Public Accounts Committee hears from MOD civil servants on Bowman CIP programme
Wed, 01 Nov 06 DeHavilland Report – Parliamentary Committee
Permanent Under Secretary of State for Defence Bill Jeffrey has accepted that the technical challenges of the Bowman CIP programme were ‘underestimated’ as it has made more demands on the staff of the Ministry of Defence as a result.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee as part of its investigation into delivering digital tactical communications through the Bowman CIP programme, Mr Jeffrey affirmed that the Bowman programme gave options that were not there before, especially in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He appeared alongside Major General Bill Rollo, Assistant Chief of the General Staff at the Ministry of Defence, Air Vice-Marshall Stuart Butler, Capability Manager (Information Superiority) at the MoD and Dr Iain Watson, Operations Director for Information Superiority at the Defence Procurement Agency.
Air Vice-Marshall Butler claimed that the situation involving high level governance of the programme had been clarified, and noted that he owned the network in ‘totality’.
Committee Chairman Edward Leigh put it to the panel that the original business case of the programme was ‘deliberately fudged’. Mr Jeffrey denied this assertion.
Following a question from Mr Leigh regarding the performance of the Bowman programme in Iraq and Afghanistan, Major General Rollo explained that the programme aided the tracking of troops and convoys over large distances.
Labour MP Alan Williams asked the witnesses if anything was done right during the implementation of the Bowman programme, alluding to the difficulties in developing radios for infantry. Mr Watson stated that a significant investment had been made in the development of radios for infantry, suggesting that it was apparent that the characteristics of the radio and its weight could not be combined.
He affirmed that the priorities were to achieve the radio communication performance.
Mr Williams suggested that it took nine months to get approval for the radio system. Mr Jeffrey told the Committee that discussions had to be carried out with the Army and the Treasury.
Mr Williams argued that the delay in the process had cost £121m and this was an ‘appalling waste of money’.
Mr Jeffreys acknowledged that the technology was changing and the cost of the programme was more than anticipated.
Mr Leigh referred to Appendix 5 on p48 of the National Audit Report which showed twenty-seven major provisos necessary in bringing in the new programme.
Labour MP Don Touhig questioned the panel on whether anything had changed in the Ministry of Defence to improve its planning on implementation. Mr Jeffrey claimed that the department was more aware of the issue of over-optimism and it was in ‘better shape’.
There was always a possibility that technological risks would be underestimated, he added.
In response to a question from Mr Touhig regarding the complicated decision-making process, Mr Jeffrey accepted that the processes were more complicated than they needed to be, but assured MPs that lessons were learnt on past mistakes.
Mr Touhig asked why there was no owner of the programme. Mr Jeffrey said that the right approach was to appoint a SRO, which was done.
Mr Touhig suggested that the civil service never wanted to take responsibility for when things went wrong.
He proceeded to question the panel on the operation of the kit by technologically-illiterate officers. Major General Rollo explained that those people who required greater knowledge received greater training.
Mr Jeffrey confirmed that there were still technical challenges to overcome within the system.
Major General Rollo proceeded to concede that certain aspects of Bowman were not intuitive.
Labour MP Sarah McCarthy-Fry asked the panel if lessons had been learnt so that the same mistakes wo