Late supply deliveries ‘letting down troops’

By Alex Stevenson

Over 40% of deliveries to UK forces deployed overseas in the six months to November 2010 were over 30 days late, MPs have found.

A report by the public accounts committee expressed frustration that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had not solved the problem – despite having offered assurances it would fix the problem quickly since 1986.

MPs concluded that late deliveries, unnecessary costs and missed targets were swelling the cost of transporting supplies overseas, which has swollen to £347 million in 2010/11.

"At present, the department does not have the information to identify where savings could be made," the report stated.

"It does not know the full costs of its current activities or the cost of alternative supply options, information it needs if it is to begin improving value for money.

"The failure to collect basic data about where supplies are stored has directly contributed to the department's accounts being qualified for three consecutive years."

A major £800 million initiative known as the Future Logistics Information Service is being introduced in the next three years which the MoD hopes will resolve the problem.

"Until then, the department will continue to store data in systems that are at critical risk of failure," the report added.

"Against the background of repeated failures to get to grips with asset tracking and allied information systems for logistics, it is vital that the MoD sustains its programme in order to secure value for money."

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said many people would be concerned that the government "appears not to have answers" to major defence procurement issues.

"It is vital our troops get the equipment they need when they need it. Improvements were made during the last government and can be built upon," he said.

"An important first step for ministers would be to tell the country how they will plug the financial gap left by their rushed defence review."

Defence equipment minister Peter Luff said ensuring the armed forces have all they need was the government's top priority.

"This report criticises the excess of stocks held there, but these stocks have successfully mitigated supply chain delays," he pointed out.

"The complexity of supplying a conflict zone should not be underestimated and we have successfully kept our troops supplied, overcoming major challenges like the Icelandic Ash cloud and disruption to overland supply routes in Afghanistan.

"We have recently more than halved the time it takes to deliver the most urgent items from the UK to the frontline."