So nothing changed since C. Northcote then

One senior civil servant was awarded an £85,831 bonus on top of their six-figure salary – at the same time as members of the armed forces have been subject to a two-year pay freeze and 20,000 are to be made redundant.

The bonuses have been paid since April last year and have seen more than 55,000 officials awarded extra payments for their performance – out of a payroll of 83,000.

This is the institution from which Parkinson\’s Law is derived after all….

And as the corollary goes, the function of a bureaucracy is to be a bureaucracy. Not anything so trivial as actually performing the stated aim of the organisation, in this case supporting the Armed Forces. Dearie me no, and it\’s entirely possible, indeed we seem to be getting to it, to have the purest essence of bureaucracy: in that we have the bureaucracy, funded and functioning, but there is in fact no end product of it. We just have the bureaucratic functioning and to hell with anything else: like an Army for example.

10 comments on “So nothing changed since C. Northcote then

  1. No experience of the top bodies getting the big bucks, but for most MoD CS the “bonus scheme” is a bad joke.

    It was imposed from the Treasury a decade ago, on the basis of freezing pay and making any additional money paid a “non-consolidated performance-related increment” which staff who were performing well would receive, but not the plodders and shirkers.

    In practice it’s failed dismally, as most imposed schemes do, and it’s bitterly disliked at the working level – not least because of the yearly “lazy civil servants pocket huge bonuses while soldiers die in combat!” headlines it causes.

  2. And as the corollary goes, the function of a bureaucracy is to be a bureaucracy.

    You miss the other thing that old C. Northcote was right about as well. We now have 83,000 civil servants in the Ministry of Defence.

    The new plan for the Army plans to reduce the Armed Forces to 84,000 regulars. Which includes the Brigade of Gurkhas.

    So to re-cap, we now have more Admirals than Naval vessels, we have more Generals (if you cheat and count Brigadiers (the old Brigadier Generals) as Generals) than tanks. And soon we will have more Ministry of Defence pen pushers than solders.

    Parkinson was warning Britain. Not writing the text book on bureaucratic stupidity.

  3. SMFS,

    Bear in mind that your “83,000 civil servants” include such deskbound makeweights as the crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, the MoD Guard Service, and the like.

    Also in less obvious vein, a number of posts that might once have been filled by a corporal and three or four private soldiers (change ranks as appropriate for Service and institution) have been civilianised and are done by MoD admin staff on half to a third of the salary. (Travel office, Registry, et cetera)

    Good for efficiency, but it means fewer soldiers and more CS in the headcount numbers.

  4. Furthermore, the Army will eventually reduce its regulars to 84,000 but plans for 30,000 reservists. This also excludes the Navy and RAF, regulars and reservists. The 83,000 civil servants include evertything from second and third line support, such as logistics, equipment support, estate management, training and education services, medical services, legal, welfare, infrastructure, research and scientific services, etc etc. The MoD has a far wider remit than many people realise, providing services to personnel world wide that are provided to the average citizen by other Govt Depts. Which other government department has to replicate functions of the Dept of Education, NHS, Justice Department / Home office, etc etc? And if we are discussing bureaucracies, the British Army is itself one of the most Byzantine, inefficient, and sadly, at times, ineffective.

  5. Paul J. Adam – “Bear in mind that your “83,000 civil servants” include such deskbound makeweights as the crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, the MoD Guard Service, and the like.”

    I am not sure it is true, but if it is, does it matter?

    4John – “The 83,000 civil servants include evertything from second and third line support, such as logistics, equipment support, estate management, training and education services, medical services, legal, welfare, infrastructure, research and scientific services, etc etc.”

    Sure. But so what? How much legal work do 84,000 soldiers generate? That is a city about the size of Bath. How many lawyers in Bath? How many teachers?

    The scandal is scientific research. It is a bigger problem is the US but the UK also supports a massive defence research infrastructure that has pretty much bugger all to do. We don’t buy new weapons that often. But there they are. Just in case we need them. Except that they are often not counted because we privatised them. We now pay people to design things we don’t use and probably won’t need.

    But still, why do we need about a thousand people working on pay and pensions for instance?

    “The MoD has a far wider remit than many people realise, providing services to personnel world wide that are provided to the average citizen by other Govt Depts. Which other government department has to replicate functions of the Dept of Education, NHS, Justice Department / Home office, etc etc?”

    The French Ministry of Agriculture. Which covers most of France. Which because it has felt the countryside is neglected by urban interests has its own engineers and so on. It covers most of the largest country in Europe – plus the Dom-Toms.

    With just 40,000 civil servants. And no one has ever accused the French of efficiency. Over half of those are involved in education.

    “And if we are discussing bureaucracies, the British Army is itself one of the most Byzantine, inefficient, and sadly, at times, ineffective.”

    So I take it you work in the MoD?

