Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)

WEDNESDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2004

AIR CHIEF MARSHAL SIR MALCOLM PLEDGER KCB OBE AFC, MAJOR GENERAL A J RAPER CBE AND MAJOR GENERAL M D WOOD CBE

  Q420  Mr Roy: I am very concerned that it used to take three times more people to do the same work as those same men and women are now doing. When did military personnel last undertake the deep repair of aircraft and what experience do RAF personnel at RAF Marham have in undertaking such work on Tornado GR4 aircraft?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Can I draw your attention to what happened at Cottismore on   Harrier where we have already introduced something we call a pulse line lean system using RAF manpower, which has made huge efficiencies in that process. Of course, we have learned from that in the proposals for the business case for what we are going to do at Marham.

  Q421  Mr Roy: That does not answer my question. When did military personnel last undertake the deep repair of aircraft and what experience do RAF personnel at RAF Marham, not anywhere else, have in undertaking such work? You are moving jobs from one area to another and you will expect other people to do it, but when you expect other people to do it I would like to know what experience those people have got, not people at other RAF bases.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: You are suggesting that the people at Cottismore never move from Cottismore.

  Q422  Mr Roy: No, I am not saying that.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I am saying that these military people who have been involved in deep maintenance have the skill sets to complete that, they have just proven it categorically in support to Harrier. We have those skill sets.

  Q423  Mr Roy: Let us talk about the people at RAF Marham, not anybody else. Let us try and talk about them. When did they last have experience of working on these aircraft?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: As I say, I do not understand the question because the people at RAF Marham today will not necessarily be the people at RAF Marham tomorrow in order to fulfil the remit for deep maintenance of Tornado.

  Q424  Mr Roy: I take it that those people at RAF Marham today have no experience.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: No, I did not say that. We have the skill sets across the Royal Air Force to do this, as we have just proven with the Harrier line at Cottismore.

  Q425  Mr Roy: That is okay, but if you are working in St Athan and your job is going to another area, I would look towards those people who are working on that particular base that that work is going to and I would surmise that they would be expected to do the job that I am already doing, not somebody else from RAF Leuchars or anywhere else in the country. You are saying that you are going to take work from one area and put it in another RAF base and the people who are there will be expected to do the work presumably. I am trying to get the balance of the experience. Is it an old boys' network where you are re-nationalising, you are moving the work out of South Wales and you are going to put it into an RAF base somewhere else and expect the same level of competence and experience that you have just given up?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: As I say, we have the skill sets to be able to do that without significant technical risk.

  Q426  Mr Roy: How reliant will RAF Marham be on private sector assistance?[2]

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Significantly.

  Q427  Mr Roy: Give me the percentage.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: As I said earlier on, we are already dependent in many areas on commercial capability. I said we do much of our work through acquisition, acquisition from both internal and external providers. I am already dependent for two-thirds of my activity on that.

  Q428  Mr Roy: If problems are experienced at RAF Marham with the deep repair of Tornado GR4 aircraft, where else could this work be undertaken?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: For Tornado in particular?

  Q429  Mr Roy: Yes.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Well, theoretically I suppose you could look back at the original manufacturer as one option.

  Q430  Mr Roy: More expensive?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: You asked me who could do it. I am not saying that we have looked at the options and the costs, you asked me who could do it. I go back to the original—

  Q431  Mr Roy: Why have you not looked at the options and costs?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We did look at options and costs.

  Q432  Mr Roy: Surely you have looked at every single aspect. What happens if RAF Marham does not work and something goes wrong, what is the option?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: As I say, we have looked at the options, we have judged the risk, that is part of the business process and that is part of the investment appraisal. The investment appraisal was done in accordance with Treasury guidelines, it understands risks, it applies factors for risks, those risks will be different whether it is at St Athan, at Marham or anywhere else. Those judgments have been drawn in a number of different alternatives and they said the most cost-effective solution to doing things differently in the future against a single depth centre of excellence is at RAF Marham.

  Q433  Mr Roy: And the social costs of the closure of the other plant?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: You added those statements and I said I would tell you what the costs in the investment appraisal were associated with that.[3]

  Chairman: Sir Malcolm, what is quite irritating for me is that we did an inquiry into the new funding for DARA. It was very controversial and people came and argued why there should be this rather radical change of reorganising DARA and putting additional work into St Athan, a big argument about the role of the MoD and the Development Agency, whether the site was adequate or not. Finally, after a great deal of complicated decision-making, they decided they would put up this enormous hangar which would accommodate the entire diminished Air Force and Army, I suspect, for £18 million. This looks to me like the Grand Old Duke of York who marched everyone all the way over to St Athan and now they are marching out again. It is a bit like Lord Beeching. I recall in South Wales whenever they repaired and painted the railway stations you knew exactly what was going to happen next, they were going to close the line. This is a replication of that. I can understand Frank arguing the case for dislocation of the workforce and possible redundancies, I share that view, but my irritation is what kind of decision-making process is it that you have a major decision in 2001, a major upheaval, a major reorganisation and then three years later it is going marching off in the opposite direction? You have told us how you have improved decision-making and asset tracking. You should spend a bit more time on the asset tracking work being done because it is going to a different part of the country. I find the decision-making process to be totally bizarre, almost a reversal of the decision, when so much effort was made to explain to us why the St Athan decision, the DARA reorganisation, was essential. Now you are coming back, and I must say others will follow behind you in defending this decision, but as far as I am concerned, even though we have a very busy agenda, we did a very quick inquiry into the move in 2001 and I see no reason why we should not do the same for this proposed move. It is the decision-making perspective that I find really difficult to comprehend. I know the MoD is not always keen to show us documentation but we would certainly like to see why this study so quickly after the previous study came out with a totally different solution. I am putting down a marker that we will need a lot more information on this before we are going to be convinced that a reversal of policy is necessary. We will go to my colleague who lives closer to St Athan than I do. I have no fond memories of St Athan, I let in 12 goals in 1961 so I would not do anything to save it, but others have a very different and more passionate view than I do. Dai, from Merthyr.

