back to article Unions: MoD 'mad to fire staff while increasing consultant spending'

UK public-sector unions say that revelations of what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) spends on specialist consultants show that current plans to fire tens of thousands of staff will lead to increased expenditure. Could they be right? In a word, no. The Guardian reports, in an exclusive of the sort perhaps not hard to obtain when …


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  1. R3x


    A Lewis article without a single mention of Eurofighter.. or Americans. Gobsmacked.

    Though I refuse to believe any organisation has 60k employees doing nothing.

    You are also failing to take into account that:

    a) THose 60k have ALREADY accrued pension.

    b) They'll be paied by the taxpayer for jobseekers allowance

    c) they will need to be paid some redundancy compensation.

    1. john devoy

      Re: WOW

      The calculation using 80 as the average life expectancy for ex service personnel is massively generous; thanks to the generaly unheathy lifestyle lived by a lot of service personnel most would be lucky to see their mid 60s.

      1. chr0m4t1c

        Re: Re: WOW

        Not really.

        1) Not all of the 60,000 will be service personnel.

        2) Not all of the service personnel will have spent enough time in the service for the unhealthy lifestyle to have long-term effect on their health.

  2. Chris Miller

    Lewis is too generous

    The usual rule of thumb for estimating the real cost of employment is to add around 80-100% to the actual pay rate. This is to cover overheads such as NI (may not apply to HMG), paid holiday, training, employing useless managers and HR drones to carry out regular staff assessments, etc, etc.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    All men are created equal

    However they don't end up equal.

    We introduce a new XYZ computer system.

    We hire a bunch of XYZ consultants to implement it.

    We fire a bunch of administrative officers to pay for it.

  4. sandman

    Usual Story

    From that great book, "Parkinson's Law"

    Capital Ships in commission (British Navy) in 1914 - 62

    Capital Ships in commission (British Navy) in 1928 - 20

    Admiralty officials 1914 - 2000

    Admiralty officials 1928 - 3569

    The figures for the Colonial Office in the show a similar growth in the number of staff as the number of colonies decreased.

    1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Usual Story

      If we follow the definition of a Capital ship being a Battleship, Battlecruiser or aircraft carrier, we are down to nil (Illustrious is being used as an assault ship while Ocean is in for refit). If we stretch it and count frigates and destroyers, we have 20.

      Apparently we had 222 RN captains in 2010 and 41 admirals in 2008 for around 80 commissioned vessels. Perhaps one or two surplus officers...?

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Starship Troopers

        Robert Heinlein had the right idea of how a military force should work to the optimum effect.

        - EVERYBODY fights. The brass hats would think twice about some wars if their arse is also on the line, not just the grunts on the front line

        - Since everybody fights, the brass hats also make sure that the expenses go towards front-line equipment that will be used

        - No cushy desk jobs with military rank attached. If you're military, you fight. Leave the paperwork to civilians

        Such a service would be both cheaper to run and a lot more effective as a fighting unit. Middle-ranking officers who do sweet FA in military == the swathes of middle managers clogging up big corporatations

        1. Is it me?

          Peace time / War time

          In time of war there is always a need to ramp up the size of your armed forces to resist you enemy. So whilst yoour peace time army is taking the brunt of the assault, your reservers are being mobilised and fresh troops trained. As officers do not grow on trees, even if they are wooden, you need to have officers available to command new units until your ramped up officer training starts churning out replacements, some time after basic training starts turning out grunts.

          So what you do is back fill the officers working in the MoD with civilians and shove the desk jockies out towards the front. Its basic logistics really, your long lead items need a proportionately bigger stock than short lead items. The higher the rank, the longer the lead time.

          Mind you, I dred to think what the lead time on a new aircraft or warship is these days, it would be a moot point as to how long it would take to commission a new destroyer over training the captain. So how many mothballed aircraft and ships do we have? The PBI though are easy, to train, and replace, and cheap to arm.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: Peace time / War time

            True in the past, not so much today. WWII was the last real war in which a country was able to sustain the surprise attack, build up troops, and repel the enemy. Even then it was a closer thing than most today are willing to admit. These days if you aren't able to repel the first attack it will pretty much be over. Israel set the precedent in The Six Day War and the US followed up with the 100 Hour March Into Iraq.

            No, I don't count the peace keeping crap that's come since then as real war in the sense of someone is trying to conquer your country. Yes, they can needlessly feed grunts into the grist mill and provide the politicians something over which to lament; but thankfully everybody has been too afraid of the nukes to go on a real war binge. What worries me as a Yank is that fear may finally be fading in some quarters. So we may yet see a real war in my lifetime, and that's not something I'm all that happy about.

  5. Desk Jockey

    Dodgy Maths

    Those maths calculations are seriously off. £8k per year for a pension?? Didn't you mean to put a 1 or a 2 before that 8? Also £31k as an average is actually seriously low for the civvies. The MOD got rid of most of its low level staff ages ago. Now everyone is expected to handle the big boys stuff and to do their own admin. Sitting around and shuffling paper is a very rare luxury indeed! Sadly, there are no tea boys anymore either!

