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Gray report: Brakes put on

Laura Kuenssberg | 22:31 UK time, Thursday, 6 August 2009

It's now been put to me that from No 10 's point of view, a set of brakes was put on the interim Gray report because they were reluctant to publish the report's findings on their own.

Downing Street came to the conclusion that they wanted to have an agreed direction of travel, for example draft proposals in the expected Green Paper, before Bernard Gray's work was made public.

Now it's not as if the government always has an immediate response to reviews they commission. Sometimes they say, "thanks very much" and they sit on the shelf for months. Sometimes, a few months later, legislation is forthcoming.

But in this case, Downing Street was seemingly not prepared to allow Mr Gray's hard-hitting verdicts on the MoD to be released in stark isolation - as we now know, they didn't get their way.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    So much for open government. I've recently seen the BBC series The Thick of It. Enough said?

  • Comment number 3.

    Laura, you say:

    But in this case, Downing Street was seemingly not prepared to allow Mr Gray's hard-hitting verdicts on the MoD to be released in stark isolation - as we now know, they didn't get their way.

    Meaning the contents have got into the public domain before they could add their gloss and spin.

    I am really, really upset about that.

    Roll On 2010

  • Comment number 4.

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  • Comment number 5.

    Gordo won't be happy.

    Good to see a decent news blog.

    (Laura shy? Bizarre idea, though the photo is excellent.)

  • Comment number 6.

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  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Laura

    Thanks for this. You show much more enthusiasm for updating things online than Nick who apparently is too important to read replies to his blog.....

    As for these matters a book was written on this subject by Lewis Page several years ago and says pretty much the same thing. For example our "new" Merlin helicopters which apparently aren't fit to go to Afghanistan were in his view the most expensive military helicopters in the world. So any light shown on this area can only be an improvement. After all lives are at stake....

  • Comment number 8.

    Dear Laura, I've decided to join your growing fan club. Great journalism. So much so that BankS can probably stop repeating my expunged question (I see it got published again at No 1 tonight). Now I know you aren't being briefed by Mandy. Instead you are getting the facts from patriots within the ministries. Great stuff. Keep up the excellent work. xxx

  • Comment number 9.

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  • Comment number 10.

    Be careful Laura...there are dark forces at work in the establishment.

    Like a moth, you have to get as close as possible to the candle light...but without ever touching it!

  • Comment number 11.

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  • Comment number 12.

    Typical of this lot.
    They are so old fashioned and predictable it makes me weep at the quality of our politicians. Thet would all like to be seen as Churchillian, however, in reality they are war criminals and hoorah henry's

  • Comment number 13.

    "Downing Street came to the conclusion that they wanted to have an agreed direction of travel, for example draft proposals in the expected Green Paper, before Bernard Gray's work was made public."

    Yes, you can almost hear Sir Humphrey offering this most reasonable explanation as to why the report should be suppressed, er, delayed.

    Sir Humphrey: "Prime Minister, a responsible Government acting in the best interests of citizens and taxpayers would not wish to act precipitously on such an important issue, particularly where the security of the State is at stake, and in order to proceed with all due diligence it is obviously essential to wait until we have gathered all the available information so that the facts can be carefully considered, then discussed with all relevant departments, and then if necessary seeking expert opinions to explore and resolve any anomalous findings before presenting the final conclusions to Parliament in a cohesive way, together with firm plan of action to implement any proposals, which may or may not be included in the report, after any such proposals, which may or may not exist, have been carefully considered with specific reference to the practicalities of implementation and the time scales involved together with a full cost analysis."

  • Comment number 14.

    So the MOD can't manage its projects and the £10billion of equipment quoted as being delivered to the frontline could have been a lot more if projects hadn't over-run and been over budget... helicopters for example?

    Gordon should ask his good friend Alan Sugar for help. I hear he has a few spare project managers that didn't make the cut that could do a better job.

  • Comment number 15.

    It seems to me that Brown - and Blair before him - have utterly betrayed the servicemen of this country by allowing this situation to persist and worsen for 10 years.

    It's no secret that the Labour Party has never really been sympathetic to military needs (coming as they had done, after all, from a unilateral disarmament position) but to allow such mismanagement and failure to poison the MoD is to betray the servicemen who, every day, risk their lives and all too frequently lose them, at the service of the causes of their political masters.

    All good people should be utterly disgusted by this. The government's failure is measured in shattered and mourning families.

  • Comment number 16.

