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Last week I announced the sale of 2,000 km of pipelines with associated storage depots and pumping stations to the Spanish pipeline operator Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos.
Known collectively as the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS), this key piece of national infrastructure was established in 1939 to provide the UK with secure oil distribution as it stared into the abyss of total war.
Over 70 years later it continues to distribute about 40 per cent of aviation fuel within the UK, but now primarily serves civil airports, like Heathrow and Gatwick, with only 10 per cent of its fuel supplying military airfields.
The sale is excellent news – not just for Defence but for the UK taxpayer.
As well as generating £82 million for the public purse, it will place the GPSS network on a sustainable long-term footing, ensuring we retain the capability to supply aviation fuel to UK military bases and civil airports, run by a company focussed on running fuel pipelines.
This transaction brings to a conclusion successful agreement on the major elements of the MOD’s Asset Management Programme – launched in 2010 to help restore order to the MOD out of its well-documented financial and administrative turmoil.
The aim of this programme was threefold:
Firstly, to deliver £162M of capital receipts from non-core assets; Secondly, to use private sector expertise to generate downstream savings for Defence and; Thirdly, to allow focus on defence resources where they are most needed: the front line.
Alongside the GPSS, the other key assets earmarked for sale were the Defence Support Group land business; the Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre and the Logistics Commodities and Services (Transformation) programme.
Here, too, we have made excellent progress.
In January I announced the successful sale of the Defence Support Group land business to Babcock for £140 million, along with a 10-year contract to buy back services.
The contract will save the Army around £500 million over that period – a saving of over a third. Babcock are on track to complete this transaction and take over responsibility for deliver of maintenance support to Army platforms on Wednesday next week.
Last month, I announced that Solent Gateway had been selected as preferred bidder for the concession to manage, and exploit the commercial potential of, the Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre – again generating significant savings for Defence. We expect to conclude the transaction and sign a contract with the new operator over the coming month, with the concession starting in the autumn.
And in February we announced that Leidos had been selected as the preferred bidder for the LCS(T) programme – a key step in bringing Defence logistics up to the standard of industry best practice and one expected to deliver financial savings of around £0.5 billion over the next 13 years.
But these sales – as significant as they are individually – are just one part of a resoundingly successful programme of wholesale reform that has seen the UK Defence machine transform from a financially challenged unwieldy organisation into a department that is leaner, more efficient and financially in balance.
Pragmatic and bold, it is a programme that has seen us streamline resources, divest non-essential assets, harness private-sector expertise and drive innovation and efficiency into our very DNA.
Thanks to the hard work of all those within the MOD and our Armed Forces, we have banished our inherited £38 billion budgetary black hole and delivered a balanced and affordable Equipment Plan – worth £163bn over ten years.
What’s more we are on track to deliver the £5.4 billion of efficiencies agreed in the 2010 and 2013 spending reviews.
So, five years after this administration came into power, and as we stand on the brink of a General Election, an SDSR and a Comprehensive Spending Review, we can take confidence that UK Defence is fighting fit to face the challenges of the 21st century.
The GPSS sale – one of the last announcements I will make as Minister for Defence Equipment and Support in this administration – is yet another example of how far we have come.
Our challenge now is to maintain our position of strength, continuing the essential work of the past five years and ensuring Defence remains on the trajectory to success that, together, we have set.
SYRIAN MODERATE OPPOSITION
There is widespread coverage, including on BBC News and in this morning’s Times, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and The Sun, which all cover yesterday’s proactive announcement that the UK is to train Syrian forces in the Middle East to fight against ISIL. The papers suggest that this represents a “stepping up” of British efforts to counter the terrorist group.
The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“Britain remains at the forefront of coalition military efforts to support the Iraqi government in their fight against ISIL. This effective and closely coordinated activity in conjunction with Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces has largely stalled the terrorists’ advances.
“But ISIL must be defeated in both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, coalition airstrikes have supported the liberation of Kobane and have disrupted ISIL’s logistics and supply lines. However, defeating ISIL ultimately lies with local forces and we are helping to create effective ground forces in Syria, as well as in Iraq, so they can take the fight to ISIL.”