    The military will have a lower average because they have a much higher proportion of lower level grunts than the civvies. You don't exactly want squads of junior officers charging down machine gun fire or doing maintenance! Their senior ranks are completely out of proportion however, so agree with Lewis that they need trimming.

    As for the consultants saving the MOD money? Seriously?! Most of them earn upwards of £60k per year and their company puts a nice profit margin on top of that. Most MOD f***-ups of the last two decades can be traced directly or indirectly to consultants parachuting in, dispersing their management speak and then buggering off before it all went wrong! The day when the consultants are paid in shares from those long military projects is the day when they will be properly punished for their screw-ups! On a like for like basis, civil servants work out a lot cheaper and they are still around long enough to learn from those mistakes.

    Rather than blaming the civil servants or middle military ranks for all the cock-ups, blame the senior military for playing power games/revolving doors and those mandarins who joined in. More importantly, blame the politicians for piss-poor decisions and for continually putting in sub-quality people to do the work because they 'contributed to the party coffers'! Consultants do not fix these problems, they make them worse!

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Dodgy Maths

      ' £8k per year for a pension??' Actually after 12 years in the RN, my pension when it starts to pay out in about 25 years time will be ~£8500 per annum in 2012 Pounds, so it's not that far out for certain cases. However it's often more complicated than that as many people will stay in until their immediate pension point where they'll start to receive an amount per year as soon as they leave the service, that will then increase when they hit pensionable 60/65. Of course the rules have changed in the last few years so there's an extra layer of confusion when considering anyone on the new scheme.

    2. Ben Tasker

      Re: Dodgy Maths

      8K is about right, mine's gonna be a lot less (but then I have left!)

      Agree with more or less everything else you've said though, but there are still a lot of civvies earning far below £31,000. Try £19,000 and you'll be closer to the mark (though that doesn't take into account the cost of Tax, NI, Pension etc.)

      1. David Dawson

        Re: Re: Dodgy Maths

        Don't confuse the median with the mean.

        Just because there are a majority of a certain pay grade, doesn't mean that's the mean average.

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    That full disclosure is marvellous

    ' nuff said.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Problem with the MOD... that they don't have the first fuckton of a clue about IT, hence contractors, and companies who provide services string them along for ages, over-promising, under-delivering, and whacking charge after charge after charge on top.

    The real money leakage is going on because project leaders in MoD don't call bullshit on the contracting companies hideous practices.

    1. Desk Jockey

      Re: Problem with the MOD...

      I fully agree. Sadly, those project leaders are completely crippled by public rules obliging MOD to bend over backwards and allow themselves to be shafted. You try getting a business case past the politicians or senior management saying that you would penalise any of those big companies for poor performance!

      If it was up to me, I would bankrupt them with penalty charges for poor performance, but the Government is "not allowed to do that"...

      1. Bluenose

        Re: Re: Problem with the MOD...

        Think you'll find that no one is allowed to do that. No business would be so stupid as to accept penalty clauses that would bankrupt them, if they did the prices for the work would be a damned site higher to pay for the insurance.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          If a company knows it can't deliver then it should not bid for the contract. If a company knows it can deliver then the penalty clauses are irrelevant.

          In some cases, a company will know it can't deliver on time but it can deliver eventually, and so will calculate how much it needs to charge to cover the penalties it expects to pay, then bid based on that. This is actually common practice in Civil Engineering, as is weighting a bid based on estimates of materials, or of changes that will be requested.

          The problem with public sector projects is the number of project managers who bail out on a project before it's complete. This is actually endemic in the public sector - projects that run until near completion when half the project team bail out to get onto the next project, riding the gravy train rather than seeing their current project through to completion. This is why projects flounder and fail, costs spiral and contractors are brought in to try and save something.

          So it does become cost effective to go to contract for projects, but without claw back and serious penalties for failures, all you get is a new group of piggies gathering at the trough.

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Bonanza .....

    " Full disclosure: Lewis Page is just bitter. Had he stayed in the Service he would certainly have been a lieutenant-commander now by time served, quite probably a commander (not so much because he was a great naval officer, even less so because his superiors considered him one, but purely and simply because so many of his generation left in disgust and as a result - combined with the increased numbers of senior billets - almost everybody who stayed has been promoted). Instead like a fool he's in the private sector paying for the commanders' fat salaries, pensions, boarding school fees etc."

    The private military sector .... and especially the special future forces intelligence sector is a virtual goldmine, Lewis. Know what you are doing and do it better than anyone else and you can just name your price .... and tax-free, of course. And there is an embarrassment of clients spread all over the world willing to ensure you have whatever you need too.

  9. Richard Taylor 2
    Thumb Down

    Oh dear Lewis

    What this does demonstrate is that junior officers don't understand the realities of employment (overheads ect ect ect), any notion of compound cost and return or really very much else......

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. bazza Silver badge


    The problem with consultants is making sure that there is enough of them around who actually know real stuff when it really matters, eg when war breaks out.