    Why should we be surprised that the government and Gordon Brown want to add some spin. We have known for years the government and MoD are poor managers and planners; they constantly delay programmes, change specifications. When they come up with reviews it is only a way to further cut funding driven from the Treasury, see their latest excuse for helicopter problem, the factory cannot cope with the work. A well planned national defence strategy must also involve having enough manufacturing capacity to deal with your needs. No wonder all our work ends up in France, USA or elsewhere.

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  • Comment number 19.

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  • Comment number 20.

    It is hardly surprising that No10 would have liked to have kept MOD procurement inefficiencies under wrap but it is important for us to know how and why money is being wasted. I am sure that if a determined journalist was to dig around in other departments they would find some equally wasteful indulgences in external contracts.

    What irks me is the concept of ministerial responsibility, or, rather, lack of it. Isn't a secretary of state responsible for controlling the expenditure in his/her department and if the system is flawed shouldn't he or she go - sacked?

  • Comment number 21.


    Excellent work, keep it up. I am no blog-junkie and had given up on the NR blog recently because it was so out of touch. This really is a breath of fresh air and long may it continue.

    Anyone who has had the slightest involvement in the defence world would echo the (possible) sentiments of this report. Especially the fact that there are too many "stake-holders" in the procurement cycle. Indeed I and many other bloggers have commented on this fact. I refer to it as a diffusion of responsibility where no one person takes decisions and no one person is responsible. Therefore no one owns the problem and no one tries to solve it.

    We were led to believe that the report has not been delayed but was in draft form. Were the government being economical with the truth?

  • Comment number 22.

    #10 BankSlickerminustheR

    Whilst I agree with you on the subject of the government trying to control the media (in general not just the BBC), do you think it's going to change when the Conservatives win power next year (because let's be honest they will)?

    Our new PM is a spin doctor by trade, and according to many, Andy Coulson puts Darth Mandelson et al in the shade.

  • Comment number 23.

    So the MOD procurement process is a mess and the Learning and Skills Council can't keep track of how much money it has pledged to programmes.

    How can this happen?
    Again this is abuse of tax payers money.

    The aircraft carrier cost increased by over 1 billion (25%) in the first year!!! Again I ask the question, how can this happen?

    It is an unsavoury thought but should there not be an investigation into whether fraud has taked place either in the tender process (ie unrealistic submission of prices intended to win the contract with inevitable rises in costs) or in the placement of the contracts (as surely no team of professional buyers could be this wrong).

    The only other option is a massive failure by the Government to get to grips the use of tax payers money.

    The sums involved make the MP's expenses claims look like childrens pocket money. In my opinion this is a far bigger issue than MP's expenses, and I was livid about that!!!

    This is an absolute disgrace and has been going on unchallanged by this New Labour gutter Government for too long.

  • Comment number 24.

    There seems little doubt that when the government said that “Mr Gray's report on Defence Expenditure” (due in July) “was not yet finished”, what they really meant was that the draft report “was not yet acceptable to the government”.
    Either they were trying to influence the contents, or conclusions, of the report, as with the infamous "dodgy document" that was used as the pretext for the illegal invasion of Iraq, or they were trying to collect sufficient positive 'news' about defence spending to release at the same time, to overcome the impression of their incompetence.

  • Comment number 25.

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  • Comment number 26.

    If you want to make a name for yourself this would be the opportunity. By its very nature Defence spending has always been a grey area. It's unlike, for example, health and welfare, transport or education where the public is directly affected and can see the end product.
    A couple of comments on these threads from those who have allegedly had direct involvement with the military, whether as a supplier or serving member, would indicate that these cases that have made the headlines are just the tip of the iceberg.
    The wars to which the government has committed our armed forces are now exposing the shortcomings and incompetence of the MoD and chains of command that may have gone unnoticed had we remained neutral. Tragically there are troops on the frontline that may have lost their lives as a direct or indirect result of these incompetents. It will only be exposed by a succesful civil court case or a few brave journalists.

  • Comment number 27.

    Shock and surprise.....not

    It is hardly news that the MOD are a shower at purchasing large capital projects. They seem to have comprehensively made a mess of just about every project initiated for decades with the assistance of their private sector suppliers.
    This is hardly a surprise as has been pointed out before people have written books on the subject and a friend who knows the system inside out was completely unsurprised - "could have told them that for free if they'd asked, it's always been [unprintable]" was their comment.
    The Chinook Mk3 saga recently exhumed goes back to the last Conservative administration, it's not a recent thing that the MOD are bad at this.

