Ministry of Defence to cut civilian workforce by almost 30%

Strategic Defence and Security Review sets out aim of reducing MoD civilian staff numbers to 41,000 – with unions warning that the scale of cuts could have frontline ramifications

By matt.foster

23 Nov 2015

The Ministry of Defence is to axe almost a third of its civil service roles by the end of the parliament, it has been announced.

The cross-government Strategic Defence and Security Review was unveiled by prime minister David Cameron on Monday.

Alongside increased funding for the intelligence agencies and a £12bn boost to the MoD's equipment budget, the SDSR confirmed plans for a major reduction in the number of civil servants employed by the MoD. Unions have already warned that such a move could have a knock-on impact on frontline service personnel.

How an award-winning Ministry of Defence team sharpened their skills and triumphed over “tribalism”
Latest defence review will not be driven by cuts, says Michael Fallon
Ministry of Defence "in line for thousands of civil service job cuts"

The SDSR document states: "Defence civil servants make an important contribution to our national security, including through their roles on operations and in delivering some of the largest and most complex equipment and infrastructure projects found anywhere in government."

But it adds: "We will continue to reform the MoD to make it leaner and more efficient, outsourcing key functions where the private sector can deliver better, and investing in skills for the roles we retain. We will reduce the number of civilians employed by the MoD by almost 30%, to 41,000, by the end of this parliament."

Dai Hudd, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, responded to the announcement by warning that the scale of cuts could undermine complex technical defence projects.

“Our membership includes thousands of civilian specialists who are key to delivering the sort of ambitious equipment programmes which have been announced in today’s defence review," he said.

“Civilians were cut to the bone in 2010, so today’s news of a 30% headcount reduction on top of that is devastating news, not just for jobs and skills but also for the UK’s ability to deliver the capabilities it needs on time and on budget."

That view was echoed by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, who said it was "impossible to see how the Ministry of Defence will cope" with staff reductions at the scale planned.

Serwotka added: "As well as the devastating personal impact on people who lose their livelihoods, the extent of these cuts seriously undermines the government's claims to be committed to defence."

Dave Penman of the FDA union pointed out that the ministry had already seen significant staff reductions since the start of the last parliament.

“The number of civilians employed by the Ministry of Defence has already been cut by more than a third since 2010 – the additional cuts announced today will mean that civil servants within the MoD will be reduced by more than 50% over a ten-year period," he said.

"Any organisation facing cuts this severe would be forced to decide which duties it is no longer equipped to carry out."

Ahead of Cameron's statement to the House, there were initial reports that 20% of the MoD's civilian workforce was set to be cut – with one union source telling CSW they had been led to believe that 30% reductions would be a "worst case scenario". 

"More ships, more planes, more equipment"

The SDSR also sets out a plan to boost training for existing MoD staff, saying the ministry will "develop initiatives for the MoD workforce, including apprenticeships focused on science, technology, engineering and maths and entrepreneurial skills".

The review vows to "make it easier" for staff "to move between government, academia, private sector and in other countries", and says a senior official will be appointed in the MoD with the specific task of improving the ministry's relationships with small and medium-sized enterprises.

And the review outlines proposals to reduce the MoD's estate by 30%, saying the ministry will release public sector land "for 55,000 new homes to support wider prosperity objectives". 

Many of the key SDSR announcements had already been revealed in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, including a doubling of spending on cyber-security measures, £2.5bn in extra resources for the three intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and a redirection of the Department for International Development's spending towards fragile states.

Cameron also pledged a £12bn increase in the budget for defence equipment, taking total defence spending to £178bn over the next decade.

Speaking ahead of Cameron's announcement, defence secretary Michael Fallon stressed that the government had increased overall defence spending.

"On equipment, we’re spending some £12bn more than we originally planned," he said. "We’re spending £178 billion – that means more ships, more planes, more equipment for the Special Forces. 

"The defence budget as a whole, for the first time in some years, is going to start increasing from April and every year of this parliament. We’ll be spending more money on keeping our country safe."  

A number of new cross-government teams will also be established to support the government's National Security Strategy, the review document said.

According to the government, the new units will include a "Euro-Atlantic Security Policy Unit", hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; a joint Home Office-FCO unit focused on international counter-terrorism strategy; and an MoD centre for arms control and counter-proliferation bringing together expertise from the MoD, FCO and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Read the most recent articles written by matt.foster - Top civil servants Robert Devereux & Chris Wormald stick up for spads

Share this page