Defence reform must not be a smokescreen for civilian cuts

Defence reform must not be a smokescreen for civilian cuts

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been challenged by defence union Prospect for announcing his plans for reform of the MOD before his review has even started.

Prospect criticised Fox for pre-judging the outcome of his Defence Reform Review and for spinning his announcement into an attack on his staff.

National Secretary Steve Jary said: “The Secretary of State’s medical training could come in handy: Dr Fox’s spin machine seems to be suffering from premature ejaculation.

"The draft terms of reference for the review only came out 10 days ago and already we have a decision - that the MOD will be built around ‘three pillars’ and that military top brass will be given even more power.”

Widely trailed in the media as ‘taking an axe’ to civilian staff in the MOD, Liam Fox’s speech actually stopped short of announcing specific cuts.

However, said Jary, the government has spun it into an attack on MOD civil servants, making much of Fox’s pre-election promise to cut the MOD civil service by 25%.

“Thankfully, Dr Fox stopped short of jumping to conclusions about the size of the MOD – something that cannot be decided until the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review is known,” said Jary. But Defence Reform must not be a smokescreen for arbitrary cuts in the MOD civil service.

“What the public need to understand is that MOD civilians are there to support the military. If they are to be efficient, armed forces of a certain size require civilian support of a certain size.

"The vast majority of the MOD’s running costs are tied-up in military jobs. There are thousands of non-operational roles carried out by uniformed staff for no good reason except that military chiefs have the ear of ministers.”

Jary said that if the government wants efficiencies, it should look at the thousands of service personnel who are not deployable. “Every so called ‘back-office’ job filled by service personnel could be done at half the cost by a civil servant.”

Prospect argues that, by launching a host of new reviews, the government risks ignoring the findings of two recent reports into equipment procurement and safety by Bernard Gray and Charles Haddon-Cave QC.

These place much of the blame for poor decision-making, delays and cost-overruns in procurement on senior military domination of acquisition and support processes.

Jary added: “It is good to see that Dr Fox’s speech also signals a review of the services’ senior ranks – something missed by the media. Simply focussing on civilians is not going to get anyone very far: the cost of the MOD’s entire civilian workforce is only 5% of the defence budget.”

Prospect represents 10,000 technical and specialist civil servants in the MOD.