    Still it could be worse. There are over 40,000 people in the Air Force. And we are down to five Squadrons operating fewer than 90 Typhoons. No bombers. No more attack planes. Just the Typhoons, some recon, some radar planes, and then search and rescue, some helicopters and some transport planes.

    It makes the Navy look efficient – they have slightly fewer people, but can still muster 19 real ships, plus 11 nuclear submarines, a carrier (for now) and an amphibious assault ship they call a helicopter carrier.

  6. SMFS,

    It’s true, and it matters because those RFA “civil servants” are key enablers for the Royal Navy. Without a RFA for underway replenishment, your ability to sustain a ship somewhere interesting – off Libya, or at the top of the Persian Gulf, or around the Falklands – ends up measured in days instead of months. Similarly, over half our immediate maritime lift (troops on the beach, such as the al-Fao landings in 2003) is from RFA shipping.

    But are those crews make-weight “civil servants” whose bureaucratic input can be dispensed with? Or are they actually rather necessary to operational military roles? If you decide to reduce costs by using non-military staff for necessary tasks, be it opening the mail or refuelling aircraft carriers at sea, you get fewer military personnel and more civilian headcount, end of.

    Scientific research – remarkably little of that is focussed on new weapons, most of it is making the best of the kit we’ve currently got for unexpected and unpredicted scenarios. For example, nothing in service in the Royal Navy today was designed to deal with swarm attacks by Iranian Revolutionary Guard FIACs, but we’ve got HMS Daring and other ships in the Gulf anyway. How does she fight this threat? Well, it *might* help to have some technical and engineering expertise to work alongside the uniformed military with their operational and tactical knowledge to get the best out of the system.

    You can push those roles out to industry, you can keep them in uniform, you can have civilian CS do them, or a mix of all of the above, but the job needs to be done by *somebody*. (And a side issue is that it calls for some seriously limited-distribution information, which is hard to come by and harder to share outside the Forces and MoD – it’s not a good idea to let the enemy know we sent the office temp out to Honest Abdul’s World’o’Missiles with the Government Purchasing Card and bought the blueprints of their scary new weapon system)

    Finally, the RN’s doing even better than you mentioned. You forgot two amphibious assault ships, and probably the best mine-warfare force in the world.

    And while I hate defending our polyester-clad cousins in the Air Force, you seem to have totally forgotten we have a quite capable force of Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft, which – as demonstrated in ELLAMY – can do anything from on-call CAS to very long range deep-strike.

  7. Paul J. Adam – “It’s true, and it matters because those RFA “civil servants” are key enablers for the Royal Navy.”

    There are two things wrong with that. The first is that it does not follow that because the Navy does it, it is necessary to do it the way the Navy does it. I would assume those ships are a little over manned. But no matter, let’s assume they are not.

    There are, by my count, 931 sailors on the RFA’s ships. So that’s another 82,000 to explain away.

    “Scientific research – remarkably little of that is focussed on new weapons, most of it is making the best of the kit we’ve currently got for unexpected and unpredicted scenarios. For example, nothing in service in the Royal Navy today was designed to deal with swarm attacks by Iranian Revolutionary Guard FIACs, but we’ve got HMS Daring and other ships in the Gulf anyway. How does she fight this threat?”

    And yet despite all that spending what we have is sailors who surrender at the first sight of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and then cry on TV. I think it is reasonable to be concerned about whether this is an effective use of money.

    “And while I hate defending our polyester-clad cousins in the Air Force, you seem to have totally forgotten we have a quite capable force of Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft, which – as demonstrated in ELLAMY – can do anything from on-call CAS to very long range deep-strike.”

    I thought they had all been mothballed. By all means, good news. But again you wonder about those scientists. What do they do given they managed to send the Tornado into the Gulf War without IFF, leading to the US shooting one down, and without proper laser designators which meant they were stuck with unguided bombs until a crash programme brought them up to date.

    And to be honest, the Tornado is probably a fine aircraft as long as it is used on nice safe targets. It is old. One was lost to a SAM-6 I think in the Gulf War. That is pretty worrying. It was not designed to do any of those things, but it is a nice big stable aircraft and it probably can do a lot of things. As long as it is not too demanding.

  8. So Much For Subtlety,

    Genuine question: does the French Ministry of Agriculture run primary schools, Secondary schools, a separate legal system, nuclear energy, worldwide logistics, infrastructure and estate management, airports, overseas bases with their attendant requirement to ensure that dependants receive access to a comparable level of services to that enjoyed by other French citizens, and, does it do all of this whilst maintaining a deliberate level of redundancy to ensure that functions critical to national security are not critically vulnerable to hostile action?

    Efficiency is of course desirable, but it does require trade offs.

