Drayson back at MoD, retains biznovation portfolio
'Malodorous' supersonic-car lord returns
Controversial former military equipment purchasing boss Lord Drayson has been made a Defence minister once again. Details of his portfolio have yet to be announced, but Drayson will outrank the current equipment minister - and will retain a position at the new department of "Business, Innovation and Skills".
According to the Number 10 Downing Street website, Drayson returns to the MoD at "Minister of State" grade, making him senior to the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) minister Quentin Davies, who is only an Under Secretary of State.
Drayson originally entered government in 2005 following his elevation from the common herd to the peerage. One Labour lord refused to share a bench with him at the time, saying his ennoblement was "malodorous".
As DE&S chief, Drayson was regarded as a staunch defender of the interests of the UK arms industry. He authored the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS), effectively a guarantee of continued existence for large parts of the UK arms sector, and followed a policy of ordering British-made equipment wherever possible.
James Arbuthnot, Tory MP, current chairman of the parliamentary defence committee and former MoD procurement minister himself, said 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 particular, Drayson ordered the controversial £1bn Future Lynx purchase that year, buying upgraded Lynx helicopters from British-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The Future Lynxes are to arrive from 2011.
Critics suggested that Drayson could have ordered larger and more powerful Blackhawk and Seahawk helicopters from Sikorsky instead, got them sooner - perhaps saving lives among UK forces - and spent less money to boot. The AgustaWestland deal, however, safeguarded an estimated 900 jobs in the UK. The deal was also defended on the grounds that it would reduce UK military dependence on foreign suppliers: though in fact the Future Lynx has American engines and also requires significant support from Italy.
Drayson's previous business career was also the subject of some debate. The company which made him rich, Powderject, has been the subject of some question as to whether the vaccines it sold actually worked: and the eponymous needle-free injection device never actually appeared.
In 2007, Drayson resigned his position at the MoD, stating that he wanted to spend more time racing his biofuelled car at Le Mans. This was widely disbelieved, however, with rumour suggesting that he had in fact quit over successful moves by the Army to resist his plans for their armoured-vehicles project (the Future Rapid Effects System, FRES).
Drayson would have used the £14bn FRES budget to revitalise the moribund British tank industry: the Army preferred to avoid reinvention of American wheels, and wished instead to simply buy a vehicle from General Dynamics.
The Department of Trade and Industry is dead, long live the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (and Defence)!
Before long, however, Drayson was back in government as Science minister at the new Brownite department of "Innovation, Universities and Skills" (DIUS), created two years ago by splitting the former Trade and Industry department into separate biz (DBERR) and boffinry (DIUS) bureaux. As Science Minister, Drayson continued with his plan to revitalise British enthusiasm for engineering through the building of an even faster supersonic car, which would snatch the hotly-contested world landspeed record away from, erm, the UK. He also gained headlines by suggesting that perhaps the country's scientific research efforts should be focused more on things which might make some money.
Meanwhile, the Army's scheme to buy its FRES utility vehicles from General Dynamics was scuppered by the UK arms industry anyway. British requirements for full tech access to the programme by UK contractors were seen by GD as meaning it would have to hand over large amounts of its proprietary sauce to British companies. UK negotiators said such access was required in order that British firms could supply subassemblies, upgrades etc; but the US side - often suspicious that UK firms resell technology gained in this way - refused to agree.
The FRES utility vehicle was always a technical nightmare waiting to happen in any case, as it was to be both light enough to be airfreighted and yet invulnerable to all known threats. The Army was perhaps not unhappy to kick it into touch after the negotiations with GD reached deadlock.
But the £10bn+ of FRES budget lines are still there at the MoD, and nobody can deny that a lot of the Army's combat vehicle fleet is very old and busted, and will have to be replaced fairly soon: even if nobody's agreed as to the exact nature of the replacements. One can be sure that a lot of business people will be eyeing that money with interest.
Now the embattled Prime Minister has stuck DBERR and DIUS back together again, effectively recreating the old Department of Trade and Industry: except this time it's called the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS), perhaps hinting at a further subordination of academia to commercial principles in future. Drayson retains Minister of State rank at DBIS, and now also at the MoD.
Spokesmen at No.10 and the MoD told the Reg earlier today that details of Drayson's new portfolios will be forthcoming later this week. But it's possible to draw some inferences from what's already known.
It seems that Drayson will function as a link man between the new business/skills/innovationation (biznovation?) ministry and the MoD, attempting to see to it that the Defence ministry - apart from fighting wars - also makes every effort to enhance the nation's industrial innovation base. As he will be the only MoD minister apart from the actual Defence Secretary to attend Cabinet meetings he should be able to push this agenda very effectively. (Davies - the DE&S undersec - and the new Minister for the Armed Forces Bill Rammell won't be in the room when the big decisions get made.)
News of Drayson's new position is sure to be greeted with glee at such companies as AgustaWestland and BAE Systems plc. There may be somewhat less rejoicing in some sections of the MoD. ®