Holmes and the mystery of the MOD procurement spend categorisation

It was August, but the evenings were growing chill and we could sense the autumn approaching from our little flat in Baker Street.

- So, I said to Holmes. Are you revelling in your success? A mention in the London Times, and several other journals no less?

Holmes barely stirred from his couch.

- Watson, you can be most ridiculous. Of course I do not "revel", as you put it. The Ministry we exposed has not terminated it’s relationship with the organisation, despite our entreaties – how can I be satisfied?

Following a hesitant knock on the door, Mrs Hudson, our erstwhile landlady entered.

- Oh Mr Holmes, Mr Watson sir, someone has pinned this to your letter on the door.

Holmes had taken to pinning hand-written letters, describing our exploits, to the front door furniture – a doorknob log, he called it in jest, although that title seemed a little cumbersome to my ear. Indeed the whole practice was somewhat self-promoting in my view and not befitting true gentlemen.

We gathered by the window so we could read the scrawled note in the fading evening light.

“This sounds like it might be an abuse of the Ministry of Defence’s FATS contract system. In order to give the appearance of reduced spend on consultants (External Assistance), they have been rebadging work as Technical Support, avoiding usual procurement rules. FATS spend has gone up from around £6M to almost £300M pa in the last couple of years – mirroring the reduction in declared EA spend. Questions have been raised and FATS has been the subject of an audit. Watch this space. And ask more questions if the audit turns into a whitewash. 

It was signed “UnionSteve” – a pseudonym, I surmised.

I could tell this had sparked an interest; the light was back in my old friend’s eyes, and for a change, it was not the usual cocktail of opiates that had put it there.

- So, perhaps Alix Partners is not the end of this story, he said.  This note sounds like it has come from someone who knows the Ministry well.  Perhaps... someone who has spent time in Africa, has one leg slightly shorter than the other, and plays the Trombone.

- Good heavens Holmes! How can you know all that!  Holmes ignored me and carried on.

- We thought the recent case was a single incident of poor procurement practice. But this suggests there is more.  Are the Ministry deliberately and systematically deceiving the Cabinet Office by recording expenditure wrongly to avoid scrutiny?

- Surely they would not do that Holmes! That would be very serious.

- Indeed - but remember Watson, desperate men do desperate things. But I have no time now to discuss this! I must away and seek the truth.

He strode into his bedroom, emerging some ten minutes later, not as Holmes, but as a filthy old tramp, with one arm apparently missing, a most terrifying scar on one cheek, a pronounced limp, and an SC clearance security pass around his neck.

- Where are you going Holmes? I cried, as he limped through the door.

- To the place where the lowest of the low congregate. Where the squalor of the drinking and opium dens is at its worst.  But where a man can find the truth if he is brave enough – or if he buys enough gin for the right people.  Cabbie! Quickly, boy! To Whitehall!

(to be continued)

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Voices (3)

  1. martin webb:

    Peter, love it, and can’t wait for the next episode…!

    From my recollections of Holmes, nasty things happen when the action shifts to the West Country – perhaps even more dangerous than the depths of Whitehall, so Holmes would do well to watch his back if he embarks on Brunel’s chemin de fer….

  2. Huhh?:

    Wow. That suggests some kind of deliberate and sustained manipulation of the processes of reporting, to simply ignore the rest of the world and keep doing what it’s doing. Two fingers to the rest of government.

    When will somebody actually look to beging to turn this supertanker around? (Although don’t ask it to buy the supertanker, it may not come with a wheel)

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