Britain’s aircraft carrier programme faces further spiralling costs and the project remains a “high risk”, MPs have warned.
Significant technical problems have not been resolved and there is potential for “uncontrolled growth” in the final bill, according to the public accounts committee.
MPs warn they are “still not convinced” that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a grip on the project and suggested it has “little control” over the costs of acquiring the aircraft
They heap criticism on the MoD for providing “deeply flawed information” that led to plans to switch the type of aircraft to be flown from the carriers. The move was later abandoned at a cost to taxpayers of £74 million, the National Audit Office revealed earlier this year.
In a report out today, MPs said they are “still not convinced” that the MoD has got the Carrier Strike programme under control and also raised concerns that the early warning radar system that protects the carriers will not be available until two years after the first one is delivered.
They accused the MoD of a “history of making poor decisions, based on inadequate information”.
Around 400 employees are working on the programme, but MPs said they were concerned that “staff are wasting their time with bureaucracy and duplicated effort” in their checks on contractors.
Last May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond decided to revert to plans by the former Labour government to acquire the jump jet version of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Under proposals set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the coalition had intended to switch to the more capable F-35C carrier variant of the aircraft – even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability – but the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrester gear had more than doubled to £2 billion.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the PAC, said: “This U-turn, which will cost the taxpayer at least £74m, is the latest in an ongoing saga that has seen billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down the drain.
“When this programme got the green light in 2007, we were supposed to get two aircraft carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost to the taxpayer of £3.65bn.
“We are now on course to spend £5.5bn and have no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade.”
She accused the MoD of “rushing into the decision” in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review to change the type of aircraft to be flown from the carriers, claiming it would save money and improve capability.