Monday, October 09, 2006

Whitehall To Pick More Winners

Pilot of the future

As angry taxpayers wait for the doomed Super Dumbo bills to come in, it's good to see the spirit of enterprise is alive and well at the MOD:

"THE Ministry of Defence wants to foster a “start-up culture” in the UK, giving equity backing to scientists and entrepreneurs to develop the next generation of military technology in their garages and university laboratories. Lord Drayson, Defence Procurement Minister, believes that providing research money to entrepreneurs will lead to a more vibrant and dynamic defence industry."

Lord Drayson of course has form. Here's GMWatch's summary:

"Drayson... made a substantial donation to Labour while the Ministry of Defence was deciding who should be awarded a smallpox vaccine contract. Drayson gave a further donation of half a million pounds to Labour just six weeks after the PM made him Lord Drayson. Controversially, the Blair government awarded Drayson's company, PowderJect, the smallpox vaccine contract without any competition. The contract was worth GBP32million and Drayson is thought to have made around GBP20m for PowderJect from this deal."

This man is now in charge of Defence procurement- getting on for £20bn pa of our money. Hmm.

But even setting that aside, defence is something even we small staters recognise must be left in government hands. And if we're going to put our boys and girls in harm's way, we need to make sure they have the very best kit- pretty well whatever it costs.

Unfortunately, as shown once again in Iraq and Afghanistan, MOD routinely fails to do that. Not only do they cheesepare on basic stuff like body armour and armoured vehicles, they use the procurement budget to pursue non-defence objectives - most notoriously in their "Buy European" policy.

So here we are with another objective - picking start-up winners - which can only conflict with the primary purpose of this spending, putting even more lives at risk. Isn't it time we all learned that government is hopeless at anything like that: after all, Gordo has already burned billions proving it once again (eg his half-baked R&D tax credits).

PS MOD has a long and appalling record of waste. Boys toys like the TSR2 have an obvious appeal to politicos and Eagle readers alike (the 2006 Airfix kit version apparently sold out its 10,000 production run within days). But even though it's 40 years since Wilson famously scrapped that and bought American, our politicos and defence bureaucrats are still obsessed with the idea of propping up Britain's own defence contractors. Even when it costs us a fortune and routinely leaves our guys with inferior kit to the Americans they share the trench with.

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