MOD “don’t know if Bernard Gray has any procurement experience”

We're going to be featuring MOD quite a bit over the next week or two so apologies to readers who don't give a damn about it... But these issues are critically important for the UK economy and defence and, I would argue, also have some impact on the credibility of the entire procurement profession.  It really isn't good for us to see the sort of reports that have been all over the newspapers this week about 'waste and incompetence'' (supposedly) in such an important areas of commercial activity.

Anyway, we thought we'd cover a little more of Bernard Gray's appointment today, before we look at the underlying procurement issues in more detail over the holiday period.  I read his cv, which is strong on journalism and running media companies, but light on anything 'operational' in the acquisition sense.  So I called the MOD Press Office on Friday afternoon, and asked them if Mr Gray had any procurement, capital acquisition or programme management experience.  A very helpful chap in the press office took my query and came back to me a couple of hours later.  He "couldn't find anyone who knew" the answer to my question and suggested that perhaps I could contact Gray directly and ask him.  I haven't tried to do that yet...

If you saw the Apprentice on TV last week, you will know that the semi-final edition was where Alan Sugar's 'rottweiler' business associates got to interview the last 5 hapless candidates who have been going through the process to win a job with Lord Sugar.  So I was wondering how Gray's interview might have gone if he'd had to face the very scary Claude Littner.

Claude: So you were a journalist.  You've written a lot about MOD.  But frankly, writing is one thing, doing it is another.  I can write about Everest but I couldn't actually climb it.  Do you think you can run a huge chunk of the UK's defence organisation just because you wrote a few articles about it?

Gray: Well, I led a Defence Review...

Claude: When?

Gray: In 1998.

Claude: Ancient history.  Means nothing to me.  And what does leading a defence review mean? More report writing isn't it?

Gray: And I did a major defence acquisition report last year.

Claude: 300 pages wasn't it? And I heard you p****d off everyone you met in MOD.  Mind you, that could be a positive....  But what I'm trying to get at is whether you've ever actually done anything connected with Defence? Have you run anything, delivered anything similar?

Gray: Well...

Claude: Or have you ever managed a major capital programme or procurement exercise?

Gray: Well, yes, as MD of CMPi and TSL I obviously had responsibility for all activities, including procurement.

Claude: Responsibility? I don't mean sitting in a boardroom, I mean DOING IT!  And those businesses - magazine publishing weren't they?

Gray:    Yes, and conferences. That sort of thing.

Claude:  Conferences.  Magazines.  That's nice.  Not exactly a lot of tanks or planes to buy then, was there?  Or people shooting at your front-line logistics staff.  Or naval bases to manage.  So here's my question; have  you ever run a major programme? Have you ever negotiated a billion pound contract?  Have you ever done anything that actually relates to what DES does day to day?

Gray: Well..

Claude: I haven't got time to waste here.  OK, let's sum up.  You've been a journalist and you've written some interesting stuff about Defence - you're an ideas man, I'll give you that.  Visionary.  But apart from the writing, you ran firms that published things like the Travel Trade Gazette and ran some conferences.  So do you really, honestly think you can manage 20,000 civil servants and uniformed staff, run the most complex capital programmes in the country, lead negotiations on multi-billion pound contracts, and solve all the problems that everyone's been talking about?

Gray: I certainly do.

Claude: Thanks. That's all.

Look, I do hope he succeeds.  Perhaps there is some relevant experience somewhere in his background to back up his ideas.  Change management is clearly going to be a key skill and perhaps this is where Gray excels.  And Ursula Brennan, the Permanent Secretary at MOD, is no fool (I worked with her years ago) and presumably she's had input into this.  But purely in terms of proven capability, it does seem a high risk appointment to say the least.

And of course, if this post finds its way to him, I would be delighted to hear directly from him in terms of whether we've been unfair about his experience in any way!

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