UK

Liam Fox targets waste in 'radical' MoD shake-up

  • 27 June 2011
  • From the section UK
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Ministry of Defence sign in Whitehall
Image caption Earlier this year it was announced that 2,000 civilian jobs at the MoD would be axed

Liam Fox has set out plans for a "radical" re-organisation of the Ministry of the Defence, including a cut in the number of senior officers.

The defence secretary said the MoD was "top heavy" and an over-bureaucratic system had led to poor decision-making and financial management.

He told MPs the heads of the Army, Navy and RAF would get more autonomy but would be held "robustly to account".

Labour welcomed measures to cut waste but attacked cuts in troop levels.

Outlining what he said was a "radical new approach to the management of defence", Dr Fox said he had accepted the recommendations of a report by Lord Levene - the chairman of Lloyd's of London - into how to make the MoD more efficient, cut red tape and reduce inter-service rivalry.

'Constructive critique'

As part of the shake-up, the heads of the three services are set to lose their places on the MoD's most senior decision-making body - the defence board - but will be jointly represented by the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards.

Dr Fox said this would end a situation in the which the chiefs spent most of their time "trying to influence policy and haggle over funding in London" and, instead, would be "empowered" to determine their own operational priorities once budgets were determined.

As part of a general reduction in senior officers, the rank of Commander-in-Chief across the armed forces is set to be phased out while all non-frontline posts, including reservists and contractors, are to be reviewed - starting with the most senior ranks.

"We are top heavy and that must end," Dr Fox told MPs.

He said the overhaul - in which a new joint force command will be created to oversee and integrate areas such as cyber warfare and military intelligence - would seek to tackle some of the managerial and budgetary problems which had plagued defence for many years.

"The report describes a department bedevilled by weak decision-making and poor accountability where there is insufficient focus on affordability and proper financial management," he said.

"I am confident that when people within defence review the recommendations they will recognise this work not as a criticism but a constructive critique of a department in need of reform and they will relish, as I do, the challenges it represents."

Tension

The MoD is to shed 25,000 civilian staff over the next four years as part of spending cuts announced last year while the armed forces will also shrink in size with 5,000 posts due to go in both the Army and Navy and 7,000 in the RAF.

Monday's announcement comes at a time of tension between senior ministers and military commanders about the likely duration and cost of the UK's involvement in the international mission in Libya and its impact on other military commitments.

But Dr Fox warned those top brass to be "very careful... in discussing the sustainability of our mission".

"People's lives are at stake. There can be only one message that goes out to Libya - that is, we have the military capability, political resolve and legal authority to go through with what we started," he said.

"We will continue our mission until our mission succeeds and Colonel Gaddafi must get no other signal than that."

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the service chiefs should do the fighting and leave the "talking" to the politicians.

Dr Fox said senior military commanders had unanimously agreed with the organisational changes he was proposing, adding the UK would remain in the "Premier League" of military powers following the changes.

The MoD has been criticised in recent years for waste and inefficient procurement, with an estimated £38bn "black hole" in its finances as a result of ordering more equipment than it had the budget for.

Military capability

Labour have acknowledged procurement mistakes during their time in office, but said the bigger issue was the need to rethink last year's strategic defence review as a result of the series of uprisings in the Arab world.

"In general there are some sensible proposals but it does not affect the biggest problem affecting the MoD which is the government going too far and cutting military capability too quickly," said shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy.

"While the deficit is temporary, the cuts they are making are permanent... Once you have sacked RAF pilots, you cannot reorder new ones. They have gone and they have gone for good. I think we will rue the day they made some of these cuts."

And one expert on the RAF suggested eliminating bureaucracy would not address the wider dilemma facing the armed forces.

"The fundamental problems - that there is not enough money and there are too many demands on that money - will still be pertaining," Andrew Brookes, director of the Air League, said.

"So you might change the architecture but I have yet to be convinced this is going to do what everybody hopes it will."

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