MoD criticised for delays in aircraft carriers project

The forward island of HMS Queen Elizabeth leaving  Portsmouth  bound for Scotland.''Picture: LPHOT Dave Jenkins
The forward island of HMS Queen Elizabeth leaving Portsmouth bound for Scotland.''Picture: LPHOT Dave Jenkins

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THE Ministry of Defence has been branded ‘incompetent’ over spiralling costs for the new supercarriers.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) out today said the government department has ‘little control’ over the cost of the aircraft that will be used on the carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which are partly being built in Portsmouth.

The project was supposed to cost £3.65bn, but is likely to go up to £5.5bn.

One of the reasons for this is that the government changed its mind on the type of aircraft that were going to fly from the carriers.

In 2007 Labour decided the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was to be used.

Then in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review it was decided to buy the F-35C models, only for Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to revert back to the original aircraft last May – at a cost of £74m to taxpayers.

PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: ‘This U-turn is the latest in an ongoing saga that has seen billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down the drain.’

Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, called the delays ‘bungling’.

He said: ‘If you change half-way through, it will cost more than hundreds of millions of pounds, and will put on delays. To then change back has cost so much to the taxpayer.

‘There have been too many bungling delays from the government.

‘There’s no doubt they will be built – they have no choice but to finish them because I don’t know what we’d do with half a built ship – but there are huge question marks over the cost of the plans.

‘This shows a bungling incompetence by the two governments, and the Mod have made one cock-up after another.’

And the sentiments have been echoed by a former First Sea Lord, Lord Alan West of Spithead.

He said: ‘I’m surprised before the government made the decision to change the aircraft in the first place, that no one has done the sums as to how much money it would cost.

‘Then they saw how much it would cost, it was changed again. It shows quite dramatic incompetence.’

Mrs Hodge criticised the MoD for providing ‘flawed’ information to ministers, and said MoD officials made ‘basic’ errors such as not factoring in VAT and inflation when providing estimates about how much changing from one type of aircraft to another would cost.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is nearing completion at the Scottish shipyard, where she is being assembled, and will be launched next year.

Sections of HMS Prince of Wales are still being built. Both ships will be based in Portsmouth.

Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, disagrees with the PAC report.

She said: ‘The PAC is scrambling around for things to say.

‘The project is a fundamental part of our national security.

‘So it’s full steam ahead to get everything completed.’