MoD procurement chief once named Whitehall’s top earner leaves after two years

Tony Douglas will stand down from role at Defence Equipment and Support to return to aviation sector

Tony Douglas led the launch of Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier. Credit: Crown copyright

By Tamsin Rutter

28 Sep 2017

The chief executive of Defence Equipment and Support, the Ministry of Defence’s bespoke trading entity, is to leave government at the end of the year for a top role at Etihad Airways, it was announced today.

Tony Douglas – one of the senior business figures hired by the civil service after the Treasury allowed the Cabinet Office to offer commercial chiefs salaries bigger than the prime minister’s – oversees one of the largest procurement budgets in Whitehall.

At the time of his appointment, the Financial Times wrote that he was lured into government with a £285,000 salary and £250,000 performance-related annual bonus, which the newspaper said made him the highest earner in Whitehall.


Douglas, who joined the Ministry of Defence in September 2015 from Abu Dhabi Airports, said leaving the DE&S was a “very difficult decision” to make, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed his time there.

He led the launch of Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and the negotiations for the procurement of Type 26 and 31e frigates, as well as a major programme of organisational transformation in the DE&S, the bespoke trading entity, created as an arm’s length body of the Ministry of Defence to improve the purchasing of military equipment.

He said: “We have made very real progress on project delivery and transformation and we should be individually and collectively proud of what we have done.

“In part, my decision to leave DE&S has been made easier by the knowledge that it will remain in capable hands. I have decided to leave because I have been offered a compelling opportunity to lead a large and complex organisation in the private sector and in an industry, unconnected with defence, which I know well.”

Douglas was appointed a few months after the Public Accounts Committee criticised the DE&S for an over-reliance on contractors, and warned that efforts to reduce the cost of buying defence equipment would be undermined unless it addressed commercial skills gaps.

But the PAC complained again in November last year of the body’s over-reliance on private sector support, when it warned the DE&S that it could face parliamentary scrutiny over its accounting practices.

Commenting on the announcement, defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “I am personally very grateful for the help and support Tony has provided to me personally and been very impressed by the significant progress he has achieved in his time with the MoD, we will be sorry to lose him.

“He is responding to an unexpected opportunity in the private sector which he has decided to pursue and I would not want to stand in his way from taking on that fresh challenge.”

“I am confident that the momentum he has generated will be maintained by his executive team and, in due course, his successor ensuring that DE&S continues to deliver using the foundations he has put into place.”

An interim leader will be appointed from within the DE&S while the department hunts for his successor. 

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