MoD spent pounds 800m over budget on Trident base

Defence ministers to be censured by MPs. Chris Blackhurst reports
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The Independent Online
The powerful cross-party Public Accounts Committee is to censure government ministers and officials at the Ministry of Defence for allowing a massive 72 per cent cost over-run on the building of the Trident submarine base at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde.

The committee will next month produce one of its hardest-hitting condemnations of Whitehall financial management, accusing the MoD of not doing enough to prevent the budget being overrun by pounds 800m.

Opposition MPs will seize on the report as an opportunity to accuse the Government of failing to manage the public purse and shirking responsibility for the fiasco. MPs will express dismay that nobody in Whitehall has been identified as responsible for the debacle. The committee report will also point out that ministers were receiving monthly reports.

One area of criticism will be the amount spent on consultants. Malcolm McIntosh, head of defence procurement at the MoD, has admitted to MPs that, at its peak, 1,000 consultants were working on the construction project. In a memorandum to the committee he has listed the "top 20 consultancy earners" from the works programme. Two firms - British Aerospace and Kennedy & Donkin - were each paid over pounds 40m, while four others each received over pounds 20m.

The total consultancy bill of pounds 360m, shared among 67 firms, was 195 per cent over the original estimate of pounds 122m.

For every pounds 1 of estimated expenditure for consultancy on the Trident Works Programme, Dr McIntosh admitted, the actual cost was pounds 2.95.

The huge size of the 16,000- tonne Vanguard-class Trident submarines posed problems for the MoD. It had to devise 110 individual projects, including a lift the height of an 11-storey building and the length of Wembley Stadium, to raise the vessels out of the water into dry dock, and a floating jetty as tall as Nelson's Column and as long as two football pitches to handle nuclear missile warheads. While they will acknowledge the scale of the task, the committee, increasingly concerned at delays and cost over-runs on other major MoD projects will vent their anger.

One reason for the programme going 72 per cent over budget was the fear of a serious earth tremor in that part of Scotland. Dr McIntosh said that even though an earthquake was a "one in 10,000-year prospect", Chernobyl, which happened during the building work, vividly illustrated the dangers. MPs will say that not enough attention was paid to risk assessment in the early stages. This, coupled with poor design controls, meant that some 7,200 variations had to be made to the plans for the giant lift alone.

The Government will be criticised especially for allowing building contracts to be issued before the detailed plans were finalised. This practice, condemned as "most dangerous" by Robert Sheldon MP, the committee chairman, is known as "continuous design planning" and is rarely used in public sector developments.