Sir John Bourn, Head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that the Joint Services Command and Staff College was a success story and had obtained value for money when using the PFI to procure its permanent home.
The Ministry of Defence did well to establish the College but there is scope to improve further the management and evaluation of training
The MoD identified the need for a joint college, as command and staff training had to keep pace with the fact that there were more joint operations. Given the scope for disagreement between the three Services, the College adopted an incremental approach and concentrated on the design and delivery of the main joint course – the Advanced course. In September 1997 the MoD launched its first Advanced course which reflected the required level of ‘jointery’. Launching this course on time was a considerable achievement.
Since its opening the College has generally delivered the planned level of training and has consistently operated within budget. Staff turnover has been high: 65 per cent of military teaching staff on the Advanced course had been in place for less than 15 months.
The College’s evaluation of the effectiveness of its training compares well with good practice, and feedback has been largely positive. It plans to extend its evaluation of the Advanced course to ensure that it can identify some of the long-term benefits. We welcome this and have identified a number of other ways in which this evaluation could be improved still further. From April 2002 the College is to become part of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. The Academy should take note of the College’s evaluation practices and our suggested improvements to these, and apply these more widely. Other public sector training bodies should also find the College’s developing evaluation practices of relevance.
The 1998 PFI contract for the College’s permanent home was good value for money and provides useful lessons
In June 1998 the MoD awarded a PFI contract for the College’s permanent home to Defence Management (Watchfield) Limited. We confirmed that the PFI offered better value for money than the public sector capital option as, at £200 million, it was cheaper by £23 million and more affordable, and brought a number of non-financial benefits.
The MoD changed the target date for the project from September 1997 to September 1999. Delays in negotiating the PFI contract then pushed this back to September 2000. In the meantime the MoD established the College in interim facilities. The 1998 value for money assessment correctly did not take account of these factors which had already occurred as it was concerned with the future cost implications. Our own analysis of the signed PFI deal against a hypothetical public sector capital option meeting the original target date of September 1997 confirmed that, even taking account of these factors, the use of the PFI was still likely to be cheaper.
The PFI contract has delivered benefits. The new facilities were completed on time in August 2000, allowing the College to admit its first students at Shrivenham within days. Such a rapid opening was a significant achievement. In addition, construction risk remained with the private sector as substantial extra costs arising from unforeseen ground conditions were not passed on to the MoD. To date the contractor’s performance in delivering services and making the new facilities available has been generally satisfactory. This contract contains a number of useful lessons:
- The MoD has built flexibility into the contract; for example it can vary its use of the college in future years.
- Poor contractor performance has been rectified without recourse to financial penalties to the advantage of the relationship between the MoD and the contractor.
- The College has identified that it needs to increase its resources for managing the contract.
- The College is seeking greater control of utilities and other items purchased on its behalf by the contractor.
- Departments need to show leadership and, where possible, maintain continuity within the project team.