UK: Ministry of Defence to axe 7,000 more civilian jobs

Ministry of Defence to axe 7,000 more civilian jobs (Guardian, Friday 29 July 2011):

The Ministry of Defence is to axe a further 7,000 civilian jobs as part of the department’s desperate efforts to bring its soaring budget under control, the Guardian has learned.

A letter signed by the permanent secretary, Ursula Brennan, will be sent to all staff explaining that cuts are necessary and conceding that the move “will raise questions which cannot be answered immediately”.

The decision has infuriated union leaders and defence officials who say they were not consulted. They accused the department of acting in a cavalier fashion without thinking through the consequences.

The move means the defence civil service, which is responsible for scrutinising contracts to ensure they do not run over budget, will have been cut by a third within nine years.

Last week, the defence secretary, Liam Fox, outlined proposals to cut a further 7,000 military jobs from the army between 2015 and 2020. His statement to the Commons made no reference to civilian posts at the MoD, which are already being cut as part of last year’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR).

The review outlined plans to get rid of 25,000 civil servants between now and 2015, and the fresh announcement, which could come on Friday, will add a further 7,000 to that total by 2020.

The letter from Brennan, which is being circulated around Whitehall, says that the department needs to “bear down further on non-frontline costs”.

“In the SDSR we planned for … a 25% reduction in the cost of civilian personnel by 2015, bringing the size of the MoD civil service down to a total of some 60,000 civilian posts,” the letter says.

“As part of the package announced last week we need to make further reductions in … civilian manpower. For civilians, we will be extending the earlier planned reductions, coming down to a total of 53,000 civilians by 2020.”

Brennan says she hopes that many of the job losses will be “achieved by natural wastage” and that “compulsory redundancy will only be used as a last resort”.

However, the letter concludes: “We recognise that news of further staff reductions … will raise questions which cannot be answered immediately. We will let you have more news on this … over the coming months.”

Union leaders said the announcement reflected “what the MoD can afford, not what it needs”. They believe the cuts could backfire with poor quality equipment being commissioned that could put the armed forces at greater risk.

Steve Jary, national secretary of Prospect, the union which represents MoD civil servants, said: “A defence civil service of just 53,000 will be just half the size it was in 2005. The further cuts in civilian numbers were not mentioned in Liam Fox’s statement last week and have not been the subject of any consultation.”

He added: “The MoD has consistently avoided open and detailed consultation on the changes since the SDSR was published. This is leading to a breakdown in trust; 53,000 is a totally arbitrary figure.”

The saga over the MoD’s runaway budget has become one of the most difficult and enduring issues facing the coalition government.

Despite all the cost cutting announced in the SDSR, there was still a substantial overspend in last year’s defence budget – estimated at more than £1bn.

Officials at the MoD blamed this on the speed in which the review was undertaken, and also privately raised concerns that the government had not properly funded the reforms it wanted to make to the armed forces between now and 2020.

This led to demands from the Treasury for further cost cutting. Last week Fox said the army will shrink from its present size of about 101,000 to 82,000 by 2020.

The SDSR had already cut the army by 7,000 by 2015 – when troops will no longer have a combat role in Afghanistan. In return, the Treasury has promised that the armed forces will get a 1% real terms budget increase from 2015 to 2020 to help pay for the reforms.

However, the Guardian has been told that this is far short of what the MoD believes it needs if it is to build the promised hi-tech Future Force 2020.

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