    Consultants quite often used to be on the inside but ended up outside. If you rely on consulsants that probably means that there is no internal program growing new experts. Its not like many universities offer courses on how to build effective war machines, etc. The result is that when the current crop of consultants die off there is likely to few compentent replacements, and fewer still who recognise the deficiency. Not a good situation to be in if a major war happens...

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Consultants

      Based in the decisions they've been making recently, are you sure this hasn't already happened? Say, sometime in the 1960s, perhaps?

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Re: Consultants


        Could be!

        Though I think the recent decision to put catapults and arrestor gear on the carriers makes sense; they're no longer dependent on the JSF which (from my reading of the runes elsewhere in the press) is no bad thing...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fire the useless third

    I spent many years as an RAF Officer. I worked with MOD civil servants extensively, as well as the blue suit lot. In fact, I probably managed more MOD civil servants than blue suits by the end of my career. There were a few things that were really obvious to me in my time:

    1) The MOD civil service is horribly overstaffed and horribly inefficient. A large proportion of them are best at justifying their own existence, rather than actually doing something useful.

    2) The armed forces haven't properly restructured for a mobile modern armed force, we are still largely in cold war mode. For example, most communications specialists in the RAF are deployed on fixed cold war sites, supporting cold war communications. Deployments are either handled by a single unit (Tactical Communications Wing), or are handled by temporary detachments from troops who aren't trained to do the deployed job.

    3) Command staffs are horribly overweighted, largely in a vain effort to maintain the senior officer posts that Lewis is so damning about. It is far easier to maintain a Group Captain in a command post where he only 20 or 30 personnel to command, most of whom are officers. On a frontline unit, a Group Captain would command 1500 troops and 50 aircraft.

    What the military needs is some hard decision making. Firstly, force the military to dispose of at least half of its officers from Major/Lt Cdr/Sqn Ldt up (preferably three quarters of them). They can all go from command jobs without affecting military efficiency an inch. Secondly, fire half of the civil service, and let front line units pick out what to keep and what to get rid of. Finally, use some of the spare cash to upgrade all equipment so it is deployable. This way when a squadron deploys from RAF Whatever, it can take its own Comms unit, its own suppliers, etc.

    Will this happen - no. Why - basically because the senior officers want to protect their careers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fire the useless third

      Finally, use some of the spare cash to upgrade all equipment so it is deployable. This way when a squadron deploys from RAF Whatever, it can take its own Comms unit, its own suppliers, etc.

      Sadly they're too busy amalgamating as many trades as possible to ensure there are no specialists in anything. All whilst outsourcing as much IT as possible and costing fuck-tons in productivity when the oversubscribed networks can't cope with demand and no-one can access their datacentre based systems.

      Bitter moi?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the main problem is raf fulford

    There are doubtless many honest contractors who would, individually, give honest opinions and be hardworking and genuine.

    But they can't get a foot in the door, because contractors lose their clearance, and when faced with organised hatchet merchants that are consultancies.

    The dva basically stop individual consultants getting through the door, (try getting dv without a big sponsor,) and so the only advice they get are from big companies whose raison d'etre is to make money, not to help our lads.

    I'm sure most of the low level guys in consultancies could do good jobs, but they'd be sacked. the honesty's in singletons who don't mind a job ending.

  14. jason 7

    Simple Solition - Ban Powerpoint

    You can then get rid of 25% of your workforce with no reduction in performance.

    If fact it should improve as people can do real work.

    1. Mephistro

      Re: Simple Solition - Ban Powerpoint

      If you also ban solitaire games you can get rid of an extra 25% of the staff. ^_^

  15. UnionSteve

    The union position

    This article opens with a flawed assumption. Lewis suggests that the unions 'obtained' the information used in the Guardian article. We didn't. The Guardian asked the MOD. If you'd have asked, I guess they'd have told you, too.

    The unions did provide the figures in the article which exposed the FATS scandal two or three months ago, but this was not a leak: we had to compile the figures ourselves using FOI questions because, before it was flushed out of them, the MOD would not tell anyone what its FATS spend was.

    Lewis - you say that the FATS spend is not due to staff cuts. Can you explain, then, why the MOD was only spending £6m a year on technical support in 2006/07 and yet now spends approaching £300m a year (equivalent to the cost of approximately 10,000 specialist civil servants)?

    The article then moves on to a very valid point: that the real savings are to be found in dealing with top-heavy armed forces structures. We would add that there's a civilian-military balance issue here as well. A lot of those senior officers are sitting in desk jobs running equipment projects in which they have no expertise. This is another factor behind the explosion in the FATS spend.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    History of conduct shows

    It has long been established, that trade unions may do dealings, to save their own skins and those for the employer which alot of employees appear to be failed by, in the case of Alan Jenney (resolved through ACAS) and John Brookes.

    Whilst senior MoD staff outsource, TUPE only lasts for the length of the contract and after a year, they are able to vary contractual terms, only with agreement of the workforce... they would then make cuts to the project fund to save their skins for healthy bonus pay-outs. The companies the project workerss have been outsourced to follows suit shortly thereafter.

    I do question whether reasonability was involved in those cases?

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