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The arms dealers in our NHS

With Lockheed Martin eyeing up contracts in our health service, Solomon Hughes charts its history of influence-peddling and bribery

The announcement that Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s biggest arms firms, is looking to bid for one of our biggest NHS contracts caused widespread dismay. Disgust really.

Thanks to the government’s NHS privatisation programme, a firm that profits by creating killing machines might run the health service.

People are right to be worried, but this isn’t completely new. Lockheed has been trying to get into social services — in a weird, corporate version of the old slogan “Welfare not warfare” — for years.

It has brought all the values of the arms industry with it — especially the values of waste and influence-peddling.

Lockheed was invited by the Department of Health to a meeting about bidding for a contract for “GP support services” worth £1 billion over 10 years.

The Health Service Journal, a vital source for NHS stories, broke the news that NHS England had invited Lockheed in to discuss the contract.

NHS England, run by arch-privatiser Simon Stevens, decided “to go to open procurement” for this deal. It didn’t think anyone in the NHS could look after doctors. NHS England thinks a firm like Lockheed will do better.

There is obviously a growing love between Lockheed and the Department of Health.

In June 2013, according to official “transparency” information, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had an “introductory meeting” with Lockheed Martin’s vice-president of technology.

I asked about this meeting under freedom of information laws, but the Department of Health told me there were no records of Hunt’s Lockheed chat.

It said Hunt’s meeting with Lockheed was part of “an informal lunch during his appearance at the Healthdatapalooza event in Washington DC.” Hunt’s unrecorded Healthdatapalooza chat doesn’t seem to have done the firm any harm.

For Lockheed’s part, it got very anxious about the end of the cold war. The firm was genuinely worried that arms sales would fall with the end of the Soviet Union.

As it turns out this was a misplaced concern. The West has had loads more wars even without the Soviet threat. But it was a real concern in the ’90s. So Lockheed tried to get from warfare into welfare in the US.

Lockheed kept some of its hard militaristic edge by emphasising the tight control and even punitive nature of welfare work.

It moved into non-military contracts first by collecting parking fines.

It used the relationships it had founded with state officials over parking fines to branch into “caring” services.

Lockheed said it would chase “deadbeat dads” who were not supporting their families on welfare.

It was fitting in with president Bill Clinton’s “tough-minded” approach to welfare, promising a mix of authoritarian, business-minded and cost-cutting methods.

Lockheed’s lobbyists told senators that the arms firm had now “become the premier provider of child support services,” offering “technology and management techniques” to transform delivery.

However its welfare work didn’t always deliver. In 1997 the state of California dropped its “deadbeat dads” contract with Lockheed because its system had failed, after $111 million of expenditure.

In Florida a Lockheed system to hunt “deadbeat dads” spent $5.4m to collect just $162,000 in child support payments from the errant fathers — in effect spending $25 dollars for each three cents collected.

This kind of waste is common in the arms industry — Lockheed gave one of the most famous examples of military waste in the 1980s when it

charged the army $640 per toilet seat. Lockheed’s most famous current programme is the Joint Strike Fighter, a super-advanced jet plane which has rising prices, late delivery and question marks over performance.

Lockheed hasn’t yet got into welfare work in Britain on any great scale, but it has branched beyond just selling planes and rockets into “service” contracts which work like the NHS contracts it is chasing — which isn’t reassuring.

Lockheed’s main British “service” contract is running the Aldermaston atom bomb factory in a consortium with other companies.  

Last year Lockheed’s consortium was fined £280,000 for a dangerous fire at Aldermaston.

The Health and Safety Executive’s inspector said a “collection of shortcomings’’ demonstrated by the consortium showed failures of “supervision, monitoring and auditing over time.” This year the Independent reported the Ministry of Defence was worried about “spiralling costs”

and late delivery by Lockheed and its partners at Aldermaston.

So just the people we want running the NHS.

This is where the second arms industry value might come in — influence peddling.

Lockheed was at the centre of the biggest bribery scandal of the post-war years — the “Lockheed bribery scandal” was one of the outstanding international events of the 1970s.

The revelation of Lockheed’s widespread bribery, revealed as a by-product of the fall of president Richard Nixon, brought down politicians throughout Europe.

The firm hasn’t been caught in such outright bribery since, but it does hire lots of ex-politicians. Lockheed has not one but three British lords on its board.

Lord John Patten was one of the most ineffective ever Tory education ministers.

He was sacked by John Major for making a huge mess of schools — but he is good enough to be a Lockheed director.

Former head of the navy Sir Jonathan Band is also a director, as is Sir David Manning.

He was Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser, who helped Blair get Britain into the war on Iraq, even though leaked memos show he knew the WMD “case was thin.”

Lockheed was so excited about the Iraq war that it put out a special sales brochure on its contribution to “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” which says it was “at the forefront contributing weapon systems” to the Iraq war — so it might have recruited Manning out of gratitude for helping sell so many of its products.

But the real point is that these lords give Lockheed a lot of political influence. Hiring insiders is a Lockheed style. So Christopher Williams, Lockheed’s British head of government affairs, was until 2013 a private secretary in the Cabinet Office.

Insiders and waste. It’s easy to see how Lockheed could get NHS contracts.

But it’s equally easy to see why it shouldn’t.


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