  Q434  Mr Havard: My colleagues have roamed across some of the things that I was going to ask you. Let us take the high level of the argument which the Chairman has just alluded to. Clearly it is perceived by us as being a reversal of policy to some degree because all the declarations, politically, commercially and otherwise, about the establishment of DARA and where it sat in relation to business, where it sat in relation to being a competitive organisation as a trading fund to be able to give depth of support for the MoD to have commercial opportunities, if you like, so you and the RAF, the MoD, the Government is not hooked up to a monopoly situation from the suppliers of the aircraft. All of those big political questions seem to be being distorted by this particular action. The whole idea of this was that military personnel would not be involved in this deep support of aircraft, it would be done elsewhere, and in order to avoid the danger of being hooked up to suppliers there would be an alternative in the market in the form of a Trading Fund. This particular decision seems to have hit at that general direction of policy. There are other decisions that you have been making in the DLO that you would argue are consistent with that political declaration but this one brings that whole issue into question. Maybe it is not a question you can answer but my colleague asked you about the military rationale. My constituents tell me that the real reason for the change is your crisis manning levels and the way you approach them and what you perceive in the RAF to be your need for certain personnel. A direct consequence of that is you will now train these people as aeronautical engineers and keep them employed. One way of doing that is by organising the work for these GR4s in the way you propose. It has nothing to do with all these other questions I raised about where DARA sits in the broader scheme of defence industrial policy or even efficiency in spend, so that money is transferred to the vote—in other words, employing military personnel rather than coming from revenues which DARA might make as a commercial organisation.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I started by offering that this is transformation in order first of all to create a more effective supply chain. I do not just mean distribution; I mean the whole of the supply chain including repair, overhaul and initial acquisition. We are doing different things in order to show (a) it is more effective but (b) I am afraid I then have to straddle the operational space with the business space because of those dependencies. We are not simply doing what was there before more efficiently. We are challenging the very essence of why doing things in the way we used to is still supporting the effective employment of our armed forces in a way that we can show is value for money. You are right in one essence: that this is a change of policy, but it is a change of policy deliberately against those parameters. We are not simply doing what we did before because it does not give us the right answer to create an effective supply chain for the employment of those armed forces in today's circumstances.

  Q435  Mr Havard: From where I sit politically, what I see is the RAF because of its particular perceived needs in this area and crisis manning, in order to do that, it is not taking the advantage that is coming through doing work more efficiently. It is using its particular position as a sort of special pleading almost to retain the work with military personnel rather than using the tools and processes that are available to it for the establishment of DARA.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I am sorry but again I come back to the investment appraisal that underpins these options. This is the best value for money solution in this particular area.

  Q436  Mr Havard: You have mentioned the investment appraisal. You say that the investment appraisal was done for this particular change. What factors were taken into account in doing that and in deciding which option showed the best value for money?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: You create the business case according to the parameters that impact on it. In this case, it is how best to do the activity that in the past was called fourth, third and second line, using the best skill set, using modern, lean techniques that we have proven in other military environments. Then you cost that way of doing business, but you also—

  Q437  Mr Havard: Because the RAF has become smarter at doing that with the Harriers, the circumstances have all changed and there has been a policy revision. Is this to do with the investment appraisal or with policy change?

  Major General Raper: I wonder if I could outline a couple of points that came out of the end to end review because that is the piece of work which has covered the principles on which we are basing all of that future support regime. These principles apply irrespective of location or organisation. The end to end review came out with three key findings: firstly we needed to configure for the most likely—and I could give you some examples of what we are doing there; secondly that we should concentrate our resources and materiel at logistic centres of gravity and therefore, in terms of support for aircraft, that would be in the form of having single depth support locations; and thirdly having a reliable supply chain which we have already spoken about. In terms of how we are taking transformation forward, we have clearly taken those three principles into the transformation programme.

  Q438  Mr Havard: This is all mixed in with this medium term work strand discussion, is it?

  Major General Raper: Those principles will also apply to the medium term work strand, yes.

  Q439  Mr Havard: On this particular investment appraisal, is it going to be published? Are we going to see what the relative assessment was and why DARA did not come out top and the RAF did?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: It has not been published. In the consultation period parts of it have been made available to the trade unions.


2   Ev 169 Back

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