UK Politics

MPs brand compulsory armed forces job cuts 'grotesque'

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Media captionDefence Minister Philip Hammond says redundancy payouts offered to military staff are "not ungenerous”

MPs have said it is "grotesque" that 40% of armed forces redundancies have been compulsory, while no civilian staff have been forced out of a job.

The Commons defence committee queried whether the terms on offer to military personnel were "fair or appropriate" given the "shocking" difference.

It also said not enough was being done to retrain, rather than sack, troops.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the MPs were wrong and personnel were given "every opportunity" to retrain.

Some 11,000 service personnel and 25,000 civilian Ministry of Defence (MoD) staff are being made redundant as part of government efforts to deal with the £38bn hole in the defence budget.

But the defence committee has been told that of the 2,860 military personnel laid off last year, about two in five were made compulsorily redundant.

Explanations criticised

In contrast, the first two phases of civilian redundancies were all done on a voluntary basis.

The MoD's senior civil servant, permanent secretary Ursula Brennan, told the MPs the discrepancy was partly because civil servants were more "flexible" while the armed forces tended to have "specific trades".

Defence Minister Andrew Robathan, meanwhile, told the Commons the armed forces had been "less forthcoming" with applications for voluntary redundancy than civilian staff.

The committee said it was "not persuaded" by either of these explanations.

"The argument that civilians are flexibly employable, whereas the military are not, runs contrary to our experience of the breadth of the military training we have witnessed on operations," it said.

"The MoD should set out what opportunities and encouragement it gives to those in the armed forces who face compulsory redundancy to retrain, especially into 'pinch-point' trades."

'So grotesque'

Chairman James Arbuthnot, Conservative MP, suggested those trades could include combat medical technicians or intelligence gatherers - both of which are undermanned.

The report said: "The MoD should consider whether the terms of redundancy offered to either the military or civilian staff are fair or appropriate in the light of the stark and shocking difference between the application of compulsion in redundancy to the two branches of service in the MoD.

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Media captionJames Arbuthnot, defence select committee chair, says the disparity in redundancy cases appears "bizarre"

"For military redundancies to be compulsory in 40% of cases, yet for civilian redundancies to be compulsory in none, is so grotesque that it requires an exceptionally persuasive reason."

Labour's shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "There is a thin line between callousness and carelessness and ministers need to start taking responsibility for their decisions.

"Thousands of service personnel are being unceremoniously sacked. It is essential that the painful impact of David Cameron's decisions is minimised wherever possible."

'Far more generous'

But Defence Secretary Mr Hammond said he rejected the idea that people had been treated unfairly and said the committee had only looked at the first phase of redundancies - in which enough civil servants had volunteered that the MoD had not had to resort to compulsory job losses.

"That doesn't mean that we won't have to resort to compulsory redundancies for civilians in future tranches."

He added: "Over the whole programme, the proportion of civil service jobs that will be lost is almost twice as high as the proportion of military jobs that will be lost and the terms on which redundancy is offered to the military are far more generous in monetary terms than the redundancy terms offered to civilians."

He said "every opportunity" was being given for military personnel to retrain for other forces roles or in civilian life but added: "The simple fact is we have to tackle the massive deficit we inherited from Labour and the huge black hole in the defence budget."

The committee was also highly critical of the MoD's accounting procedure, saying that for the fifth successive year the department did not comply with Treasury rules on financial reporting.

And it accused the MoD of impeding its job of scrutinising spending by "hiding behind security classifications".

Finally, the committee said it was concerned that the level of theft and fraud in the MoD "appear generally to be increasing year on year".

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