    I don’t know how much legal work 84,000 soldiers will generate, but I do know that 102,000 currently generate quite a lot, soldiers being soldiers. Then there are the matlows and the crabs. It could be something to do with the requirements of military law, as well as administrative casework (much of what was once dealt with summarily is now subject to strict employment regulations, and quite right too). I certainly wouldn’t to give the impression that a large number of civil servants were occupied with matters of military law, nor could I enumerate the many things they are occupied with, though I would wish to point out that many of the functions they undertake were previously carried out by far more expensive service personnel.

    I don’t wish to defend the indefensible, and I agree that there may well be many things that could be done differently, but armed forces will, unless forced, tend to be conservative. That is at least as much a virtue as a vice. Procurement issues seem simple to solve from the outside: I cannot say I have particular expertise, but I am leery of seemingly simple solutions.

    I do work, indirectly, for the MoD, but I am not a civil servant.

  9. SMFS,

    Sorry, I missed this:

    why do we need about a thousand people working on pay and pensions for instance?

    We have many more than 1000 people working on pay and pensions in the armed services, if we include those in uniform, though to be fair they also perform the gamut of personnel, information management, finance, budgeting and compliance tasks.

    If you are genuinely interested, rather than simply trying to score points, I can probably recommend some reading which puts these issues into context. Unfortunately there is far less informed public debate around the armed services than there should be, so there are few sources of useful information that are freely available. The armed services have been salami slicing for years, with each successive government’s failure to articulate a clear strategy. The problem really goes back a long way, and goes to the top, and you could do worse than to start with the report by the public administration Select committeewho concluded the UK has: lost the institutional capacity for, and culture of, strategic thought.

    http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/inquiries/uk-grand-strategy/

    It may be that this can be fixed by firing a few civil servants, though I doubt it.

  10. SMFS,

    Some of the RFA ships are indeed overmanned by modern standards. Part of that is because they’re old and monstrously overdue for replacement (single-hulled tankers, anyone?) but the replacements have been delayed, delayed and delayed again. Until the politicians will actually sign off on a new ship or a major SLEP, what do we do about the Rovers being designed, built and manned to 1960s standards?

    Similarly, in 2007 HMS Cornwall had a boarding team grabbed. This was a known risk that had been accepted at Ministerial level: money was taken from training the RN to use rifles and from FAA flying hours, in order to fund operations on land on in Iraq and Afghanistan. The analysts and scientists pointed out the risks, but the grownups in Whitehall made their decision because Lynx flying hours were seen as better spent looking for firing points for rockets launched into the Basrah COB, than covering boarding ops in the NAG. (Given that we lost good men to IDF in Basrah, while the Cornwall 15 all came back physically unharmed, it’s not even obviously incorrect).

    However, one mistake that lost incumbents their jobs up to Second Sea Lord level was putting the untrained on boardings: it’s an old joke that the only thing more dangerous than a matelot with a rifle is an Army subaltern with map and compass, but the reason Captain Air (the RM officer in command) had to make an instant decision of “fight or surrender? Surrender” was that most of his boarding team were not competent with their weapons because training sailors to shoot had been “de-prioritised” to concentrate funding and resources on operations ashore.

    Tornado – again, you’re showing evidence of seriously limited knowledge. The Tornado shot down by the US during TELIC had, shall we say, an… interesting Board of Inquiry into its loss: the evidence presented was that its IFF system was functional on the ground, and also when checked outbound in the air (a go/no go decision point – no IFF, no sortie). However, the IFF system apparently must have subsequently suffered some sort of failure that caused it to shut down, without any warning indicator or Built In Test alert.

    This *must* be the case, because the US Patriot battery declared that they interrogated the “threatening contact”‘s IFF before firing and got no response. Sadly, the evidence from the Patriot system’s automatic data recorders was deleted by accident before the BoI and was tragically unavailable, but who could believe that the US would ever mislead or obfusticate in the event of them firing on a target they might, with hindsight, not have wished to destroy?

    Laser designation – ask this. Why on the one hand did the RAF have no ability for Tornado GR.1 to self-designate before Granby, yet they were doing so before the ceasefire? The requirement had identified, GEC-Marconi had prototyped the TIALD (Thermal Imaging And Laser Designation) pod for Tornado, and there things had stalled waiting for a politician to actually authorise some money.

    Finally, yes, aircraft of all sorts get shot down. We lost a Tornado to an SA-2 (older and cruder than a SA-6) during the latter stages of Granby. The US lost a F-15E (notionally far more capable) to the same 1950s-vintage threat. A few years later over Kosovo, the Serbs shot down a F-16 with SA-6 and downed a F-117 stealth fighter with a Bronze Age SA-3. Warfare is not risk-free, and simple but effective weapons are hard to totally defeat even in free-fire zones.

    If the size of the MoD civil service offends you, then by all means find and name the areas of wasteful, lazy inefficiency and pluck them out. After all, tactical training for sailors was obviously a waste of money… until we stopped doing it and Iran proved us wrong.

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