23 Apr 21. Defence launches inquiry into Navy and Naval procurement. Today, the Defence Committee launches its inquiry into the Navy and Naval procurement. The inquiry will examine the UK’s ambition for the Navy’s role over the next 20 years and ask whether naval procurement and support plans are delivering the capabilities required for this role. The full terms of reference have been provided below.
Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said, “With the Integrated Review complete, the Committee will consider its impact on each of the individual Services, starting first with the Royal Navy. As has been widely reported, the decision to advance our cyber and space resilience has come at a cost to our conventional capabilities. Yet the review still sets ambitious targets to help project ‘Global Britain’ and the international order of the future through our hard power. These include simultaneously playing a lead role in NATO, being active in the Gulf and East Africa, and executing a tilt to the Indo-Pacific. As the Committee appreciated on our recent visit to Portsmouth and the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, our Armed Forces have exceptional surface and sub-surface capabilities in the pipeline. However, the current size of our entire Naval force is already tested in meeting today’s commitments, let alone the additional ambitions set out in the Integrated Review. This inquiry will take a broad look at the Navy’s ambitions for the next 20 years, as well as focusing in on procurement, asking whether the current programme is sufficient enough to respond to immediate threats and to future proof our maritime forces in a world of rapid geopolitical and technological change.”
Terms of Reference:
What is the UK’s ambition for the Navy’s role over the next 20 years?
- What naval threats is the UK likely to face and what standing commitments, including for NATO and UK Overseas Territories, does the government intend the Navy to undertake?
- In particular what is the implication of a tilt to the Indo-Pacific?
- What naval forces (vessels, capabilities and bases) are required to combat these threats and to deliver these standing commitments?
- What are the implications of cooperation with vessels from allied nations, for example allied vessels participating in carrier strike groups?
Are naval procurement and support plans delivering the capabilities required for this role?
There are several expected pinch points in equipment that pose a risk to the Navy’s ability to deliver planned capabilities. The inquiry will examine where risks to specific programs could threaten the Navy’s overall effectiveness, with particular focus on the following areas:
- Concerns have been raised over some core equipment and enabling capabilities for the carrier strike program: the withdrawal and removal of partners from the F-35 program has led to speculation that the UK will cut its order; the Public Accounts Committee reported in November that the Crowsnest radar system had been delayed by 18 months because of poor contractor performance and inadequate departmental oversight; and the tendering process for the Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) has been delayed multiple times with the current Solid Support Ships expected to retire between 2023-2025. How will this affect plans for Carrier Enabled Power Projection?
- Delays to the Astute class submarine program have been a longstanding area of concern, with the late hand over of HMS Audacious likely to have extended delays further down the tranche. How will these delays affect the replacement timeline for the Trafalgar class and the cost of the program?
- What impact will delays to Astute have on the Dreadnought program, as some of the same production facilities are required for both models?
- The time at sea for the Type 45 destroyers has been limited in previous years due to long-term difficulties with cooling, propulsion and manpower. What is the status of efforts to address this, like the Power Improvement Program, and what impact will the Type 45’s readiness levels have on Navy capabilities over this period?
- The UK is likely to face a “frigate gap” until at least the early 2030s. The current Type 23 frigates will begin to leave service on an annual basis from 2023. There are concerns over the extended retirement dates, especially with regards to the integrity of certain hulls and lack of spare part packages across the board. The first replacement Type 26s and Type 31s are not expected to be in service until at least four years later. What capabilities will the Navy lose or need to deliver through other means as a result? How realistic are production plans for the Type 31s (already described as “aggressive” and including an ambitious delivery rate of one every 8-12 months, compared to 18 months for comparable European programmes for similar vessels)?
- The Navy’s Hunt and Sandown Mine Counter Measure Vessels will be replaced by an Autonomous Mine Hunting Capability currently under development. How likely is this to be able to replicate the vessels’ full contribution, including to partnerships with allies through deployments like Op KIPION, by the time they reach retirement in the early 2030s and what are the implications if it does not?
- What other progress is being made on integrating UAVs into the Navy?
- Is the UK’s domestic shipbuilding industry able to fulfil its role in delivering the country’s naval capabilities? What has been the effect of the National Shipbuilding Strategy? Does the government’s decision in the Defence Industrial Strategy to determine whether to invite foreign competition on a case-by-case basis (rather than just for warships) increase or decrease the opportunities for UK shipbuilding? What will industry need to see in the government’s forthcoming update to the National Shipbuilding Strategy and 30-year plan for Naval and other government-owned vessels?
