Op-Ed: The MoD is not fit for purpose

Contributor:  Godfrey Bloom
Posted:  07/09/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   politics

About the author

Mr Bloom is a Financial Economist by profession, and represents Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire in the European Parliament. He holds the Territorial Decoration and bar and is a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies (Strategy). He is the Defence spokesman for the UK Independence Party.

Mr Bloom is also an advance post graduate of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and has recently been on attachment to both the Army and RAF in the Middle East, Canada and Afghanistan.

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Defence of the realm is supposedly the prime responsibility of government. I am old fashioned enough to agree. During the post-Cold War years, governments of all political persuasions have gradually changed this emphasis from protecting the UK’s national security to the implementation of a ‘cradle-to-grave’ welfare state. 

We have, however, gone far beyond Beveridge’s original concept of the ‘safety net’, which looked to give financial support and ‘freedom from want’ to Britain after the Second World War. What we have seen instead is the explosion of corporate welfare and the rise of Quangocracy. £75 million is being spent each day on overseas aid, EU contributions and green initiatives, with the proliferation of wind turbines surely being one of the great absurdities of our age.

This criminal waste means there is no money left for adequate defence of the realm. Or does it?  Arguably the budget for defence as percentage of GDP is not unreasonable. It is possible to run a very efficient defence force with nothing more than some political will and expertise. It is not just a question of declining defence budgets; we need a complete overhaul of the MoD.

I was privileged to be invited to give a paper to the National Defence University in Washington in 2006 which flagged up exactly where the missing billions were going and why. Quite how the conservative coalition was so surprised by the £38 billion ‘black hole’ when it took office is bewildering.

There is a need for a drastic strategic change in direction in UK defence policy.  If the UK had been a Plc this would have taken place years ago. Unfortunately a two party constitutional democracy is doomed to chronic inefficiency, it is built into the system. Unlike in a public company, there are no shareholders in the MoD to bring the Board of Directors to account.

Similar to how many of the 1.3 million NHS staff lack any medical qualifications whatsoever, there are also significantly more civil servants in the MOD than soldiers. The state is incompetent because there is no market force at work to weed out failure.  This has very little to do with party politics but everything to do with a flawed system.

How can this be rectified?  Indeed, can it be rectified at all?  It is my belief it can, inexpensively and relatively quickly.

It calls for a ruthless surgeon’s knife.  Not necessarily in order of priority, but here are the key steps we need to take:

The Secretary of State for Defence must be a cross party appointment, not necessarily drawn from the ranks of party membership. Indeed it would be an advantage to actively discriminate against career politicians. The average term of office over the last 25 years for Ministers of Defence is 1 year 4 months. The Minister could have a small defence committee – and I do mean small, three is plenty. No good ever came out of a committee with more than four members, I resist the allusion to the camel. The constituent members could include an historian; after all, who could argue the late Professor Richard Holmes would not have added value to forming defence policy, or indeed John Keegan or Corelli Barnet? It could also perhaps include an entrepreneur – a real entrepreneur, one who has built a business like Tim Martin (Wetherspoons) or Brian Souter (Stagecoach). I would add, perhaps radically, a temporary rolling appointment for an officer of middle rank fresh from Staff College with recent operational experience. I did enough soldiering as a Territorial to know the procurement of army trucks was done by a cavalry general in my day who had never been in a truck I his life.

This brings me on to procurement: The MoD is not fit for purpose, it has to go. It is not reformable.  There are excellent people in the MoD but the organization is rancid. We need a new procurement agency headed up by the best MoD people of 2 star rank with the regular rolling co-opting of service officers on the basis of careful selection criteria. No ‘Buggins turn’ politicians. The whole procurement process should be de-politicized. Defence of the realm should not be propped up by the blind support of local defence industries in marginal seats. Off-the-shelf products are the order of the day. The UK defence industry is big enough and ugly enough to live in the commercial world.

Significant changes need to be made in pay, pension and service welfare. Admiral Snooks does not need £200,000 per year to push paper about Whitehall. Corporals in-theatre need periodic bonuses to keep them ‘in the game’ in Helmand Province. Colour Sergeants in Afghanistan need better packages than the Flight Sergeants counting blankets at RAF Wittering. The team on operations need helicopters and plenty of them; they do not need one helicopter with quadraphonic music, electric windows and leather seats – they need many bog standard ones. Army trucks can be bought from TATA at £25,000 each and sprayed green; we don’t need state of the art trucks made by MANN for £150,000.  

If we are not going to war with America I suggest we would be better with significantly more squadrons with integrated weapons systems compatible with our real allies, not a ‘buy European’ policy at five times the price with ‘Mickey Mouse’ allies who, history shows, will always let us down.

Last, but by no means least, we need a reserves and recruitment policy which reflects a youth unemployment rate of 26%. The nation deserves to die if we have under recruited infantry regiments in catchment areas where young men and women watch daytime TV as they await their next welfare cheque.

As Churchill would have said, “Action this day”.

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Godfrey Bloom Contributor:   Godfrey Bloom


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