Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2010-11 - Defence Committee Contents

4  Armed Forces and civilian personnel


57. In its Annual Report and Accounts 2010-11, the MoD gave the following details:

In the SDSR, the Government announced reductions in the size of the Armed Forces, reducing the Army by 7,000, the Royal Air Force by 5,000 and the Royal Navy by 5,000. This will help to ensure that the UK has the required force structure, training and equipment to carry out operations, as part of the implementation of the SDSR. The Armed Forces redundancy programme is expected to deliver up to 11,000 redundancies across the three Services and should be completed by 31 March 2015.

The first redundancy criteria for the three Services were published on 1 March 2011 for the RAF and 4 April 2011 for the Army and RN. Those selected for redundancy will be notified on 1 September 2011 (Army and RAF) and 30 September 2011 (RN). Those leaving through redundancy are entitled to a comprehensive resettlement provision to help them transition back to civilian life. This is the first of up to four tranches of redundancy in each of the Services; the fields for the second tranche will be announced in Autumn 2011.[62]

58. Ms Brennan told us that 2,860 Armed Forces personnel out of a proposed total of 11,400 had been made redundant in the first tranche, of which 62 per cent were "applicants", that is, volunteers. Each of the three Services had determined where they wanted to reduce their forces by particular trade groups and ranks.[63]

59. Ms Brennan confirmed that no member of the Armed Forces injured on operations will be made redundant while in the process of being treated.[64] We asked whether there were problems with too many incapacitated personnel remaining in the Armed Forces, Ms Brennan said:

The British Army and the other three Services need to be clear about what numbers of Armed Forces personnel they need, at what ranks and with what trades and specialisms. We absolutely have to make sure that the people who have been injured get the care and support that they need, and that their future is determined by what is best for them. I do not think the numbers are sufficient, particularly as we are talking about the time while they are being treated, that they will distort exit decisions. I do not think that matter is causing us concern.[65]

60. We asked how the work was progressing to reduce the number of senior ranks in the MoD. Ms Brennan told us:

There are two angles to that. One is in the Head Office, where Lord Levene recommended a structure that is thinner at the top—civilian and military. That included, for example, the proposal to remove the commanders-in-chief, so that you did not have two four-stars at the head of each of the Armed Services. We are making progress on that and we will have completed that by the end of next year. There will be other structural changes in the Head Office, which we are trying to make more strategic and smaller.

Within the individual Armed Services, each of them has work in train to plan their new structure. For instance, the Army already has a programme around reshaping the Army HQ and rethinking what roles it needs to perform and at what level. That includes thinning out senior ranks where that is sensible and appropriate. We are keeping a track on that to ensure that we have a structure that is of a sensible size and that has the right balance.[66]

61. The MoD subsequently told us that it was working on a blueprint to implement the recommendations in the Defence Reform report and that its conclusions would be published once Ministers had agreed them.[67]

62. Ms Brennan told us that the MoD was on track to meet its targets on civil servant redundancies of some 5,000 a year over three years; indeed they had advanced the second phase.[68] She told us that the target was to reduce civil service numbers by some 32,000 although not all of these would be redundancies—some involved organisations such as the Met Office moving out of the MoD. [69] Mr Thompson told us that 15,000 would be through paid exits and 5,000 through natural means.[70] We asked what percentage of the redundancies would be compulsory and Ms Brennan said that the first two tranches of redundancies would be voluntary but that they might come to compulsory exits in particular locations in the third tranche.[71]

63. We asked why some 40 per cent of the Armed Forces redundancies so far had been compulsory whilst all the civil service ones had been voluntary. Ms Brennan told us :

[...] that is an absolute distinction between the two schemes and is part of an approach that the Civil Service takes civil service-wide, that we don't go to compulsory redundancy until we've done the voluntary exits first. But it is also partly because if you look at the Armed Forces, you have people who have specific ranks and trades. We do have some specific trades within the Civil Service—quantity surveyors, teachers and people who have very specific professional roles—but a very large number of the Civil Service have flexible skills that enable them to work in a variety of places. Therefore, if you are targeting redundancy, it is much harder to target a redundancy programme for a generic group of staff. You can target redundancy quite easily if you say "people in a particular location", or if you want to get rid of accountants or something; it is rather harder to target redundancy at a generic group of staff. That is another reason why we move through the voluntary regime first.[72]

She further told us it was easier to move civil servants around because of their generic skills:

[...] The way that the military do it is to identify people whom they want to go, and then specifically target groups who go in tranches. The way we do it with the Civil Service is to say, "This is the number of jobs that we need to reduce." We then invite people across the country to apply, and we have a set of criteria that say we will score the applicants, but we do not let people go if they have particular kinds of skills or any particular role that we need to keep them for. [...][73]

As we complete and move further with the restructuring of the Head Office and the organisations within the Department, it is possible to identify some areas and say clearly, "These are the specific posts that we need to go," but one has to bear in mind that in the Civil Service, we take the posts and volunteers out, and we can move the people who remain into the jobs that we need to keep. It is not the same in the military. You do not move the military around in that way; we can move civilians around in that way.[74]

64. On 19 December 2011, there was an exchange at Defence questions between the Rt Hon Andrew Robathan MP, Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans and our Chair:

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Over Christmas, will my right hon. Friend find time to think about the difference between those in the armed forces who are made redundant and those in the Ministry of Defence civil service who are made redundant? Members of the armed forces are frequently made redundant compulsorily, but that has not happened to a single civil servant so far.

