David Blackburn

Ministers should always be ultimately accountable

Ministers should always be ultimately accountable
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Bob Ainsworth’s response to the Nimrod inquiry features one extraordinary omission: ministers do not appear to be directly accountable in the event of another tragedy. The reforms establish the MAA, the military aviation authority, which is independent from the MoD, but will not have responsibility for releasing aircraft to service – assistant chiefs of staff have that responsibility - however there the buck apparently stops. Here is the relevant section in Hansard:

 

‘The single service chiefs of staff must retain responsibility for determining that our aircraft can be safely released into service. The MAA will provide full assurance, but it will not carry out this release-to-service role directly. For operational emergency clearances, I have decided to opt for a tighter regime than Mr Haddon-Cave proposed, under which the assistant chiefs – not those who fly the aircraft  at the front line – will be responsible for any clearances.’

The MoD is an intelligent customer: it pays to be advised by private firms about air maintenance. As such the MAA is welcome: it will ensure that the quality of technical advice, upon which service chiefs can advise ministers, is improved. But the decision not to remove Nimrod from service rested ultimately with ministers; that should be recognised in reforms.  Blame should not be apportioned on ministers for past failures, but not to do so in the future is perverse.