Thursday, 26 January 2012
The simply grotesque attack on MOD civil servants
The author unsurprisingly found the recent report by the HCDC select committee on the current rounds of armed forces redundancies to be a fascinating use of selective quoting, and reporting top make out that not one civil servant has been made redundant, and that 40% of our brave boys are being made redundant by callous uncaring civil servants. To add insult to injury, the resident Quisling, Frau Brennan claimed that the civil service was far more flexible than the military. Clearly, a time for outrage.
The truth, as ever, is far more challenging. This author is increasingly concerned at the attitude of the HCDC towards the MOD civil service - rather than seeing it as an essential supporting body to enable defence, the HCDC increasingly regards us as a vile organisation, urgently needing to be culled at all costs. One of the worst offenders is James Arbuthnot, who repeatedly makes snide comments to the PUS, chosing to mangle her phrases in order to get cheap headlines, most likely to try and revive his own flagging political career.
The reality is that comparing military and civilian career structures is very difficult. The CS exists to provide a large body of manpower, at varying grades of responsibility, across Defence. By and large this means that it is much easier to post people within the MOD CS as at any one time there may be dozens of opportunities nationwide to redeploy people into different posts. Many of the skills required by CS are primarily process driven, rather than technical in nature. Therefore while the post may require some reading in and training, it is less likely to require in depth technical training.
The other difference is that the CS does not up sticks and move places every two years - there is no hugely complex manpower plot to maintain, where career managers know that moving person X may impact on persons Y and Z. There is also no career plot for promotion - instead promotion occurs when vacancies arise. This means that the CS career pool is much easier for people to theoretically move around in at any one level, as people are broadly interchangeable, and can move around.
By contrast, the military career structure is designed around providing fixed numbers of bodies at specific ranks and trades to do a wide variety of jobs. This means people have to train for many years to acquire specialist skills, and often move within a very small career area - for instance nuclear engineers will generally move between different submarine or engineering postings, with the odd broader tour. It is entirely possible for small niche branches to have very localised manning, where everyone knows everyone else, and promotion is quite literally deadmans shoes. The author can think of a couple of RN specialisations which have 10-20 people in them.
The problem from a redeployment perspective is that once past initial training, and once embarked into career postings, retraining is a slow and expensive business. You cannot go from being a sonar maintainer one day, to suddenly being an aircrew survival equipment maintainer the next. It would take months, if not years to retrain people to do jobs outside their core branch areas. Yes, there is a common appointments system, which means that there are jobs which can be done by people from any branch or specialisation, but these are not really intended as careers - more career development posts.
So, the reality is that its actually incredibly hard to redeploy forces personnel - not because they're not flexible - they are. The problem is from the view of how you use them - by the time you've retrained someone and put them in, you may as well have recruited a new person in the first place and got a longer return of service out of them.
Therefore, what PUS was trying, albeit in an incredibly poor way, to say was that it is easier to move CS personnel into new broader postings quickly than military personnel, who by dint of their skills are more difficult to retrain quickly.
To this authors mind, one of the the more damning aspects of the report isn't the misreported comments from PUS, but the fact that on the recent early release scheme, 15000 civil servants (1 in 5 serving civil servants) felt they wanted to apply for redundancy. This is just the first of three tranches, and yet one in five wanted to leave the department. This should surely be ringing alarm bells - particularly as many of the people leaving have skills such as project management, intelligence analysis, scientific, procurement or other useful backgrounds which will denude the department of skills. Its all very well having a flexible workforce, but if all the people who can do the job have left, how do you train their replacements?
This author loves working in defence - he is incredibly proud of what he has done for the department over the years. But he will confess to having done the sums to work out if it it was worth taking a risk and jumping ship. There is an utter crisis of morale going on in the MOD CS right now. Publicly reviled, subject to a stunningly malicious campaign by the tabloids suggesting that to be a public servant is akin to being a banker or paedophile, and knowing that your pay is frozen and job prospects diminishing is enough to make anyone think twice about staying.
Its a desperate time to be a civil servant. No one expects to be popular doing this job. But the sheer level of hatred being directed against us by MPs and the media is quite scary. Talking to others, one is left with the strong perception that many feel that we have no political supporters, we have no sign of any military senior leadership standing up to support us. We have no homegrown PUS who is willing to stand up and lead their department through a time of immense turmoil and challenge and who if you believe whispers in the gossip columns only got the job because no one else applied for it.
This is what should be worrying HCDC - we are people who genuinely give a damn about defending Britain. We're not charismatic, we're often very odd, and we will never see adoring documentaries made about what we do ("Day 284 in Main Building and today Sir Humphrey has managed to file 3 whole paperclips...). Its true that some people think that some CS can considered to be idle or lazy, more concerned with their overtime payments and going home promptly, but equally others would argue that the same can be said of some members of the armed forces.
The problem is that we bring a set of special skills and experience to the table to help support the military. We understand this department, we're passionate about defence and we're passionate about trying to help those who go in harms way. Thousands of us (including the author) have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and often come under fire in order to do our job to help support the troops. We really care, and we want to make a difference, but right now too many of us feel completely abandoned by the military we support, and seen as the vile lazy benefit scroungers of the Defence world.
I dont want to be loved as a civil servant. I do want my MPs though to really question my senior leadership - I want them to pry deeply into why thousands of my peers are leaving. I want them to ask why morale is collapsing and why core skills and knowledge are being lost forever and I want them to really understand how attacking the MOD civil service is causing as much damage to the security of this nation as any direct physical attack by another state.
I am Sir Humphrey. I am proud to be a civil servant and support the front line. I just wish my civilian and military leadership and political masters were as proud of my colleagues and I and what we try to do for them too.