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August 19, 2009 11:33 pm
Ministers have ordered a shake-up at the Ministry of Defence after auditors were unable to find £6.6bn ($10.9bn) of equipment, including about a sixth of all vehicles, weapons and radios used by troops.
The patchiness of the MoD’s record keeping suggests that officials have been taking critical resourcing decisions for Afghanistan without knowing where billions of pounds of equipment is located or whether it is in good repair.
This summer, the National Audit Office refused to sign off on MoD accounts because of an “inadequate level of evidence” that £6.6bn of its assets existed – equivalent to the entire annual defence equipment budget.
It has been a summer of furious political debate about the resourcing of British troops in Afghanistan, where the army has suffered its bloodiest month since the conflict began.
Liam Fox, shadow defence secretary, said the supply problems were part of a “sorry tale of failure” at the MoD. “We have an army at war and an MoD that is simply not up to the task,” he said.
But the MoD said the £6.6bn of assets “were never physically lost” and the NAO figure was an “extrapolation” from its audit.
At the time of the report, the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency, responsible for supplying the armed forces, had been unable to satisfy the NAO’s demand for paperwork to verify the assets, the MoD said.
Misplaced stock includes £1.25bn of equipment deployed with troops, such as machine guns, night-vision goggles, encrypted radios and body armour. Defence officials were unable to account for £350m worth of fighting vehicles that were in theory being used for training and operations.
The remaining unaccounted assets – worth more than £5bn – are predominantly raw materials and spare parts, ranging from bolts and oil to jet engines and propellers.
Problems monitoring stocks of deployed kit have become particularly acute and the value of missing equipment has almost tripled this year. Defence officials say this is partly because of the intensity of operations in Afghanistan.
But the NAO also highlights severe failures in administering stock registers. In some cases budget constraints forced the MoD to ditch plans for more sophisticated IT systems.
The shortcomings have triggered an internal overhaul of MoD procedures and management, designed to improve the response to frontline needs.
A single official will be responsible for overseeing support for the Afghan campaign. The position will be responsible for training, logistics, capabilities and equipment purchases.
A system is being introduced next month to track frontline equipment.
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