UK defence trade body defends government on manufacturing

Defence trade body ADS has brushed off accusations by unions that the government was committing a ‘stunning betrayal’ of British manufacturing.

ADS — which represents UK aerospace, defence and security companies — welcomed the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) white paper released yesterday that proposed to protect the research budget and make procurement more transparent to help small businesses.

An ADS spokesperson told The Engineer that the government’s stated aim of buying equipment through open competition on the global market didn’t represent a shift in policy and had effectively been in place since the 1980s.

Rees Ward, chief executive officer of ADS, said in a statement: ‘Her Majesty’s government has long espoused open competition as its main acquisition method and industry is comfortable with this approach.

‘The question is how it is implemented in practice… industry believes that each procurement should be evaluated against criteria [that] ensure that our armed forces’ needs are met, and the value-for-money test includes the benefits to the economy as a whole rather than any narrower measure.’

Unite national officer Ian Waddell said: ‘This is yet another stunning betrayal of British manufacturing. The government has learnt nothing from the fiasco at Bombardier when it put Britain’s last train maker at risk in favour of a rival European manufacturer.’

The white paper also proposed maintaining science and technology spending at least at the current 1.2 per cent of the MoD’s budget, representing more than £400m each year.

The document set out the MoD’s intention to help all UK-based suppliers promote their products abroad by building exportability into procurement criteria, improving government coordination and providing training in dealing with overseas customers.

The government also wants to increase opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by making the procurement process more transparent, simpler, and faster, and engaging with companies at an earlier stage.

In addition, the MoD is evaluating the potential benefits of appointing an official to head up a government security authority, referred to as a senior responsible owner (SRO).

Defence equipment minister Peter Luff said: ‘Britain’s smaller businesses are the breeding ground of genuine innovation, developing new technologies that provide our front-line forces with battle-winning advantage.

‘Last year the MoD spent almost £1bn directly with smaller businesses and we want to see that figure grow.’

ADS said the white paper’s proposals on technology, increasing exports, supporting SMEs and the idea of a government head of security were particularly welcome.