MPs 'extremely frustrated' by Ministry of Defence's failure to control budget

15 July 2020, 09:13

The Prime Minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has been a harsh critic of defence spending in the past
The Prime Minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has been a harsh critic of defence spending in the past. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The continued failure of the Ministry of Defence to produce a properly funded plan to equip the armed forces with the ships, aircraft and weaponry they need has exasperated MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee said it was "extremely frustrated" that the MoD had still not made the hard choices needed to plug a £13bn funding gap.

The warning comes ahead of a rumoured Government review into the department which is expected to overhaul defence procurement.

The Government has said its new integrated defence and security review - due to be completed next year - would seek "innovative ways" to promote UK interests while committing to spending targets.

However, in a highly critical report, the public spending watchdog expressed "extreme" frustration that "we see the same problems year after year".

The MPs accused the MoD of failing to make the "hard choices" necessary to plug a gap of up to £13bn pounds in the current equipment programme.

"The government has still not taken the strategic decisions required to establish an affordable equipment plan and deliver the crucial military capabilities needed by our armed forces.

"The department's lamentable failure to get a grip on the equipment plan continues, despite this committee and the NAO [National Audit Office] consistently highlighting serious affordability issues in the plan year after year."

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According to the latest report by the National Audit Office (NAO), the rolling 10-year equipment plan is between £2.9 billion and £13 billion over budget - with the MoD having little idea how to make good the shortfall.

The warning comes as ministers have promised a major overhaul of defence procurement procedures as part of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy - which has been delayed until next year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Boris Johnson's most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, has been a harsh critic of defence procurement in the past.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said it is time for ministers to finally get to grips with the issue.

"The MoD knows what it's getting wrong. We know what it's getting wrong," she said.

"For years we have made concrete proposals to improve delivery of key strategic priorities and here we are again, with the same gaps in our national defence and the same risk to our armed forces personnel, year after year."

The MoD said it was committed to securing the best equipment for Britain's armed forces.

A spokesman said: "As the committee acknowledges, managing complex defence programmes can be challenging and we continue to reduce the gap between our budget and predicted costs, achieving £7.8 billion of efficiency savings last year and securing an extra £2.2 billion for defence."