Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Friday, 7 August 2009 15:46 UK

Plans to improve defence orders

UK troops in Afghanistan
Defence equipment has been at the centre of a political row

The Ministry of Defence is to improve the way it orders equipment after a report said it did "not really know the price of any kit", the BBC understands.

A new unit has been established at the MoD to implement some recommendations from the report, which was due to be published in July.

The government has denied suppressing the report, which it commissioned, saying it was not finished yet.

The Tories have accused the government of trying to "cover up" its findings.

The BBC has been told that the Ministry of Defence wanted to publish the report by former defence adviser Bernard Gray, last month but that Downing Street stopped it. It is understood Downing Street wanted it to be published later as a wider defence review.

Cost overrun

The new unit will examine ways to improve the process of ordering equipment and managing large projects and is run by Lord Drayson, a former defence minister who returned to the department recently.

The BBC understands that he is looking at how to reduce the number of people involved in the decision-making process and how to better manage costs.

The report by former defence adviser Bernard Gray had been due to be published before Parliament's summer recess but has been put back until the autumn.

We attach great importance to improving procurement
Ministry of Defence

But a summary of its findings, seen by the BBC, says the Ministry of Defence "does not really know the price of any kit and project management does not exist".

Other findings include that the MoD often expects costs to overrun by 40% and large delays and that the MoD is "always late in admitting there is a problem".

It says there should be fewer people involved in buying defence equipment and "those there must be better at their jobs" and that the current programme "will exceed any likely MoD funding profile".

'Quite wrong'

On Thursday defence minister Quentin Davies told the BBC the report was now with defence procurement minister Lord Drayson and he had "no idea" when it was due to be completed. "This report's being worked on, as far as I know being worked on at the present time."

But the Conservative chairman of the defence committee James Arbuthnot, who used to be a defence procurement minister in the 1990s, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "I'm absolutely certain that the report was ready at the beginning of July, was ready to be printed.

"Why Quentin Davies says he has only seen a first draft a couple of months ago I can't understand. This report is ready to go and it ought to be printed now."

He said he had put in a Freedom of Inquest request to get it published last week and it was "quite wrong" to delay it.

"If there are potential opportunities to buy equipment better, given the sacrifices we are demanding of our armed forces in Afghanistan, as we have heard today, then we must take those opportunities."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We attach great importance to improving procurement and that is why the former defence secretary John Hutton commissioned the Gray Review.

"We want to ensure equipment is purchased as efficiently as possible and this review will feed into our recently announced Green Paper on defence.

"We are constantly improving the procurement process which has seen us deliver £10bn of equipment to the frontline over the last three years."

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