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‘Endemic failures’; a ‘hierarchy’ which ‘doesn’t easily allow a mechanism of change’; ‘programmes that are lasting decades.’

Strong words of criticism directed at the Ministry of Defence by someone who was closely involved in the cancelled plan to build a £14bn training academy at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

But why does someone who was a member of the senior management team at the Metrix consortium choose to go public with those frustrations?

That’s what I asked Lawrence Lewis, who had been IT Director at Metrix. Was it sour grapes?

His answer? No.  It’s because he genuinely wants to see military training on the site in the future but fears that the problems he encountered at the MOD may not have gone away.

He told me that slow-decision-making in the MOD’s culture means big defence projects are often out-of-date and over-budget.

For instance in the Defence Training Review (which would have created the St Athan Academy) he said there was a failure to adapt to changing technology:

I think the biggest areas of concern was that of course the world had changed quite substantially around us yet the programme had not. It had been going for some time and was still basing itself by and large on the requirements that had been set very early on in the process and of course we know what happened in 2007 – over that period the whole world changed.

He also highlighted concerns about the length of defence projects which last decades at the same time as short-term appointments of those making the decisions.

Of course military personnel who represent the military’s requirements are absolutely necessary on any programme, often times are involved, for example, in conflict are waiting re-deployment and may only be involved in the programme for 12 to 18 months before they’re re-deployed elsewhere. Given that lack of consistency, often times you’re having to backdrack and reset ground that’s already been covered. There does need to be more consistency with military personnel involved in these programmes.

It’s a picture recognised by those who know the armed services well. Military commentator Alan Davies held the rank of Major. He told me that,

Inherently there’s a resistance to change. Then there are tri-service issues – the three services don’t always work well together. The whole thing isn’t geared towards quick decision-making processes.

The MOD recognises that it needs to change. In a statement it said,

Ministers have made clear that they are determined to improve the procurement process and this is one of the key areas that the Defence Reform Unit is considering, as part of its work to develop a department which is simpler, more cost effective and efficient.

Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns says he’s angry on behalf of his constituents but not surprised at the picture painted by Lawrence Lewis.

But he says the Defence Secretary Liam Fox has identified procurement as a major problem in the past and has it firmly in his sights.

It’s thought the St Athan site is once again in the running as a possible site for defence training. The MOD says,

St Athan was previously chosen as the best location on which to collocate that training for good reasons, and it is still an option for consideration for the future location of Technical Training. 

I understand that an announcement is due within weeks listing the UK Government’s preferred locations for training and that St Athan will be among them.

But with not one but two failed projects there, Lawrence Lewis fears for it and other major defence projects  unless the MOD changes its culture.

I think if this change doesn’t occur we’ll still see some of the endemic failures that we have seen and certainly I’ve witnessed some of that in my own experience. That change must occur, I believe, for the military to perform some of these large, extensive programmes.

You can see a fuller version of my interview with Lawrence Lewis in tonight’s Sharp End at 1035pm ITV1 Wales.

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