Thursday, 7 July 2011

More Bureaucratic Inefficiency

library picture

This week the MSM expressed varying degrees of amazement to disgust at the amount of equipment the military has lost.  £6.3bn was one estimate.

Almost 6000 radios valued at £184m and £568m of hardware, including guns, were among the unaccounted assets.

Even more astonishing is that the Ministry of Defence could not give the Commons Defence Committee the number of reservists we have in our armed forces - because they don't know.

Should these 'losses' be attributed directly to the people in uniform or to the civil servants who are employed to care for them?  I'd say the blame would be around a ratio of around 10/90.  The armed forces never introduced the paperwork involved in logistics and stores; the system was contrived by the civilians in the MoD and over the decades it has become more and more complex. Most of it is still a paper exercise - the reason given is that original signatures are required.

The military haven't started losing equipment in the past few years. It's been happening for decades.  But, because of poor procurement when, for example, radios * are ordered which are not suitable for certain situations or are just outdated, the military's prime concern is not to ensure the endless paperwork is completed, but that they have equipment which is efficient. In a war situation poor equipment is going to be cast aside if useless and quarter masters have many more pressing matters to handle than ensuring inefficient items are boxed and returned to UK stores. I had to smile at this first hand account of the MoD supply system.

That is not an excuse for our camouflaged protectors not to improve their recording of lost/damaged/useless equipment but the blame mainly lies with the MoD's system.  It's a thankless task trying to find the relevant personnel to sign any document (some stretch to 5, 6 or 7 copies) but it's all part of the UK governments' bureaucracy. Is it any wonder there is such an exceptional number of civilians in the MoD when the important aspects of the military - logistics and procurement - have their recording systems regularly 'updated'.  Nobody joins the military to form-fill all day long, especially when they know there's a good possibility that the form and its copies have only a 50/50 chance, if that, of being correctly processed. 

It's up to the MoD to restructure their system to allow digital recording but unfortunately they couldn't even manage that without losing around £120m - with nothing to show for it.

So let's not blame our uniformed protectors when it's our civilian administrators who are at fault.

* The image is not necessarily one of equipment used by our armed forces.

28 comments:

The Filthy Engineer said...

The whole system is a disaster. The last ship refit I did, someone in their infinite wisdom decided to order all the spares from naval stores rather than from the Manufacturers direct.

I spent the first three weeks trying to cross match naval stores numbers with the manufacturers' part numbers.

The resulting delay in some items of repair cost the Taxpayer in excess of £100,000 in contractual penalties.

And that is only a small part of the equation.

Edward Spalton said...

In the early Seventies out TA unit was issued with Pye Westminster radio sets, inter-operable with the police as our role was internal security.

On the first night exercise, the Directing Staff were apoplectic. People were smoking on patrol! Actually there was a little red light on the radio set which came on when you transmitted. It looked just like somebody drawing on a cigarette. So some black insulating tape was stuck over the lights which promptly overheated, burnt out and made the sets inoperable. Finally someone found a little ventilated cap which left an airspace, so the light could be covered without burning out.

I'm sure this sort of thing happens with all sorts of equipment, large and small. The designers try to make it simple and "soldier-proof" and the soldiers provide the vital modifications to make it usable in the field. A pity they can't be brought together sooner before equipment goes into mass production.

English Pensioner said...

I've met with similar problems in another government department.
One of our staff at a long range radar station ordered a spare part for the radar from the stores depot, which he expected within a couple of days by post.
After a week he rang up the depot to find what had happened, and they said something like "We were having trouble getting a low-loader, but its on the way now". It turned out that his clerk had managed to get one digit wrong in the ten digit number, and a replacement aerial was on the way!
Stores wouldn't take it back without it first going to the manufacturer for "refurbishment"!

subrosa said...

A very small part of it FE. During the Balkans war guess which national had the heaviest and most inefficient radios - thousands of them?

