The MOD - Unfit For Purpose

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  1. The MOD - Unfit For Purpose
    Social Affairs Unit Magazines Limited

    I am often asked why the MOD makes so many strange decisions and seems to care so little about the welfare of its personnel. People are surprised to read about expensive computer systems that fail to pay service members their proper salaries — or pay them late. Some are shocked by the apparent dumping of severely wounded personnel from Afghanistan and Iraq into civilian hospital wards, remote from their regiments and families, or the massive contracts for systems that are delivered late and don't work properly, or the strange failure to publicise genuine successes and minor victories achieved "against the odds" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    None of these scandals — or many others less well known — would surprise anyone who knows the MOD and what it has become.

    Most people still believe that the MOD is essentially a military organisation. It is not. It is an organisation dominated numerically, culturally and structurally by civil servants and consultants, many of whom are unsympathetic to its underlying purpose or even hostile to the military and its ethos. You just have to spend a few days at the MOD before you realise that the culture there is not just non-military, but anti-military.

    That is one reason why so few of us (except for the chiefs of staff) regularly wear our uniforms to the office. Officers who desire a career in politics or the Civil Service try to seem as civilian as possible, and soon start speaking in the consultants' jargon favoured by the "fast-track" Civil Service. (It is telling that senior officers have generally failed to champion the wearing of uniforms in public by members of the armed forces.)

    I once attended a meeting of MOD civil servants about "outsourcing" parts of the military. I was out of uniform. My colleagues were keen on outsourcing as much as possible; I argued that stripping out logistics and other capacity from the armed forces is dangerous — it means no longer having cooks and technicians who can be handed a weapon and told to fight. I asked the people around the table, "Who actually loves the military in all this?" There was an awkward silence. So I repeated the question in different form: "Who is putting the military requirement first?" One of the civil servants, a woman on the "fast track", actually giggled. I reiterated that this was a serious question and noted that I was the only service person present. There was then great embarrassment as no one in the room had realised beforehand that I was a serving military officer. I probably wouldn't have been invited if they had known.

    The contrast with the US Department of Defense could not be greater. The Pentagon is a first-rate military organisation (at least in terms of status) where the MOD is not. At the Pentagon, every military person is expected to be in uniform; and it's the civilians who feel and recognise that they are the supporting cast. Military officers are frequently loaned to other ministries such as the State Department and they continue to wear their uniforms there. The reverse is true in the UK where the Civil Service and its "unions" not only resist the wearing of uniforms but also any systematic secondments (as opposed to hand-picked placements) from the military.

    The MOD has slipped from being one of the top five ministries to one of second or even third rank. Moreover, even if our top generals wanted to oppose some aspect of defence policy, they would find the MOD's structure is now rigged so that civil servants increasingly come between them and the government.

    Back in the late 1980s things were very different. It was only two decades since the Admiralty, Air Ministry and Ministry of War had been folded into a combined HQ. In those days there was broadly a one-to-four ratio of civilian to military personnel. On any project you would have one member of each service, plus a "scientific civilian".

    After that two doctrines came into play — "jointness" and "equivalency". Together they drove out specialised military professionalism and brought in a new managerial, non-specialist cadre of civil servants. The result was that MOD projects needed only one member of the armed forces. A pre-existing and efficient culture of interaction and debate and testing of ideas was driven out.

    Now the ratio of civilians to service-members is closer to six to one — not including the ever-growing numbers of consultants and Spads (special advisers) or the parallel government structures in the cabinet office and the PM's policy unit which may be driving the ratio towards 12 to one. Essentially the military has lost command of its own HQ.

    Worse still, the civil servants who now dominate the MOD are a different breed from those who staffed it in the 1980s. In those days there were still many civil servants who had served in the Second World War or Korea, or who had at least done national service. They respected and understood the armed services; they believed an effective military was important and had usually learnt essential skills of leadership and management. They were loyal to the Queen (then the head of the Civil Service), to the Civil Service itself and to its code, and to the service arm they were working for. They have all gone.

    Their successors tend to see the services as a tiresome anachronism, peopled by unsympathetic, old-fashioned social types. For many of them the MOD, with its part-time minister, is merely a stepping stone to greater things. From the perspective of such bureaucrats, the main point of the organisation, apart from furthering individual career paths, has less to do with the defence of the realm than with policy goals such as European integration, the implementation of UN mandates and the expansion (and therefore dilution) of Nato.

    Cost-cutting at the MOD comes at the expense of the uniformed services. That is partly because military officials are more expensive: the civilian equivalent of a colonel is paid less. But it is mostly because military people get in the way and ask awkward questions.

    At the MOD, while there's endless talk of "throughput" and other jargon, there is surprisingly little technical knowledge. There used to be a strong cadre of science civil servants but they went too, after the Defence Research Agency was sold off to Qinetiq, leaving behind a managerial rump known as DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) — soon probably also for the chop. Qinetiq, through a process of asset-stripping, has gone on to sell what were the crown jewels of British science. Our famous wind tunnels, and also the "Dark Hangar", where some of the most important SAS techniques and weaponry were developed, have all been demolished. And where have the public millions gone? Often to the private pockets of the public servants who led on privatisation. It is a national disgrace.