    The leaked slides seem to be particularly powerful stuff and I can perfectly understand No10 not wanting it out in the world before they could come up with a proposal or plan of action.

    The obvious the follow-up debate is what should be done about it and just like every administration before it this one has no idea what to do about it. They will look even more ridiculous than normal - err yes it is a bit of a disaster but we errr don't know what to do about it yet.

    I can well understand the Conservatives spinning this one for all it's worth, it's a classic damned if you do publish, damned if you don't publish issue. I wonder how long Dr Fox has had a copy of the slides? It's very fortuitous that someone sent the BBC a copy the same day the story broke isn't it, and why it is an issue now when the PM has just begun his holiday.

    They are pursuing a very clever and clearly defined strategy based around patriotic support for the troops, an issue very few will not sympathise with and support. It's brilliant as a strategy, and I look forward to the next instalment of the plan.
    They even exhumed the Chinook Mk3 debacle and made it look like a completely Labour shambles,brilliant.

  • Comment number 28.

    #22 Extreme sense
    You ask "do you think it's going to change when the Conservatives win power next year?"
    The answer has to be no. This is because we as a population do not want to hear the truth. Look at the cuts/no cuts debate over the last few weeks. New Labour cannot admit there will be cuts as it perceives the public will not want to hear this,so we are spun and spun again.
    We get what we deserve. To get a grown up open Government we need to have a grown up electorate, and that's not the case. So will they Tories be different? Only if we force them to be. The politicians represent the people but again we do not exercise our right by applying pressure on them, we just plod along more interested in Eastenders than Westminster.
    There has to be a rebalancing of political influence with MP's representing the people and not big business. This is not the case at the moment and until we the people are valued then democracy does not exist in this country.

  • Comment number 29.

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  • Comment number 30.

    #27 the follow up or sorting out of the MK3 saga, is a holly labour issue as that been going on since 2002. with a 4 year break, which was
    within there control. they could have followed on straight from the
    interim to the interim-formal fix and then the formal fix. But they did not for one of cost, agian at the time of massive economic boom.

    The MK3 saga lies more in what the USA are prepared to accept for there tropps as opposed to UK. The USA has more Men and Money and is prepared to accept a greater loss of both. The UK is not prepared to do that. And the MK3 supplier want much more money to certify at that higher level.

    when the KM3 order was place around 1995 the economy was only just getting itself sorted from the last labour mess of 1964-1979 and the IMF
    and cash was tight. As el Gordo has said we have had around 15 years of boom. So why is there still a problem with Helicopter then

    Most of the cost and time overruns is becasue of unrealistic planning by ministers as what can be achieved. Most of these programme push technology to the limit as as such there are many hiden problems that can take these programme of coarse. We are not building Cars here.

    Some like EFA are highly complex. Look at how long it took the harrier to get into service from begins in the 1950 to the falklands 1982.

    many of the cost are just pure guesses to get the programemmes underway.
    if the real cost were put to ministers tey would not approve them as they are lacking in leadership

  • Comment number 31.

    Good morning each & Laura.

    On your final point...
    We, the people will not be valued by the political establishment until we the people value ourselves. It is all so complicated you see, too complex for such as we, the people. We all know that the only choice for us is to vote for our own advantage. Never for the feckles (vote Tory) never for the bosses (vote Labour) never for disappointment (vote not).
    While nothing changes everything will stay the same.
    The only people that can do anything about this are those who do vote to vote for something other than their own limited advantage.
    We must not vote this way or that out of habit. Better, in my view, to vote for any BUT NuL or Tory. Only by promoting a local 'independent' candidate can we hope to stop the main groups from having an unassailable majority in the commons. Only when the politicos FEAR we the people will real change come about.
    Complicated or not, if we the people are to live in a democracy we the people must face up to the challenge. The usual suspects like things just the way they are.

  • Comment number 32.

    I am a defence contractor who liases regularly with MoD staff at Abbey Wood. This leaked report tells us nothing new. A senior MoD officer recently confided to me that Abbey Wood would operate far better if staff levels were reduced by 75%. There are now so many people working at Abbey Wood (a huge 'village' complex) that there are not enough desks to go around - staff are actively encouraged to take flexy leave or work from home. Work from home? More like go to the beach! The human resources strategy is definately one of quantity, not quality. The few staff who are any good soon become institutionalised into a life of mediocraty and total lack of financial understanding.

