The intelligent blog on defence issues, providing high quality and objective analysis on UK Defence Policy, military affairs and wider global security matters.
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Sunday, 24 March 2013
Not a penny more, not a penny less? The Armed Forces Pay Review
The Armed Forces Pay Review
Body (AFPRB) issued its annual report recently, outlining its case for a pay rise
for the armed forces as the public sector pay freeze slowly begins a near
glacial pace of melting. The top level recommendation that they receive 1% pay
rise and a small increase to X Factor (the figure which provides a compensation
for the challenges of service life relative to civilian life) was eventually
accepted in full, following a brief political spat and some odd allegations
that because the head of the committee was coming to the end of their fixed
tenure, he was being ‘fired’.
The report is interesting in several
ways, not just because it helps reaffirm to all serving personnel they are
receiving a pay rise, but also because of some of the nuggets of information it
contains about wider service issues.
The first take home from the
report is that British military personnel are incredibly expensive to employ.
Following the implementation of the review, the cheapest trained private / able
seaman will be on a salary of £17,765 per year, plus allowances and hugely
subsidised accommodation and food. The salary scale for the higher payband now
runs from £17,765 through to £29,357 for a level 9 private. Anyone deploying on
OP HERRICK will receive a further £5,000 tax free bonus, plus operational
allowances. By the time you reach Sgt level, the payband ranges from £33 - £37,000
per year plus allowances.
The clear message to be seen
here is that the easiest way to make savings measures is to cut manpower levels.
The military have become an extraordinarily expensive asset to employ, and one
has to wonder whether we are possibly reaching the point where the wages bill
is likely to become almost unaffordable within current budget levels.
The problem we see here is
that the military are perhaps a victim of their own success – well paid, no one
would want to give them a pay cut willingly – indeed one only has to look at
the recent budget to see the view that the military should not be constrained
by wider public sector pay restraint. At the same time though, the more the
salary grows, the more pressure is placed on the budget to afford the wages
bill. At some point something has to give. One has to ask the question, even
rhetorically, as to whether we are paying our military personnel too much now?
The issue is that for many of the entry level military posts, no specialist
skills or qualifications are required, and the work in barracks is often
routine and straightforward. As the Army withdraws from HERRICK and barracks
life becomes routine, the reality will be that most soldiers will occupy a far
more stable and fixed existence than they have for decades. While exercises and
small deployments will doubtless continue, the pressing need to train for
HERRICK will have reduced, as Army life is likely to become a more modern
version of BAOR. At this point, one can almost see situations emerging where
people question why we are paying so much to the military in salaries – the public
support exists at present, and no one currently begrudges soldiers wages, but
take away the deployment opportunities and it may well be the case that hard
questions are asked about why we pay military personnel so much.
While this may sound like
thinking the unthinkable, one only has to look at the Police, who have reduced
their starting salaries by some £3000 per year for new entrants. Is it better
to protect formations and headcount by reducing salaries, or is it better to
maintain the payscale and lose more staff and capabilities. While this is all
completely hypothetical, it is perhaps a point worth considering.
Why the long face - was the pay review really that bad?
The next interesting fact to
emerge was the throwaway line about the Army reviewing its recruitment policy
to improve Officer quality. The report briefly noted that there has been a
marked decline in the quality of officer applicants applying to Sandhurst,
although it doesn’t specify whether this is at the AOSB stage, or during the
RMAS course. This is a fascinating comment to read – after some 12 years of
seeing the Army deployed on operations, one would have thought that anyone
applying to join would have a much clearer idea of what qualities it is that a
potential Army Officer should have in order to pass the Commissioning Course.
Similarly, the explosion in Internet forums such as ARRSE have seen a massive
amount of additional support and assistance offered to candidates today
compared to a few years ago. Yet despite this, there is still clearly a quality
issue with candidates going through the system.
It is a genuinely fascinating
issue – in a time of mass youth unemployment, particularly in the target range
for Army entrants, and at a time when the Army’s requirements have arguably
never been that low, there is still a struggle to get good candidates into the
Army. By any large organisations standards, the Army is not taking on that many
people – barely a few hundred per year are needed at Sandhurst, while BRNC and
Cranwell need even fewer. What would be interesting is to understand why it is
that there is a failure to get the right people in – the AOSB and its two sister
service equivalents remains one of the most objective assessments of character
out there. It is not fundamentally difficult, it is merely a test to determine
whether one has the potential to develop leadership and pass a commissioning
course, prior to then developing into a leader of men.
