Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 26 of Session 2004-05, dated 30 June 2005


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts in the previous Parliament, said today:

"When it comes to the crunch, staff at the MOD often show a verve and ©lan which gets the job done. But the fact remains that only two-thirds of Urgent Operational Requirements were fully delivered in time for the start of fighting the war in Iraq. Better planning and better information would mean that the MOD could be more confident of meeting its requirements in the future and better demonstrate to taxpayers that they are getting value for money.

"On the other hand, in many cases the MOD clearly was able to get a good deal and get it quickly. If only they could apply this ingenuity to their mainstream procurement activities, we might not in future see the annual cost increases and time overruns with which my Committee has become wearingly familiar."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 26th Report of the 2004-05 Session, which examined a process known as Urgent Operational Requirements through which the MOD meets the additional capability requirements of specific operations. It examined three main issues: the importance of identifying and costing likely Urgent Operational Requirements; improvements to the way the MOD captures data on the Urgent Operational Requirements process and outcomes, and the scope to apply lessons from Urgent Operational Requirements to the regular procurement programme.

The Committee found that Urgent Operational Requirements have been a major feature of the United Kingdom's recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Approved expenditure on Urgent Operational Requirements to support operations in Iraq currently stands at £811 million, and for operations in Afghanistan, £148 million. Urgent Operational Requirements for the Iraq operation accounted for 35% of the additional costs of the operation.

The Armed Forces are likely to have to undertake a wide range of operations in the future, and so Urgent Operational Requirements will continue to be an important part of the Department's business activity. The Department does not have a dedicated staff responsible for processing these requirements and, although staff have performed impressively in supporting recent operations, it is timely for the Department to review its arrangements.

The Department lacks a system for comprehensively recording whether Urgent Operational Requirements are delivered to the theatre of operations in time, or how effective they prove to be, and did not have full information on urgent requirements for the war-fighting operation in Iraq until the Committee's hearing, 18 months later. It is proposing a range of actions to improve on this situation, and to introduce performance measures of the Urgent Operational Requirements process under the direction of the Senior Responsible Owner.

It is highly regrettable that only two-thirds of Urgent Operational Requirements were fully delivered in time for the start of warfighting in Iraq.  The Department has nevertheless performed creditably in processing and, in the end, delivering Urgent Operational Requirements which meet the needs of users in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has demonstrated that its standard practices for procuring Defence equipment can be successfully adapted to deliver requirements speedily and successfully where necessary. Sensible use of a range of procurement practices, providing they achieve transparency and accountability, can help to avoid an overly bureaucratic and risk-averse approach both in procuring Urgent Operational Requirements, and in the Department's mainstream procurement activity, which has been beset by cost overruns and delays.

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