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Posts Tagged ‘Ministry of Defence’

‘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He told me that slow-decision-making in the MOD’s culture means big defence projects are often out-of-date and over-budget.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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Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has raised his concerns about the future of the army’s presence here in Wales including the possible closure of its Brecon HQ.

Mr Bryant claims talks have been taking place which could lead to the full merger of the Welsh brigade which already comes under the responsibility of the West Midlands division.

And he reckons those talks could involve getting rid of the Brigadier based at Brecon or even closing that HQ in Brecon.

Mr Bryant said,

There are secret conversations going on at the moment within the army, within the Government, thinking about combining the Welsh brigade with the West Midlands and taking the HQ away from Brecon.

That’ll mean a loss of jobs, loss of influence and I think it’ll mean the downgrading of the British army in Wales.

That’ll be a big mistake and yet another example of the government turning its back on Wales.

The Ministry of Defence says  that discussions are ongoing about how all three forces will be reorganised as part of the Government’s strategic defence review.

It’s confirmed that those discussion are looking at how Wales can play its part in that review.

But it says no decision has been made and the MOD wants to ‘retain its footprint’ across the UK.

 

UPDATE 1800 – here’s the official statement from the MOD:

The army are looking at ways to ensure that the organisational structure is as effective as possible but no decisions have yet been made. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said that he is keen to maintain a military footprint in Wales.

 

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It was more about attack than defence when Swansea East MP Sian James led a debate in the House of Commons today focussing on the future of defence training in St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Since the £14bn scheme to set up a training academy for all three forces at the former RAF base was scrapped in October it’s become one of the pieces of evidence that Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians point to as proof of the “contempt” they claim the UK government shows towards Wales.

Supporters of the Westminster coalition, however,  have repeatedly said St Athan is still in the running even though the scheme as planned has been scrapped.

Which is why today’s debate was a chance to try to get some clarity on exactly how St Athan is still in the running.

Answering for the government, Defence Minister Andrew Robathan said the previous government’s plan was simply unaffordable.

But he said the MoD still thinks bringing training together is a good idea and that St Athan is one of the sites being considered as part of a review.

He couldn’t say when that review would end other than to say it would be within the next few months.

I don’t like using military metaphors if I can help it but it seems unavoidable given the way the debate turned out.

Mr Robathan, who has an army background, battled through a barrage of mockery from Labour MPs when he denied the government was anti-Welsh because his great-grandfather was from Risca and his grandfather from Llandaff.

He said he was surprised by “how extraordinarily narrow and partisan” his first Welsh debate was.

And the non-Welsh MPs  who were members of the defence select committee drafted in to bump up the numbers on the government side were also taken aback by the heckling, barracking and repeated calls for interventions coming from the Labour benches.

“Government ringers” was Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith’s repeated accusation to the English MPs.

This approach will be no surprise to aficionados of recent Welsh Grand Committee meetings.

But one of the Labour MPs I spoke to afterwards quietly wondered if it’s the right approach and whether or not the “oppositional” attack technique took up too much time and, in so doing, let the minister off the hook.

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Sources at the very highest level are blaming a Treasury leak for freezing out the inhabitants of the Whitehall base of the Wales Office.

We’re talking literally here. The heating system at Whitehall is, apparently, interlinked and a leak at the Treasury has caused the boiler in Gwydyr House to malfunction just as temperatures plummet.

Incidentally, the same conversation also revealed that the heating at Gwydyr House is controlled by a thermostat at the Ministry of Defence. 

It means if the Wales Office is feeling the heat or the cold, officials there have to ask MoD offficials to turn it up or down.

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