Shiny Arse Civil Servants


If one takes too much notice of the mainstream media one could be forgiven for thinking that the Ministry of Defence Civil Service is comprised of tens of thousands of ‘Sir Humphries’ building paper clip empires and drawing huge salaries whilst Tommy Atkins has to moonlight to pay for boots and body armour.

The Telegraph and other newspapers recently reported off the back of a speech by Dr Liam Fox (Conservative Shadow Defence Minister) that there are two troops for every civil servant and when compared with the 27 NATO nations the UK has a disproportionate number of civil servants.

Liam Fox stated;

We can’t afford to carry the burden of a bloated administration at a time when troops on the front line face shortages. We cannot have a situation where the Armed Forces are at war, but Whitehall is not.

How can it be that while we have a navy of only 34,000 we have almost 24,000 people working in procurement alone?

It is time for the MoD to get its house in order

The MoD responded…

The civilian workforce of the MOD provides vital support for the Armed Forces on the front line and many of their skills are not available within the Services.

The 85,730 staff includes intelligence analysts, MOD police officers and scientists and engineers developing equipment to protect our forces. Many of them have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in key roles.

We have taken steps to reduce the civilian workforce wherever we can do so without putting troops at risk, and the total number of civil servants has fallen by 23,000 since 2005.

These are not just men and women sitting behind desks. We are talking about the thousands of scientists who design protective equipment such as body armour or research antidotes for troops under biological attack, not to mention the MoD police force or Britain’s Merchant Navy — the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Adding to the general atmosphere was Nick Clegg who confidently predicted he would, in government, slash 10,000 jobs from the MoD.

Who is right?

In order to get an insight into whether the MoD is chock full of civilians shining their arses on Herman Miller Aeron chairs (RRP £1,000 each although the MoD will have paid much less strangely was circumspect about saying exactly how much less) or hard-working staff with a frontline first ethos, striving to support ongoing high tempo operations, some understanding of the structure of the MoD is required.

The MoD is a complex organisation and the figure of 87,500 staff does not reveal the full picture because of where reporting boundaries lie.

The MoD is divided into a number of areas;

Inside the reporting boundary


There are 8 Top Level Budgets

Navy Command
Land Forces
Air Command
Chief of Joint Operations
Defence Equipment and Support
Defence Estates
Science Innovation and Technology


There are 6 on vote agencies that fall within the TLB’s

Defence Equipment and Support TLB, including the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency

Central TLB, including the Defence Vetting Agency, MOD Police and Guarding Agency, People, Pay and Pensions Agency and the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency

Land Command TLB, including Service Children’s Education

External to the reporting boundary


Outside of the MoD reporting boundary are the so-called Trading Funds, there are 4 trading funds;

UK Hydrographic Office, profit £12.9m
Met Office, profit £7m
Defence Support Group, profit £9.4m
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, loss £2.1m

Trading funds are funded by ‘selling’ their services to the MoD, other government departments and enterprise.


The Oil and Pipelines Agency, NAAFI, and Fleet Air Arm Museum are public corporations and fall outside of the reporting boundary.


The Royal Marines Museum, Royal Naval Museum, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, National Army Museum and Royal Air Force Museum fall outside of the reporting boundary.

According to the MoD Annual Report, in 2009, the annual civil service compliment was 78,543 full time and temporary staff compared to 192,270 service personnel, calculated on an average basis. Defence Analytics Services and Advice publishes comprehensive statistics and as of April 1, 2009, the total civilian workforce was 86,600 compared to 194,700 service personnel.

DASA defines two categories of civilian employee, Level 1 and Level 0 and at the risk of repetition, it is important to understand the difference.

Level 0, contains all those at Level 1 plus Trading Funds and Locally Engaged Civilians. This will be used for external reporting, including National Statistics publications CPS1 and UKDS, and Parliamentary Business

Level 1, Permanent and casual civilian personnel and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, but excludes Trading Funds and Locally Engaged Civilians. This will generally be used for MOD internal reporting and planning

Are you confused yet?

Level 0, the 86,600 figure, contains 9,600 people in the trading funds and 10,500 locally employed civilians outside of the UK that supports the armed forces. Although the MoD pays for the services of trading funds it could be argued that the figures might be excluded from the argument, especially for the UK Hydrographic Office and the Met Office where external revenue is a significant proportion of earnings. The other two trading funds, DSG and DSTL, are largely dependent on the MoD so for the sake of argument I will include the 3,350 and 3,470 of these.

I also think it reasonable to exclude the locally employed overseas employees so taking Level 1 + DSTL + DSG leaves us with a rough working figure of, 73,220 that I will use for comparison.

Taking DASA information, the TLB’s and TF’s can be summarised in tabular format.

TLBArea Employees Percent
 Royal Fleet Auxiliary2,3003
LandChief of Staff3,0004
 Field Army1,5002
 Joint Helicopter Command4001
 Regional Forces10,50014
 Service Children Education1,1002
AirHQ Air Command8,60012
Defence Equipment & SupportDES Management Group14,00019
 Future Defence Supply Chain2,7004
CentralDefence Academy4001
 Export Services1000
 Deputy Chief to the Defence Staff (Health)7001
 London Delegated Budgets3,1004
 London Head Office1,8002
 Police and Guarding Agency7,70011
 Policy and Commitments4001
Chief of Joint Operations 3000
Defence Estates 2,7004
Science Innovation Technology 4001
DSTL 3,5005
DSG 3,4005

Beyond the Numbers

Looking closer at the claims and counterclaims…

MoD – MoD Police Officer, 7,660 people or 10% of our notional total

MoD – Scientists, 3,870 people, or 5% of our notional total

MoD – Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 2,300 people or 3% of our notional total

Liam Fox – 24,000 working in procurement alone, 16,700 people or 23% of our notional total

The MoD has long pursued a policy of civilianisation because if you can get a civilian to stack blankets (be a storeman) or stag on (stand guard on a gate) it will be a lot cheaper than having a trained soldier doing the job. This makes sense but can go too far, leaving the uniformed branch too lean and unable to absorb attrition losses or have a degree of flexibility.

This policy will therefore inflate the civilian totals.

However, the MoD has also pursued a policy of contractorisation, outsourcing where possible and whilst this will reduce the headcount it means the costs often remain or even get higher. There are many stories of MoD employees leaving on a Friday and turning up on Monday, doing the same job and even in the same seat, yet employed by a contractor and charged back to the MoD at a thousand pounds per day.

The numerous PFI deals also serve to reduce headcount but add to costs.

Other nations have yet to take this approach, civilianisation then outsourcing.

Once again, sound bite politics produces ridiculous and ill-thought out arguments that pander to the lowest common denominator.

Simply slashing the civil service is not the answer.

There is no doubt that the MoD is overstaffed with civilians in some areas but others are woefully short of quality staff so we need less of the types we don’t need and more of the types we do. It might also be argued that the military branch is also overmanned in HQ and other areas.

A security and defence review should look into all aspects of civilian and military manning, especially how it supports the generation and support of operations and if this means increases in some areas then political considerations and ‘how it might look in the papers’ should be totally disregarded.

The ongoing overhead of performance monitoring and managing outsource and PFI arrangements should also be closely examined.

A heavily unionised MoD civilian staff must be constantly challenged to accept their role in supporting the uniformed branch in its operational activity,

‘how does this activity support operations’

The MoD must also make a better case for its civilian workforce.

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