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MoD's London brass resist job cuts

Rubber desk johnnies don't like it up 'em

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Comment Ministry of Defence headquarters offices in central London are to shed 1200 uniformed and civilian staff posts, according to reports. Military bureaucrats are resisting the moves fiercely.

The Times, having unsurprisingly "obtained" documents outlining the cuts and the MoD brass' resistance to them, gave full details yesterday. Angry leakers, perhaps fearful for their own cushy London billets, revealed that the boss of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) is upset at the prospective loss of 121 of his 592 underlings.

“Threats may not be foreseen, or not identified in a timely manner,” wrote Air Marshal Stuart Peach. He was also concerned that there could be a “credibility loss” resulting in less intel from America. Perhaps the most prized asset of any UK intelligence service is its relationship with opposite numbers across the pond. Presumably the thinking here is that one needs an extra hundred or so desk johnnies just to schmooze the Yanks.

DIS also reportedly believe that they should be let off because they were the ones most sceptical about the dodgy Iraq dossier of six years ago. Indeed, their scepticism was so intense that they told nobody about it until well after Parliament had voted for war. (If they had they might already be a hundred bods down, of course. John Morrison, a former DIS man who did tell people about the dodginess of the dossier fairly early on, was sacked shortly thereafter from his post as a Parliamentary investigator.)

Letting someone keep his job now because he lacked the guts to lose it then doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Anyway, anybody who has dealt with the products of the DI sections on a regular basis - like your correspondent - will be a bit more wary about just how useful most of them are. Slapping a Secret header onto information largely culled from Jane's Defence Weekly or similar trade news organs may save the MoD a mint in subscription fees, but almost certainly not enough to pay for the DI posts who do it.

Meanwhile Ops chief Lt-Gen Peter Wall also warned of dire results with 68 of his 418 chair-polishers gone - saying there would be a “reduced capacity for concurrent contingency planning”.

It's hard to imagine how MoD contingency planning could get any worse, actually. In 2002, for example, the British forces were told to deploy division-sized land forces to Kuwait in preparation for operations against Iraq. This was one of the most obvious possible tasks - staff officers at HQ must have been planning it to death for years. Even so, logistics on arrival in Kuwait was the usual embarrassing clusterfuck. The division second-in-command described the situation at the container ports as: "Christmas morning, but as if all labels had been taken off the presents and nobody knew what was whose ... our ammunition arrived much later than I could have wished."

Perhaps dropping a few blotter jotter desk johnnies, rather than adding more, would help with this sort of thing. It's definitely worth a try.

And here's some background, which may help to illuminate the idea that the British armed forces simply can't afford to lose 1,200 officers mainly of major to colonel level, and their associated civil servants.

The Army, for instance, has more than 1,800 lieutenant colonels - the rank which commands a battalion or regimental sized unit. This is at least fifteen half-colonels for every suitable unit. Full colonels are almost never in charge of anything except a desk (the next command level comes at Brigadier) and yet there are almost 600 of them, too.

The navy has almost two admirals for every frigate. The RAF has something on the order of five squadron-leaders for every individual aircraft it possesses, and at least one air-marshal (equivalent to an admiral or general) for every combat squadron.

Almost unbelievably, the MoD's civil servants are even more bloated and top-heavy than the military brass - even more ripe for trimming.

So we taxpayers who foot the bills for all these expensive people and their desks and IT gear and training courses and seminars and golf afternoons - all based at nice locations around Whitehall, in this case - might reasonably be a bit sceptical about whether we really need them all.

And don't worry about the front-line troops. They're already quite certain they could cope without 1,200 desk jockeys in London. They'd happily swap the whole of Whitehall for another couple of combat battalions in Afghanistan (1400 men, all on much lower pay grades than those about to vanish from the MoD) and a few helicopters that actually work.

The Times report is here. ®

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