MoD needs a 'coherent plan' to tackle armed forces skills gaps, MPs say
The Public Accounts Committee described the department's understanding of armed forces spending as “inadequate”
MPs have told the Ministry of Defence to get a better grip on how its budget is spent and come up with a strategy to address skills shortages in the armed forces.
In a report that warns of major skills gaps in the armed services, the Public Accounts Committee said the department “has not developed a coherent plan” for how it will ensure it has the skills it needs.
The MoD has personnel shortages across 100 critical trades, amounting to a shortfall of 8,200 people, which it does not expect to close until 2022 at the earliest.
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The department should develop a workforce strategy that includes improving its use of data to understand skills shortfalls and more innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining people with specialist skills, said the report, published on 12 September.
The PAC also told the department to improve its “inadequate understanding” of how the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force spend their workforce budgets and whether funds are being used effectively.
The three forces, the so-called commands, can redirect some of their workforce budgets for purposes such as equipment maintenance. The MoD’s head office estimated £261m of the commands’ workforce budget was not spent on personnel in 2017-18, but did not know how else it was used, the PAC said.
The committee urged the department’s head office to “look closely” at these budgets, examining spending on marketing, recruitment and training. Civil servants and the commands should conduct joint biannual reviews of workforce spending, MPs said.
The report also raised concerns about the extent of civil servants’ oversight over longer-term spending. To date, the department has not assessed whether its workforce policies will provide the necessary skills, or fully evaluated how workforce change programmes that began in 2010 have affected retention, it said.
“This has limited [the head office’s] ability to tackle enduring and cross-cutting skill shortages, and develop the skills it will need to meet its future operational demands,” the report said.
The committee welcomed the department’s plans to give its chief of defence people greater say over skills policy. Under the current model, the chief “does not have the authority to direct commands or tackle workforce capability issues that require a cross-command or longer-term response”, its report said.
The MPs have asked the department to write to them by December outlining the steps it has taken to increase the chief of defence people’s powers and to develop a more strategic approach to workforce planning.
They also asked the department to explain how it is “systematically exploiting its data” to better understand skills shortfalls and set out its plans for the workforce strategy, the committee said.
The strategy should “urgently address” how to use more innovative approaches to recruitment and how to speed up the roll-out of successful initiatives. It should also include a communications plan to encourage people from a more diverse range of backgrounds to work in the armed forces and examine its competitiveness in recruiting specialists, especially in light of Brexit, the committee said.
Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, said an effective workforce strategy was “long overdue”. "The government’s ‘make do and mend’ approach to staffing its defence commitments cannot continue,” she added.
Responding to the report, an MoD spokesperson said: “Recruiting and retaining talent is one of our top priorities and we have a range of schemes to make sure we attract and keep the skilled personnel we need.
“The military has enough personnel to meet all its operational requirements, including being active on 25 operations in 30 countries throughout the world.”
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