UK defence issues and the odd container or two

A Battalion of Press and Communication Officers

In light of recent news about sacking trainee pilots and Warrant Officers on the Long Service List a recent parliamentary answer offers a good contrast.

Angus Robertson, the SNP Member of Parliament for Moray asked the following question,

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many (a) press officers, (b) internal communications officers, (c) external communications officers, (d) communications strategy officers and (e) other positions with a communications remit were employed by (i) his Department, (ii) its agencies and (iii) each other non-departmental public body sponsored by his Department on the most recent date for which figures are available.

The answer was pretty surprising, or not, depending on how cynical you are.

Communication of defence is important to support the reputation of the armed forces, understanding of military operations and other activities and to support recruitment. These figures include both military and civilian posts throughout Defence, including armed forces’ commands and operational theatres. Savings have been made across the communications area during the course of the current financial year and further substantial reductions are planned. The latest figures for the numbers involved in specialist communications roles are for financial year 2009-10 and were produced in support of a Cabinet Office led exercise to capture such information across Government. They are as follows:

MOD/armed forces Trading funds Non-departmental public bodies
Press officers 112 8 1
Internal communications officers 52 8 0
External communications officers 365 26 0
Communications strategy officers 67 2.5 0
Other 101 7 3

The answer of course failed to provide a total, they never do when questions like this are asked, perhaps the MoD think no one will notice or be bothered to add up.

Leaving aside the trading funds like the Met Office or DSTL and the NDPB’s, the MoD has a grand total of 697 personnel (likely a mix of military and civil servants) engaged on communication activities.

Now we should step back from the initial shock and ask what do they do?

It is fair to say that some of them will be involved with recruiting, dealing with Press/Parliamentary questions and vital internal communications like equipment safety for example,  but can we really justify an infantry Battalions worth of communications officers at a time when we are shedding capabilities and personnel left, right and centre?

As ever, there is a story behind the numbers, are those personnel involved in communications activity in Afghanistan in support of the main effort, are they involved in communicating best practice and safety information, doctrinal publications or any of the various other things that need to be ‘communicated’

It would also be interesting to see the job descriptions, what, for example, is the difference between an external communication officer and a communication strategy officer.. How many are involved with recruiting or internal communications on issues such as safety.

There is always a story behind the numbers

Whatever the real story, on face value that is an awfully big number when we are sacking a handful of Warrant Officers to save money.

 

UPDATE 1

One of the commenters posed the question about whether these are full time posts, I suspect they are Full Time Equivalent posts but maybe some clarification will be forthcoming from the MoD.

 

UPDATE 2

If you are landing here from Order-Order please note this is a post from 2011, the data is from a Parliamentary Answer and as I have been at pains to point out, of the number indicated, they may well be involved with recruiting, safety communications or operational matters. The point of this post was to raise a question, not make a definitive statement for a cheap political shot

More up to date figures on a similar subject can be found here

http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2013/03/written-answers-to-14th-march-2013/

(near the bottom of the post)

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

23 Comments

  1. hunkofjunk

    (I just stuck this comment on the Q&A post)

    Thank you for that, most enlightening. I’m particularly taken with the breakdown in press officer numbers, there’s enough of the blighters to form a small corp which I think should be done immediately. Obviously, their cap badge will be a blindfold surmounted on a wall of smoke, they will wear a flash on their right shoulder depicting a Blackberry and Alistair Campbell can be their Regimental Colonel. “Anything Goes,” will be their Regimental march and their first posting will be to Cultybraggan in Perthshire as the permanent garrison for the forseeable future.

    Anyone know what comparable numbers were in 1982….. or did we just have Ian McDonald and a tea lady?

    Actually, I’m so outraged and going to stick this on my own blog if you don’t mind.

  2. a

    It is fair to say that some of them will be involved with recruiting and vital internal communications like equipment safety for example, but can we really justify an infantry battalions worth of communications officers at a time when we are shedding capabilities and personnel left, right and centre?

    Yeah, ha ha ha, press officers are useless. I mean, it’s not like there are any journalists covering defence issues who might want to know basic information about the armed forces. Certainly public support for the armed forces has nothing to do with what they see on TV or read in the papers.