- How realistic are proposed exports of Type 26 and Type 31 frigate designs and what effect would they have on costs of the frigates for the UK? Since most foreign buyers will seek to produce ships domestically, how much value are these export deals likely to deliver to UK shipbuilding?
- The government’s Defence Industrial Strategy promises up to five Type 32 frigates and a new class Type 83 destroyer but no further details on these ships’ designs and roles have been provided: how can the government learn from previous programs in designing and delivering these two ships?
Form of written evidence:
Submissions should be no longer than 3,000 words. The main body of any submission should use numbered paragraphs. Each submission should contain:
- a short summary, perhaps in bullet point form;
- a brief introduction about the person or organisation submitting evidence, for example explaining their area of expertise or experience;
- any factual information from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other witnesses;
- any recommendations for action by the Government or others which the submitter would like the Committee to consider for inclusion in its report to the House.
Submissions should be in malleable format such as MS Word (not PDFs) with no use of colour or logos. Guidance on submitting written evidence and data protection information is available here: Guidance on submitting written evidence.
Deadline for submissions
The Committee is asking for initial written evidence to be submitted through the Committee’s web portal by midnight on 30 May 2021.
It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons which outlines particulars of word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.
We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. We are currently monitoring the diversity of our witnesses.
22 Apr 21. Public Accounts Committee – House of Commons. MoD has “neglected” service personnel accommodation despite clear link to operational capability & personnel retention.
£16.5bn new funding announced in November 2020 “spent more than once before it had even arrived with the Department”
In a report published today the Public Accounts Committee warns that the Ministry of Defence’ (MoD) “neglect” of the accommodation for over half of the Armed Forces is a risk to retention of service personnel and ultimately “directly undermines operational capability”. In 2020 29% of service personnel living in the Single Living Accommodation (SLA) said accommodation was a factor increasing their intention to leave.
The Committee says MoD “has taken the goodwill of service personnel for granted and has been complacent in how it has managed SLA”. There is no minimum standard for SLA, unlike private or social housing or MoD’s own Service Family Accommodation. An IT system set up to manage the maintenance of SLA eight years ago is still not functioning.
A ‘fix on fail’ policy has led to a £1.5bn maintenance and repairs backlog across all accommodation, including SLA. Much of the estate is old and 36% of personnel live in the lowest-grade accommodation, with 3% of these not even required to pay rent because their housing is so poor.
Commands have plans to invest £1.5bn to upgrade accommodation over the next 10 years and plan to use some of the additional £16.5bn in defence funding announced in November 2020 for this. However, this extra funding “seems to have already been spent more than once before it had even arrived”, raising questions about how much investment SLA will actually receive. A step change in management is needed if the Department is to meet the reasonable expectations of service personnel and be fit for the 21st century.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Leaving over one third of our serving Armed Forces in the ‘poorest’ standard of accommodation sends an absolutely terrible signal about the value we place on their work defending the UK and its interests around the globe. Providing decent accommodation is part of a promise the MoD makes to our Armed Forces in recognition of their service, a promise which is being roundly broken. More airy promises to allot some of the new £16.5bn defence funding that seems to have been spent several times over before its even arrived with the Department absolutely will not do – our serving personnel’s needs must not be relegated to the back of the queue yet again. They deserve better than this and full, proper delivery of the UK’s defence capabilities demands it.”
PAC report conclusions and recommendations
- The Department has neglected Single Living Accommodation for many years and has not given it anything like the priority that it has deserved, despite the clear link between accommodation and delivery of operational capability. Single Living Accommodation is part of the overall employment ‘offer’ to service personnel. There is a close connection between the quality of accommodation and the ability of the services to do their job and, ultimately, produce the capability needed to deliver defence outputs. The views of Service personnel on their accommodation influence their intention to stay or leave the services; in the 2020 Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey (AFCAS), 29% of service personnel living in Single Living Accommodation stated that accommodation was a factor which increased their intention to leave. While there have been building and refurbishment initiatives over the years, a large proportion of Single Living Accommodation is now old and worn out. At a time of financial pressures, accommodation is part of an overall balance of investment choices, and we recognise that the Department has often not had the resources to invest. Since 2010, Single Living Accommodation has been subject to a ‘fix on fail’ approach to maintenance which has contributed to a £1.5 billion deferred maintenance backlog across all forms of accommodation. This is another example of the Department’s short-term decision-making, deferring difficult decisions and increasing costs in the long-term; something we recently reported on in respect of the Equipment Plan. Since 2018, responsibility has been delegated to Commands, which have developed plans for improvements, but these are long overdue, and it may be some time before they deliver significant improvements.
