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MoD to become even more top-heavy as a result of personnel cuts

Top brass to shrink by 3% (or less) in 20% bloodbath

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The UK's Ministry of Defence is a famously top-heavy organisation: the navy has at least one admiral for every warship it possesses, the RAF has an air-marshal or two for every fighting squadron and the army has approximately 10 times as many generals as it could possibly need to command itself in combat. And that's not even to mention the ministry's swarming civil-service grandees, more numerous than the uniformed top brass of any of the services.

But, we learn, things are about to improve*. As part of the enormous personnel cuts the MoD is presently undergoing - no less than 29,000 uniformed servicepeople and 25,000 civilian staff are to be lost under the Coalition's Strategic Defence Review and Three Month Exercise plans, cuts of 20 per cent from 2010 levels - the Ministry is to become "less top-heavy".

We learn this from an MoD release issued this week, which says:

Around 26 civilian and military posts at Senior Civil Service level, the equivalent of Commodore, Brigadier, Air Commodore or above, are set to go.

"For too long the MOD has been top-heavy, with too many senior civilians and military," thunders Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, in accompanying tinned quotes.

"Not only does this new structure reduce senior staff posts by up to a quarter in the next two years, but it allows clear strategic priorities to be set for the Armed Forces."

Good stuff, eh?

Not really. A quick look at the invaluable Defence Analytical Services and Advice agency website** reveals that as of last year the armed forces had no less than 480 uniformed offices at ranks of Commodore/Brigadier/Air-Commodore and above, and the MoD was also blessed with a further 270 senior Civil Service mandarins who considered themselves to be of equivalent rank.

Axing a measly 26 of these 750 top-brass positions equates to losses of approximately 3 per cent, as compared to the 20 per cent cuts the MoD will see across the board. In other words the Ministry is set to become significantly more top-heavy, not less.

Then, we learn that these cuts to senior posts are specifically to those brasshats "based at the Ministry of Defence's Head Office" and that they "were recommended in Lord Levene's 2011 report".

Those of us who read the Levene report back then will recall that it did indeed advocate that many senior officers should disappear from "Head Office" (more commonly known as MoD Main Building on Whitehall, and a few other London facilities). However they would not actually be cut - they would in many cases reappear as new jobs located at the Service HQs out of town (nowadays at Portsmouth, High Wycombe and Andover). And indeed, if the new Levene-proposed Joint Command stands up at main building - bossed by a four-star officer, the highest military rank there is, doubtless with many attendant PONTIs*** - well then, Mr Hammond's telling use of the phrase "up to a quarter" (referring to Main Building bigwigs only) may actually equate to "basically none", as various new senior jobs appear on Whitehall over the next couple of years.

Certainly recent history offers no realistic prospect of any reduction in top-heaviness. For instance: during the period 2005-2011 the armed forces lost 15,000 people, cuts of approximately 8 per cent. During that same period, the number of senior officers at Brigadier-equivalent and above dropped by only 20, a cut of 4 per cent, noticeably increasing top-heaviness as combat strength bled away.

We asked the MoD to clarify just how many top-level posts are to vanish (and how many new ones to appear) across the whole MoD under the new plans, and just what Mr Hammond meant by "reduce senior staff posts by up to a quarter".

As to whether any other senior posts would be cut, and the number of brass to be lost overall, the Ministry folk had this to say:

There are a number of initiatives ongoing throughout the MOD to reduce senior manpower liability as we implement the new departmental operating model.

On the matter of new senior posts appearing outside London:

As with any re-structuring, some new posts will be created across the MOD as we implement the new Departmental operating model. However, we are clear that overall senior numbers must reduce.

"Reduce senior staff posts by up to a quarter":

This figure is referring to the reduction in star count[****] in the MOD Head Office, not a percentage reduction relative to the star-count across Defence.

So there will be less bigwigs actually in Main Building, it would seem: but there's no hard figure on how much their numbers will drop across the MoD - and certainly not even a suggestion that the "star count" will be cut by 20 per cent or more.

So in fact, yes, the MoD is set to become more top-heavy, not less. ®

Bootnotes

*In the sense that there will be more senior posts compared to the number of juniors, so increasing promotion prospects.

**We would suggest that the MoD civilians working at DASA are definitely worth the money.

***Persons Of No Tactical Importance, the term used in combat units to refer to the blotter jotter desk johnnies of the staff.

****An officer of Brigadier/Commodore/Air-Commodore rank or above is known as "one-star", next up is "two-star" and so on up to four-star officers (full General, Admiral, Air-Chief-Marshal - five-star rank is now sort-of disused in the UK forces, though the chief of the armed services gets extra pay as if he was a five-star). It's a habit picked up from the Americans who use stars as rank insignia for these senior officers. MoD civilians of the Senior Civil Service at equivalent grades also like to refer to themselves as "one-star", "two-star" etc, and consider themselves part of the "star count" of all personnel holding star ranks. (Uniformed commissioned officers of the armed services generally consider the civil servants' idea of their equivalent military rank to be comically inflated - even quite minor bureaucrats, if their military rank equivalent were true, would be at a level where they might command major combat units. That said, the value of the military officers' own titles has been continually cheapened for a long time by reorganisations like this one.)

Oh sorry, we forgot to write this at the top:

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