Brown’s Selfish Pleading for Rosyth Jobs

Ex-prime minister Gordon Brown’s first speech from the back benches today reveals both his own self-centred thinking while prime minister, but also the serious political disconnect  that underpins the UK’s disgracefully wasteful defence procurement system.

Brown has decided to recommend himself to his constituents by making a plea that the Rosyth shipyards (where most of his voters work) be given maintenance contracts for the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.  The usefulness of the these carriers, and even whether or not they will actually be operated – or ignominiously sold when we can’t afford the aircraft – is assumed I’d imagine by Brown to be irrelevant to his voters, who he believes  care only about their jobs.

It’s now clear that Labour’s decision to buy the carriers was driven by their need for the votes of northern industrial workers.  Like all  expensive defence projects, the politics, inter-Service rivalry, and Civil Service machinations were  convoluted and hideous.  Rather than stand above all this and tease out the long-term national advantage  – like a prime minister should,  it would seem that Mr Brown opted for personal safety, the parochial interests of his own voters, and his future beyond the next election…

The Royal Navy were equally keen to have carriers, but for  different reasons. But  I don’t suppose naval planners at the time realised the extent to which the cost of the carriers would require the axing of much of their smaller and far more usable ships.

Defence procurement ought to mean buying the best possible weapons and equipment for our Armed Forces.  Unfortunately, the costs are so great that “Buy British” has always been the motto – with the defence industries arguing a strategic need for  government support, as they alone are able to develop the highly classified, sophisticated equipments needed. In so many instances, the best products have already been available on the shelves of defence manufacturers; but instead of MoD procurers driving a hard bargain and getting it out to the troops,  years of committees, bickering and enormous expense has led to gold-plated, out of date equipment that doesn’t work properly being issued years too late, being withdrawn for serious modification – and so on…

Every MP with a defence manufacturer in his constituency employing voters, feels the knee-jerk imperative to lobby the MoD  for whatever  defence contracts could possibly be awarded to ‘their’ companies.  Few MPs have any military knowledge or background, and any who do  see little choice but to go along with whatever their local defence manufacturers tell them.  The larger the contract, the more party-political the MoD’s choosing of contractors  becomes, woe betiding the defence secretary who buys the best for the troops, but stands accused of the loss of a UK worker’s job….

Our Armed Forces deserve the very best equipment.  It helps nobody to buy British when it’s not the best.  MoD defence procurement is a nightmare anyway, without politicisation.  A cross-party renunciation of pork-barrel politics would help very greatly…

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2 Responses

  1. Resurgam says:

    Hugh
    Whilst I agree that political manoeuvering has cost us dear in the defence procurement business and that in some cases the byzantine processes in DE&S slow the procurement process down, I cannot agree that it is all down to British Industry. If you look for involvement in all the big disasters the same names appear and they will initially appear to be British but less and less of what they offer is actually made in the UK. BAE Systems is basically a US company with virtually nothing really left in UK, the winners in the FRES programme are a US company bringing in foreign kit to be probably repainted and rebadged in UK, here BAE Systems would have been British surprisingly, and most of the clever Bowman stuff is of foreign origin and lashed together in Wales, not that I am saying Wales is a foreign country.
    It has become fashionable to have a go at British Industry. There is very little left. There are some good players like NP Aerospace, SELEX Galileo Ltd, Supacat and Universal Engineering but they are handicapped by having to produce bespoke kit for a customer who remains fickle and changes requirements at the drop of a hat.
    The insistence that UK DE&S give a Prime carte blanche to put whatever they want in their offering once the offer has been received means that the Primes then stick in the lowest costing and barely capable systems so that they make a profit, more often than not opting for foreign kit from their grown up brothers in the US or the subsidised european market. When it all goes to hell in a handcart the prime will point to the sub and say that ‘they said it would work and it did in the trials (if any were actually conducted) talk to them!
    It will come as no surprise to you that I work in the industry and that I work for a UK company who are desperately trying to supply really good kit to the UK forces. We are forced at times to offer kit that is not our own and made abroad just to get below the prices offered by the big boys. This results in less than perfect kit being offered. WE once offered the very best kit available, as requested to by the MOD, and they promptly gave the contract to the lowest and very much less capable foreign bidder. You have no idea how frustrating it can be!

    Sorry to rant but there are people out there trying hard to deliver capability at the right price but without large orders it is jolly hard to match the foreign competition who do not offer what the UK want and have asked for but what they have in abundance and will almost fit the bill.

    Hurrumph
    Resurgam. PS I liked the book! nice review on Arrse.

    • Hugh McManners says:

      The ARRSe book review was certainly rather splendid!

      I have huge sympathy for what you say. I recall the Westlands jockying, when i was a callow AMA captain in CGS’ outer office – circa 1982. Somehow the tactical operational requirement gets sidelined in favour all all manner of nonsense.

      I’d like the military requirement to take precedence, but in order to achieve that, the military would have themselves to agree on what’s required, which should somehow be based on what the boys on the ground doing the job know that they need. Really easy to say this I know, but if each new equipment requirement had permanently stapled to it a sweaty little memo from the end-user at the front line, who would then report on the usefulness or otherwise of what the system send him/her in return, with serious repercussions, naming of names and so on when procurements are not what was needed, we’d get somewhere.

      I was always brought up to believe the man on the ground always to be right, unless there’s an overwhelming reason to doubt this. Seems to me that the MoD system ignores my man on the ground – or at least regards him as a lesser being, ignorant of the ‘important’ realities…

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