MoD hiring more commercial officials to boost capability as part of procurement reform

Move comes after reports that procurement in ministry was a key plank of Dominic Cummings’s reform plan for the civil service


HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. Photo: 

By Richard Johnstone

10 Mar 2020

Crown Copyright

The Ministry of Defence is bringing in external experts and hiring more commercial officials to provide “enduring capability” in a drive to transform military procurement, it has revealed.

In a notice posted on its website late last week, the MoD said it was recruiting officials in an effort to boost the department’s commercial capacity, while an outside provider will “assist in the… training of civil servant commercial capabilities”.

The department’s commercial function in “is in the process of hiring additional civil servants to add capacity and develop enduring capability”, according to the announcement. It started the procurement process to appoint a commercial delivery partner in January.


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However, hiting additional civil servants “will take time and does not provide the agility required to quickly adapt to the changing demands of the procurement pipeline and transformation initiatives”, the announcement said. The partner will therefore be “an additional resourcing route”.

The external partner, referred to by the department as CommDP, will provide “a pool of re-deployable resources for allocation to new assignments, retaining the experience, skills and knowledge from their other MoD projects”.

“The CommDP will bring in extensive commercial experience and best practice from other government departments and private sector experience. It will assist in the exchange of knowledge, development and training of civil servant commercial capabilities.”

The announcement follows a series of reports that defence procurement was among the areas where Dominic Cummings, the prime minster’s most senior adviser, wanted to see civil service reform.

Cummings has long criticised defence procurement for its poor delivery record, and in an interview late last year, defence secretary Ben Wallace indicated changes were likely.

“Dom is full of amazing ideas where he has spotted loads of improvement in things like infrastructure procurement, in technology procurement,” Wallace said.

“And he has spotted that as our technology horizon changes, how we procure that has to happen differently and I’m incredibly supportive of what he’s been talking about and I think he’s keen to explore some of the challenges.”

Asked whether negative comments attributed to Cummings on central government’s procurement expertise and a revolving-doors culture between the private and public sectors might ruin any potential future relationship between the senior adviser and the MoD, Wallace said “they’re not going to get a choice”.

He added: “Dominic Cummings is right in one sense, and it’s not any different across the whole public sector.

“Across the whole public sector for the last 20 to 30 years it seems that the private sector were better at the contracts than the public sector.”

But he added that officials alone should not bear ultimate responsibility for procurement failings. “What I would say to Dominic is that as much as the industry and the commissioners have challenges, some of the politicians have to answer for that as well,” he said.

“Optimism bias is a modern phrase. But it's absolutely true across government and procurement.”

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