A group of influential MPs have hit out at the Ministry of Defence over its "lamentable failure" to deliver a key equipment plan for the UK's armed forces.
The Public Accounts Committee has urged ministers to "get a grip" over defence projects as it warned a third of the department's top priority plans were at "serious risk" of not being completed on time.
According to a report published today, the 10-year Defence Equipment Plan, which accounts for 40% of the department's spending budget, had become "unaffordable" for the third year in a row, despite repeated warnings from public finance bodies over its viability.
Hitting out at "short-termism" within the department, the cross-party group said ministers had repeatedly failed to deliver a multi-year funding model for the scheme due to a "culture" that instead prioritised meeting annual spending targets.
And the MPs warned the "budget imbalance" created by the approach had resulted in "negative consequences" for investment in other parts of the department's work, including estate management and training of armed forces personnel.
'No real progress'
The PAC also claimed that despite warnings made “year after year” by MPs and public finance watchdogs, the MoD continued to have “inconsistent and unrealistic” expectations for how to manage its budget.
They added: “The department has not made any real progress in strengthening its financial capabilities, despite our previous recommendations on the need to develop financial skills.”
The findings come after reports Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings had made visits to several defence and intelligence agencies ahead of a major review of the UK’s security and foreign policy.
The Integrated Review, which has been delayed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to deliver a shake-up of the UK’s armed forces. Cummings has previously criticised defence procurement practices for “squandering” billions of pounds.
The committee said ministers should act to give “urgent certainty” to defence projects being undertaken ahead of the review.
Commenting on the report, PAC chair Meg Hillier said it was time for the MoD and the Treasury to deliver a “concrete plan” on how to balance the budget.
"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."
She added: "We are saying to the MoD and to the Treasury now: come back to us by the end of the year with a concrete plan for how you are going to turn this around, how you are going to do this differently, from now on.
"The nation and the armed forces that protect us are owed that much."