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Job cuts ‘could leave MoD lacking the staff it needs to run itself’

Ministry of Defence is planning to cut 54,000 jobs without a coherent strategy, a parliamentary watchdog warns

The Ministry of Defence is planning to cut 54,000 jobs without knowing how the department will be able to run itself without them, warns a parliamentary watchdog.

The need to cuts costs quickly to plug a £38bn budget black hole has led the MoD to start the redundancy programme without a coherent strategy for the future, a report from the National Audit Office says.

This has increased the danger that the department will lose skilled people it cannot afford to replace. A halving in recruitment for the military and among civilians could also have the same effect.

The NAO report is the first in-depth study into the potential consequences of the redundancy programme that was announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 18 months ago.

It says the cuts to the military are relatively easy to understand, because commanders can prepare for the loss of equipment, and tailor what they do.

But the report says “the relationship between personnel numbers and the department’s other activities is less clear”.

And while the report acknowledges the MoD is developing a “new operating model” which will set out how the UK will meet all its defence commitments, this work hasn’t been completed.

“The department has had little choice other than to make cost cuts early if it is to meet spending review targets. Consequently it has commenced reducing its headcount before the full detail of the new operating model has been determined.

“Recognising the risk inherent in this approach, the department has taken steps to retain skills … there remains a risk, however, that some of the skills it needs now and in the future may be lost.”

Ideally, the MoD would have waited before starting the redundancy rounds, the report says.

“Without real change to ways of working, cutting headcount is likely to result in the department either doing less with fewer people or trying to do the same with greater risk.”

The report notes that MoD will not make the savings it hoped for from the second tranche of military and civilian redundancies, which was announced last month.

A three-month delay to the programme will have cost the department £100m, which will have to be recovered from other savings.

The NAO says the MoD needs to develop further contingency plans to cut costs because “our experience shows that reduction programmes often deliver less than anticipated”.

With surveys showing low morale across the military and civilian sides of defence, the MoD needs to clarify how it intends to run the department as quickly as possible, the report says.

Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said: “This is astonishing criticism from the government’s own spending watchdog. There will be real worries that the drive for redundancies is rushed and wrongheaded.

“Real savings have to be made, including from personnel reductions in the military and civilian workforce, but they must fit within a clear plan of how the MoD will do more with less at home and overseas. The rush to show personnel the door has led to higher costs which could lead to further cuts, while important skills are being lost.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds