For a long time I have maintained that what the MoD needs more than anything is financial credibility and it is for this reason alone that I think Phil Hammond will be seen as one of the best SoS Defence the UK has had for many years.
Helping build that credibility has been Bernard Gray, the Chief of Defence Material, who has bought a great deal of commercial experience to the MoD.
Building credibility is important, in fact it is vital, which makes this story quite depressing because it has the potential to put that credibility under threat, at the very least it is political naivety in gifting an easy victory to the opposition.
We are obviously, not all in this together.
This particular story is actually a few weeks old but still worth looking at[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2247293/Ministry-Defence-chief-Bernard-Gray-spends-23-000-hotel-stays-months-job.html”]
With a follow up today[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2530625/Ministry-Defence-boss-tasked-targeting-WASTE-claims-100-000-expenses-just-year.html”]
The source data comes from an official and regular release by the Government
Click here to read it in full for Q2, for example
But is this a non story, like so many similar ones about civil servants?
Normally, my first reaction is to yawn and carry on but this one has a bit more edge to it and worth looking at in a bit more details.
I do not for one second think there is anything wrong with staying overnight in London or Bristol, even though he lives only 60 miles away. It is not 60 miles by Concorde and productive time is an important consideration so the amount of journeys is neither here nor there.
However, it is the hotel list that is potentially the big issue here. In London there are thousands of hotels and choosing ones so close to the MoD is guaranteed to push the costs up.
It is not uncommon, even when centrally booking, hotels like this to cost in excess of £250 per night.
I have actually stayed in the Grange, its a nice hotel, I have also stayed further up Southampton Row in hotels at a cost of less than £100 that whilst not as salubrious aren’t bad either, more than good enough for a one or two night pit stop.
The Sofitel is only a third of a mile from the MoD, a nice and easy stroll to work in the morning, or a cheap taxi ride if it is raining! The Grange is just under a mile away.
Were these booking made at the last minute, maybe that would be a reasonable excuse for bursting the usual organisational limits but that would appear to not be the case given the numbers.
Even a casual Expedia search, not using the MoD’s travel booking provider to take advantage of corporate rates, throws up many hotels at around the hundred pounds mark.
So I am struggling with the concept of a civil servant, however senior, staying in top quality central London hotels when there are many alternatives that may well have halved the bill.
Ten thousand pounds is ten thousand pounds, not a large amount in the MoD’s budget but every little bit really does count.
Also, the use of an official car and driver seems anachronistic these days and not compatible with the extensive hotel stays.
Establishing and maintaining financial credibility is for every single person employed by the MoD, the rules are not just for the little people and Bernard Gray seems to have put that credibility under threat.
I am sure there are any number of reasons why we should all ignore this or write it off as just another civil servant bashing story but I am not so sure.