    Quick question: if the MOD got rid of all of its press teams, do you think that media coverage of the armed forces would be a) more accurate or b) less accurate? Who do you suggest should be given the job of answering the phone when a journalist calls up and asks a question? Or do you think that the MOD should not talk to the press at all? What do you think the MOD’s public image would be in that case, and how would this affect things like defence budgets and recruitment?

  3. Think Defence

    @a, I don’t think I said lets get rid of them or that they sat around all day doing nothing, i asked if we could justify the numbers in the context of reductions across the board.

    Lets not put 2 and 2 together and get 7

    Are you really suggesting the the mainstream media generate such an avalanche of questions that need that many, are you really saying the the communications officers have any bearing on the MoD’s status within this country? The MoD issues corrective notices to the media on almost a daily basis so I can’t see much evidence of a better informed media.

    If you read back through various TD posts you will see a carefully measured view on things such as MoD pen pushers, more admirals than ships etc

    As I said, don’t jump to conclusions, all I am asking is do we need so many

  4. Phil Darley

    Seems we need them more than half the current crop of new RAF pilots, some just hours away from qualifying!!!!

    Apparently the Typhoon fleet is being reduced to 60! If this is true, then the 55 T1 and 47 of the 67 T2s!!! That will means we will have 20 T2s and the 40 T3a just ordered. I suppose they will junk the 102 aircraft we are soo broke we cannot afford to keep.

    Is any other country taking such drastic action and culling / crippling it’s armed forces?

  5. Phil Darley

    Oh if that’s not bad enough it appears to save money they stopped fitting the Pirate sensor on ZJ949, which means only 10 aircraft actuxlly have it!!!

    Rumour on the T3s they are not going to fit a radar at all and are thinking about only using one engine at a time to make them last longer and save fuel costs !!!!

  6. Lewis

    The question asked for those with a “communications remit” – I wonder how many are simply personnel at various bases and ships who have been designated as the press contact in addition to their normal duties?

  7. Jed

    If the MoD total includes uniformed personnel then this might include, for example photographers across all 3 services, who have more than “PR” shots in their job descriptions. It may also include Army media teams, and as the mass media is now considered a channel for achieving required effects (as in “effects based targeting”) then they too have a very military role. So it would be very interesting to see a more detailed breakdown.

    Final comment, have been an intranet specialist consultant who has worked with Corporate Communications divisions in quite a few global organizations, 52 “internal communications” officers is not a lot for the whole MoD / Armed Forces.

  8. El Sid

    Apparently the Typhoon fleet is being reduced to 60!

    Source?

    The Telegraph article which broke the training cuts talks about a target of 60 Tornados and 160 Typhoon.

    Is any other country taking such drastic action and culling / crippling it’s armed forces?

    Given that Labour gave us the highest deficit/GDP in the G20, you could argue that we need to take the most drastic action out of the G20, and the lumpy commitments mean that large swathes of our defence budget are effectively uncuttable, so the axe falls harder on the rest.

    But if you want some other examples, Greece has taken over a third off their defence budget, from 3.6% to 2.13% of GDP, and Germany are reducing their personnel from 240k to 180k, albeit replacing conscripts with volunteers. I imagine Spain will end up taking some pretty tough decisions eventually.

    Going back to the spin doctors, it’s true that you do need some, but under the last government a whole industry grew up of bits of government lobbying other bits of government for cash or whatever. It’s also classic “capbadge” overhead – we only need one press office to cover ops in Afganistan, but I bet we have separate RAF/Army/RN-Marines ones.

    No doubt they will be part of the proposed cut of 25k civvy jobs in the MoD – shame, the ones I know are really quite cute…

    (TD – getting sporadic failures on ns.mainnameserver.com and ns2.mainnameserver.com, sounds like your hosting company (Identity Secured?) is having problems?)

  9. El Sid

    Few OT links :
    How many £bns of kit has the MoD really lost?
    http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2011/02/has-the-mod-lost-4bn-of-missing-kit/

    Article on MI5’s official artist – don’t worry, he worked for free but gets to sell the paintings that resulted, worth following the link to see them, they’re quite good some of them :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/14/james-hart-davis-mi6-artist

    Iraqi defector finally admits that he lied about WMDs, but the Germans were desperate to believe him :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

    Guido trackback :
    http://order-order.com/2011/02/15/a-battallion-of-spinners/

  10. a

    TD: my earlier comment was partly directed to the comment above, as well as to the original post.

