Defence science: a new direction?


Prospect says MOD needs in-house science skills

Prospect says the government’s decision not to sustain deep technical expertise in the Ministry of Defence is nothing short of dangerous.

The union says MOD’s White Paper: National Security Through Technology gives a welcome recognition to the critical role of science and technology in ensuring defence capability and acknowledges that this budget has been cut over the last 10 years – yet proposes to do nothing about it.

In fact, MOD has implemented a 26% cut in research spending and a swingeing 80% cut in spending on development. The stated intention to maintain investment at 1.2 per cent of the defence budget is therefore wholly inadequate.

Head of Prospect Research Sue Ferns said: “Ministers with short memories should look again at the 2009 Haddon Cave report into the Nimrod air disaster – it provides a salutary reminder of the risks involved with such an approach.

“The department is in a state of constant change. Governments come and go, but defence departmental change rumbles on. Now the White Paper has signalled another change of direction, one more focused on facilitating private sector involvement in the development of future capability. It is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the recent past.”

Prospect says the White Paper reluctantly accepts that government needs to maintain in-house capability, not least to maintain national security, yet continues to cut staff at a pace that means due diligence over lost skills is simply not possible.

10,000 civilians left the department last year and another 15,000 are scheduled to be lost by 2015, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010.

“MOD is already down to the bare bones as far as its in-house expertise, knowledge and skills are concerned and it seems unlikely that it will be able to maintain it’s role as an intelligent customer in the future,” said Ferns.

Prospect is acutely concerned with the wider implications of skills loss in government and plans to update its policy document on the intelligent customer role of government, which will be launched at the House of Commons in March.