Parliament and Politics: MPs attack time-lag on defence savings

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A 13-YEAR time-lag in securing savings of more than pounds 212m by improving the efficiency of naval aviation support work was severely criticised by the all-party Commons Public Accounts Committee yesterday, in a report on Ministry of Defence helicopter maintenance.

The MoD became concerned about the efficiency of the work in 1983 and engaged consultants to advise on the best way to make savings.

By 1988, the department had identified gross savings of pounds 212.4m that could be achieved by 1998 at a cost of pounds 34.2m. A crucial element would be the development of an information technology strategy for the Fleet Air Arm.

To date, only pounds 90m of the savings have been realised. Getting most of the remaining pounds 122m depends on full implementation of the IT arrangements, but the target date for this has slipped from 1994 to 1996.

Warning against further delay, the MPs said they were 'surprised and concerned' that it would have taken the department 13 years from identifying the need for action to doing something effective about it. They were 'concerned' that despite significant investment in IT, the MoD still did not have sufficient information to identify the full cost of helicopter maintenance.

The services have more than 800 helicopters. Repair and maintenance involves 6,500 servicemen and civilians and is estimated to cost about pounds 400m a year.

In its value-for-money study, the committee recommended a cut in the amount of extra capacity maintained by the Naval Aircraft Repair Organisation (NARO) in case of war, more contracting out of work to industry and greater consistency on availability targets between the three services.

The committee was 'disappointed' at the lack of competition between NARO and industry, but expects that to increase now NARO has defence agency status.

Private flying schools are to be hired to train RAF and Royal Navy cadets, under the Government's policy of putting more defence back-up services to test against private competition, according to a report by the National Audit Office.