The Ministry of Defence has launched a detailed attack on a Public Accounts Committee report that accused the department of lacking “sufficient urgency” in the development of its large programmes and “complacency” over its equipment plan.
In a 12-page response to committee chair Dame Meg Hillier, defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin said he welcomed the committee’s interest in the plan – but said there were clearly areas where “our views and analysis differs”.
Quin took issue with the assertion that the MoD is complacent about its equipment plan, despite what the PAC described as the department’s “worrying inability to control costs in its large programmes”.
He told Hillier that for the first time in five years the National Audit Office had not stated that the plan was unaffordable. “The Integrated Review has allowed us to balance the plan and invest more on equipment, increasing our spend on the equipment plan from £190bn to £238bn over the next 10 years,” he said.
Quin added that for the first time in several years, the MoD was in a position where it did not need to run a savings exercise, meaning there were “no short-term reductions for affordability reasons”.
On the PAC’s criticism of the “urgency” with which the MoD is developing its existing large programmes, Quin said MPs had referenced the Future Combat Air System, intended to replace strike capability provided by Tornado GR4 planes.
The minister said the FCAS programme was “proceeding at pace” and its concept and assessment phase was due to complete in 2024.
“This period is crucial to defining the capability and ensuring we have the right skills and international partnering arrangements to proceed quickly,” he said.
“We have invested early in developing the technologies and skills needed to ensure the FCAS programme proceeds at speed and on a sure footing.”
Quin also defended the MoD’s ability to scrutinise its operations. He said that the MoD had a “highly professional workforce” and that across the department’s finance profession 73% of officials had qualifications that ensured the necessary expertise and oversight was in place, rising to 84% at senior civil service level.
He added that more than 500 MoD staff were currently studying for professional qualifications.
Quin concluded his letter to Hiller by saying: “We in defence are hugely focused on bringing forward the right capabilities to meet current and future threats, and on risks such as the availability of skills and inflation.
“As we have seen this year, our understanding of the threats we face will evolve and we need to be agile while setting out clearly our long-germ fundamental capability requirements and working with partners to bring them forward in a timely and cost-effective way.”
The last part of Quin’s letter was an eight-page annex responding in detail to more than 20 extracts from the PAC report.