Mr Robathan: My right hon. Friend will know that there have been a large number of applications from civil servants for the voluntary early release scheme. That is why very few people are likely to be compulsorily made redundant at the moment. Those in the armed forces have been less forthcoming with applications for voluntary redundancy, but only 40% of those taking redundancy are doing so compulsorily, the rest having applied for it.

65. The Permanent Under Secretary's argument, that civilians are flexibly employable whereas the military are not, runs contrary to our experience of the breadth of the military training we have witnessed on operations. The MoD, in its response to this Report, should set out what opportunities and encouragement it gives to those in the Armed Forces who face compulsory redundancy to retrain, especially into pinch point trades. The PUS's argument also implies a lack of strategic vision as to the direction to be taken by the civilian component of the MoD.

66. On the other hand the Minister's assertion, that many civil servants but insufficient members of the Armed Forces have applied for redundancy, ignores the question of why that should be so. The MoD should consider whether the terms of redundancy offered to either the military or civilian staff are fair or appropriate in the light of the stark and shocking difference between the application of compulsion in redundancy to the two branches of service in the MoD. For military redundancies to be compulsory in 40 per cent of cases, yet for civilian redundancies to be compulsory in none, is so grotesque that it requires an exceptionally persuasive reason. We are not persuaded by either of the two reasons we have been given.

Pinch point trades

67. Although overall manning levels for the Armed Forces have improved, there remain significant shortages of personnel in some key skills areas, some of which impact on operational effectiveness, creating operational pinch points. The MoD information is reproduced in table 6 below.
Table 6: Most Severe Operational Pinch Point Trades[75]

Royal Navy trades Liability/Shortfall % Shortfall
Lt Cdr XSM Command Qualified
Leading Aircraft Controllers
Rotary Wing Pilots
Anti-submarine Warfare Aircrew men
Strategic Weapons System Junior Rates
Leading Seaman General Service
Seaman Specialist
Royal Marine Other Ranks
Leading Air Engineering Technicians
Cat A Nuclear Watch Keepers
Cat B Nuclear Watch Keepers
Army trades
High Threat IED Operators
Yeoman of Signals Electronic Warfare
Systems Operator Electronic Warfare
RAVC Dog Handler
Military Intelligence Cpl-Sgt
Intelligence Corps Linguist
RMP Special Investigation Branch Sgt-WO2
Military Provost Staff
Combat Medical Technician (CMT) Cpl-Sgt
Royal Artillery Exactor DC
Royal Engineer Clerk of Works SSgt - WO1
Royal Artillery Weapons Locating Radar DC
Royal Artillery UAV Operator Bdr-Sgt
HUMINT Operator
Geospatial Engineer Cpl
REME Armourer Class 1
Infantry Pte - Cpl
Pharmacist Officer Capt and above
Observation Post Assistant
Royal Artillery Capts
RMP GPD - LCpl - SSgt
Royal Air Force trades
Intelligence Analyst (Voice) - SAC to Sgt
Pilot - Junior Officer and Squadron Leader
Operations Support (Regiment) - Junior Officer
Medical Officer - whole branch
Emergency Nursing - whole cadre, all ranks
Gunner - SAC to Cpl
General Technician (Mechanical) - SAC to Sgt

Data source: MoD

68. Ms Brennan explained that the MoD took shortages in pinch point trades very seriously and what it was doing to address the issue:

Addressing the pinch points is a matter of a mixture of things. In some cases, it is to do with incentives, and financial retention incentives and so on are important. In some cases, it is about a slightly softer set of issues to do with really getting underneath what is making people unhappy—if that is what is going on—with the job they are doing. Sometimes, it is to do with the mixture of work that we ask people to do, which they find boring or unsatisfactory. Then, it is a case of changing the job mix to make it more attractive, so that people want to do it.

Clearly, in relation to the redundancies, the redundancies in the military are quite specifically targeted on particular areas. Obviously, one thing we do is make sure that we do not target them on the pinch points. Although these are compulsory redundancies, we allow people to volunteer to go in there, but not to come from a pinch-point trade.[76]

69. In respect of high profile shortages such as improvised explosive device (IED) operators and nuclear watchkeepers, Ms Brennan told us in more detail how the MoD was responding to shortages:

On the IED operators, there has been a special project around training, recruiting and retaining people in that area. [...] That is difficult, because nuclear engineers, in particular, are in short supply in the UK full stop, and we are in competition with the civil nuclear industry for those people, civilian and military. We have actually had a joint civilian-military programme to look at what we can do to ensure that we have a good pipeline of civilian and military nuclear engineers.[77]

70. Addressing the issue of pinch point trades needs to be a priority for the MoD, particular in respect of certain trades such as IED operators, nuclear personnel, intelligence specialists and medical personnel. The MoD must ensure that sufficient personnel are not only recruited and trained effectively but also retained. It should also consider Armed Forces personnel subject to compulsory redundancy as a potential source of recruits to retrain in pinch point trades. In response to this Report, the MoD should tell us, in some detail, what its plans are to address shortages in the above trades.

62   Ministry of Defence, Annual Report and Accounts 2010-11, HC 992, p 39, paras 6.41-6.42 Back

63   Qq 107-110 Back

64   Q 112 Back

65   Q 117 Back

66   Q 118 Back

67   Ev 26 Back

68   Q 125 Back

69   Qq 127 and 132  Back

70   Q 132 Back

71   Q 133 Back

72   Q 134 Back

73   Q 136 Back

74   Q 137 Back

75   Ministry of Defence, Annual Report and Accounts 2010-11, HC 992, p 39  Back

76   Q 103 Back

77   Q 104 Back

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Prepared 25 January 2012