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Latest from the MoD: It’s only money

Summary:
Whitehall London SW1 “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister?” “The Public Accounts Committee is grumbling that our plans are unaffordable and have been in every year since 2013. The MoD is only planning to spend £181 billion over the next 10 years on equipment for our armed forces. I take it we need every penny?” “The National Audit Office did indeed say previous years were unaffordable. Consistency is important, Minister.  We have a black hole accounting system: now you see it, now you do not. When you welcomed the PM’s promise of an extra £16.5 billion, you may not have realised that we had already spent it, so it would not be extra at all.” “No, Humphrey, I did not.  Well at least if we’ve been spending all that money, we must now be match-fit: our troops, tanks and other equipment must be world

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Whitehall 

London SW1


“Humphrey.” 

“Yes, Minister?” 

“The Public Accounts Committee is grumbling that our plans are unaffordable and have been in every year since 2013. The MoD is only planning to spend £181 billion over the next 10 years on equipment for our armed forces. I take it we need every penny?” 

“The National Audit Office did indeed say previous years were unaffordable. Consistency is important, Minister.  We have a black hole accounting system: now you see it, now you do not. When you welcomed the PM’s promise of an extra £16.5 billion, you may not have realised that we had already spent it, so it would not be extra at all.” 

“No, Humphrey, I did not.  Well at least if we’ve been spending all that money, we must now be match-fit: our troops, tanks and other equipment must be world class.” 

“Well the truth is that we haven’t been able to recruit enough troops and we have not actually been able to introduce much new equipment.  At 135,444 trained troops, we were 8.4% below strength last April. Mark you, we did also have 61,500 military personnel either under training or working in the MoD, helping us disburse our funding.” 

“Difficult work spending money, Humphrey? My wife doesn’t have any trouble with it.” 

“The nation demands it, Minister. As of October 2020, our MoD civilian personnel strength was 58,850. But you should add about 40,000 military personnel, which is the 61,500, less those under training.” 

“So for every four trained troops we have three dedicated money spenders?” 

You could put it that way, but we do at least have the tanks we think we should have.  That is because there is not much call for them these days.” 

“We had 27,528 tanks and self-propelled guns in WWII, Humphrey.  How many can we muster now?” [1] 

“About 220 and they are so out of date that one third of them will have to be scrapped. The other 150 will be upgraded at a cost of £1.2 billion.”  

“That’s £8 million a tank just for refurbishing it?” 

“Excellent value, Minister.” 

“Humphrey, I know you think I got this job only because I know nothing about military matters but one of the chaps I play golf with is an American general.  He tells me they make about 500 M1 Abrams tanks a year and each costs less than £8M, brand spanking new.  So why do we mess about refurbishing ours, which no doubt will take years, when we could get a couple of hundred M1 Abrams right away?”  

“Well, that would not be the British way, Minister, and they probably have left hand drive.” 

“British way?  We haven’t made any tanks since 2017, so far as I know, and have no plans to make any in future because tanks are yesterday’s weaponry.” 

“Not at all, Minister, we plan to re-tank by using German guns on Swedish chassis.” 

“The cavalry will like that: the Swedish chassis goes backwards faster than forwards.”  

“That is rather an elderly bon mot, Minister.” 

“So are you really telling me, Humphrey, that we’ve spent over £130 billion on military equipment over the last 10 years and ended up with a pile of outmoded junk.  What state of the art gear did we actually receive?” 

“Well, to be less than my circumlocutional self, Minister, I would have to say ‘not a lot’.  The variations to specification and cancellations are very expensive.  My civil servant colleagues do a wonderful job but we do have trouble with the transitioning military.  They come in from playing war games on the Salisbury Plain, knowing nothing but thinking they do.  They are horrified by what is on order and change the specifications which delays everything by another few years, and puts the prices up. We have to pay new design fees, cancellations and advances.  Then the next lot come in and do the same again.” 

“So we are paying billions not to have military equipment?” 

“Indeed Minister.  Critics believe we are constantly running around in ever-diminishing circles but they do not comprehend the rigorous processes we have to observe.” 

“Sounds like the Oozlum bird to me. The imperative that one has to have bespoke weaponry is fostered by the staff officers worrying about their next employment.  Humphrey, have you any idea what a Saville Row suit costs these days?” 

“No Minister.  I find the Army and Navy Stores to be quite satisfactory.” 

“Well that’s my point, Humphrey.  You get your suits off the peg and we should buy our tanks, rifles, scout cars and such like off the world market – even from the Americans.  At least they would then be compatible.” 

“We have to protect the British defence industry,” 

“Nuclear warheads are another example of waste.  We may have invented them but how many have we ever dropped in anger?” 

“None, Minister, as you know.  Are you trying to make a point?” 

“I am.  We don’t intend to drop any in the future either and we signed up to reducing their number.” 

“So?” 

“Why are we actually increasing their number by 30% at a cost of God knows what?” 

“As we make our own nuclear warheads, we regard the expenditure, not as a cost, but as a contribution to our economy. Of course, we’ll never use them but they signal that we are a Global Power. And the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is so woolly we can do what we like.  It is really just a game of tennis between Russia and the US with the rest of us spectators.” 

“I thought you were going to give me a lecture on deterrence. The funny thing Humphrey is that half of our submarines built to carry the new ICBMs actually patrol empty because MI6 says the deterrent effect is the same. So we don’t have to make all these new warheads at all.  We can just pretend we have and put the money into our black hole. And we can build smaller submarines too,” 

“Minister, the White Paper will be released on 22nd March and that will surely resolve all your concerns.” 

“Jolly good show.  You must get me a copy.” 

 

[1] Evans, Charles; McWilliams, Alec; Whitworth, Sam; Birch, David (2004). The Rolls Royce Meteor. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. ISBN 1-872922-24-4.

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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