By Tom Moseley, Parliamentary Correspondent
The military supply chain responsible for getting vital equipment to British forces on operations in Afghanistan and Libya is at “critical risk of failure”, MPs have warned.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said troops fighting on the front line could be hit by shortages within 30 days if the system broke down.
In their firing line was Chief of Defence Material Bernard Gray, who is in charge of Filton’s Abbey Wood complex, home to the Defence Equipment and Services agency.
Mr Gray, who was grilled by the committee in June, is in charge of the supply chain for military equipment, and confirmed he would take responsibility for driving down the costs.
Addressing the committee, Mr Gray said: “We certainly agree we need a better logistics information system for a variety of reasons.”
In its highly critical report, released today, the committee said the Ministry of Defence accepted the IT systems used to manage the complex supply chain were “not adequate for the task”. As a result, the risk of failure of these warehouse inventory systems was considered “extremely high” – and was recently rated as “critical” by the MoD’s Defence Logistics Board.
The report said: “However, we welcome Bernard Gray’s clear acceptance of his personal responsibility for failures of supply chain performance and look to him to deliver improvements.”
The committee said the MoD had spent £75 million upgrading the systems considered to be at the highest risk. However, an £800-million programme to overhaul the entire warehouse inventory management system, known as the Future Logistics Information Services project, will not be complete until 2014.
In the meantime, the committee expressed concern that funding for the programme could be affected by cuts to the defence budget.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge expressed exasperation at the continuing failure of the MoD to get to grips with problems which, she said, had dogged the supply chain for a quarter of a century.
She said: “The Ministry of Defence has a duty to make sure our troops serving on the front line get the supplies they need, when they need them and in the most cost-effective way.
“For 25 years, the department has promised this committee that it would resolve the long-standing problems associated with its supply chain: late deliveries, missed targets and inadequate cost information. Yet these problems persist.”
Defence equipment minister Peter Luff said the Government was investing £800 million in the supply chain to ensure it was “as efficient and cost effective as possible”.
He added: “Ensuring our Armed Forces on the frontline have all they need is a top priority and there are no shortages in Afghanistan.
“The complexity of supplying a conflict zone should not be underestimated and we have successfully kept our troops supplied.”