Sunday, 5 February 2012
Stars and their P45s. The downsizing at the top that has yet to occur.
The Daily Telegraph posted an article recently which suggested that there had been minimal downsizing in the MOD senior echelons - (for the purposes of this article defined as 2* and above), and that only seven officers had been removed from a pool of 137. This is seen as a gross failure of duty, and something that compares badly to the way that our brave boys have been treated.
The link is -here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9057408/Armed-Forces-chiefs-dodge-redundancies.html
While Humphrey is supportive of the view that we need to match our plot of senior officers to the overall size of the forces, he would suggest that 137 senior officers, out of a total military force (including reservists) of approximately 200,000 is not a bad figure - less than 0.1% of military strength.
The problem here appears to be one of misunderstanding about the role of senior military figures. There has long been a love hate relationship in the British press, and wider popular folklore about the role that military figures play. There is a love of the brave Tommy, admiration for the subalterns, and near derision for anyone who occupies a senior job (more usually Colonel or above). Somehow in the British mindset, the same people who as Subalterns were brave heroes of blighty have become transformed into anonymous Whitehall warriors, deskbound, unwilling to change and unable to lead or manage. Clearly something occurs to them at some point in their career to allow this transformation to occur, but it is far from clear as to what this may be.
The public understand defence at a local level - much of the wider understanding of the role that the military played in WW2 has been informed for the last 40 years by the memories of those who served at more junior levels. By the 1970s the last senior officers from the war were beginning to die off, and those who were left in society had occupied far more junior roles. This author would argue that public attitudes towards the military, 'support for the troops and contempt for the brass' owes much to people growing up in the 50s and 60s and talking to the generation who served. Even this current generation still has regular contact with people who have fought in WW2, although it is likely to be the last to which this applies.
The point is that the institutional memories passed on to today's population about the military often stem from these experiences (and those of national servicemen too), who were often very junior, and while very brave, had little exposure to the strategic governance or conduct of operations. Their recollection is one of seeing few officers, and not seeing how the campaign was directed, instead merely suffering as it was fought at the front. This in turn means that people today hear of brave soldiers, but few hear of the control of the campaigns - this is a subject reserved for academics and not people listening to Uncle Tom telling for the 450th time his story of how 'he and his mate Harry were shafted by the bloody officers'.
As such, this has led to a near institutionalised mistrust of officers, and particularly Generals and the roles that they fulfil. People understand what a private or NCO does to a point - it's something their older relatives were, and today watching the plethora of good TV shows about HERRICK or TELIC, it's possible to see the current crop of troops fighting. People do not understand the role of a Staff Officer, nor how the current top level of military management is conducted.
In the case of the article, it is true that only a smaller number of senior officers have stood down (although the loss of 7 officers represents an over 5% headcount reduction overall, akin to firing nearly 450 ABs in the RN). Despite this, it has not been clearly explained why this reduction appears to be so small.
In the initial tranche of redundancies brought about by SDSR, the military intentionally chose to downsize at the more junior level - the loss of platforms, aircraft fleets and other capabilities meant that a bulge of manpower existed at relatively junior levels built around sustaining equipment or capabilities that no longer existed. Similarly entire training programmes or support units existed to sustain aircraft that would never fly again. There was a glut of manpower in the system relative to the revised requirements - therefore rather than have several thousand people sitting around without a job, it was deemed appropriate to begin downsizing them immediately.
To that extent, the early redundancy figures for the military have been built around the notion of getting the manning balance right at the bottom - clear out the people who no longer have a career stream, and reduce manning in line with new expectations. Harsh, brutal, but probably for the best. What is more soul destroying - being in the forces but in limbo with no job, no role and no idea what the future holds, or at least knowing what you need to do to in order to find new work.
For the seniors though, the role is less easy to define. Senior officers exist to direct or command large organisations, often responsible for managing thousands of staff and millions of pounds of expenditure. While sacking them may be politically tempting, removing the head of an organisation without actually removing the organisation itself seems futile - a token gesture to downsizing that achieves nothing, makes the problem worse and doesn't actually solve anything as someone still has to do their job.
What instead is occurring is that since SDSR, several root and branch reviews have been, and are being, carried out to look at the structure of the military and its future organisation. Loosely termed Force 2020, these are the means by which the military will seek to restructure themselves in future years. This takes time - when you are dealing with organisations employing thousands of people, you don't want to rush to a decision in case it causes major strategic damage to the MOD. Instead, there is a need to review all the moving parts, and then reach a decision as to what sort of structure the department needs in order to best manage and lead its people.
This takes time - it's not just the commitment to reviewing the posts, but the time taken to implement the change and disestablish entire organisations that follows. It will take 2-3 years to see major changes in the 2* plot, not because of a resistance to change - far from it. It takes that long because deleting a 2* post often means major changes to the way business is conducted. So, while the headline may be accurate, the sentiments are not. The military is changing, and is changing quickly. But while there is a need to bring about reductions, this needs to be done in a measured manner, and ensure that the force structure created is one that best suits our needs.
The next part of this short series will try to look in more depth at the roles that 2* Officers play in the services, and seek to explain why there are 130 of them, and hopefully address the myth that there are more Admirals than ships...