30 July 2004
Defence minister Lord Bach has accused the Commons committee shadowing his brief of inconsistent and unbalanced reporting, following a stinging attack on the ministry's procurement strategy.
Bach said he 'cannot accept' the conclusions of the defence select committee's report on the effectiveness of the MoD's 'Smart' acquisition programme to secure weapons and equipment for the armed forces, published on July 28.
The committee, chaired by Labour MP Bruce George, launched a scathing attack on the initiative, which was introduced in 1998. The MPs urged the department to get a grip on the 'endemic' and 'systematic' problems that led to cost overruns of £3.1bn in 2002/03 and delays on key projects.
The MPs also said the actions of the MoD's Defence Procurement Agency had proved 'woeful' and had failed to overcome procurement problems that existed long before 'Smart' acquisition. They concluded that they could not accept the MoD's claim that the programme led to cost savings of £2bn.
Predicting problems ahead, the committee outlined excessive delays and escalating costs attached to major projects. The Nimrod aircraft programme, for example, is forecast to cost £3.5bn, compared with initial estimates of £2.8bn, and will enter service six years late in 2009.
'We are forced to conclude that our armed forces have been let down by the organisation tasked with equipping them,' the MPs state.
But Bach said: 'I do not believe [the report] is balanced or consistent nor is it particularly constructive. [It] does not reflect action that the department has in hand to address the challenges we face.'
However, he recognised that some problems persist, stating: 'I am absolutely determined we will overcome them.'
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon will face the wrath of the influential committee when Parliament reconvenes. He
will appear before MPs on September 15.
Formally, he will discuss the MoD's latest white paper, Delivering security in a changing world, which outlines plans to slash back-office support across the armed services and reduce army numbers.
But the discussion is also likely to cover ongoing procurement problems.