MoD drafts in ex-defence equipment chief Bernard Gray to review procurement

Former chief of defence materiel, who left the civil service at the end of 2015, to carry out progress review for the MoD on equipment buying

By Matt Foster

26 Apr 2016

Sir Bernard Gray, the former Ministry of Defence equipment chief who left Whitehall less than six months ago, has been asked to take a fresh look at the department's progress in sharpening its buying practices.

Gray, a former journalist and defence special adviser, carried out a highly critical review of defence acquisition for the Labour government in 2009, which warned that the MoD was buying more equipment than it could pay for and repeatedly underestimating project costs.

He was appointed chief of defence materiel for the MoD in 2011, and asked to put his recommendations into practice by the coalition government.

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Although his plan to outsource the MoD's buying arm – Defence Equipment and Support – by turning it into "Government-Owned Contractor-Operated" company was ultimately shelved in favour of allowing it to be run as a central government trading entity with some pay freedoms, Gray's tenure saw cost overruns at the MoD fall from £4bn to just £50m.

Gray was succeeded by Tony Douglas at the end of November, but the Ministry of Defence has now confirmed that it has asked the former chief of defence materiel to carry out a progress update.

An MoD spokesperson said: "Sir Bernard Gray has been asked to undertake a technical review into the state of the procurement landscape. The review will look at the recommendations made in Sir Bernard’s 2009 Review of Defence Acquisition and Lord Levene’s 2011 report on Defence Reform. The report will examine the degree and success of the implementation of the recommendations of these reports in order to inform future strategy and direction."

Citing an MoD contract award document, the Defense News website reported that an organisation called Pole Star Strategy was awarded a £60,000 non-competitive deal to carry out the work. Companies House lists Gray as Pole Star's director and shows that the organisation was incorporated in December last year.

The MoD has not provided CSW with detail on the cost of the exercise, but confirmed that the review had not been the subject of a competitive process. The exercise is not expected to be a large piece of work akin to Gray's 2009 analysis or Lord Levene's 2011 report, with the MoD expecting it to be completed with a few months.

A spokesperson said Gray was "uniquely placed to undertake this work quickly and provide best value for money". 

Update: This article was updated on April 27 to include further detail on the scope and timeframe of the review

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