Whether the problem is that
the current military career is not seen as high profile enough for some, nor
rewarding enough for others is not clear. It is arguably not the case that
people are not joining because of a lack of opportunities to deploy, indeed
many who are applying to the military now probably haven’t considered in any
great depth the likely path their career will take beyond the first year or two.
So, something else is happening which is stopping the military getting the very
best of the UK graduate and wider youth into the system. By all reasonable
assumptions, they should be beating off high quality applicants, particularly
given how many hundreds of students try the OTC each year to get a taste of
Army life – this organisation alone should be more than enough to fill the
slots of potential applicants at Sandhurst.
There is no right answer here,
and Humphrey has discussed it more out of genuine curiosity than having any
clue as to why this may be the case. But, there is clearly an issue with the recruitment
system, and one has to wonder what can be done to rectify this challenge before
it becomes a major problem.
Situation Vacant - Armoured Train Driver...
One area where recruitment is
clearly proving a major challenge is that of TA Officer recruitment, where the
report recommends a series of financial incentives to try and bring new junior
officers into the TA. As the organisation is due to grow in size over the next
few years to some 30,000 strong there is a clear and increasingly urgent
requirement to get younger individuals in to form the next generation of junior
officers who can lead it forward. Despite this, there seems to be a major
challenge over getting sufficient individuals to stay the course over the long
training period and then into positions where they can move to carrying out
work of real value.
Part of the issue to the
authors mind is that it is often difficult to take on the role of being a
junior officer and also hold down a real job. While joining the Reserves as a
new entrant is fun, with a high quality training pipeline and lots of
opportunities to develop, which in turn can lead to a real sense of
accomplishment on completion, it is perhaps less clear cut for a young officer.
In addition to the normal training pipeline, there is often a requirement to
take on a lot of extra unit work in the name of ‘development’ much of which
takes up time and effort for seemingly little reward. At the same time
completion of professional training moves one away from having a clearly
defined role and into instead a more vague area where there is often no hugely
useful day to day role – the officer being too junior to take on meaningful
staff work posts , but at the same time there is little they can do other than
hang around a unit. Humphreys personal experience is that there is a vastly
higher attrition rate for junior officers compared to junior ratings – indeed within
5 years of his joining the Reserves, almost all of his peer group had resigned
in frustration at the lack of reward, and lack of opportunity to deploy until
much later on. Indeed he knows several officers who resigned as they were told
there was no opportunity to deploy for at least 3-5 years, putting them at a
point where their real careers would be taking off, and when deployment would
do more harm than good to their wider interests.
This is a real challenge to
manage – it is relatively easy to recruit, train and deploy a junior rating or
soldier, but far more difficult to do the same for a junior officer. The author
once worked out that in his area of the Reserves, it would take 2-3 years to
take a new entrant to the point where they could deploy as a Junior, as opposed
to 10-12 years as an officer.
It is perhaps very telling
that in the review, the AFPRB noted that only 65% of the Reserves qualified for
their bounty last year, which means that nearly one third of the entire reserve
did not complete even a basic level of training over the preceding 12 months. This
also serves as a reminder that despite the views that the Reserve will make up
significant proportion of the future manpower structure, it will not
necessarily always be available in the numbers that people may think.
So, the key point to the
author here is that a lot of thought needs to go into the concept of how viable
a Reserve Officer corps really is. It’s a lot of investment of time and
training which is often lost in very short order should someone decide to walk
away because they are bored. The model of providing retention payments will
likely go a long way to helping improve this, giving people a reason to stay on
past the ‘5 year itch’ point, by when reportedly nearly half of all new
entrants have left.
Personally, the author
believes that the UK should move to follow the Canadian model of trying to
recruit junior officers at the university stage, when they can spend their
summers training and building much deeper bonds with the service. Then as they
enter the world of work, it is much easier to adapt to working to ensure time
is made for the Reserves, rather than trying to shoehorn the reserves into your
time. This is perhaps the biggest challenge, making those who join see the
Reserves as something which isn’t just a fun hobby but which is also a second
career. Too often it feels as if its seen as something done on the side for a
bit of fun at weekends, and that it isn’t something which in fact is of increasing
importance to the defence of the UK.