As journalist David Hencke reminds us:
“One of the oldest tricks in the Whitehall playbook is to use a major event as cover to publish unpalatable or embarrassing news.
“It means the media are diverted by the event and don’t notice the announcement or report”.
In his recent post Hencke noted that the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury use of the US elections to hide two bad news stories.
On the day before Trump‘s victory, the Ministry of Defence slipped in a very embarrassing announcement about war veterans pensions and disability payments (£438,193,000 in the Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation scheme) for which the Treasury had apparently not budgeted, commenting: “As a result they will have to raid the contingency reserve for emergency payments to make sure these veterans have the money”.
On ‘results day’, the National Audit Office’s less than glowing report on the new Defence Equipment and Support agency was released to the media. Though the agency was set up to address MoD cost overruns on equipment, bad spending decisions and lack of control, the NAO has qualified its accounts and made profound and widely based criticisms of its performance
On the day of publication, few noticed that Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, reported: “The DE&S has again been unable to provide sufficient evidence to support certain costs, or demonstrate that all costs it has incurred have been included in the financial statements. The C&AG has therefore limited the scope of his audit opinion . . . I believe this situation has arisen because the Agency’s financial management systems, processes and controls for these transactions and balances are not yet sufficiently well developed to meet the Agency’s needs.”
Hencke also reports that Anne Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick on Tweed and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “At a time when we are seeing a lot of change in the Ministry of Defence, causing a great deal of anxiety for those who are serving, it is very disappointing to see Defence Equipment & Support has not got to grips with financial management”.
See also Hencke’s news article for Tribune magazine.
Chamber of Shame’s revolving door: the interests of the already rich are served and media further compromised
Clearly at the service of the multinationals, especially arms manufacturers and United States/Israel/Gulf states – and not those whom they were elected to serve – the Conservative cabinet goes full steam ahead to consolidate these links:
From Abu Dhabi Airports to the UK Ministry of Defence
As the electorate sees cuts to basic services, the coalition government has decided to appoint Tony Douglas, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports, with most useful Middle East contacts, as the new chief executive of Defence Equipment and Support (DE & S) on Tuesday. The FT reports: “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 and the latest in a new line of senior business figures lured into the public sector with the promise of private sector levels of pay”.
Now to the BBC Trust: Sir Roger Carr, arms manufacturer, representing your average license fee payer?
Investigative journalist Felicity Arbuthnot adds another breathtaking example: Roger Carr, the chairman of Europe’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems and Visiting Fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, has just been appointed as Vice-Chair of the BBC Trust, ludicrously, “to represent license fee payers views”. The BBC is established under a Royal Charter and – under an agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – is to serve the public, inform, educate and entertain.
BBC impartiality further compromised?
The BBC Trust is its governing body, mandated to ensure that the BBC delivers that mission – and ‘speak peace’ according to the charter coat of arms.
On a range of issues, grossly skewed information has led to floods of public protest and the official 2004 Hutton Inquiry investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a biological warfare expert and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq challenged the BBC’s journalistic standards and its impartiality.
CAAT protests that BAE Systems has armed dictatorships and human rights abusers around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. It has presented a petition asking the BBC to cut its ties with Carr and the arms trade.
The Guardian’s gross omission
Disturbingly, the Guardian, still read by many thoughtful people, does not mention this affiliation, listing only Carr’s former appointments.
The MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation (DE & S formerly DESO), employs 16,000 full-time staff and more than 3,400 contractors to handle the three armed services’ £14bn annual spending on new equipment and on maintenance. It oversees Britain’s £163bn 10-year defence budget and most of the government’s largest expenditure projects.
But today, the Times and the FT confidently predict that defence secretary Michael Fallon, speaking at an Institute of Directors dinner in Durham, will reveal many shortcomings, including fraudulent charges that arms companies have levied on the taxpayer for:
- croquet lessons,
- horseracing trips,
- speeding tickets
- and magicians.
And today, the National Audit Office has released a report saying that during attempts by the DE & S to privatise the running of procurement, which were abandoned in December 2013 after a collapse of the bidding process, MoD civil servants had ‘squandered’ £33m on consultancy fees and preparatory work.
Mr Fallon’s proposal:
A Whitehall defence watchdog will be set up, with the power to fine defence companies up to £1m if it discovers abuse of the contracting process. The defence secretary will tell the audience that the MoD will demand “100% transparency”.
FT: “Mr Fallon’s remarks are likely to be greeted coolly by a defence industry that has so far been broadly critical of government reform efforts”.
And sadly, the ‘fat cat’ mentality survives unscathed . . . The FT reported (14.4.14) that the MoD had asked the Treasury for permission to give top staff in the new watchdog inflation-busting pay rises or bonuses when they leave.