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A plan by the Ministry of Defence to hand the £14bn a year procurement of Britain’s military equipment to the private sector has been roundly criticised by a group of senior current and former government, military and defence industry officials.
“We . . . wonder if ministers are being asked to take a decision whose major implications are poorly understood,” said the group that includes Tim Banfield, director of the National Audit Office, and John Weston, former chief executive of BAE Systems, Europe’s biggest defence contractor.
The statement, published on the website of the Royal United Services Institute military think-tank, added: “Ignorance is no substitute for objectivity: the government and the country cannot afford a wrong decision in this area.”
Last week, Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, said handing the job to a private contractor able to maintain management control appeared the best option. The MoD has often given the Atomic Weapons Establishment as an example to emulate. But the group of defence dignitaries said the two could not be compared.
It said: “History is littered with ‘outsourcing’ deals that either or both parties eventually find constraining and/or, in practice, more expensive.”
The recent debacle over the outsourcing of Olympic Games security to G4S and the privatisation of the railways served as poor examples, the group said.
In response, Mr Hammond said: “Defence acquisition has a well-documented history of problems. . . Maintaining the status quo at Defence Equipment and Support is not the answer.”
He added that further analysis of the options would be made.