When I last wrote on the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) back in November last year detailing the extensive process of change that the revamped organisation had gone through since it was formed in 2011, I gave it a very reasonable set of marks. I take nothing back from what I said back then, but over the past few months I have become increasingly aware that, while further progress has been made in terms of process and change management, in some other areas of responsibility the DIO may stand to be accused of lacking competence and still failing to deliver.
First let me provide a quick reminder of what the DIO currently is. As the largest landowner in Britain worth an estimated £25bn, larger than either the National Trust or Forestry Commission in terms of land, property and infrastructure; the DIO runs an annual budget of £3.3bn. With its work impacting on all three armed services DIO manages around 230,000 hectares of land and infrastructure including Royal Navy dockyards, Royal Air Force bases, Army barracks, camps plus various MOD training areas spread over the UK. Abroad the DIO is responsible for MOD estates in Germany, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands together with individual sites in Norway, Poland, Kenya, Canada, Oman, Belize and Nepal. DIO is responsible for a very large portfolio of property including 45,000 military buildings, 50,000 houses together with 35,000 flats and other types of military based living accommodation. With responsibility for 841 listed buildings, 170 sites of special scientific interest plus another 130 external UK sites designated as areas for nature conservation plus some 750 scheduled monuments efficient management of assets is a crucial part of its work.
A product of the Levene Defence Review DIO was intended to bring together all property and infrastructure management under a single organisation designed to optimise investment and strategic management of the vast defence estate. The intention was to bring about change in both attitude and approach in terms of management of the defence estate whilst making the system efficient and affordable. As mentioned, when I last wrote on the DIO I gave it good marks for the work it had so far done in terms of reorganisation in what was after all a relatively short period of just over two years.
It was always intended that DIO would have a ‘Strategic Business Partner’ and to that end in March this year the Ministry of Defence announced that Capita, working in conjunction with URS and PA Consulting would be the preferred bidder in what would be a 10-year contract worth £400m and that had as its aim the hope that cost savings of perhaps £300m per annum could be eventually be made during the period of the contract.
Initially my understanding is that the new partnership will be expected to deliver an 18-month transformation project designed to produce a blueprint for the future strategic asset management of the estate which, when approved by the MOD, is intended to create a world-class infrastructure delivery organisation capable of supporting long term objectives.
So far so good and I am relatively relaxed that the chosen ‘strategic business partner’ will deliver. But I note an increased level of concern being levied by some at individual DIO performance on the ground, and there are also concerns that the organisation may be slow in reacting to some of the more immediate priorities of the military. An example of this, and one that impacts both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, is the seemingly slow progress adapting RAF Marham to accommodate F-35 Joint Strike Fighter STOVL aircraft. With an arrival date planned for 2018 at which time 617 Squadron will be stood-up as the primary operational unit for Lightening ll, and given the large amount of infrastructure work required, time is of the essence. A second concern is work to adapt the Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth to accommodate the two new 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth class carriers that are currently under construction on the Clyde and that will eventually be based there.
Back in 2002 when the original announcement was made that if built the new carriers would most likely be based at Portsmouth, it was readily admitted that at the size envisaged they would have problems entering and existing the base except on unusually high tides. Indeed, I well recall the Admiral Lord West, then First Sea Lord, making it very clear to me that dredging would be required to get the new carriers in and out of the base. A year later in July 2003 a large scheme was actually announced to enhance Portsmouth Naval Base and that would ease access into the Port for the then in-build Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyers and that would also ease the access into and out of the base for the carriers; although I am very unclear as to the amount of work that was subsequently carried out.
In October 2012, a year after it was founded, the DIO released the scope of work document detailing the amount of work that would be required at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Portsmouth to accommodate the two by now in-build Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. This included design and construction of a secure tidal berth on the Middle Slip Jetty comprising upgrading work to the existing jetty in order to withstand berthing, mooring and operational forces exerted by the ships and associated operational activities. The scope of works document included provision for construction of strong points within the existing jetty structure and replacement of the load-limited sections of the jetty that dated from the 1920s.
In addition the area assigned would require increased electrical supply including the building of a new substation near the jetty as there was deemed to be insufficient capacity within HMNB Portsmouth to meet anticipated demand together with reconfiguration work on the jetty to provide a potable water supply and other vessel support services. Aids to Navigation comprising a number of multiple sets of leading lights and navigation beacons, mounted on independent marine structures, are also required to enable the ships to safely transit to and from the MSJ berth.
The estimated value of the contract was put then at between £40m and £60m and it was anticipated that the work would take 22 months from contract award. To the best of my knowledge while there was a reported reference made in March this year by the Secretary of State for Defence in relation to ‘physical materialisation of the £100m investment that is going into the dockyard’ to prepare it to house the carriers actual work on the project is yet to begin.
As mentioned, a similar level of concern now exists in relation to the plan to use RAF Marham in Norfolk as the main operating base for the fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Lightning 11). Currently the home to the two remaining frontline squadrons of the Tornado GR4 Force RAF Marham is also home to the Tactical Imagery-Intelligence Wing (TIW), the Tornado GR Force HQ, No. 3 (RAF) Force Protection Wing HQ, No. 93 Expeditionary Armament Squadron, and No. 2620 (County of Norfolk) Squadron RAuxAF Regiment. Following the announcement last year that Marham will be the future home of the F-35 SVOVL Force, extensive infrastructure changes will be required at the base to accommodate the multi-role stealth fighter.
Apart from the announcement of a £7.5m intention to build three new ‘landing pads’ alongside the existing runway as far as I am aware no contracts in relation to the required new infrastructure at Marham have yet been awarded despite the expectation that the first F-35 aircraft will arrive in 2018. Given that only last month Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond said that as Britain will likely have the largest fleet of the new jets in Europe, the MOD would as a consequence also wish to have a full maintenance hub at Marham.
I am not sure of the actual amounts involved but I suspect that the DIO budget in each of the past two years has been under spent. Unless this has been directed by the MOD given the urgency of need to prioritise various infrastructure projects I am led to the conclusion that during 2014 DIO can stand accused of failing to deliver satisfactory performance.
There are other more wide ranging issues of concern that appear to have been overlooked by the DIO. Given the extensive amount of the DIO estate in Scotland (there are ranges at Tain, Cape Wrath, Barry Buddon, Kirkcudbright) plus Royal Air Force bases at Lossiemouth, Leuchars (the latter shortly to close and handed over to the Army) plus the former Royal Air Force base at Kinloss (now home to 39 Engineer Regiment and I note today that the DIO is reported to have given civilians their marching orders from using the sports facilities) together with other real estate connected with Rosyth, Arbroath and Faslane on the Clyde, I am not sure how much thought has yet gone into the consequences of a ‘yes’ vote in the upcoming Scottish Independence referendum.
It is of course entirely possible that the process of infrastructure requirement is being deliberately slowed by the MOD to save cash. I hope this is not the situation and that there has been no excess pressure placed on the DIO by the MOD to slow project spend down. Whatever the reason is for the evidence of limited progress on certain major projects these are now deserving of priority action.
In a couple of weeks from now the first of class Queen Elizabeth carrier will be launched on the Clyde and I very much hope that a week later the MOD will formally announce the purchase of the first 14 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Time is of the essence and capability is only good if it sits on decent infrastructure.
CHW (London) 19th June 2014
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS