Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Almighty QoQ Up

Much has been made of the woes at the Ministry of Defence occasionally run by part-timer Des Browne MP (he is also Minister for Scotland). At a time when our Armed Forces are spread very thinly, the top brass have made their feelings known about the lack of basic equipment for frontline troops.

The unit which came up with the MoD's more advanced weapon was sold in 2003 to US venture capitalists Carlyle, enriching some senior civil servants. Sir John Chisholm, Chief Executive of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) invested £100,000 in the buyout. The organisation was renamed QinetiQ, Sir John saw a profit of £25,000,000. Unsurprisingly, the Public Accounts Committee have been asking questions. This led to an amazing exchange as reported in Private Eye which says much about the current state of Defence spending in this country:-

Richard Bacon MP (Con, S. Norfolk): "Mr Wooley, are you a chartered accountant?"
Trevor Woolley (MoD): "I am not."
Bacon: "Are you a qualified financial person of any kind? Do you have any financial qualifications?"
Woolley: "I do not have financial qualifications."
Bacon: "What is your job?"
Woolley: "I am the finance director of the Ministry of Defence."


Anonymous said...

what makes you think that an accountant would fare better at a job. It is the accountants who have brought Britain into this mess of having a bunch of "financial" people in charge and no graduate engineers in charge of anything. We live in a museum made of old houses while other nations advance into the future creating new technologies.

Anonymous said...

What? Not even an NVQ????

"An accountant is like the scorer at a cricket match, willing to keep the score but never go in to bat"

Happy xmas to you, your family and all your readers

Unknown said...


I certainly agree with you that accountants shouldn't be in charge of the world, merely that finance directors should have professional competence in finance. Much in the same way, I would hope that people in charge of creating new technologies and building things weren't bean counters.

Anonymous said...

In that case scully, push your buddies in government to legislate in favour of the technical professions. It turns out you need a chartered accountant to manage accounts most places and both solicitors and barristers to handle the fate of unfortunates who go to court (both sides paid regardless of outcome) but we allow ignorant builders and unqualified people to build our homes and roads (there is no legislation demanding we use a qualified graduate or PhD engineer). I am here in my detached English home scratching like mad because the heating makes the house very dry. Go ahead and convince your solicitor and barrister and accountant political buddies to change the system. That is the most noble thing you could do for the future of Britain. Much more positive than running this column!!!

Anonymous said...

You may find my opinnion strange but in Germany in my experience of many years (I was engaged to a German girl and I am a PhD Engineer myself) nobody is put in charge of any area unless they are a complete expert in that area. So for example I failed to get the job running a whole area because my PhD was not precisely in that area. Compare this to the UK where I went for an interview at BOC (British Oxygen Corporation) back in the 1980s when I was a young man and just after my first degree in Chemical Engineering, I failed the technical questions (I answered that pumps had two efficiencies but the answer was 3) and immediately the interviewer said "would you like instead to be a manager?" so whereas in Germany they would have kicked me out of the place, in the UK they wanted to promote me for failing the technical interview and make me a manager!!! You have to understand that this obsession with small government will get us nowhere. All political parties are for smaller government and less legislation but the legal and accounting profession are untouched. If you compare the DIN (Deutsche Industrie Normen) to the British Building Standards it is like the latter says "a room should have 4 walls" and the former says "and you must leave a rubber piece between the wall and the floor to avoid transmission of noise, etc. etc." We are promoting a nation run by managers and MBAs like in the 70s. This moves us to low value technologies. While the Far East is producing all of the robots and taking all of the exciting technical jobs, the UK is stuck with all of these retail and banking completely boring jobs. It is a legacy we leave to our children (to work to live rather than to live to work). A bloke such as yourself probably does not realise the pleasure that scientific discovery and technology creation can bring. Money and status symbols and greed become rather superfluous because with a research technical education you are fulfiled. However, this is no excuse for the government to let down people who aspire to be technical. The thing must be legislated for as in South Korea currently and in Japan and in Germany, rather than left to the short term follies of the market. If we left it to accountants they would rather we were all frying burgers and to them there is no difference between myself and the bloke who fixes the washing machine. It is the opportunity lost that I am talking about, the market wont find it. I realise that Cameron (a PPE graduate who knows nothing of technology creation, or people in your party and in other parties) does not have the foggiest idea of what I am talking about. Why should he bother to change the system to give our kids more interesting jobs. In South Korea kids study until 2 am because they are all striving to be robotic engineers. The government pumps huge resources to stimulate the technical economy, and they will surpass us soon. We are just maintaing value but they are creating value (look at synthetic biotechnology - making food synthetically, they are way ahead of us today).