    In answer to your questions: Jed and Lewis have made some good points, to which I’d add that just because press coverage of the forces isn’t perfect is no reason to suppose that the press officers are having no effect.

    are you really saying the the communications officers have any bearing on the MoD’s status within this country

    Yes, I am. And if you are suggesting that that’s not the case, you should ask yourself why you think the MoD is the only organisation in the world whose status is completely unaffected by its relationship with the media.

    As to whether there are too many: personally I don’t know what the “right” number of communications personnel is for a multinational organisation that employs 320,000 people and has a budget of £46 billion a year. That’s about four times the size of the world’s largest corporation, ExxonMobil. Does ExxonMobil have more than 170 people in all its PR departments, media offices and internal communications divisions? Almost certainly, I should think.

  11. El Sid

    Bugger, I meant MI6 not MI5.

    @a depends how you look at it – Exxon has a turnover of about £220bn, so about 5x the MoD. And it’s rather less centralised, the MoD doesn’t need PR in France, and Italy, and so on.

  12. Phil Darley

    El Sid the mail stated if was the Typhoons that were being halved to 60! As the numbers if the typhoons and tornados are very similar it’s had to know who us right, I suspect the Mail has it wrong, least I bloody hope so. I have just re-read November 2009 of Airforces Monthly which stated that they had stopped fitting the Pirate sensor on the Typhoon T2. They have only fitted the sensor to 10 aircraft!!! Yep just 10. What other crazy things are planned? This was before the election and the SDSR.

  13. El Sid

    @Phil – of course it will be the Mail that’s got it wrong, no wonder you’re getting confused if you’re relying on them for anything more important than the designer of Cheryl Cole’s latest frock. You can’t expect the Mail to know the difference between a Typhoon and Tornado. Particularly in this case, where the Telegraph seems to have broken the story, I think it’s safe to go with the Telegraph version.

    Not that I would ever rely that heavily on any newspaper for hard facts that can’t be checked elsewhere, but for defence related stuff the Sun, Telegraph and the blogs at the FT seem to be the only hacks with good contacts. (and no, I’m not a regular Telegraph reader, but their record during the SDSR has been pretty good)

  14. El Sid

    Oh, and on PIRATE – I’m not sure what the story is there, but it may be a Block 5 versus Block 8 thing. If you recall Block 5 is the RAF-only fork of development which let Typhoons use Litening III plus Paveway. However the main development path was going via Block 8, and they didn’t get approval for Litening/Paveway in time for that version, so Block 8 is A2A only. And for a long time the software didn’t support an A2A mode on PIRATE, so there wasn’t much point in fitting it to the Block 8 aircraft, even though they were the new ones coming off the line at the start of Tranche 2.

    I guess it’s the sort of thing that will happen once we get everything up to the latest standard (Block 10 except they don’t call it that now), for instance ZJ913 didn’t have a PIRATE to start with but has been seen with one more recently.

  15. Phil Darley

    El Sid you are right about block 5. This was the crazy CP 193,which gave the RAF an austere A2G capability. Which it never used and was reversed by the initial T2 aircraft. Complete waste of money. The article did not mention why the pirate was stopped. The Saudi (diverted RAF T2s) have the pirate so maybe that’s why the RAF stopped fitting it? However, I am very, very sceptical about things like this. It’s the classic descoping dodge the MOD had used before.

    Back to the Mail article, no I would not normally consider thus to be a reliable source of, well, anything really, but I had heard rumblings from other sources, then saw this in the mail and thought it might have more than a hint of truth behind it. The numbers did not seem quite right but the cuts that seem to be coming down the
    line, has made me more able to believe what seem to be crazy decisions. I have gone past the point of being shocked. I dread to think of what will be scrapped next.

  16. jim30

    Its possible that the press officers total includes reservists – all three services have reservists in PR roles, which costs very little, but gains expert assistance for a wide range of tasks. In this case, the actual number drops significantly again.

  17. Brian Black

    I guess it’s all about the job descriptions, and whether these are full time tasks or additional duties.

    Until we have those details it’s impossible to say whether these numbers are excessive or not.

    I’m not sure how you would go about getting that information… if only there was some kind of external communications officer at the MoD that you could ask.

Comments are closed.

↓