Interesting article on MOD rebuttal policy

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jim30, Jul 1, 2009.

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  1. Got this off the defence news blog - I think it highlights well the fact that there are often two sides to every story.

    When should a government department take issue with an article in the media and when should it turn the other cheek? When should it have a right of reply? And what happens if it cannot get its voice heard or its letter or article printed?

    We in MOD wrestle with these judgements more or less every day. Generally speaking we have gone away from responding whenever we see or hear something that we do not agree with. People are, after all, entitled to their opinion, including those that differ from ours (and the same applies in reverse). But now and again an opinion will be so one-sided in the way it is expressed that we wish to offer the alternative point of view. And when we do, most serious newspapers or broadcasters will allow us time or space to put our arguments across. When they don't we will use our blog to get our point across.

    For example, General Dannatt was reported in the Telegraph last week as suggesting our forces had failed in Iraq. He thinks nothing of the sort and wrote to say as much. "The mission was a success," he said. And to its credit the newspaper printed his letter in full.

    There is in my view a clear cut case for rebuttal when there are errors of fact. Sometimes a complete story may be wrong and groundless (for example, the front page splash a few months ago alleging that MOD was smearing aid worker Rachel Reid) - but this is pretty unusual. More common is the odd point stated in a wider article or comment piece that, though wrong, takes on a life of its own.

    A couple of these arose last week. On Friday an article in the Times argued for a bigger Army. In support of its case it said 'there are more civil servants in the MOD than people in the Army'. Even if there were some form of relationship between these two figures (which there is not), it was in fact wrong. There are about 99,000 people in the British Army. There are 86,600 civil servants in MOD. That is still a big number. But the figure falling in the head office pen-pusher/bean-counter/desk jockey category beloved of the headline is a fraction of this - a few thousand at most. The 86,600 includes merchant seamen in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, police and security guards, scientists who develop the technology that saves our soldiers' lives on operations, people responsible for procuring equipment, people who fix and maintain tanks and aircraft, and a lot more besides.

    On 21 June the Sunday Telegraph ran a headline piece, based on an article in an Army journal, in which a Major S Miller was quoted as saying that our mission in Afghanistan is a 'disaster'. This was picked up by others and by Friday we were being told by the Mirror that Major Miller had 'served in Afghanistan', and his views were 'the authentic voice of a serving officer'.

    In fact, Major Miller, a Territorial Army officer, wrote this article (which was indeed very critical) nine months ago when he was mobilised and working in the Defence Intelligence Staff. He has never served in Afghanistan. The 'authentic voice of a serving officer' on what is going on in Afghanistan - I would suggest - is to be found among those currently in Helmand. Several spoke passionately and positively about their mission on ITN Afghan week just last week.

    It would be pointless to pick up every error or inconsistency in every report. But I hope this post gives an insight into the sort of issues we face in any given week.

    And of course it is absolutely right that we should be picked up if we make mistakes.
  2. That's why I always look for the agenda behind any news headline.
  3. Good Points Jim, Like many I had always assumed that the 80,000 MOD civil serpants were of the chair polishing variety. Hell, I do a similar job in industry. :oops: It would be interesting to see a breakdown of how many people do what job and just maybe that group of people need a 'small' amount of MOD PR as there must be loads of folks like me who have incorrect preconceived ideas about the roles that they do.
  4. chimera

    chimera LE Moderator

    And of course there are the urban myths that never go away.

    Normally behind any "MOD Pen pushers" story will be "facts" about chairs that cost "insert any number you want in here in excess of £30,000" each, display screens that are called "plasma screen TVs", fire doors described in terms of solid oak panelling, the lift wells described as "palatial lounges", the Main Building cafeteria compared favourably to a Michelin starred restaurant (completely subsidised of course)

    Oh and of course we all live in free accomodation and enjoy "..subsidised prices in the NAAFI.."
  5. ROR - I don't have the precise breakdown to hand, but I believe that of the 86,000 currently in the MOD CS, approximately 50,000 are 'traditional' CS who do office work.

    Of these 50,000, approximately 25-30,000 are E2 or E1 grade, which is the administration grades, who handle all the day to day photocopying and registry stuff that is essential but thankless work.

    The remaining 20,000 work in mainly Abbey Wood, Andover, the main naval bases and also in air stations. The majority of these roles are low level administration, commercial, legal or other roles that are dull, boring and without which, it would be very difficult to sustain HM Forces.

    Of these 86,000 a tiny number (maybe a couple of thousand at most) do policy work (the sort of Sir Humphrey style work). The total number of Faststreamers and MIDITers (the internal fasttrack scheme) is less than 500 in total.

