Defence: public sector inc MOD

Civilian cuts will undermine country’s defence capability

The Strategic Defence and Security Review announced that the Ministry of Defence’s civilian workforce will be cut from around 85,000 currently to 60,000 by March 2015.

Prospect’s immediate response was that the 25,000 figure was politically inspired and completely arbitrary. The union said the cuts would both damage support to the front-line and end up costing the taxpayer more.

At the same time as the SDSR, MOD announced that it would run an early release scheme (ie a call for voluntary redundancies). Despite MOD’s statement to the contrary, there had been no consultation with Prospect or the other unions.

Prospect is short of key information about MOD's plans. Discussions with the department have confirmed that the 25,000 target is a ‘political imperative’ – it is a headcount reduction target and savings found elsewhere cannot be used to offset staff cuts, except at the margins. So:

  • MOD is planning 15,000 redundancies
  • MOD does not know which jobs will go, where or when
  • MOD does not know what its future skills needs will be and yet it wants paid releases (ie redundancies) to start as soon as possible after April 1.

Prospect's MOD group started its campaign against these cuts with a meeting for our reps on November 3. The union's analysis criticised the review process for being resource-led and, therefore, having failed to restructure the armed forces to meet the strategic challenges.

Few, if any significant capabilities were being withdrawn – the services having protected ‘their own’. The outcome would be intensified salami-slicing and an emphasis on civilian cuts: bad for those losing their jobs and bad for those left behind to pick up the pieces.

Prospect is campaigning to oppose these cuts, including enforced redundancies or relocation. Because of the position outlined above, there is little point in pursuing this campaign with MOD officials alone: even if we win the business case debate, the cuts will still happen: the 25,000 target is all-consuming.

However, the union is seeking to influence the public, politicians and our colleagues in the armed forces. We need to persuade people that these cuts will:

  • undermine the country’s defence
  • create significant safety risks (remember a highly critical report by Charles Haddon-Cave QC   identified cuts in specialist capability as a major factor in the loss of Nimrod XV230) 
  • create significant financial and project delivery risks because of the further loss of intelligent customer capability 
  • end up costing the taxpayer more as a result of military officers and consultants having to be drafted in to do work that would be better done by specialist civil servants.

These arguments are being taken in the first instance to MPs on the House of Commons defence select committee and to all political parties' front benches.

Within the department, Prospect initiated a joint union call for a Civilian Covenant – intended as a commitment between MOD and its staff to a number of shared principles.

In addition, the unions have written to MOD seeking its agreement on this. Although this was conceived before the SDSR, the scale of the SDSR-challenge makes this even more relevant.

A leaflet has been produced detailing the terms of the Covenant and explaining Prospect believes MOD should agree to it. It was sent to all members in December 2010 and is available for use in local campaigns.

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