Defence chiefs wasted £750,000 buying back unneeded vehicles

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Defence chiefs wasted about £750,000 buying back old vehicles for the invasion of Iraq - only for them to arrive after the war had ended.

A farcical series of mistakes is revealed in a National Audit Office (NAO) report today into how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) buys military equipment at short notice.

The MoD had sold 30 six-wheel vehicles for just £3,000 each because they were nearing the end of their useable lives. Needing them quickly for last year's invasion, the Ministry agreed to buy them back for £17,000 each. It spent a further £18,000 upgrading them.

However, by the time the vehicles arrived in Iraq, hostilities had ended and they were no longer needed. So far it has sold back 12 of the vehicles at an average of £6,500 each.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the episode was a "small but extreme example"of the cost of getting such calculations wrong.

The NAO disclosed that the ministry spent £658m on so-called "urgent operational requirements" during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It said they are a necessary and increasingly important tool and it praises the MoD for its "impressive ingenuity" in delivering urgent requirements for troops.

Mr Leigh commended the MoD, but said an impending war did not give it a "blank cheque" for equipment. He also criticised the MOD's "relaxed approach" to keeping and reporting information on its spending. The ministry still does not know where some of the military hardware it bought under the scheme was.

"Staff at the MoD are experts at last-minute shopping. Some gaps can be filled in this way, but we must be wary about placing too much reliance on it."

The MoD spent £510m on emergency purchases for Iraq, more than one third of the cost of preparing for the invasion. The Armed Forces had to buy 200 pieces of operational equipment, from air-launched cruise missiles to grenades.

As well as the six-wheeled "all-terrain mobility platforms", the Army is selling off Supacat vehicles and converted Land Rovers it bought urgently. They will also raise far less money than they cost.

Lord Bach, Minister for Defence Procurement, said: "This report is positive for the MoD, highlighting the impressive speed with which some urgent operational requirements were delivered and the ingenuity in some of the solutions provided."

Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the MoD, told MPs earlier this year that the Government did not order such equipment until late November 2002, well after military planners began preparing for war.

"The basic judgement was how much could be done by way of sensible preparation and how much would constitute an unhelpful development to the overall diplomatic objective that was at the forefront at the time."

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