    The typical MoD officer's idea for saving money is to use cheaper materials, or do away with a belts-and-braces approach to safety and relaibility. Saving money by risking lives, whilst sat in their office (well, at home) and about to go on an 'Understanding People' course. They fail to understand that the real way to save money is to speed up the procurement process and use better project management techniques.

    On the bright side, the new Chief Operations Officer at Defence Equipment & Support is a very capable and charasmatic man, with industrial experience. He did not shy away from making staff cuts when MD at a defence company, despite the fact that that company was an Employee Benefit Trust, not a PLC with shareholders to please. I only hope he is given the freedom to do what is required. The problems, however, start higher than that.

  • Comment number 33.

    "Downing Street came to the conclusion that they wanted to have an agreed direction of travel, for example draft proposals in the expected Green Paper, before Bernard Gray's work was made public."

    I can understand the government wanting to wrap the results of the Gray Report into the shroud of a Green Paper.

    But one key question is "What is the MoD actually DOING to tackle procurement and delivery issues right now?". If a commercial organisation recognises that it's leaking money, it gets going to try and stem the flow as rapidly as possible. You can make a start even before a full review of future activities and new processes are introduced.

    I was under the impression that the Green Paper was intended to reflect broad military requirements in the near- to mid-future. New contracts to meet new equipmenbt requirements will hopefully be better negotiated. In the meantime, is the MoD crawling over every existing contract to try and get better value for money?

    As the bonus culture seems rife across Whitehall, I guess you'd have to ask how many within the MoD have been awarded bonuses for financial incompetence?

  • Comment number 34.

    #31 Oudels

    Absolutely spot on. With the exception that you include Lib Dems as a no-no for every voter.

    I live in a rock solid Tory seat (in fact the one with the biggest swing to the Tories at the last election)and will, at the next election look at other parties to support including independents. Probably finish up voting UKIP to be honest. But the Tory cnadidate will win, that' is no doubt. But to me, Cameron stands for zilch, nothing, he has nothing to say, nothing to add.

    However, if I lived in a constituency that was either Labour or a very close run seat, I would vote for the party that had the best chance of either unseating of keeping out the Labour candidate - I simply could not stay in this country for another 5 years with these Charlies in charge.

    And in all probability, that would be the local Tory candidate. Unfortunately!

    Problem is, it works the other way as well and back comes the Labour party. The truest political comment ever made - 'sitting Governments lose elections, oppositions never win them'.

  • Comment number 35.


    The failure to sort out the Mk3 is the MOD under Labours' alone, as you say, I don't disagree with that.

    They fact they were not fit for purpose and needed sorting out in the first place lies with the MOD under the last Tory administration.

    The link is the MOD civil servants, the one constant factor - it is not just one party or the other - it is the system which is broken and prone to such waste.

    I hear nothing except the usual platitudes from any of them which will resolve the fundamental issues of purchasing complex equipment which is not obsolete before you buy it.

  • Comment number 36.

    #34 and 31
    I agree with many of the points you make, but I feel any MP is a representative of the constituency that voted for them - but that's where the engagement ends. They are then representatives of the party not the constituency.

    I know I am banging on a bit about this but in my view this MOD situation is a greater misappropriation of tax payers money than the expenses row, and one that has been supported be the Cabinet as they must have had sight of the levels of overspend and delays. Why then have no MP's questioned this? This is their constituants tax that is being sprayed up the wall, and yet they cannot stand up and be counted. This is where the constituants need to have a bigger say in the way they conduct themselves. This will give a better level of Government regardless of who is in power.

  • Comment number 37.

    Although this blog post is about defence spending, the overall problem is endemic amongst large "public" projects in the UK.

    I work in a transport industry, where projects are being driven down constantly in terms of timescale and cost (the same as military spending), the effects/benefits are wanted immediately yet the planning and implementation actually needed to be done years ago (the same as military spending).

    What do we end up doing? Chasing our tails and the client around in ever decreasing circles, because they reduced the time by not doing the project development properly. Then no-one will actually make major decisions without meeting after meeting after meeting and everyone at the top is spending more time and money covering their career prospects than making what they actually need to do work.

    As I said before, this may directly be about defence spending but, in reality, it's a problem across the board with publicly funded and/or run projects. Both public expectation and senior management attitude need major changes before problems like these disappear.

    Decide what you want, take advice to get it right, then order it and ensure it is delivered!

  • Comment number 38.

    #28 newthink

    Yes, you're absolutely right.... a ballot box doth not maketh a democracy.


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