    The real point of most MOD contracts is industrial strategy. We buy planes or vehicles or systems not because they are the best we can afford for the task in hand but because they mean jobs in some part of the country. Or because they further European integration. This is why we buy helicopters like the Merlin that cost more than three times the price of the US Blackhawk. As a result we don't have decent airlift capacity in Afghanistan, and our infantry in Basra were the first British troops to go into battle without dedicated "on-call" air cover since the First World War.

    Though all the services suffer under the MOD regime, relations between the forces are worse than ever. The Army is angriest because it is bearing the brunt of actual operations. It used to complain about the RAF. Now that so much money is being spent on maritime projects unlikely to see action, it increasingly resents the Royal Navy. This is only deepened by the arrogance and incompetence of the Navy itself, as exemplified by the Shatt-al-Arab incident last year.

    Because the services haven't had the budget increases they need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is running out of everything. We're running out of trucks, for instance. And when things break they aren't being replaced. Increasingly one gets the impression that the civil servants don't care if the forces are broken — their careers will not be affected. But it may also be that some civil servants and a body of politicians, from both Left and Right, would actually be happy for the military to be broken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then they will have truly achieved the Europeanisation of Britain's armed forces along the lines of a purely defensive "UK Defence Force". War will somehow have been abolished — until, of course, it returns at a time of our enemies' choosing.

    Copyright © Social Affairs Unit Magazines Limited 2008
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  2. Strong stuff, shame nothing will be done.

    Perhaps General Dannett might be able to do something to reverse the situation as his swansong and be remembered forever as the man who saved the asylum from the lunatics.
  3. dockers

    dockers Old-Salt Book Reviewer

  4. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    I've just applied for an MoD Civil Service job and I've been invited to attend an External Management Competence Assessment Centre to sit some tests.

    To help me prepare they sent a samples of the tests I will be expected to take. I'll quote the Candidate brief to give a flavour iof the thing:

    "For the purposes of this scenario, today’s date is Tuesday 5 January 2015.

    You have just taken over a Band D role as Team Support Officer in a Diversity Advisory Team (DAT). The DAT consists mainly of civilian MOD staff, along with a Military Representation Team (MRT).

    The DATs latest project is to support and advise the Joint Services Committee of the Republic of Meputo in their review of women’s roles in the armed services. The DAT was invited to work on this project by the recently elected Meputo government in response to pressure from women within Meputo.

    There had been a similar MOD project, three years ago, looking at potential reform in the Meputo armed forces. However, whilst recommendations were made at the time, very little was actually implemented on the ground.

    Key points about the DAT scope and responsibilities include:
    Ø To review the current situation and to provide a set of firm recommendations on ways in which women’s employment opportunities in the armed services should be updated.
    Ø The recommendations should reflect current thinking on equal opportunities whilst addressing the operational needs of the services within Meputo.
    Ø The DAT recommendations should be seen to be independent. The DAT can carry out its task as it sees fit. The DAT aim is also to see that the recommendations are accepted and implemented, even though the Meputo government is not bound to do so.
    Ø The project is expected to last for four months.

    You do not have experience of this type of work, and your role is:
    Ø To oversee the management of the more junior staff
    Ø To liaise with the MRT
    Ø To manage the day-to-day running, resourcing and co-ordination of the project.

    Background on Meputo

    Meputo is a small but wealthy country with strong historical ties to the United Kingdom. The first language of the country is Meputo, although English is widely spoken.

    Up until the 1970’s the view of women’s roles, in Meputo in general, could be termed ‘traditional’. Over the last 30-40 years, however, this view has slowly changed and women now form 47% of the workforce.

    Women currently make up around 18% of the total workforce in the armed services."

    The questions are mainly about how conflicts between the CS element and their military 'colleagues'. Which suggests a strange mind set.

    I know this is only an exercise but I can't help feeling that it's instructive of what snivel serpents in MoD think they should be doing - ie advising african countries on Diversity rather than getting on with the Defence of the Realm.

    Further on in the pack it goes no about the core competences needed for the job I've applied for. The first competency is 'Working Together'. The first 'effective indicator' is:

    "You promote diversity and fair treatment for everyone. You are open, honest and polite in dealing with other people. You answer questions readily and listen to the views and opinions of others." Very important, but is it really the most important thing? Further down the list of indicators is:

    "You are aware of, and carry out, your responsibilities in line with legislation and Departmental policies (for example, Anti-discrimination, Security, Freedom of Information, Health and Safety)." Again why is anti-discrimination 1st in the list - ahead of security? Last on the list of indicators is;

    "You appreciate shared team goals and work with others to achieve Departmental aims." Surly achieving departmental aims should be at the top of the list!