    Finally, the total number of CS in Main building is about 1500 all up, and this includes security, building services and admin clerks. The forces total is about the same.
  6. msr

    msr LE

    And that the Navy has more admirals than ships :)
  7. msr

    msr LE

    Wrong. Sean Rayment made that claim in the Sunday Telegraph article:

  8. That number still doesn't seem at all right. There's basically one civil serpent for every soldier in the British Army?
  9. Delta - it helps if you read the whole article - it makes the point that most civil servants are not actually clerical office workers! They're security guards, dockers, storemen, scientists, analysts, quantity surveyors, lawyers, hydrographers, factory workers, shop assistants, bar staff, hall porters and so on.

    They're the people who support the adminstration and needs of 180,000 regular, 45,000 reserve, hundreds of thousands of depdendents, and hundreds of thousands of cadets based across every continent on earth, and in every climate imaginable, from central london, to jungle, deserts, the Falklands, and so on, often working alongside their forces counterparts on the front line.

    If we continue to downsize (we're averaging 5-10k job losses per year at the moment), what is it you would like us to stop doing to support you?
  10. But about 1 CS for every 2 service personif you include RAF & Navy. Whats the "right" ratio?
  11. meridian

    meridian LE Good Egg (charities)

    It is probably fair to say that there are many civilian staff doing jobs that used to be done by uniformed personnel but it would be useful to benchmark against other nations and other era's

    I can see the problem, a storeman or vehicle mechanic is hardly a shiny arrse Sir Humphrey and it should be part of what the MoD PR machine does to explain this. The MoD doesnt do itself any favours though with what seems like an over politisiced, generally useless and self serving PR spin machine. The general public also draw the link with ongoing dismal procurement performance, not in UoR's, but in the big ticket items that with an almost depressing inevitability go hugely over budget and time.
  12. Meridian - I think you raise a very good point there, namely the lack of awareness about what it is that the MOD CS actually does. This is a two-fold problem - firstly, the great British public don't understand us, and secondly (far more importantly) the armed forces don't understand us.

    The average exposure to the MOD CS for most service personnel is either of a "Doris the clerk", "Bloggs the 22yr old 'Brigadier Equivalent' or some other such claptrap. I am increasingly concerned that we seem to be ignoring the CS as a part of the joint agenda, and this is to all our detriments.

    To the best of my knowledge, no training or awareness is provided on what the CS does at Staff college, so we then bang young officers into staff jobs, with exposure to the CS for the first time, and they don't really have a clue who we are, what we do, or how we work. This inevitably leads to a wealth of complaints, or posts here about CS, which, had the military focused on a morning of "this is the CS guys, think of them what you will, but this is how they work and why they aren't the military" then I think a lot of these issues could be avoided.

    More seriously, there is a lack of understanding about what a reasonable CS can actually bring to the party. Lets ignore Kevin the "Lesbian Bunny Rabbit awareness advisor" and the rest of his ilk (who I would happily fire right now), and look at the average 30 something fast streamer or MIDITer, who will be moving posts every 12-15 months. By the time they come into contact with newly promoted staff college graduates, the average higher profile CS will have several staff jobs to their name, will have worked in a couple of TLBs and usually had good exposure to very senior officers and Ministers. They are likely to have got at least one visit to an Operational theatre in, and most have done several, indeed most will have done an Op Tour. The average higher profile CS can bring a wealth of experience to the average office, and really help out newly promoted SO2s - but despite this, I often find there is a tendency to regard the CS as people who don't know what they're doing, and that we don't understand the military.

    We need to improve the relationship between the CS and the Armed Forces - a really good start would be to open up places on ICSC(L) to civil servants. Currently the only junior staff course which we can go on is the ICSC(M), which I feel is a shame. I love working with the army - I've served at Land, I've done an Op tour on the staff of 1 (UK) Div, and I work daily with the Army - I would love to do ICSC(L) as, at 29, I'm at the right point to do it. I think a CS input would really add something, and would go a long way to help enhance the integration of CS and Mil personnel who are likely to go places.

    Don't get me wrong - there will always be muppets in the MOD CS, and there will always be posts that we would love to get rid of. But, in an age where CS are increasingly working on the front lines, alongside their military peers, it seems madness that we can't take some steps to improving access to staff training, and making a truly joint experience. It would benefit the military, as future leaders of the CS emerge with good understanding of how the armed forces work, but it also helps the CS as it means that when you guys go to staff jobs, you understand that we're not just a bunch of jobsworth slackers, and that we can do a lot to help you.
  13. msr

    msr LE

    Funny how you could almost cut MOD CS and paste TA into your post... Especially para 3.

  14. I'd agree with you MSR - except I'd replace TA with RNR (again from personal experience!)
  15. Even so, I can't quite get my head around the numbers.