Philip Hammond

Kiran Stacey

Back in October, the FT revealed that Philip Hammond’s bold plan to part-privatise the MoD’s weapons-buying arm were in trouble, with one of the two potential bidders worried about various aspects of the bid.

At the time, the consortium, led by CH2M Hill, was worried about whether the terms on offer were commercially attractive. It was also worried about the status of one of its component companies, Serco, which is under threat of not being able to bid for government contracts in the future after allegations emerged it had overcharged taxpayers for tagging offenders.

Today, the CH2M Hill consortium dropped out altogether, leaving only one bid, led by Bechtel, the US engineering group. The company says the commercial terms on offer were simply not good enough to continue with the bid. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Philip HammondPhilip Hammond appeared on the Today programme this morning defending his position after being accused of dragging his heels on the spending review.

The defence secretary has not yet submitted his draft plans for how he could cut 5 per cent of his budget in 2015-16 (half of that asked of other departments), but he told the BBC he was not a “hold out” adding that he hopes to have an “adult conversation” about where the axe should fall.

But in case anyone was in any doubt of how willing he is to stand up to the Treasury, he added this:

We should be very clear that there is a difference between efficiency savings, which may be difficult to achieve but are painless in terms of the impact on the front line, and output cuts, which are of a very different order and require proper and mature consideration across government about the impact that they will have on our military capabilities.

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Kiran Stacey

Last week, Sir Merrick Cockell, the head of the Local Government Association, made some interesting comments about how the government provides public services. In an interview with the FT, he warned ministers not to assume that the private sector was necessarily best.

He said there had been a period when “public bad, private good” had “almost been a mantra”, accompanied by a belief that “the right way for local authorities to do things was to outsource everything”.

He added:

I hope we’ve moved beyond that, because there are very good cases for outsourcing. There are even stronger cases for testing a service properly to see whether it’s the right service to outsource, to see whether there’s a mature market out there that may be suitable to tender against it and then properly to reach a conclusion that there is, or there isn’t.

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Kiran Stacey

Harrier jump jetsAn additional 3,000 civilians will be axed from the Ministry of Defence after ministers realised the department’s “black hole” – the gap between revenue expectations and spending commitments – was bigger than previously thought.

This “black hole” has become one of the government’s most effective examples of Labour profligacy versus coalition (especially Conservative) fiscal discipline. But in truth, we’ve never really known how big it is or how close it is to being eliminated.

It is generally reckoned that when the coalition came in, there was a £10bn gap that needed closing over the course of the parliament, but the total overspend on existing projects could eventually be as high as £38bn. Read more

Jim Pickard

There is something curious in the way that several key transport decisions were left out of the CSR on Wednesday. The four missing announcements were: the big order for Intercity Express trains from the Hitachi-led Agility consortium, the electrification of the Great Western line, another order for about a thousand train carriages and the Thameslink upgrade.

Sources in the Department for Transport insist that these interconnected upgrades are genuinely going to the wire. They depend, for example, on Agility’s ability to reduce its original £7.5bn cost by a significant margin. Read more

Jim Pickard

I revealed last month that there were growing concerns within the rail industry that the £7.5bn order for new Hitachi trains to replace the ageing Inter-City fleet could be put on hold or cancelled.

Andrew Foster, former head of the Audit Commission, was asked in February (by Lord Adonis) to examine the case for the contract. Read more