Friday, 28 December 2012

Astute " teething troubles"

The Guardian recently revealed problems with the  Astute nuclear submarine, which is coming to the end of three years of sea trials.

In the subsequent article in the Guardian Rear Admiral Lister is quoted as saying

"it would be wrong for the military to claim the difficulties were just "stuff and nonsense and teething troubles",but he also  said it would also be wrong for critics to write off what is the navy's most technically advanced boat."

I think the truth lies between these two positions

Rear Admiral Lister is also quoted as saying that  "he had identified three sorts of problems with the Astute:

  • flaws in design that only became apparent when testing started;
  • equipment that broke down too easily;
  • and some problems relating to poor construction at the shipyard.""

What the Guardian article does not explain are the root causes that lead to these problems. It would be most interesting to know to what extent continuous organisational change together with  budget cuts within the MOD played a part; on this both the Guardian and the MOD are silent.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Non SQEP staff in SQEP Posts

On the 23rd of October MOD was requested to provide information about suitably qualified and experienced (SQEP)  personnel  who provide key support to safe delivery  MOD nuclear Programmes. 

The number of non-MOD personnel filling SQEP posts within MOD nuclear programmes, by year for the past 5 calendar years

The number of non-MOD personnel filling SQEP posts within MOD Nuclear programmes who are non-SQEP, by year for the past 5 calendar years

The number of MOD personnel filling SQEP posts within MOD Nuclear programmes who are non-SQEP, by year for the past 5 calendar years 

Number of SQEP posts within MOD Nuclear programmes where concessions have been granted to allow non-SQEP personnel to occupy the post, by year for the past 5 calendar years

Two months after the request  the  MOD is unable to provide the information requested and has yet again provided a holding reply saying they may respond by 21 of January. The law requires the MOD to provide the information requested or an explanation as to why it cannot be provided within 20 working days of the request.

It's surprising that MOD cannot provide the information about SQEP  posts as the lack of SQEP personnel are a key risk to the safety of nuclear programmes, highlighted for years by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator in their annual reports.

It also appears that the MOD  do not know how many concessions have been granted to allow non SQEP  personnel to occupy SQEP posts.   It is clear from a letter written by John Day the MOD's  2nd PUS to the union Prospect, that contractors have been used to fill some SQEP posts  and in at least one instance a contractor has been  removed from a SQEP post because they were not qualified and/or competent  to occupy the post.  It's of interest that the MOD was asked for the letter on  28th of August 2012 but only provided  the letter 5th of December 2012 yet again well in excess of the 20 working days required by the FOI Act.

" the first person supplied by the contractor was sub-standard"

"The root cause of this initial under performance was, at least in part due to an inadequate statement of requirement being provided by the MOD initially and the Submarine OC accepts the need to improve how it specifies and manages the performance of contractors"

This letter demonstrates that MOD has insufficient experienced staff to act as an intelligent customer for contractor services  used to safely deliver its nuclear programmes
This may in part explain the reluctance of the MOD to provide information about  the number of unqualified staff occupying SQEP posts with defence nuclear programmes.

In view of the recent articles in the Guardian News paper its interesting to consider to what extent has the inability of MOD to find properly qualified and experienced  people  contributed to the problems with the Astute nuclear submarine reported  by the Guardian. It is also interesting to consider what action the Health and Safety Executive might take under the Health and Safety at Work Act against the MOD for failing to provide a safe system of work.

It is now clear that the MOD does not know how many unqualified  people occupy SQEP posts which are key to the safe the safe delivery of MOD's nuclear programmes.


Earlier post - SQEP

DNESB Reports