Did Johnson & Co. consult UK Space Agency prior to £400m OneWeb deal?28th Sep 2020
There is absolutely no question that we are going through unprecedented and challenging times and that governments around the world have to make some quite exceptional decisions. There is no doubt of that. But what is also clear is that the UK government are using the mask of the corona virus crisis to make some very questionable decisions… and the space industry hasn’t escaped this recent flurry of dubious deals.
With a reported £5bn worth of contracts handed out to fledgling and unexperienced companies during the health crisis… for the provision of Personal Protective Equipment, software development and other related services and products, it drew a lot of attention to what else Boris Johnson’s government was squandering money on. But then the OneWeb deal happened and the space industry was left open mouthed in absolute shock.
Newspaper reports described the OneWeb deal as the UK government acquiring a share in a GPS Satellite Navigation business to replace the Galileo program it was opting out of when the country leaves the EU. Some very reputable mainstream news outlets blindly ran with this story without fact checking it. Others did mention the government’s goal of creating its own GPS network but then included information that experts had suggested the satellites weren’t suitable for this purpose. OneWeb is not a satnav constellation.
It has now emerged that the government did not consult with experts prior to spending £400m on the OneWeb shares. We don’t even know if they consulted the UK Space Agency. Much the same as they didn’t check into the ability of a number of companies to actually provide PPE. So, this was very much a blind and uninformed expenditure… and a very significant one.
Absence of Due Diligence
We have previously highlighted the UK government’s historical relationship with companies of very questionable reputation who are frequently handed lucrative contracts with no obvious or clear signs of scrutiny or publicly available due diligence that shows the recipients suitability or even ability to provide the service or product being sought. Well we are now seeing that it goes even further than that and more often than not the appointed company is a totally unsuitable recipient of the UK taxpayer’s money. And it is demonstrated more frequently in current times that there is a complete absence of any form of due diligence. Ferries anyone?
When we previously looked at the UK Spaceport project and the consortium that was cobbled together to create the vertical launch site in Scotland and doing so raised some of our own concerns, how little prepared were we for what was to come afterwards and just how badly the government was going to expose its own incompetence (or wilful negligence… take your pick).
With such blatant mismanagement being displayed under the watchful eye of… EVERYONE, it has become our default position that whatever the UK or its agencies (eg. UKSA) do in the space sector, it should come under immediate scrutiny and should be assumed to be the wrong decision until proven otherwise.
We will of course continue to monitor what the UK Government actually have planned for OneWeb,