Behind the numbers: are the UK’s top military procurements still a mess?

Its publication might have come a month later than usual, but the release of the UK National Audit Office’s (NAO) annual Major Projects Report on 10 January still provides the usual fascinating insight into the at-times bizarre world of defence procurement, British-style.

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Over the years, we’ve become used to the report detailing what the BBC’s political satire “The Thick of It” refers to as an “Omnishambles”, such as dizzying examples of poor contract arrangements, weak planning oversight and limited funding control. In fiscal terms, that situation appears to be shifting to a more acceptable position – unless the snapshot into the featured top 16 projects (an oddly random number, when it routinely used to be 20) is a freak event.

The report kicks off with a sobering page which tells us that, overall, the studied projects are running at an average of almost 12% and 29% respectively above their contractually-agreed cost and time schedules. Now worth a combined £63.1 billion, they will take a combined 195 years to complete. Wow. But during the 2011-2012 period studied, costs only rose by £468 million ($750 million), with the MoD only having any control over £132 million of that sum. Put like that, it doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

I’ve still got some parts of the report to finish going through, notably with regard to the rotorcraft sector, but my three articles published so far give updates on the following projects:

It’s not a bad report card for the MoD this year, but big questions remain about whether the UK’s cuts-packed Strategic Defence and Security Review of late 2010 has just kicked some bigger problems down the road a bit. That’s a topic that the NAO will be getting its teeth into separately, but which might not make such comfortable reading for the folks in Main Building.


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