British troops where carrying monster radios while the radios the Australians were using could be help in the palm of your hand.

These procurement decisions are finally signed off by civil servants who decide to 'buy value for money' rather than the actual requirements. Billions have been wasted.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

There's too many places to start and I can't see a finish line on this topic...

The MOD is simply not fit for purpose as it stands.

I absolutely recall the MOD saying they "didn't know" where all that ceramic plate body armour was in 2003 - I do - they sold it all, just like they sold the Para's Supacats ... but in that case they had to buy them all back.

Ah well, if things carry on the way they have we'll be able to blame EU-MOD or some fantastical acronym outfit.

Since you posted a picture of a radio I'd like to volunteer my favorite one - it's the MOD's cross-service communications and positioning infrastructure =BOWMAN

This stands for Better Of With Map And Nokia.

Give the MOD logistics to Tesco, Sainsburies, ASDA or Morrisons and bring Cameron's localism to the armed forces - let them vote on what kit they want... after all many squaddies have had to buy it anyway.

The present system of numb nutted REMF gravy train passengers thumbing through BAE / EADS catalogues and hoping to top out their careers by becoming "consultants" to the same BAE/EADS has to be flushed away.

Not holding my breath.

Brian said...

In the Civil Service we "Inkies" or admin staff were looked down on by the "Oilies" or technical staff. We allegedly created the paperwork that prevented them getting the work done quickly and efficiently yadayada... Actually, Parliament requires that every penny of taxpayers money it votes to Departments is accountable as does the NAO. Thus, filing and audit trails are a necessary evil in the parliamentary system.
I wouldn't lay the blame on MoD civilian staff (many of whom are retired service personnel) for the Armed Services' desire to procure kit suitable for the wars they would like to fight. Hence the mine protected RG-30s used successfully in the Balkans were quickly sold off to Estonia dirt-cheap because they didn't fit the FRES system that certain Army Commanders wanted at the time. This meant that our troops went to Iraq with Snatch Landrovers. What did the Estonian Army use in Iraq? Richard North's Ministry of Defeat reveals the inconvenient truth.

CherryPie said...

The armed forces never introduced the paperwork involved in logistics and stores; the system was contrived by the civilians in the MoD and over the decades it has become more and more complex. Most of it is still a paper exercise - the reason given is that original signatures are required.

Lets not blame the armed forces or the civilians. Both are at the beck and call of government dictat!!

The armed forces suffer, the civilians have the knowledge and expertise to stop that, the government's put in excessive bureaucracy leading to waste and delays.

subrosa said...

Edward, I could bore you with stories about communications equipment being badly designed and not reaching appropriate use. The army can 'order' a piece of equipment and find, when it arrives x number of years later, it's nothing like the experts in the field requested.

subrosa said...

Jings EP, your last sentence says it all doesn't it.

subrosa said...

There is no finish line Gordon. Our military has the most out-dated equipment in the western world and further.

I've heard of BOWMAN many times. Signallers say it repeatedly.

They do try to get radios that are appropriate to their situation, honestly they do. There are plenty highly qualified communications experts in our military but they're ignored or told their requests are too expensive.

What then happens is they leave and get a job with 3 or 4 times the salary in civvie street. So the military lose excellent skills and have to start all over again. It's been this way for decades.

subrosa said...

Brian, last time I heard less than 30% were ex military in the MoD. The logistics arm is staffed by a large majority of civilians.

Don't you think it's strange Brian that it's always the Army Commanders who get the blame? I'd agree they make some poor decisions but the problem with some equipment, such as communications, which are vital, is that by the time they're delivered they're well out of date.

I know the MoD paperwork system of old and today it's far worse.

subrosa said...

Of course the buck stops at government CherryPie but ministers are just figureheads and many in recent years have been next to useless.

Part of the problem is nothing is co-ordinated correctly but no minister has ever tried to bring it together.

CherryPie said...

The ministers are the figure heads and they pull all the strings...