Recommendation: The Department should report back to the Committee in six months on the changes it is introducing under its Defence Accommodation Strategy to raise the priority given to Single Living Accommodation, including implementation of the National Audit Office recommendations.
- Although many service personnel live in poor quality Single Living Accommodation and are dissatisfied with their accommodation and with the maintenance and repairs service, the Department appeared surprisingly complacent about resolving this long-term issue. There is considerable variability in the standard of accommodation, with more than one-third of personnel in Single Living Accommodation living in the lowest-grade accommodation as of 31 October 2020. Some accommodation was so poor that 3% (2,388 personnel) incurred no rental charge. The Department accepts that it is important that service personnel feel valued, but many service personnel experience problems with the basics including hot water and heating. Satisfaction rates with the overall standard of their accommodation for service personnel living in Single Living Accommodation were at 49% in 2020, a decline from 58% in 2015. Despite the Department’s claim that satisfaction has remained stable or increased since delegation of responsibility for infrastructure to the Commands in 2018, this is not true of all services, and levels are still too low. Although the Department stated that contract Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are being achieved, service personnel satisfaction with maintenance and repairs does not reflect this. The Department expects to see improved delivery through the new Future Defence Infrastructure Services contracts, with more suppliers involved and better performance metrics.
Recommendation: The Department should set out clearly in its Defence Accommodation Strategy:
- how and when it will eradicate the poorest quality accommodation.
- a target level of satisfaction for Single Living Accommodation and the steps it will take to achieve this; and
- how it plans to gather the views of service personnel on Single Living Accommodation.
- The lack of a minimum standard for Single Living Accommodation means the Department has no baseline against which to make investment decisions, or to demonstrate progress towards establishing an estate fit for the 21st century. Unlike for its Service Family Accommodation, and in contrast to elements of the housing sector, the Department has set no minimum standard for Single Living Accommodation. Without a baseline it is difficult to set a budget for improvement work or to know how much needs to be done on the estate. Without such information, Single Living Accommodation will always struggle to compete for resources with other priorities. A minimum standard should reflect changes in the reasonable expectations of service personnel; for example, access to wi-fi, and the ability to be able to cook for themselves. As more than 50,000 bed spaces constructed prior to 2000 would not meet the current building standards if built today, we have concerns about health and safety standards, although the Department tells us that fire risk assessments are completed at least every two years. With an increased focus on environmental sustainability, the Department needs to invest now to meet targets; it has some work underway, including running low carbon trials.
Recommendation: The Department should set and publish a clear minimum standard for the condition of its Single Living Accommodation by the end of the year, taking account of best practice in civilian standards and wider thinking on sustainability.
- The Department’s lamentable failure to implement a Single Living Accommodation Management Information System (SLAMIS) over the past eight years means it is unable to manage its Single Living Accommodation efficiently. Project SLAMIS was initiated in 2013 to provide basic information on the Single Living Accommodation estate of a kind that any organisation managing property would expect to have. Progress has been very slow, and the project was cancelled, then restarted, and now should be in service by 2022. We are extremely disappointed at this lack of progress for such a simple system, and have seen the Department having similar problems with other IT systems, such as that supporting army recruitment. The Department is developing a bespoke system instead of using platforms already available, which seems unnecessary given that other organisations already have systems to meet similar requirements. SLAMIS is expected to provide accommodation booking facilities and a picture of how accommodation is being used. This should aid investment decisions and help better match supply and demand of Single Living Accommodation. Although a substantial amount of Single Living Accommodation is unoccupied, Substitute Service Single Accommodation (SSSA) cost the Department £32.4 million in 2019-20, with a large amount of SSSA located in London and Bristol.
Recommendation: The Department should report back to the committee in six months on progress with delivering the SLAMIS system, including to confirm when in 2022 it will be fully operational.
- Management of Single Living Accommodation has long suffered from a lack of coordination, ownership and strategic grip. Currently no single person has responsibility for Single Living Accommodation, and there are many different stakeholders involved, with some groups having been set up in response to the lack of governance and ownership of Single Living Accommodation. Overall responsibility is now delegated, with all Commands having their own plans to tackle different priorities, but there is a lack of a central view. The Department is developing the Defence Accommodation Strategy to coordinate the overall approach to all accommodation needs which will also include the Defence Estate Optimisation Portfolio (to reduce the estate) and the Future Accommodation Model (to provide housing options). There is much experience in different public and private housing sectors which could be drawn on to help better manage Single Living Accommodation.
Recommendation: The Department should review and simplify the governance structures for Single Living Accommodation, including clarifying overall responsibility, and ensuring that those making decisions have the necessary capability and capacity.
