COD Donnington and; COD Bicester was since September 2012
- if he will publish details of the auditing processes for COD Donnington and; COD Bicester
In response to the question, Mr Dunne provided a table of the number of instances of loss and the value of items lost. However, six of the eight figures provided have turned out to be incorrect and Mr Dunne has published an amended table on the instances and values of loss from LCS Bicester and LCS Donnington, which show a significant difference in data.
GoCo outsourcing plan at risk of collapse
The Financial Times reports that plans to part-privatise Defence procurement are at risk of collapsing as serious concerns are aired over one of the two companies bidding to run the outsourcing programme. The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond MP, is currently negotiating with two consortiums to set up a privately run organisation to operate the £15 billion purchasing arm of the MOD. However, the FT says that one of these groups may have to drop out because of criticism of one of its members, Serco, which is being investigated for alleged overcharging on a contract involving the electronic tagging of prisoners.
The newspaper says that the loss of one of the two rival consortiums would probably trigger the end of the entire process because of a lack of competition. One industry executive, who is opposed to the reform, told the FT that the competition was in “meltdown”. The FT says that the problems with the bidding process add “growing pressure” on the Government to drop its plans. However, Mr Hammond has insisted that he remains committed to the Government-owned Contractor-operated (GoCo) model. Defence officials also insist that the GoCo still has a good chance of going ahead, saying that “Goco could offer stronger incentives for change”.
Labour, who so far has supported the Defence Reform Bill, is taking an increasingly critical tone towards the reforms. An aide to the Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker MP, told the FT that the procurement plan was “unravelling” and said that there were serious questions to answer. The aide added that unless Labour was satisfied with the response, “we will call for it (the Bill) to be pulled altogether”. The FT says that sources close to the negotiations have also warned that the situation “appears to be getting more and more uncomfortable” and said that courage would be needed to continue with GoCo.
An alternative to the plan, known as DE&S (Defence Equipment and Support -Plus) is also understood to be undergoing detailed examination. The FT says that the ultimate aim of the scrutiny process is to help the MOD avoid repeating mistakes made by previous procurement programmes. The Government has given Serco three months to transform its corporate practices or face exclusion from bidding from public sector contracts. Detailed proposals from both consortiums are also due in November.
Senior military figures criticise military underspend for 2012
The Daily Telegraph reports that senior military sources have warned that the Armed Forces are suffering “unnecessary cuts” because the MOD has failed to spend £1.8 billion of its shrinking budget. The newspaper says that an “overzealous” austerity drive has meant the Forces were missing out on vital equipment. The sources have accused Ministers and Civil Servants of mismanaging the Defence budget after the MOD failed to spend all the money it was allocated for 2012-13. One senior figure accused the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP of going too far in his push to control the “famously chaotic Defence budget” whilst another said Mr Hammond’s overcautious approach was putting at risk the Coalition’s plan to reconfigure the Armed Forces by 2020.
Philip Hammond MP has rejected the accusations and said his critics “have no idea how the Defence budget now works” and said that almost all unspent money will still be used for the Forces. The Telegraph says that the unspent £1.8 billion included £250 million from the budget for new equipment and another £200 million had been allocated to wages but went unspent because more service personnel than expected volunteered for redundancy. The Telegraph adds that the restructuring programme, Future Force 2020, is based on the assumption that total spending on equipment will rise every year from 2015. However, these increases have not yet been confirmed, and Defence Chiefs worry the underspend will make it harder for the MOD to negotiate the increases they need.
TA recruitment plan “flawed” and puts security at risk
The Times reports on concerns that the Government plans to boost the Army reserve forces could put Britain at risk. Serving and former officers have warned that Britain will be unable to guarantee its security at the end of the decade because the Territorial Army will be unable to recruit enough soldiers. The Times says a “flawed recruitment drive” has meant that the MOD’s target of doubling the size of the TA to 30,000 by 2018 is “in peril”. A former TA officer predicted the deadline would need to be pushed back to 2020 unless something was done to address the recruitment “debacle”.
The newspaper says that any delay would be a blow for Philip Hammond MP, who has used the growth of the rebranded Army Reserve as a way to deflect criticism about cuts to the regular Army. Another major issue is that it would create a gap in the planned fighting strength of the country. Mr Hammond described the goal of 30,000 TA recruits by 2018 as “a challenging target, but one we are committed to achieving.”
Questions asked over future of police regulation
According to the Financial Times, pressure is building on the Government to overhaul the way the police service is regulated in the wake of the “plebgate” scandal which has been highlighted in the media recently. Former Police Minister and Conservative MP Nick Herbert added his calls for radical change to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or even for it to be scrapped altogether.
Herbert told the FT that the time has come “to look again at the system of police regulation”. Herbert, who oversaw the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, said the system of police investigating themselves while supervised by the IPCC did not work. Current Police Minister, Damian Green told the College of Police that corruption and misconduct could have a “corrosive effect on the reputation of all police officers” and warned that public confidence had been affected.
So far, Ministers have argued that the solution to police regulation is to expand the IPCC rather than dismantle it. The Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, announced in February she would give the body more resources and compel officers to attend interview. Meanwhile, Labour has argued for the IPCC to be replaced by a police standards authority that could launch investigations, hold public hearings and impose sanctions.
London Assembly asks Met to make the case for increased weaponry use
The London Assembly has demanded that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Mayor of London make the case for increasing the number and range of weapons used to police London. A report by the Police and Crime Committee, Arming the Met: The Deployment of less-lethal weapons in London, outlines a series of steps that it recommends Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime take before changes are made to the availability of a range of less lethal weapons on the capital’s streets.
The Committee concluded that the 2012 decision to nearly triple the number of MPS officers trained to use Taser and deploy increased numbers of the Tasers, failed to adequately explain why the Met felt more weapons are needed or properly consult the public about the deployment. The report also warned against tampering with the rigorous training course Police Officers undergo to qualify to use Taser in an attempt to reduce the current 20% of officers who fail the course.
Former Ambassador says Defence cuts and EU referendum of top concern to US
The Times reports that the “special relationship” between Britain and the US is suffering more damage from Government cuts to Defence spending and the debate over EU membership that it did over Parliament’s refusal to intervene in Syria. Former British Ambassador to the US, Christopher Meyer, told the newspaper that US politicians were “very worried” about Defence cuts and didn’t like the idea of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Mr Meyer said these were of more concern that the Parliamentary defeat over action in Syria.