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SIGNIFICANT MILESTONE

SIGNIFICANT MILESTONE FOR DEFENCE ACQUISITION REFORM
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

25 Apr 13. ‘Feeding uncertainty with more uncertainty will most usually make the problem even worse’. These are my own words and I use them to describe the ‘Significant milestone for defence acquisition reform’ statement that was put out from the office of the Secretary of State for Defence today. I have on this occasion included the actual published statement and would refer you to the emboldened paragraphs further down.

Who on earth chose that statement title? Initial analysis of the well anticipated if much delayed statement suggested to me that this was just another fudge – one that in essence was simply pushing back the evil day when a final ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision on whether moving to a GoCo or DE&S+ would need to be made. We know well that the Chief of Defence Material, Mr Bernard Gray favours a GoCo solution to the vexing issue of defence procurement. Equally, until three months ago we thought that we knew that HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and that maybe, even the Secretary of State for Defence himself were actually opposed. Perhaps we were all wrong!

That said it is worth noting that over the past few months increased vibes for what had become known as an up-rated version of the current DE&S operation known as DE&S+ (this remaining fully part of the MoD structure) had been gathering momentum following very well explained ‘briefings’ by senior MoD officials. Indeed, it was appearing that the notion of a privatised ‘GoCo’ procurement operation might very slip below the horizon never to be seen again. But just as the Sun goes down so it comes back up the following morning. In this world it seems that nothing is dead until it really is dead! Very soon it became clear that those of us that thought the notion of a GoCo solution was finally dead and buried had seriously underestimated the Chief of Defence Material’s great powers of persuasion!

I suspect that the bottom line now on realising that the Government intends to go ahead with enabling legislation for the possibility of a GoCo [no new legislation would be required for a DE&S+] my view on this statement would also have to be one that suggests ‘the real importance [of this statement] is far more about what it did not tell us as opposed to what little that actually it did’.

It appears to me that we are little further forward tonight than we were six months ago. More analysis is being demanded, more work that will either make a case for GoCo risk or staying with the status quo albeit it with a modernised and up-rated version of DE&S+. Meanwhile day by day more and more good people are leaving DE&S and quite frankly, who can blame them. I can but only imagine the trauma of so much uncertainty and of not knowing whether or not they will have a job six or twelve months down the line. Why would they stay if something much better came along?

It is a great shame that the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon Philip Hammond does not appear to care about the damage being done at DE&S. After so much discussion, after so much damage and uncertainty the very thought that we are no further forward following almost two and a half years of supposed effort to transform DE&S beggars belief.

I am not as it happens entirely opposed to the idea of a GoCo solution even if I readily admit to a feeling that this method is most likely fraught with unseen risk. I sometimes wonder what it must be like for the participants – the good and the bad that have stuck it out at Bristol. How many will be left in a year from now I wonder? Not many I venture to suggest. Then my mind turns to a GoCo solution and I ponder why on earth would a private sector company have sufficient trust in such an unknown system that could allow them to believe they would be allowed to make sufficient profits from any investment? Indeed, with no confirmation yet of the existence

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