The MoD 'loses' vital kit

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the Ministry of Defense has hit a new low. The NAO has refused to sign off the Departments annual accounts due to “insufficient evidence to support the existence" of kit valued at around £6.6bn. The equipment includes £1.25 billion of machineguns, encrypted radios, night vision goggles and body armour, as well as more than £5 billion of raw materials and spare parts for equipment and vehicles. With the conflict in Afghanistan intensifying - and the death toll rising - that the MoD can be so careless is deeply disturbing. It is a shame that such blunders are now common place.

The Defence Storage and Distribution Agency, which is responsible for supplying £14.1bn worth of materials and equipment to the armed forces, failed spot checks by NAO staff in just under a quarter of cases. The audit report found 'unexplained adjustments' in the records where staff had tried to make figures match up. What the NAO actually describes here are accounting activities that are borderline fraudulent. It is obvious that if staff are forced to invent figures the MoD’s procurement and storage management procedures are now beyond repair.

The official auditor insists that the MoD is in need of a “good quality inventory management system” to provide adequate logistical support. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “it is more important than ever for the Ministry of Defence to have accurate records of where its assets are, and how much stock it has”. I concur, the misplacing of equipment has more than tripled since last year and poor book-keeping is clearly to blame. A system is due to be introduced next month but budget constraints have forced the MoD to abandon plans for an upgrade to its IT systems. The latter may, however, be somewhat of a blessing (see earlier comments on Government IT projects).

What the Armed Forces really need is a system of supply that enables them to do the job effectively. To do this they need equipment swiftly and in the right quantities, in this the Forces have clearly been let down. Further, if already sparse kit in effect goes missing, then a bad situation is made much worse. The recent debacle with the choosing of the ‘Future Lynx’ over ‘BlackHawk’ helicopters is an example of a similar procurement failure. Here the MoD could have given the go ahead for the purchase of 60 Sikorsky BlackHawk helicopters but went for the more expensive ‘Future Lynx’. It is perhaps of note that a former Whitehall Mandarin is on the Board of two companies that benefited from the deal (see here).

The MoD – and of course its paymasters at the Treasury – need to ensure that logistical problems are reduced to a minimum, to do otherwise is a dereliction of the duty owed to service men and women. As U.S General Tommy Franks, the Former commander in Afghanistan, said, "Forget logistics, you lose”.

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