The number of Army generals, Royal Navy admirals and Royal Air Force air marshals will be cut under new plans unveiled today.
Not, on the face of it, a bad idea. But people have been struggling with this for generations.
Government insiders say cuts are justified because the number of senior officers has risen over the last decade, even as Britain’s front line military forces have diminished.
According to the Ministry of Defence, there are 47 officers of three star rank – lieutenants general, vice admirals and air marshal. Their combined salary bill is £6.8 million a year.
According to a study published in 2008, the Royal Navy has more admirals than active warships.
The classic account of this is of course Parkinson\’s Law, first published in 1955. One of the case studies was the number of Admirals relative to the number of ships in the Royal Navy. As the number of ships declined, the number of Admirals rose.
From this observation C. Northcote (as we groupies call him for short) went on to generalise: over time a bureaucracy of any kind will grow more top heavy (as well as grow in size) the less it actually had to do.
The Civil Service itself is one example, the entire Empire used to be run off some 4,000 people. Government is another example: There are many more Ministers now than there were when we were running said Empire. The BIS now has 10 Ministers on its team for example, despite the point that most business regulation is now the province of the EU and they have very little to do.
As I say, the Forces being top heavy is something that might usefully be solved: but there\’s more than a little bit of mote and beam to be observed here.