There is no joined up inter-departmental thinking because each government department has different aims and wants to preserve their Empire!

Junican said...

What a mess!

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Rosie, it's a sad fact that many (not all) electronics technicians from the services I've seen in the last 10 years - but particularly ex army have a fatalistic attitude to equipment and accept failure of equipment and systems with what I regard as near suicidal passivity (Why does Nimrod come to mind here?).

This attitude is poisonous and must in my view be born from regular exposure to equipment that simply doesn't work and open criticism of the kit seems to be deemed near mutiny.

There's a long, long way to go to fix this situation - first off must be some very public sackings - not the usual pat on the back and a fat envelope.

Edward Spalton said...

I have long had an idea to remedy this situation. Young and mid ranking officers and civilian staff involved in procurement should be seconded, if possible, to the equivalent organisation in the ISRAELI DEFENCE FORCES.

This is an organisation where everybody knows that they cannot afford to lose - not even once. Then, those who successfully passed the course should be given instant promotion to sort the mess out.

I suspect more than inefficiency in the present set-up. It was political corruption which forced the crappy SA-80 rifle onto the army. The Conservatives were fattening up the Royal Ordnance Factories for privatisation and awarded the fat, juicy contract to make it attractive to investors - regardless of the requirements of the PBI for better weapons which were available.

Then there is the other sort - the "revolving door " variety where Ministers, officers and civil servants finish their careers in the public service and return as directors and consultants of the supplying firms to which they awarded contracts.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

@Edward,

you do indeed have a point about the IDF - although one that has been made in a slightly different way elsewhere. In the IDF and in particular the IAF - ratios of people at the pointy end to PONTI / REMF folk are radically different to the UK military.

In Israel, failing commanders must be rapidly identified and replaced, failing admin staff are probably given a a pile of infantry kit and a bus ticket to an operational unit...

Oh, that the inhabitants of Abbey Wood get to do a tour in Afghanistan ... dream........

subrosa said...

Exactly Cherry and the result? More red tape and more copies of everything.

subrosa said...

It isnae half Junican.

subrosa said...

Gordon, it's a sad fact that many start off exceptionally keen, some thinking their first class degrees will help in their chosen area. Quickly that attitude is drummed out of them as mandarins refuse to accept their 'modern' suggestions for equipment.

Others just leave out of disgust but we still do have some (very few) very capable people within the services who keep knocking at the door of modernity. Most just go to private business where their skills earn them a great deal more than the armed forces.

subrosa said...

Good assessment Edward. Often I've heard the word 'politicial blocking' or some such used in military circles. I know that equipment which eventually arrives in the field is nothing like the specification given initially. So much waste then occurs with a massive paper trail attached.

Having seen the system of stock taking on occasion it's almost laughable if it wasn't so serious.

Brian said...

Rosie, Part of the problem is the short time that officers are posted to a project before they are moved on to another career development post. Admiral Rickover said:
"When doing a job — any job — one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in that job forever. He must look after his work just as conscientiously, as though it were his own business and his own money. If he feels he is only a temporary custodian, or that the job is just a stepping stone to a higher position, his actions will not take into account the long-term interests of the organization. His lack of commitment to the present job will be perceived by those who work for him, and they, likewise, will tend not to care. Too many spend their entire working lives looking for the next job. When one feels he owns his present job and acts that way, he need have no concern about his next job."

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

When defence stops being a euphemism for global self serving aggression we may get the right attitudes, efficiencies and strategies in place.

The MOD is just as greedy and culpable as politicians in the present idiotic behaviour; they 'need' wars in order to prove they have purpose and a role to play in it.

This is the inherent difference between the values and associated costs of the Israelis and those of our own MOD establishment.

subrosa said...

Very true Brian. You've hit one of the nails on the head. Postings tend to be two years and that's not enough to develop equipment in many cases - especially those involving modern technology.

