MOD Procurement – can retired military men really influence things?

The “scandal” this weekend in the procurement world was around ex UK Military Officers claiming to be able to influence current Ministry of Defence procurement policy and activities via their contacts with still-serving officers, civil servants and politicians.

There are real issues here, and I wouldn’t want to underplay them. However, if someone offered you a large pile of money and in order to get it, you had to exaggerate your power, influence and contacts... you might be tempted to do just that.

I was  particularly  struck by General Dannatt, ex Head of the Army, saying that he’d manoeuvred to sit next to Jon Thompson, the current MOD Permanent Secretary, at a formal dinner, so he might be able to influence him on certain matters. He made a comment about Thompson being a “former school friend” according to the BBC.

I obviously don’t know if he said exactly that, but given that Thompson is 48 years old, while Dannatt is 62, it seems most unlikely that they were school friends unless it was a most unusual school!  (Amazing that no other publication I’ve seen has pointed that out - another Spend Matters scoop based on approximately 3 minutes of intense research...)

Philip Hammond, the MOD Minister, also said this when interviewed by the BBC and questioned on that specific matter.  "Knowing my permanent secretary I am completely relaxed about it because he would be totally immune to that kind of approach”.

Some truth in this I suspect. I met Thompson several times a few years back when he was the Department of Education’s CFO.  He seemed a very down to earth, bordering on the blunt, but highly intelligent, career accountant from Norwich – with a mix of (mainly) public and private sector background. He had a tendency to say “I’m just a simple accountant but..” and then ask you a really difficult and insightful question! I liked him and was impressed, and I really can’t imagine him being terribly impressed by a retired general trying to whisper in his ear about some supplier or other.

The other protection we have is the sheer complexity of the procurement process. It is not as if any one person has the ability to determine the likely outcome of a public procurement, given a reasonably competitive field of suppliers.

So I suspect there was some bravado and talking up of the influence these guys can really have. But there are some issues that this episode does raise which are somewhat worrying – we’ll take a look at those tomorrow.


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Voices (3)

  1. Chris C:

    Private Eye has been banging on about this for years (traffic both ways) – why has it only just become mainstream news?

  2. Lloyd:

    Thank you.
    I’ve been saying this for a while now. Dannatt is 14 years older. How can this have been overlooked/ignored?
    Seems to me like people want to just hear a bad news story.

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