    I may be doing them an injustice but I get the feeling that 'diversity indicators' are far more important than the defence of the realm. That the CS is far more interested in the process than the outcome.
  5. A very balanced article and highlighting many of the issues that have evolved over the last 2 decades, however as we all know liabour having broken everything completely are not going to do anything.

    I despair that we are trying to conduct operations with a reduced peace time budget, missions without any clear or aim and no support from the government.

    What will change the MOD regime change for one and while i have no doubt that the team Blue will be in power hopefully sooner rather than later i doubt we will ever see things fully restored or rebalanced.
  6. BrunoNoMedals

    BrunoNoMedals LE Reviewer

    Yes, those competencies were drawn up by every civvy in the CS after a period of consultation, and are not solely the work of a few bods higher up who think that one day they might make good politicians. We all think like that. Personally I signed up for the biscuits and tea. I have no interest in my country, and no respect for my forces.


    P.S. For the few of you that didn't realise: Everything bar the personal insult at the end was heavily tinged with sarcasm.
  7. One does wonder why the supposed knowledge and experience of the Senior civil service sits back take the money and says nothing...

    But does also beg the question why have the senior officers let this happen!! They have had the last two decades to do something also.
  8. The article was discussed at length earlier and the general assessment was that it was written by a bitter and passed over Staff Officer who has conveniently ignored a lot of facts in his article to tie into his own predjudices.
  9. dockers

    dockers Old-Salt Book Reviewer

  10. Now I'm not one for politics - but how much could the senior officers actually do? Not much I'd reckon and they are posted about just like us toms so between getting you feet under teh desk and learing teh job, doing whats put in front of you and looking for and prepping for teh next job, how much of the slow decline into chaos have any of them even noticed, let alone been able to do anything about?

    I'll prolly get flamed for this, but I really beleive that the best folk to man the MoD are folk who know what closing with and killing the enemy is all about - a parallel I like to draw is the use of military instructors at trade schools - since they were written out years ago there has been a steady decline in the standard of instruction given my Corps junior soldiers at a time when they are at their most impressionable - soldier/tradesmen teach soldier/tradesmen how to be soldiers and tradesmen best - not civvies.

    The MoD is essentially a business - the profit is the body count of terry and his mates - civvies dont do body counts, they do sums. Bin them and give me the job.
  11. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Touchy - raw nerve? Sorry if you thought I was having a go at you personally but I was having a pop at the senior people in the MOD who are responsible for setting policy and direction. I'm sure as an intelligent person you knew that, but you still choose to be personally insulting - so yar boo sucks to you to - tit!
  12. The competences issue is a thorny business. I don't agree with the assessment but I can see what the aim is- core competences were drawn up a few years ago to set out the basic standards for which all CS need to achieve in their posts. There is a booklet showing each competence, and the indicators for performance.

    Now those that know me, know I have little time for PC happy clappy shite. BUT having just had to recruit someone and used this process, it does make sense to a point - for a recruiter it allows you to ensure that the applicant provides evidence that they actually have the skills to do the post rather than just bullshitting an amazing CV and then proving useless on appointment.

    Its a bit happy clappy but it does have a place in civilian management - that said I'd like to see the system modified with the clear reminder to all staff that our role is to support personnel on the front line first.

    The actual assessment seems to be designed to test your experience in various areas - I've done similar ones in the past - they vary each year, but the aim is to provide a scenario which is outside reality to prevent any candidates having an unfair advantage - "you mean you want a scenario on procurement of Type 71 widgets - why that was my last job" - at which point one person becomes clearly ahead, and the others (who may well be better overall) look less competent. Its about ensuring that you look at everyone equally and appoint the best overall person for the post (you have a cut off line score based on performance, so someone who does well at one level artificially may succeed to the detriment of a much better candidate)

    Again a few years ago I'd have scoffed, until I started coming across people selected by interview and those by selection centre - there is a clear qualitive difference between the two types.
  13. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Jim, I agree with the aims of the process. Like any selection/promotion board. My doubts where about the presentation of competencies: 'Diversity' seems to be the most important issue, and the scenario chosen focuses on diversity and conflict between civil servants and the military.

    This is how the organisation is choosing to present itself to a candidate for a job.

    I think that diversity and equality are very important both in themselves as part of a fair and just society and also because I believe that lack of diversity and equality would have a negative effect on the defence of the realm. I don't think that they should be at the top of every list.
  14. Agree it seems diversity heavy but show me any Govt Dept that isnt now for fear of being sued! Not sure I agree on the conflict though - from what I've seen it doesnt show that - and I've never encountered that before in recruiting stuff. Could you post some examples?
  15. Buggerall:

    It's only the intro brief for the process. The process it itself will test all eight competences and you'd be amazed at some of the angles they come from. Just because the brief contains a lot on diversity does not mean that all the questions will be in that area.

    Good luck with it by the way. I've just done the B2 centre and it's 'interesting'. Apparently the 1* one has shrinks and everything.