Yesterday’s announcement of a shake-up at the Ministry of Defence by Defence Secretary Liam Fox promised streamlined decision-making and faster, more flexible procurement. You can see his statement and the response on the BBC’s Democracy Live site here.
All long overdue according to the MoD’s critics, amongst them Laurence Lewis. You may remember he was the former insider with the Metrix consortium who back in May told me his view of what went wrong with the ill-fated Defence Training Academy which had been planned for St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.
When I spoke to him earlier he was largely positive about what the Defence Secretary announced, saying that,
I wholly endorse a couple of things he’s announced which will partly address that endemic inefficiency we spoke about. One is a stronger civil defence force and the other is the joint services command to bring the three services together in a more coherent way, in particular sharing training.
And on training, UK Government sources have repeatedly said that St Athan is still in the running to host training for all three services.
Laurence Lewis detected hopeful signs for that in the Defence Secretary’s announcement that there’ll be a shift in emphasis towards electronic and cyber-warfare:
(It) suggests that more highly-skilled and technical people will be needed and more working tri-service working together. They won’t be able to be trained in the way they are now. They will have to think really hard (about training) and how to do it differently.
UPDATE 1635 Thursday 30th June
Since I posted the above earlier in the week, Laurence Lewis has been giving more thought to Liam Fox’s shake-up and has sent me his more considered response:
The first thing to say about these reforms is the personal success that it represents for Dr Liam Fox. He alone among his peers in the Cabinet has managed to win the confidence of his department. That not insignificant achievement should give us hope that these reforms will be successful, and will endure.
The most important part of the reforms in my estimation is the removal of the three single Service chiefs from the Defence Board. This will stop the unseemly internecine squabbles which have taken place in the past, and which has blunted previous attempts to introduce modernising programmes.
By the way, it’s not all bad news for the service chiefs. While their removal from the Defence Board may shame the recalcitrant head of the Royal Navy, Sir Mark Stanhope, he and his counterparts in the Army and Royal Air Force will now get greater responsibilities for manning, budget management and planning their own capabilities.
So, they headlines for these reforms are all good, but what of managing training, and the ability to modernise the Forces’ training capability? I would like to see evidence of the old DTR commitment to tri-service training, and for the UK Armed Forces to be able to develop its training in order to meet the myriad new threats which will present themselves in years to come.
I would also like to see greater emphasis placed on effective project management: for projects to be delivered in a fleeter-of-foot manner, and with greater innovation and commitment to transparency. The nation can no longer afford to see failures of the scale of the Nimrod replacement and the Defence Training Review project.