DN - Defence Notes

SSRO loses outspoken chief executive

17th October 2017 - 01:10 GMT | by Alice Budge in London

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The UK's Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) has suffered a further set back with the surprise resignation of the organisation’s outspoken chief executive.

The resignation of Marcine Waterman, who has been a vocal critic of the regulation of non-competitive defence contracts, comes amid reports of on-going tensions between the SSRO and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Established by Parliament to provide oversight and regulation to single source procurement, the SSRO has had a turbulent couple of years with the resignation of two chairmen within eight months in 2016.

Waterman was a prominent voice for increased transparency and scrutiny of non-competitive contracts, even going as far as to threaten to name and shame companies that flout regulations. Her absence has increased fears that the body will continue to be deprived of essential powers.

In evidence given by Waterman to the defence select committee in December 2016, she raised a number of frustrations relating to the limited powers of the body and the constraints of its budget and manpower.

‘We don’t have any authority to demand information, we only have the information provided to us… this is a very strong industry and we have seen instances where a foreign company simply refuses to be regulated,’ Waterman stated to the committee.

‘I have 33 fantastic people but they are stretched. We have no contingency. We have very little money… We should be growing but that is a very difficult conversation to have in a time of austerity.’

Also raised were concerns surrounding the ambiguity of the relationship between the body and the MoD which Waterman suggested had contributed to the loss of two chairmen in quick succession.

‘They both felt strongly about the importance of clarity, whether a chairman reports to the MoD or to his board and what the explicit arrangement is around our independence.’

At the Farnborough International Airshow in 2016, Waterman spoke of instances where a contractor charged the MoD £32,500 for a 'charitable donation'. 

'And in another case a company charged £34,000 for “staff welfare”, which included a Christmas party,' she said.

Waterman is the latest in a series of resignation and early retirement announcements that have hit the MoD in recent months.

Tony Douglas announced on 28 September that he will step down as head of the Defence Equipment and Support while Louise Tulett, director general of finance at the MoD, and Maj Gen Robert Talbot-Rise, head of land equipment at DE&S have both retired.

The departures come at a time when the MoD is searching for cost savings and efficiencies across the board leading to industry and government figures to express concerns at the depth and handling of the cuts. 

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