It Costs, A Bomb

With the latest revelations that the MoD could be squandering £6bn every year, I am reminded that, in our sister company Thorogood’s book “It Costs, A Bomb” we lampooned the whole defence procurement world for the same reasons, some years ago.

It was published at a time when I was running – at first through Crown Eagle Communications and then through Hawksmere, quite a few courses on Defence Contracting, as well as publishing a defence industry newsletter (and we went on to produce the first ever fortnightly review of new defence contracts that were up for grabs. How we won the tender for that from Peter Levene and his MoD defence procurement team is another story.)

In their latest (and current) critiques of the MoD, The Times talks of ‘too many managers and too few leaders’ and that an ‘army of civil servants’ has been created. What is really sad, is that nothing has changed in the past twenty years (and of course much longer than that).

Everything about the running of the MoD that could be wrong from a business point of view is wrong both in theory and practice: poor leadership certainly, insufficient commerciality, too many committees, too much blind adherence to paperwork, too much that is closed to scrutiny and assessment, too much that is process-driven, too much back covering. The list is endless.

Whilst it is self-evidently true that the whole business is complex, sensitive and prone to error (it is said, for example, that a fighter plane is viewed by the MoD as 20,000 spare parts flying in close formation) everything about the MoD needs overhauling.

Two areas that were always clearly in dire need of changing were:

  • the reliance on incredibly complicated tender and contract procedures which, in the end and to our cost, have never worked to control the projects. (Incidentally this ticking boxes disease has spread to all parts of industry – when will people learn that the most complicated document never equals the best deal?); and
  • that committees will rarely deliver the best result (to quote the old joke: a camel is a horse designed by a committee).

I am glad the MoD is under investigation, but yet again I fear that it will not be significantly changed or improved. After all, it will be a government committee that will be in charge of the review, with ‘thick’ documents being the end product.

Published on Dec 15, 2010 by Neil Thomas