Failings at MoD ‘truly reprehensible’

By Laura Miller

British soldiers are being let down by a ‘truly reprehensible’ catalogue of failures at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), a report out today has said.

The MoD’s drive to meet staff cutting targets has caused a series of breakdowns in a costly new accounts system, leading to massive budget mis-management and thousands of MoD employees being underpaid.

The annual accounts report by the cross-party defence committee found ‘considerable failings’ in the Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) programme, a £244.94 million system paid for by the taxpayer to manage the MoD’s staff records and payroll.

“It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of the failure of the Joint Personnel Administration programme. At a time when the Department is seeking to deal with areas of dissatisfaction in service personnel life, this failure, which affects pay, entitlements and service records, is unacceptable,” read the report.

The report, for the period 2007-8, linked the errors to a programme of thousands of job cuts at the MoD, and criticised the Ministry for making these ‘dramatic’ cuts when staff were already under pressure, both militarily and as a result of other difficulties with the accounts system.

“[We have] concerns that these cuts come at a time of continuing high operational commitments. Inevitably, such reductions in staff have placed greater burdens upon personnel and hindered performance,” it continued.

“Headcount reductions will no doubt have made the impact of some of JPA’s failings worse.”

JPA was introduced across the armed services to remove, “the cost, risk and hindrance to business change from continuing with antiquated IT platforms”.

But Trevor Woolley, the MoD’s finance director, admitted it “replaced a manual system [where] there are lots of opportunities for manual intervention if it looks as if a payment is being made at the wrong level or to the wrong person. The automated system we have in JPA does not have that same level of control.”

He said that made it more, not less, difficult to know if the “right payments have been made to the right people.”

£28.9 million is owed to the MoD by its staff as a result of problems with JPA, but uncertainties about who has been over and underpaid could mean this money will have to be written off.

The report also attacked a culture of “over-optimism” in the MoD regarding performance, which “allowed it to believe that it had some chance to meet targets that, in the end, it entirely failed to meet.”

One of the targets, which required the MoD to deliver its equipment programme to cost and time, showed it had managed to meet only one in three sub-targets, which “suggests a 33 per cent success rate”.

The main cause of the over-optimism, the report found, was a “lack of transparency” in the Ministry’s targets for the 2004 spending round, where “ambiguous terminology” could equally cover near-success and close to abject failure.

In general it found the MoD used a “very considerable level of subjectivity” in assessing performance against some targets.