Calls for investigation as UK Minister admits MoD contracts figures ‘not believable’

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The SNP’s Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson has demanded an investigation after a coalition Minister admitted that he did not trust the integrity of official figures released in response to a Parliamentary question on defence contracts.

Mr Robertson’s demand followed an extraordinary statement from Defence Minister Peter Luff who admitted that he did not “believe” or “trust” the figures given in an answer provided by the MoD to the Moray MP.

The admission came after the SNP MP pressed the Minister over the imbalance in the award of Ministry of Defence contracts to small and medium-sized businesses in Scotland.

Mr Luff replied: “I think the Hon Gentleman is quoting extremely selectively from the answer I gave him, no actually, for what it’s worth I share his disappointment about the SME performance.

“I don’t actually believe the figures. I don’t trust those figure because they are extraordinarily low.”

Mr Robertson had highlighted an official response to a written question which revealed that just 50 SME contracts were awarded to firms in Scotland – compared to 2,370 awarded to English-based firms.  The figures also showed that just 20 went to SMEs in Northern Ireland, and 60 in Wales.

Commenting after the exchange at Defence Questions, Mr Robertson said:

“If the Minister really believes that his department is misleading MPs by providing answers which cannot be believed or trusted, then he should investigate this matter and issue a correction.

“Peter Luff’s admission is astonishing, but perhaps not surprising given the MoD’s appalling record on answering questions on the decline in Scotland’s defence footprint.

“The last time the MoD faced embarrassing questions they stopped providing the answers by saying the data was not available – this time, according to the Minister, they are apparently providing untrustworthy data.

“The fact is that there is a mammoth imbalance in where these defence contracts are going, which raises real questions on whether they are being marketed fairly across the UK.”

Mr Robertson has had an on-going battle with the MoD over answering parliamentary questions.  The MP sponsored a debate in Parliament after the department stopped providing a breakdown of regional spending – because, claims the MP, the statistics were proving too embarrassing to the UK government.

He added: “It is a double whammy for Scotland because we have already been hit by the loss of more than 10,500 defence jobs and a £5.6billion underspend over the last decade.

“UK Ministers must explain why this extraordinary imbalance has occurred, and more importantly what they will now do to address it.”

A transcript of Mr Robertson’s exchange with Defence Minister Peter Luff can be found below:

Angus Robertson:
Mr Speaker, last week in a written answer, the Minister confirmed that the estimate of the MoD for the amount of SME contracts issued in the last financial year was 2370 in England but only 50 in Scotland. Does he believe that is fair and equitable?

Peter Luff (Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology):
Mr Speaker, I don’t know about you, I’m a half full man, the Scottish Nationalists all have half empty glasses.  I think the Hon Gentleman is quoting extremely selectively from the answer I gave him, no actually, for what it’s worth I share his disappointment about the SME performance.  I don’t actually believe the figures.  I don’t trust those figure because they are extraordinarily low. I’ve been to Scotland, and seen the Scottish defence sector myself on a number of visits and I believe the share of business is much higher and I invite him to join with me in ditching his ludicrous plans for an independent Scotland and join with me in building a robust still industrial defence base rather than talking it down all the time.

Mr Robertson’s Parliamentary Question can be found here:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111003/text/111003w0001.htm#1110033001198