You can read more on the story here.
The Sun and regional outlets, including the Western Morning News, report that that RFA Argus is on its way home fromSierra Leone and is set to receive the Admiralty Board Letter of Commendation. Read more on the story here or see below for what the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had to say and the reaction from the ship’s Captain.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“During her deployment to Sierra Leone Argus has made a significant contribution to the UK’s effort to halt the spread of Ebola. She has helped to establish the crucial medical treatment centres and has provided vital transport capability allowing medical workers to reach the areas most affected by the disease and by providing medical reassurance to the British personnel deployed to the region.
As the Chairman of the Admiralty Board it gives me great pleasure to award RFA Argus with a Letter of Commendation, recognising her overall contribution to Defence over her 33 years’ service. From delivering helicopters and Harrier jets to the Falklands conflict in 1982, to acting as a casualty receiving ship in the first Gulf War in 1991 and Adriatic in 1993, Argus has made her mark in a significant way.”
The Commanding Officer of RFA Argus, Captain David Buck, said:
I am extremely proud of everything that Argus and her people have contributed to the mission in Sierra Leone over the past six months. The award of the Admiralty Board Commendation for Argus’ lifetime contribution to defence is a huge honour that I am privileged to accept on behalf of all of those who have served in her over the course of 33 years service.
As one of the few nations able to offer highly advanced Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities the UK has already deployed a number of assets to match coalition requirements. The Defence Secretary also announced today that the UK will be sending two Sentinel aircraft to the region to provide wide area surveillance over Iraq of ISIL activity and to track IED laying activity. These aircraft will join our Tornados and Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft which have conducted 194 strikes over Iraq as of 23 March and have continued to gather vital intelligence alongside Rivet Joint.
There is widespread coverage, including in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (p8), The Times (p36) and The Independent of Yemen’s ‘descent into chaos’ with claims that the country is edging closer to an all-out civil war. Shia Houthi rebels have seized a key military base in the southern port city of Aden and some reports suggest that president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has fled the country. Rebels seized al-Anad airbase, which lies between Taiz and Hadi’s stronghold of Aden, in a renewed push for control of the country’s south. The advance sets the stage for a confrontation between Iran, which backs the rebels also known as Ansar Allah, and regional powers eager to halt the broadening of the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.
Following the publication of the Defence Select Committee report titled ‘Decision-making in Defence Policy’, The Daily Telegraph reports that British soldiers were left “dangerously exposed” when they were sent into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2005/06 because of failings in decision-making. The report concluded that the internal structures in government led to “immensely important and costly decisions” being made with poor knowledge of the situation.
Our position on decision-making is as follows:
“We welcome the Defence Committee’s recognition of the positive steps that we have taken to strengthen decision-making processes and structures in Government. With the creation of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Levene Reforms, which introduced a new Defence Board and greater individual executive accountability, this Government has made major changes since 2010 to improve performance.”
DEFENCE EQUIPMENT AND SUPPORT
Yesterday’s announcement that Tony Douglas will up take up the post of Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support is covered in the Financial Times (p4) this morning. The paper reports that the new chief of Britain’s armaments programme is to be rewarded with a £285,000 salary and £250,000 performance-related annual bonus, making him the highest earner in Whitehall.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“I am delighted to welcome Tony Douglas into the role. He brings a wealth of international experience and expertise in project and programme management, organisational leadership and business strategy, which will prove invaluable for the future of DE&S and defence as a whole. This Government has transformed how we equip our Armed Forces. The key to our success has been matching our equipment programme to the funding available and giving DE&S the capacity, capability and freedom to deliver the equipment they need. I look forward to Tony building on this and creating a world class acquisition organisation.”
This morning a Written Ministerial Statement has been laid, setting out a wider package to ensure a robust response to the threat of ISIL’s violent extremism in the Middle East. The UK will send around 75 military trainers and headquarter staff to provide training in areas such as the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills. Read the story Here.
An Royal Logistic Corp Bomb disposal expert checks the fuse on the World War 2 era SC 250kg German Bomb
Army Bomb disposal experts are currently dealing with an unexploded air drop World War 2 era SC 250kg German Bomb near the Shard in Bermondsey.
