MoD perm sec sets out reform priorities: 'We need a strong and authoritative centre'

Stephen Lovegrove plans to ‘adjust operating model’ of the MoD as he sets out need to make tough decisions and ensure UK’s broad and strong military capability


By Suzannah Brecknell

27 Mar 2018

Stephen Lovegrove photographed by CSW by Paul Heartfield

The Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove has said he wants to “adjust the operating model of defence in the UK”, to build a “strong and authoritative centre” which can drive tough prioritisation decisions across the department.

Speaking at a lecture hosted by the Strand Group, part of Kings College London, Lovegrove was asked for his top two priorities in the coming year.

He pointed to upcoming decisions on resources and capabilities, saying: “[We] need to make some choices about stopping doing some things, and moving some capabilities. Some of those will those choices will be politically difficult and that is not an easy or straightforward process.”


He added that another “clear and present” task was to adjust the defence operating model which  “at the moment has tended to downplay the importance of having a strong and authoritative centre to be able to drive those prioritisation decisions and take a pan-defence view.”

Lovegrove said he believed the Levene model – based on the 2011 defence reform report carried out by Lord Levene – had always envisaged a strong centre, but the way it has so far been implemented has not focused on building capability and knowledge in the centre. The perm sec said he has begun to recruit into the MoD to build capability in the centre, but the shift “will require some changes in behaviours which are going to be quite tricky to pull off.”

Prioritising capabilities

Earlier in the session Lovegrove spoke about the need to prioritise resources and capabilities, saying: “If we are going to invest in new, disruptive technologies, that is going to come at a cost and we need to be rather more ruthless, unless there is to be more money.”

Lovegrove said getting rid of capabilities that were deployed infrequently or those which could not be deployed with “any degree of responsibility” should be options for reduction or removal.

“We do have some of those capabilities and we need to be prepared to slay the odd sacred cow,” he said.

He warned that while making spending decisions, the UK must ensure its defence capability is both broad and deep enough to be a credible deterrent and protection, and there was a need to be "very considered" in the way it seeks to build that capability.

"The more radical the commitment to the rapid fielding of new disruptive technologies, the less useful the traditional methods of military capability become as indicators of national military power,” he said.

“And when we have made those choices we must be confident that we have, and what we propose to have, is fully effective against the range of threats that we face."

Lovegrove also said the UK must "lean in to Europe" and ensure that it builds international relationships to support its military capability, saying that: “Our allies and our alliances are the vital foundation upon which our security rests.

“It is an absolute priority that as the UK leaves one international club it redoubles its efforts to be a leading voice in the others and indeed to play as full a part as we can in any emerging European defence and security structures."

Civilian training overhaul

Lovegrove also outlined a focus on improving the training offered to civilians in the Ministry of Defence, saying there was a “very sharp disparity” between training on offer for military personnel and their civil service colleagues, and that this was all the more obvious as military and civilian employees work more and more closely together.

“In an increasingly ‘whole force’ environment [where] you've got civilians, contractors, reservists [working together], everyone is combining to produce the best outputs, that seems to me to be a disparity and imbalance you have got to try and fix.”

He added the challenge of training was not unique to the MoD: “I am not 100% sure the UK civil service altogether actually has got its training offer right but I think it is particularly acute in the Ministry of Defence because there are other bits of the organisation that do it so differently.”

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