MPs slam latest Ministry of Defence scandal as typical of 30 years of contract mismanagent
Taxpayers are set to fork out anywhere between £41 billion ( latest government estimate) and £205 billion ( if you believe the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimate) to pay for replacing Trident.
So it is extremely disturbing to discover that the first facilities to allow this hugely expensive military project to start – are already wildly over budget and years behind schedule.
Our present nuclear deterrent is due to be upgraded in 2030 with the building of four Dreadnought submarines and the government is considering ordering new nuclear warheads from the United States. No doubt this will be one of the discussions between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
To get the programme on the road the government signed contracts worth £2.5 billion to upgrade three facilities. They will now cost at least £3.85 billion.
These were a new a new nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Burghfield.
A new nuclear core production capability at the Rolls Royce site in Derby to produce the latest nuclear reactor core designs.
And a new facility at the BAE Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness where the new Dreadnought class submarines to carry nuclear missiles will be built.
After a damning National Audit Office investigation into the projects MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee have produced their verdict on the projects and it is not a pretty sight.
For a start the whole cost has shot up by well over 50 per cent and we haven’t even completed any of the projects. The worst case is the project at Burghfield whose costs have increased from £1.8 billion to over £2.8 billion and it has gone up 146 pc since first proposed in 2011. It should have been completed three years ago in 2017 but won’t now be ready until 2023.
Similar cost and time overruns apply to the nuclear reactor core programme which will now cost £484 million should have completed next year but won’t be ready until 2026.
And the work at Barrow now costing £240 million won’t be ready until 2022 – some 20 months behind schedule.
Part of the reason for the mess is that the projects were poorly designed and the ministry went ahead before they had finalised the upgrades.
No wonder Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, is so scathing today about the waste of money.
“ To utterly fail to learn from mistakes over decades, to spectacularly repeat the same mistakes at huge cost to the taxpayer – and at huge cost to confidence in our defence capabilities – is completely unacceptable. We see too often these same mistakes repeated.
“The Department knows it can’t go on like this, it knows it must change and operate differently. The test now is to see how it will do that, and soon.
“We expect the MoD to report to us later this year, in its 2020 update on the Dreadnought nuclear submarine programme, on how it is working with industry and other departments to develop and keep in place the skills it badly needs to take forward nuclear work.
We also expect a detailed assessment, of whether the current ownership arrangements for nuclear regulated sites are in the best interests of the taxpayer, to be provided to us by the end of this year.”
What is extraordinary is this ministry has a track record of over budget and late projects stretching back 30 years. Boris Johnson’s spooky adviser, Dominic Cummings, wants a review of how the ministry runs its entire procurement programme.
I don’t agree with him on practically everything else but in this case he is spot on.
Useful documents: House of Commons library report on the cost of the nuclear deterrent here.
National Audit Office report on the scandal here.
Public Accounts Committee report here.