14 Oct 21. National Security Advisers face questions on evacuation from Afghanistan. The Government’s most senior adviser on national security, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, will face questions from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on the planning for UK’s evacuation from Afghanistan. He will be accompanied by the deputy national security adviser, David Quarrey.
The hearing at 3.00pm on Wednesday 20 October 2021 will examine what role the National Security Council (NSC) – a Cabinet committee of senior ministers – and other key departments played in planning for the evacuation. The wider implications of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban on national security and government strategy are also likely to be probed.
The session follows a critical report by the Joint Committee in September 2021 which concluded that the events in Afghanistan raise “serious questions about the role of the NSC, its strategy-making ability, the effectiveness with which it directs cross-government operational activity and planning, and the delivery of the Integrated Review.”
The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is made up of a group of peers and MPs who scrutinise the structures in government that deal with issues of national security, such as the National Security Council.
- Sir Stephen Lovegrove, National Security Adviser
- David Quarrey, Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser (former acting National Security Adviser from September 2020 to March 2021)
There is currently no public access to Parliament due to the pandemic but those interested in this scrutiny of government, including members of the press, are welcome to watch in real time on parliamentlive.tv
12 Oct 21. MoD estate management failures “continue to harm the well-being of service personnel” as well as UK military capabilities. In 2019-20 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) spent £4.6bn on the UK’s “defence estate” – around twice the annual cost of maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The defence estate – including the MoD’s training and accommodation buildings and facilities – covers fully 1.5% of UK landmass, and is valued at £36bn. In a report today the Public Accounts Committee says the defence estate is “vital in supporting military capabilities and its condition affects the lives and welfare of our service personnel” – but around 40% of it was built more than 50 years old and “30% is in an unacceptable condition”. It has “not tackled the long-known problems with the poor quality of its estate, which continue to harm the well-being of service personnel”.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The MoD is spending about twice as much a year maintaining the defence estate as it does maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent but as this inquiry has disappointingly revealed, it doesn’t know exactly what it spent £4.6 bn of taxpayers’ money on last year – or what it should be spending it on.
“Over the last decade targets have been set and then missed by miles. The management was at first done in-house, then outsourced to contractors and it has since been brought back in-house again and dissolved to the Brigades. It will take another four years to even establish an asset register on standards of condition of all the property that the MoD occupies. Yet in the May 2021 Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey only 34% of service personnel are satisfied with their accommodation.
“Add to all of this that the whole estate management strategy now needs to be completely realigned with the recent Strategic Defence Review. Our report indicates that there is a disastrous lack of estate strategy within the MoD which is taking an unnecessarily large amount of resources from the front line, and not even delivering decent housing for defence personnel who are obliged to occupy it.”
The Committee says the estate is “too large, and its scale, nature and location have failed to evolve to meet the Armed Forces’ needs” – but over a decade into a data collection project the MoD is still “several years away” from key decisions on rationalising and improving it. The MoD “does not expect to reach a ‘competent’ level of asset management until 2025”, which along with its “lamentable failure to bring the SLAMIS system into service after eight years of development” is “yet another example of the poor information that underpins how the MoD manages its estate”.
In 2016, the MoD set up a 25-year Defence Estate Optimisation Portfolio investment strategy with the expectation that it would reduce the size of the built estate by 25%, and that other sales would reduce it by a further 5%. But since then has reduced its built estate by just 2% and even if it achieves all planned disposals, the estate would in fact be reduced by just 16%. The MoD has no actual targets to reduce the size of the whole estate, including its overseas holdings.
Forecast savings from the Optimisation Portfolio have dwindled to £0.65bn from an original estimate of £2.4bn and the Committee fears “there is a very real risk of savings melting away completely”, with the Infrastructure and Project Authority recently grading the whole programme as Amber/Red: “successful delivery of the project is in doubt”.
Conclusions and recommendations
- We are very concerned that the Department does not have a coherent strategy to deliver the necessary reform of its whole estate and to manage all related estate initiatives. Infrastructure is critical to delivering military capability and shapes the lives of service personnel. The Department therefore needs a coordinated estate strategy that meets the defence needs set out in the March 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, and which can adapt as military requirements change. In 2017, this Committee acknowledged that the Department had introduced an estate optimisation strategy but raised concerns about its ability to implement it. These concerns have proved to be well founded, and the defence estate remains larger than the Department wants or requires. The Department has the elements of a strategy but has not consolidated these into a coherent plan. Instead, it has a plethora of estate initiatives, including the Future Accommodation Model for improving service personnel accommodation. The reform of the reserve, training and overseas estates remains outside the Department’s estate optimisation plans, further illustrating its incoherent approach.
Recommendation: By 31 December 2021, the Department should publish a revised estate strategy with milestones which reflects the decisions made in the Integrated Review. When published, the Department should write to the Committee to explain how it will manage the interdependencies between estate initiatives; its plans for rationalising the overseas, training and reserve estates; and the resources it will commit to delivering the strategy.
- The Department has no meaningful targets or high-level performance framework to incentivise it to develop an affordable estate that better supports defence needs. The Department missed two short-term government targets set in the 2015 Spending Review to release land for 55,000 new homes by March 2020 and raise £1bn from the sale of land by March 2021. It raised £538 m and released land for just 9,200 houses, having never thought it could meet the target. The Department did not seek to update its targets to reflect changing circumstances, such as the decision of the United States to retain three large airfields in East Anglia that the Department had planned to sell. Furthermore, since 2016 the Department has shifted emphasis from primarily identifying land to sell to ‘optimising’ its estate, which renders a target to reduce the estate’s size less relevant. The Department now forecasts its estate will shrink by only 16% and has just abandoned its one remaining target to reduce the built estate by 30% by 2040. It has not yet introduced any targets to replace this and acknowledges that it needs more specific, shorter-term targets focussing on deliverables to encourage it to identify and dispose of land it no longer needs, but it does not know what these should be.
Recommendation: By 31 December 2021, the Department should reset its estate optimisation targets, developing specific shorter-term deliverables, including reductions in the size of estate; sale proceeds; and savings in estate running costs.