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MoD's Baron techwealth quits for Le Mans biofuel bid

Wants to spend more time with his alcohol car

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The UK's tech-millionaire aristocrat defence procurement minister has quit, saying that he wants to spend more time racing biofuel cars.

Paul Drayson holds a PhD in Robotics from Aston University and made an estimated £80m personal fortune during a business career that included a management buyout at Trebor, the sweets maker. In 1993 he co-founded a medical-technology company called Powderject, which sold in 2003 for more than £0.5bn despite serious questions as to whether the vaccines it sold actually worked - not to mention the fact that the eponymous needle-free injection system has never made it to market.

Drayson has been a substantial donor to Tony Blair's Labour party and was ennobled as Baron of Kensington three years ago, becoming defence spokesman in the Lords and then government minister in charge of defence procurement in May 2005. One Labour Lord refused to share a bench with Drayson, saying that his ennoblement was "malodorous".

During his time as the MoD's chief kit purchaser, Drayson bought a vast number of things, including a "Loitering Munitions Demonstrator" robo-missile prototype for £500m and an unmanned stealth skydroid for £124m. He also wrote the UK Defence Industrial Strategy, effectively a guarantee of continued existence for large parts of the British defence sector.

James Arbuthnot, Tory MP, former defence procurement minister and now chairman of the Commons defence committee, said early in 2006 that Drayson had "made a favourable impression... he has given a strong impression of knowing industry, being prepared to listen to industry... He has been among industry and has listened to it."

In answer to repeated pleas for more helicopters from frontline troops fighting for their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, Drayson made some curious moves.

In early 2006 he placed a £1bn order for 70 Future Lynx helicopters from AgustaWestland. The Lynxes will thus cost an average of £14m each and will be delivered from 2011, securing an estimated 900 jobs at AgustaWestland's West Country factory.

Troublemakers occasionally suggest that Drayson could have done better for our boys and girls in uniform - and for the taxpayers too - pointing out that the US Navy ordered a dozen rather larger choppers from Sikorsky five months later, getting a price of £6m apiece and delivery by the end of this year. These troublemakers sometimes suggest that in fact Drayson could have bought the whirlybirds from Sikorsky, given each sacked worker at AgustaWestland a half-million-pound payoff, and still saved £180m for the taxpayers.

The noble lord's good friends in the UK arms biz say that buying helicopters made in Blighty is better, because then you needn't go cap in hand to the Yanks for parts. This is to conveniently ignore the fact that the Future Lynx uses US engines.

In other moves to get more helicopter support for our forces, Drayson also bought additional Merlin HC3s from AgustaWestland. Merlin HC3s cost around £30m and can lift 24 troops or four tons. By contrast, Chinook HC2s from Boeing - also in service with the British forces - cost £20m, lift 54 troops or ten tons, and are vastly more reliable.

The Merlin needs American tech support, too, so it's really hard to see why it was ever bought - except that, of course, the UK arms sector needed it to be.

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