Defence chiefs `wasted pounds 4bn this year'

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Officials at the Ministry of Defence have presided over cost overruns and write-offs, "wasting" almost pounds 4bn in the past year, according to figures released today.

These last 12 months must rank as an annus horribilis, even by the standards of the MoD. Promises by Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, that he would convert waste into weapons, so far have not been met, says Labour, prompting the party to suggest that the department be renamed the "Ministry of Waste".

David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, has compiled a report, "1995 - The Waste of a Year", detailing the MoD's financial mismanagement this year. Heading the list of horrors is the continued rise in the cost of the Eurofighter 2000 programme. The actual increase alone is now put at pounds 2.2bn, according to a parliamentary answer to Dr Clark.

The delays in the project are leading to huge bills elsewhere. The lives of the Tornado F3 and Jaguar aircraft are having to be extended until the Eurofighter is ready, at a cost of pounds 104m.

The Trident submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde was described as "mismanagement on a grand scale" by the Commons Public Accounts Committee. The construction of new facilities for Trident submarines was budgeted at pounds 1.1bn but has cost pounds 1.9bn - an pounds 800m rise.

A report by the National Audit Office, the public finance watchdog, found that 23 of the MoD's 25 largest projects had a forecast total increase of pounds 645m. The Army's pounds 24m replacement for the Land-Rover, the RB44 Army Light Vehicle, was taken out of service after a series of crashes and technical problems. Its withdrawal meant the MoD had to buy 394 vehicles from an Austrian firm to send to the troops in Bosnia. More than pounds 200m was invested in developing the Trigat long-range anti-tank missile. The MoD then decided to order a type of helicopter that did not carry the Trigat system.

In the weeks leading up to the Defence Costs Study when more than 18,000 people lost their jobs in military cuts, it was revealed that pounds 380,000 had been spent refurbishing the home of Air Chief Marshal Sir Sandy Wilson. Another pounds 205,000 was spent on his previous residence in Germany.

Hundreds of millions of pounds has been wasted on re-fitting ships after the Cold War, which have now been put up for sale; the management of ministry telephone lines, the royal dockyards sell-off and disposing of the married quarters' estate were other areas which swallowed taxpayers' money. Obtaining the advice of consultants on the sale of the houses has absorbed pounds 5m so far.

Another ministry vehicle that is lying dormant is the Prince of Wales, an airship bought for pounds 2.6m for surveillance operations in Ulster. According to a parliamentary answer it was damaged at Boscombe Down in May, and cannot be repaired.

"These figures speak for themselves," said Dr Clark. "The Government has failed signally to tackle waste in the MoD. Its incompetent approach is doing untold damage to Britain's armed forces."