Defence procurement must be reformed to benefit British industry, Prospect tells parliamentary committee

25 October 2023

Prospect has highlighted the need for defence procurement reform in oral evidence to a parliamentary committee.

Sue Ferns addressing the committee in the Commons

Recognising Prospect’s expertise in the field, Senior Deputy General Secretary Sue Ferns was invited to give evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the defence industry in Wales.

Prospect represents the professional interests of 11,000 scientists, engineers and managers across the defence industry – in the public and private sectors.

The invitation to provide Prospect’s expertise follows Prospect’s publication earlier this year of a report, Design, Build and Maintain: Effective Defence Procurement, arguing the case for fundamental reform of defence procurement.

Citing the report’s findings, Sue argued that the social value component weighting in the procurement process was insufficient to override a fixation on lowest cost, at the expense of sovereign capability and high-quality jobs across the UK – including in Wales.

Other countries, she noted, structured their procurement process to give greater weight to social value and create good, union jobs in their domestic defence industries.

Sue further highlighted the importance of the broader supply chain, including the steel industry in Wales, and the move to electric arc blast furnaces which could impact on employment in Port Talbot given the unsuitability of such steel for defence manufacturing.

Sue set out how excessive delays in receiving security clearances were leading to successful applicants for MoD jobs accepting positions elsewhere. This was just one part of a serious skills shortage in the MoD, she argued, noting the challenge in recruiting skilled workers to the public sector when comparator wages in the private sector were much higher. One example of where this causes challenges, Sue said, was in enabling the MoD to act as an intelligent customer when procuring services.

Sue gave evidence as part of an expert panel of industry representatives, providing a unique perspective as the sole union voice on the panel.

Kevin Craven, Chief Executive of ADS Group – the trade association for the UK Aerospace, Defence, Security & Space industries – spoke of opportunities to improve links between industry and universities to boost defence R&D in the UK.

John Whalley, Chief Executive of Aerospace Wales Forum Ltd, outlined the importance of RAF Valley (located in Anglesey) and the private companies working alongside the RAF locally, and the role of SMEs in the sector.

Giving evidence before the panel of which Sue was a part, Professor Trevor Taylor, Director of the Defence, Industries & Society Programme at Royal United Services Institute, set the scene for the Committee, providing an overview of defence industrial policy in Wales and across the UK.

Find out more about Prospect’s work in the defence industry.


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