- We are concerned that, although Commands have plans to improve Single Living Accommodation, this will only address the worst problems, and available funding may be used to meet other demands. The Commands have set out plans to spend a total of £1.5 billion on upgrades and new-build accommodation between 2020 and 2030. However, much of this is backloaded and focuses on the worst quality accommodation. The Department’s ‘fix on fail’ approach to maintenance has led to a huge backlog of works required, £1.5 billion across all accommodation, which will take time and money to reverse. The Department’s current expenditure is estimated to be only a third of what it should be spending to maintain the estate. Funding for Single Living Accommodation is not ring-fenced and it must compete with other demands on the defence budget, including equipment (which is around 40% of the total budget), which always takes priority. Depending on the outcome of the arbitration relating to the rents for service family homes leased from Annington Property Limited, there could also be further pressures on the overall budget and, in particular, on the amount set aside for improving accommodation. Since we took evidence, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy has been published so the Department should now be clear about what additional funding is available for Single Living Accommodation.
Recommendation: In the light of the publication of the Integrated Review, the Department should reassess its plans and the funding needed to improve Single Living Accommodation, taking account of the promised minimum standard, and focusing on making as much money available as soon as possible to start addressing years of underinvestment / ENDS
Notes to eds:
- Full inquiry info including evidence received: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1004/mod-improving-single-living-accommodation-for-service-personnel/
- Full Committee info including Membership: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/127/public-accounts-committee/
22 Apr 21. Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill publishes final report on Bill. Today, the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill publishes its Special Report. After four weeks of careful scrutiny, this Report has been formulated from the written evidence, oral evidence and line-by-line bill consideration of the Select Committee. A public survey has also provided a welcome source of additional input and feedback. The Chair of the Committee, James Sunderland MP, will make a statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Thursday announcing the report and taking questions from other MPs. You can watch this on Parliament TV.
Armed Forces Covenant
The Committee welcomes Clause 8 of the Bill, which introduces a statutory duty to have ‘due regard’ to the Armed Forces Covenant. Whilst the evidence yields concern that some areas of the Covenant are included while others are not, the Committee recognises that the Bill addresses what is deemed to be readily achievable. Concerns were also raised that the Bill applies to local government and some public bodies, but not to central nor devolved governments, and that there is a lack of alternative routes of redress for veterans. The Report therefore raises further questions on how due regard will work in practice, noting the delay in the publication of the draft Statutory Guidance and the decision not to have prescribed outcomes. The Committee believes that this highlights further work for the MOD.
The Committee recommends that additional questions be included in future editions of the annual Continuous Attitude Surveys for the Regular Armed Forces, Service Families and the Reserves on whether the Covenant has brought a positive or negative impact on respondents in the areas of housing, healthcare and education in the last 12 months. It further recommends that the Government conducts a review, 24 months after implementation, to consider how the new legal duty for the Armed Forces Covenant works in practice and whether it is negatively impacting other areas. The Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report should also review the effectiveness of the legislation and comment on future scope.
Service Justice System Review
The Committee welcomes efforts to reform the Service Justice System following the Lyons Review but recognises that concerns do remain on concurrent jurisdiction. It is recommended that the MOD works to immediately introduce the Defence Serious Crime Capability and ensure that clear protocols are in place to allow effective cooperation with civilian police forces.
Service Complaints System
The Committee welcomes efforts to speed up the complaints process, provided that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure fair access and treatment. Whilst it is noted that Black, Asian, minority ethnic and female service personnel continue to be over-represented amongst complainants, the excellent progress in enhancing Equal Opportunities throughout all three services is to be commended.
It is also recommended that the MOD prioritises the implementation of all recommendations of the Wigston review within 6 months, ensuring that solutions take account of the needs of victims and provide appropriate avenues to redress that are external to the single service chain of command where needed. This will again need to be subject to review.
Other areas of scrutiny
Along with many other positive areas identified, the Special Report examines diversity in the Armed Forces and finds encouraging progress, but warns that more could be done. This picture is similar in Veterans’ healthcare, particularly in mental health, and also in the varied quality of service accommodation. The annex includes analysis on the survey, with more than 3,000 respondents.
Chair of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, James Sunderland MP, said: “The Armed Forces Bill is a significant step in the right direction, reinforcing the integration of the Covenant into law and fortifying the Service Justice System and Service Complaints System. Whilst the Committee was able to generate a mass of encouraging evidence, our scrutiny raises lingering questions about some of the practicalities of implementing the provisions of the Bill.
