Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report


108. We concluded our Report on the Strategic Defence Review with the warning that—

    Its successful implementation will be the real test of the government's resolve to stand by their commitment to deliver 'modern forces' for a 'modern world'.[294]

We have devoted a considerable portion of our time and resources over this Parliament to monitoring how successfully that process of implementation has been carried through.

109. In our Annual Report on the 1997-98 Session we tabulated the areas on which we would be working as follows:

Committee Undertakings to monitor SDR implementation

(References are to the Eighth Report of Session 1997-98)[295]

That the government keep the Committee informed of methods of assessing the effectiveness and cost of defence diplomacy (para 149)
To monitor whether readiness targets are manageable for individual service personnel and formations, and coherent across the three Services (para187)
To monitor progress in tackling problems of defence medical services, and to examine work of the Defence Secondary Care Agency in detail (para 201)
That future SDEs clearly identify costs of stationing forces in Germany (para 214)
To monitor progress with, and added-value from, joint initiatives—Joint Helicopter Cmd, Joint Force 2000, Joint Doctrine Centre, CJO, CDL (para 224)
To monitor new carriers' progress (incl. air groups) (para 236)
To monitor impact of reduced submarine and frigate/destroyer flotillas (para 237)
That future SDEs have a clear statistical analysis of actual training times and operational deployments under Army's new 'readiness cycle' structure, identify causes of significant deviations and shortfalls, and set out proposals to remedy them (para 241)
That MoD set milestones for route to completion of Force Structure package and publish monitoring analyses of progress against these (para 257)
To monitor how Ro-Ros and additional airlift are acquired; and use of PPP for equipment more generally. (Para 301)
To monitor whether Chief of Defence Logistics organisation is cost-effective (para 302)
To monitor impact on equipment programmes of Abbey Wood (Procurement Executive) rationalisations (para 341)
To examine the basis of decision to have PPP in DERA (para 344)
That future SDEs include statement of 'smart procurement' savings (para 350)
That a standardised method of measuring overstretch in all three services is introduced (para 359)
To monitor progress against Army manpower shortages (para 361)
That future SDEs report planned v. actual improvements to single living accommodation (para 369)
To monitor ethnic minorities and women numbers (para 374)
To monitor progress with qualitative and quantitative measures of the effectiveness of recruitment/retention programmes, and the results (para 377)
To monitor progress with asset sales against £700m/£250m budget estimates (para 391)
To monitor progress against 3% efficiency targets and whether 'genuine efficiency' claimed. (Para 392)
To monitor introduction of RAB (paras 402)
To monitor whether use of private sector, including PPP, represents VFM (para 404)
To monitor the quality of financial information given to Parliament and the extent to which the defence budget is sufficient to implement the SDR undertakings (para 405)
To press for better quality financial information and to assess sustainability of defence budget (para 405)

110. In few of those areas has the process of transformation been completed. We have kept to our own programme of monitoring and have, for the most part, succeeded in getting sufficient information from the MoD to make at least a partial assessment of its achievements in delivering on its promises.

111. Critical areas of uncertainty remain. Full manning of the Armed Forces, as we discussed in our recent Report on personnel issues,[296] may not be realisable in the timescales hoped for in 1998, or even against the revisions subsequently made. There has been some overall reduction in overstretch, but in some key areas it remains and its recurrence more widely needs to be constantly guarded against.

112. The major equipment programmes required to underpin the expeditionary strategy are getting off the ground, but the lessons of the history of major procurement projects is that constant vigilance is needed to keep them on track in terms both of timescale and budget. The jury is still out on whether 'smart' procurement/acquisition is going to deliver the promised dividends.

113. There have been modest improvements in the defence budget, but there is no slack in it to deal with the uncertain challenges of our uncertain world security situation. Maintenance of the fine balance between resources and commitments requires constant scrutiny and debate—and it is the duty of Parliament to be fully engaged in that debate.

114. There must be limits to the amount of extra efficiency that can be demanded from the MoD and the Armed Forces.

115. We hope our successors will continue to monitor the implementation of the SDR, and in particular the major pinch points which we have identified. We also hope that they will continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with the MoD to ensure that the quality and coherence of the defence-related information which is provided to Parliament continues to improve. That is critical to ensuring democratic accountability for the maintenance of the UK's defence and security.

116. We began this Report by asking whether the change in the format and content of the MoD's annual cycle of reporting documents represented an advance or a retreat in accountability to Parliament and the wider public. On the positive side, we acknowledge that overall there has been a perceptible increase in both the quantity and quality of information provided. On the negative side, we remain concerned that the information is distributed across so wide a range of documents, and that their coherence with each other remains patchy. We find that the separation of 'policy' from resource and performance data make the connections between the two less clear than is desirable. In particular, the big prize promised by resource accounting and budgeting of linking resources applied to outputs achieved has yet to be won. We cannot yet report with confidence whether the changes in the ways resources are being applied are benefiting or compromising our defence capability. The MoD must continue to work on its reporting cycle with the aim of demonstrating, with as great a degree of confidence as can be achieved in this uncertain world, that there is a plausible match between what we ask of the UK's Armed Forces and what we give them to enable them to meet those demands.

294  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138-I, para 438 Back

295  First Special Report, Session 1998-99, Annual Report of the Committee for Session 1997-98, HC 273, para 29 Back

296  Second Report, Session 2000-01, op cit Back

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