So the next man comes into post and has to spend months learning the project. Of course the same thing happens in departments associated with the military but staffed mainly by civilians. The military personnel are moved on and the civilian staff have to educate the new man. For the civil servants it can be disrupting but at least they have a permanent base to have a private life. Military, as you know, usually need to move their homes.

I understand your point but not all have a lack of commitment, especially when younger. It's the knockbacks which get to them eventually.

'Too many spend their entire working lives looking for the next job'

I'd disagree because often they don't have a choice of the next job and if they do it can be just months before they're due to be moved. Then of course if private accommodation isn't possible they can wait until just 4 weeks before moving to know what kind of home they'll have for 2 years. Quite a sacrifice for those married.

Brian said...

@Edward,
The logistics of the IDF and the British armed forces are somewhat different as this map shows. Furthermore, as Israel spends 6.3% of its GDP on defence compared with 2.7% for the UK, the extra money available can accommodate some systemic inefficiencies. The IDF and US Marines do have the advantage of having open, learning cultures instead of the British "we have vast experience and will carry on as before. The fact that the British Army forgot its experience with mine protected vehicles Cyprus and Aden is another inconvenient truth to stack up against the US and Canadian Armies' ability to develop and field bomb disposal, mine detection, and clearance vehicles in eighteen months while the British Army continued to manually prod.
As for the L86, development began in the late sixties at Enfield. Its designers were world experts. When the rifle was finally ready for service in the mid-eighties, was it really practical to award the contract to another rifle-manufacturer and lose the know-how and production capacity? The sale of Royal Ordnance to BAe was an attempt to slim down and rationalise arms infrastructure given that the armed services were reducing in size.

Brian said...

Rosie,
Postings is a key issue. Why not keep the same officer in charge of a project through as much of its life cycle as possible with promotion as each milestone is achieved?
And as for technology being near obsolete on introduction, that is an inevitable consequence of technology. It's especially difficult to set a production standard for IT because of the pace of development. Should service entry be delayed to allow chip Mk 2.1 or should production of chip Mk 1.1 go ahead now with a midlife upgrade to Mk 4.1? To use a real example, Nimrod MRA4 was specced with now superseded equipment.

subrosa said...

Brian, I've done my best over my 'influential' years to suggest exactly that. The sticking point was always the government. They're not really concerned about procuring the best for our military unless it shows them as in the forefront of technology.

Sadly these days the experts still in the military spend more time coercing with the US military, because the US are willing to get the cheap labour and also the superb talent.

Not many folk know we have some astonishing talent within our military as many on the left insist anyone who signed up is nothing but a killer.

Brian can only speak from a communications (radio) area because that's what I know very slightly. Other countries can keep up with comms yet the UK lags so far behind, the men/women are laughed at lugging massive machines around. I speak from a situation around 5 years ago but I doubt if much has changed.

I'll get in touch with the person who knows.

But IT in much of the equipment is vital and we don't have a government department which can jump to events.

The Germans. French etc can do it, why can't we?

I suggest we give away far too much of our money to corrupt governments in countries where the people could eventually learn -through education - to help themselves. But that's another subject.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

@Brian,
setting a production standard for IT actually means not contracting people who've never seen a wheel to design one as described by somebody who only has the faintest grasp of what a wheel is actually supposed to do and thinks it's a dirty mechanical thing anyway.

Chinook FADEC in a nutshell.

When working against the clock and arses are on the line, the filthy engineers can cobble together minor miracles - like the Sea Harrier ECM pods sent out to the South Atlantic in '82 = less than 60 days from spec to field....

I will not accept excuses on this one and neither should our elected representatives who divvy out the dosh.

As to the Israelis - they won't tolerate stuff that does not work - and they test it to ensure it does - and - I suspect won't pay for it until it goes bang at the correct time and in the correct place reliably. Our billion pound air defence frigate has an unproven anti flying thing missile system years after it was launched F-F-S...

It's embarrassing.

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