Good luck with this

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.

5 thoughts on “Good luck with this”

  1. I agree with the principle, but (Royal Navy, for example) maybe we haven’t got enough warships. Blair found out only when he’d decided to join in the multi-nation patrol of N.Korean waters and was told that we hadn’t got suitable ships.

  2. This government says thathere is a problem because the number of senior officers has grown over the last ten years. Who authorised this?

  3. A lot of it is also to do with “civil service equivalent rank”. Where there is a sensible reason why an MOD sub-department or agency should be headed up by a serving person, the rank required is specified by who the CS would put in there.

    This is despite the facts that the serviceman earns more than their equivalent CS grade (although this is less marked at the highest levels) and that, probably, an appropriately qualified (i.e. some budgetry training) WO1 (not even on the CS scale) or Lt Colonel (a mere Grade B2) could run the whole thing anyway.

  4. Bureaucracy and bureaucratization are extraordinarily simple, yet extraordinarily misunderstood. Farthest from attachment of any blame are bureaucrats themselves (after all, the lot of them do–and only do–what they’re told).

    Bureaucracy is the very best way to carry out many functions associated with governance. Thus, it is entirely expected (and reasonable) that, if government must grow, so must bureaucracy and, conversely, the only way to reduce bureaucracy is to reduce government itself.

    Anyone interested in the subject can learn virtually everything there is to know regarding it in a couple hours–spent reading BUREAUCRACY (by Von Mises). I’ve touted the book here previously but still must emphasize how ridiculously easy it is to go from being almost entirely ignorant on a subject to knowing virtually everything worth knowing about it. (And it can be read FREE in pdf at the site; in its entirety, it’s only 125 pocket-book-sized pages, at that.)

    Leading horses to water, etc. comes to mind.

  5. There is the issue of “command equivalence”, we could send a Commodore to fill a NATO post but how would he be expected to issue orders to a US or French Admiral ostensibly under his command? Unfortunately, the politics of the situation means that there are a finite number of Command Positions requiring Flag Rank. The number of front line warships is a disgrace however. The Navy has already been cut to, if not beyond, the point of no return. The entire manpower of the Royal Navy (including the Royal Marines) would fit into Old Trafford Football Stadium and have a decent number of seats left over.

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