Defence lobbying sector bewildered by MoD stance

The Ministry of Defence has baffled the defence lobbying sector by

issuing guidelines on acceptable behaviour in securing a lucrative

government contract.



Iain Watson, the project leader for the pounds 1.7bn Bowman contract to

replace the army's radio system, sent a letter to the three bidders

stressing they must not approach 'MoD personnel' and that contact

between bidders and the ministry would be through 'stage-managed

presentations' run by the MoD.



Watson's letter was sent last month to the three Bowman bidders:

Computing Devices of Canada, TRW and Thales (until last December

Thompson CSF).



The letter made reference to Robert Walmsley, the defence procurement

chief. The wording suggests Walmsley is in agreement with the thrust of

Watson's complaints.



These include a section on publicity for bids: 'Negative messages on

other bids should be avoided ... In general, any statements which

comment on the MoD's position and intent should be cleared with us.'



Bowman has been subject to a fraught bidding process. More than a decade

in the planning, the request for tenders only went out in December. The

MoD has made clear it hopes to secure a contractor by the summer.



Sources close to the Bowman process said that a Sunday Times story

tipping Thales as the likely contract winner, a week before the letter

was issued, angered the DPA. This is understood to have prompted Watson

to fire off his letter.



An MoD spokesman, who initially denied the existence of any such letter,

denied this.



One source close to a bidding company said: 'In 15 years of advising on

winning government contracts I have never seen a letter like this

before.'



David Cracknell, the deputy political editor of The Sunday Telegraph who

revealed the letter last week, said: 'It is clearly irritating the MoD

that bidders are approaching officials and using the media to back up

their case. This has always been considered a legitimate form of

lobbying in the past.'



Despite the letter, the MoD appeared to backtrack when questioned on its

approach to lobbying. 'The aim of the letter was to allow the industry

to focus its efforts on lobbying key personnel in the decision-making

process and to establish mechanisms for them to do so,' a spokesman

said.



PA firms find defence contract lobbying very lucrative. APCO works for

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin uses GPC. The market leader in the UK, BAE

Systems, avoids outside lobbying advice, maintaining an 80-strong

in-house public affairs unit.



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