The bomb will have been dropped over London by the Luftwaffe in the 1940s but unusually did not detonate. It has lain undisturbed deep in the ground for 70 years but was uncovered today during construction works.
Bomb disposal teams from Shorncliffe Troop 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Royal Logistic Corps and sappers from 36 Engineer Regiment Explosive Ordnance Disposal are involved in excavating the device so that it can be safely diffused. The operation to excavate the device will take all night as its position is awkward. The fuse is underneath and trenches will have to be dug carefully beneath the bomb in order to access the fuse. In the interim, Royal Engineers are building a safety Hesco ÒiglooÓ around the device to limit any explosion.
Once the fuse is revealed the Royal Logistic Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts will attempt to make the bomb safe.
It is widely reported, including in The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Guardian, that Britain is to boost its defenceson the Falkland Islands following Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s statement to the House yesterday. Reports state that two Chinook helicopters are to be returned to the islands and the air defence system updated. All articles report that £180 million will be spent improving the defence assets on the Islands.
Read the Defence Secretary’s full statement here:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150324/debtext/150324-0001.htm#15032449000202
Women in the RAF
The Times includes a feature on women in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the diverse range of jobs available in the forces. It states that engineers and technicians make up almost half of the RAF workforce. The article writes that women make up 13.9% of the regular workforce in the RAF and it has been in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women since 2012. Sqn Ldr Kate Macartney, a Senior Engineering Officer on 3(Fighter) Sqn, speaks about her experiences in the Forces and the opportunities available, saying: “My team is a broad spectrum of race, gender and age and includes people from their early fifties to late teens; difference isn’t anything anyone thinks about.” SAC Polly McKinlay, an Avionic Technician on 29(Reserve) Sqn, said women had no special treatment in the battle zone. “There are no barriers to what you can do or where the job can take you,” she said.
Wide coverage continues of the removal of the Second World War bomb that has been found on a building site in Bermondsey. The articles report that residents have returned to their homes after the safety cordon had been removed last night once the bomb had been removed. The 1,000lb device has been taken to Kent under police escort for disposal this morning. All articles include a range of images of the Royal Logistics Corps at work and show the ‘igloo’ that was built over the bomb to absorb any explosion.
Armed Forces Service Complaints System
A short article in The Sun carries comments from Nicola Williams, Service Complaints Commissioner for the Forces, saying that bullying and harassment in the forces is still taking place. It states that 615 allegations of unfairness were dealt with in 2014.
In response, Anna Soubry, Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, said:
“I welcome this report which is the first to be published by Nicola Williams as Commissioner. Although I am disappointed that the SCC is not yet able to say the system is working as it should, I am pleased that progress is being made – in particular the action taken by all three Services in tackling the causes of complaints and the way they are handled.
“The report also recognises that reforms that have been set out to simplify the complaints process and to strengthen the role of SCC into that of an Ombudsman signal a significant change to the way service complaints are handled. The MOD will now consider fully the recommendations made in the report and respond formally in due course. I would like to echo Ms Williams’s praise for the work done by Dr Atkins during her time in post.”
US in Afghanistan
The Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and Wall Street Journal report on the announcement by Barrack Obama yesterday that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will be slower than expected following a request from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The US will no longer meet its original goal of reducing troop levels to about 5,000 this year.
Pilot Officer Scott Quayle, LAC David Masters and SAC Phillip Heaps take shelter and prepare their gear as RAF Reservists from across the UK are participating in a joint exercise with the Norwegian Reserve Officers Federation to further develop their skills in being able to operate under any conditions in any climate. Nine Squadrons from all around the UK representing the depth and variety of the trades in the Royal Air Force, including Intelligence, Force Protection, Supply, Logistics, Helicopter Support, Medics and more have come together to enhance their operational capability. Being introduced to military standard issue skiing kit, they are learning to cross-country ski, whilst also receiving lessons in mountain and avalanche awareness, rescue, first aid and personal care under extreme cold weather conditions. [Picture: Crown Copyright]