Douglas Carswell

02 NOV 2016

We need procurement reform to keep Britain safe

MI5 chief Andrew Parker's warning about the Russian threat to the West is a reminder that post-Cold War peace can't be taken for granted. It should also make us think about the cost of wasteful protectionist procurement.

British armed forces are smaller than they have been in decades. The army has fewer than 90,000 regular troops. The Royal Air Force, fewer than 250 combat aircraft. The Royal Navy, fewer than two dozen warships.

Britain also has serious capability gaps. We currently have no maritime patrol aircraft. We have no aircraft carriers. And, when the new carriers are delivered, we'll initially have no planes for them to carry.

Part of the reason our armed forces have shrunk is reduced funding. Despite being one of the government's primary responsibilities, defence always seems to be the first target for spending cuts.

But it's also about the way the budget is spent. Vast sums are spent on inefficient procurement. Contractors routinely deliver equipment that is years late, millions over budget, and often doesn't work.

It doesn't have to be this way. The problem is protectionism.

Rather than open up the procurement process to manufacturers around the world, the Ministry of Defence favours a cartel of companies with some operations in Britain. Guaranteed contracts for favoured firms means they have little incentive to deliver equipment on time and on budget.

The pretence is that this policy maintains industrial sovereignty. But since many of these firms have long since been merged into pan-European conglomerates, that's not the reality.

In truth, often only a fraction of equipment is actually manufactured in the UK. As UKIP PRU research revealed last year, so-called "buying British" actually requires the permission of multiple foreign governments – compromising operational sovereignty.

Protectionism comes at a serious cost. The more we spend on subsidies for inefficient contractors, the smaller our military will be.

Misusing the defence budget puts our national security at risk. To keep Britain safe, procurement needs to be reformed.

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