The Ministry of Defence has frozen recruitment for four weeks to manage financial pressures.
The freeze, which will affect recruitment at the MoD and its arms-length body Defence Equipment & Support, began on Monday (10 July) and will end on 4 August. The department will then look at ways to manage inflationary pressures by reducing recruitment, civil service union PCS said.
"The projected growth in our civil service workforce isn’t affordable,” the department told staff.
“The secretary of state has made the decision to introduce civil service recruitment controls to help the department manage our financial pressures.”
The controls aim to “drive down unnecessary expenditure on costs that do not contribute to frontline delivery”. There will still be flexibility to recruit to urgently needed roles and nuclear roles will not be affected, CSW understands.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace ordered the pause on recruitment following consultation with officials. Earlier this year, Wallace raised concerns about the department's finances, saying the MoD's budget has been “raided” for far too long and needs to grow. He called for "real money" rather than efficiency savings, which he labelled a "sort of fantasy". In the Spring Budget, the MoD received an £11bn increase in its budget over the next five years.
PCS said the decision to pause recruitment was “questionable” as there is “clearly great need to employ more staff”. It said many of its members have said they are taking on two or three people's work, causing work-related stress, illness and absence, with associated costs.
Officials’ reward for “going above and beyond” in Covid and over Ukraine is “to work longer and harder for less”, the union said.
According to PCS, Defence has 13,000 vacancies – but the MoD has rejected this claim. It says there are currently 4,000 vacancies.
PCS said it was informed of the plan in mid-June and immediately expressed its concerns but agreed not to comment on the policy until it was announced to officials. It said the policy had been an “open secret”, however, among defence staff for the last month.
Instead of freezing recruitment, the union said the MoD could save millions each year by stopping unnecessary disciplinaries, capability and sickness absence investigations and dismissals, calling on the department to apply the lessons of the Wigston, Sue Owen and Tolley reports.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We have recently commenced a temporary recruitment pause for four weeks, whilst we are looking at ways to manage the pressures we face this year and next.
“Our civilian workforce is crucial to protecting our nation and supporting our armed forces, and we are committed to having an agile workforce with the right skills, whilst maximising value for the taxpayer.
“The wellbeing of our Defence civil servants is extremely important to us, and we are pleased that Defence civil servants have high levels of job satisfaction as seen in the recent Civil Service Wellbeing Over Time report.”
The report by What Works Wellbeing, published in June, found Defence civil servants had the highest levels of life satisfaction of any department.