“The legislation does not yet provide definitive guidance as to how the duty to have due regard will work in practice and provides few prescribed outcomes. Given that any lack of clarity can leave room for misinterpretation, we see geographical variations and perhaps even the risk of a two-tier Covenant, in which certain policy areas may be considered a lower priority than others. Legislating in this area is admittedly difficult so ongoing scrutiny, further refinement through policy amendments and a willingness to adapt will be pivotal. We are confident that the MOD has this in hand.
“A year on from the Service Justice System Review, the Committee recognises that wider concerns emanate from the decision to implement some, but not all, of the Lyons Review’s recommendations. The logic is clearly specific to the unique circumstances of military service but we urge the Government to accelerate work on the Defence Serious Crime Capability to ensure full diligence in any investigation.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has again served to highlight the sacrifices that our Armed Forces make and it is essential that Parliament always fights their corner. Given that our service personnel always rise to the challenges set by Government, it is even more important that politicians of all parties step up to support them. We must not therefore waste this chance to be a force for good and do the right thing”.
House of Commons and House of Lords Hansard Written Answers
Armoured Fighting Vehicles: Iron and Steel
Question for Ministry of Defence
UIN 181257, tabled on 15 April 2021
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how much UK-produced steel has been used in the manufacturing of Boxer Armoured Fighting Vehicles procured by his Department.
Answered on 20 April 2021
While UK steel may be used at component level, the BOXER vehicles being developed and qualified are likely to require significant quantities of specialist steel not available in the UK.
Baltic States: NATO
Question for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
UIN 181364, tabled on 15 April 2021
Hornsey and Wood Green
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has been made of the level of threat of the recent Russian military mobilisation to NATO allies in the Baltic region.
Answered on 20 April 2021
Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, and provocative military activities are a source of regional instability. The enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland demonstrates NATO’s steadfast commitment to collective defence and deterrence, making it clear that an attack on one Ally would be considered an attack on the whole Alliance. UK Armed Forces have a leading role in NATO’s eFP in the Baltic States, in order to enhance Euro-Atlantic security, reassure our Allies and deter our adversaries. We regularly discuss with NATO allies our responses to potential threats from Russia and as fellow Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, we engage directly with Russia on matters of international peace and security, including the Baltic Region.
Type 31 Frigates: Iron and Steel
UIN 181255, tabled on 15 April 2021
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how much UK-produced steel has been used in the manufacturing of Type 31 Frigates procured by his Department.
Answered on 20 April 2021
No steel has yet been procured for the Type 31 frigates.
There are no UK suppliers of the specialised steel required in the manufacture of submarine pressure hulls. Other grades of steel used in the manufacture of Astute Class submarines were sourced from a range of suppliers, including a number of UK companies. Owing to the complexity of the Astute programme supply chain and the time that has elapsed since steel for the programme was procured, it is not possible to provide reliable information on the tonnages of steel provided by each supplier.
Steel for our major defence programmes is generally sourced by our prime contractors from a range of UK and international suppliers and that remains the case. This Government is committed to creating the right conditions in the UK for a competitive and sustainable steel industry. It publishes its future pipeline for steel requirements, together with data on how Departments are complying with steel procurement guidance. This enables UK steel manufacturers to better plan and bid for Government contracts.
Armoured Fighting Vehicles: Iron and Steel
UIN 181258, tabled on 15 April 2021
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how much UK-produced steel has been used in the manufacturing of Ajax Armoured Fighting Vehicles procured by his Department.
Answered on 20 April 2021
The majority of the steel for the hull and armour of Ajax being smelted and rolled to create a high hardness specification required for the ballistic properties needed to ensure survivability. This steel being produced is low volume and not available in the UK.
Question for Ministry of Defence
UIN HL14961, tabled on 15 April 2021
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to draw the personnel for the new Ranger Regiment from all Infantry units of the British Army; what assessment they have made of the additional training resources required for that regiment to be able to operate in…
Show full question
Answered on 22 April 2021
The new Ranger Regiment is part of an Army Special Operations Brigade and will receive a share of a £120 million investment over the next four years. It will initially be seeded from the four Specialised Infantry Battalions and in time will become all-arms units capable of supporting and conducting special operations in high-risk environments.
Under the transformation announced by the Secretary of State for Defence, the Army will be more actively and persistently engaged overseas. This does not mean that all deployments will be lengthy and the impact on individuals and their families will be carefully managed under policy designed to ensure that they are not over-stretched. To complement the Army Special Operations Brigade, a Security Force Assistance (SFA) Brigade will also be established and this will form the foundation of the Army’s contribution to persistent engagement overseas.
The Army will use spring and early summer 2021 to refine and test the designs, capabilities and structure of its units before making more detailed announcements later this year.