Better Pen Pushers Not Fewer

This story from the Daily Mirror encapsulates perfectly the dilemma the MoD faces with the Civil Service.

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Now we all know the Mirror is hardly the pinnacle of serious defence reporting but the narrative is a common one.

Civil Servants = Pen Pushers

Pen Pushers = Wasters

Wasters = Less Body Armour for Our Brave Boys

Instead, when you look at the story it is about efforts by the MoD to recruit at a senior level someone to chair the Single Source Regulations Office.

From the Economist job site

An independent public body is being set up to monitor MOD contracts awarded without competition. These include multi-billion pound contracts for cutting-edge equipment such as nuclear submarines and fighter aircraft. Our Armed Forces depend on this equipment when defending the UK’s interests, and we must make the most out of every pound spent.

The aims of the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) are to get value for money on defence procurement contracts whilst also ensuring a fair and reasonable return. Defence contributes to the UK manufacturing and exports, and an efficient and thriving sector benefits defence and the UK. The SSRO will set pricing and transparency rules to mitigate for missing market pressures, make binding financial adjustments to ensure fair and reasonable prices, and recommend the profit rates to use in pricing.

You will set up this new organisation as a strong independent body respected across Government and major suppliers. You will appoint Board members, and will be supported by approximately 30 staff. You will have the demonstrable ability to operate successfully at Board level, ensuring effective decision making in a complex business or regulatory environment. You will have proven strategic communication skills, including the ability to create consensus through active debate and logical argument in a challenging environment, and effectively managing conflict resolution.

At up to £550 per day for between 1 and 3 days per week it might sound like fat cat territory but the new body is going to be held accountable for savings in single source contracts. As I showed in a previous post on MoD finances and the high number of contracts that are let without recourse to competition

This was actually announced last year.

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It has been reported that part of the famous MoD underspend was £110m in contract renegotiations. It would seem that this £110m was found relatively easily, basically, asking for a discount, so there must be additional scope for real savings.

Am no doubt doing those involved in securing the very tangible £110m in savings a very large disservice but whilst we are making sweeping generalisations;

Better Pen Pushing = Savings in the procurement process

Real savings in the procurement process = More body armour for Our Brave Boys

So what the MoD needs are better Pen Pushers, not fewer, and for that, you have to pay the going rate. 






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January 14, 2014 10:09 am

The biggest source of discounts for recurring services is usually asking nicely when renegotiations come up. The trouble is, the average procurement bod is under the impression that a) shouting helps and b) big savings can only occur if you renegotiate *everything* at once, which ensures such attempts occur rarely. The way to savings is keeping up the pressure: nicely :-)

Peter Elliott
January 14, 2014 10:21 am

And £550 per day (before tax) is atually not a big number for a very senior post.

Working 48 weeks at 3 days a week tops out at a maximum 79k p/a.

OK so its more than most of us might expect to earn but its not what you would call a telephone number salary.

You can bet that some of the people across the negotiating table will be on a lot, lot more.

January 14, 2014 12:37 pm

From the jobvert;

“You will have proven strategic communication skills”

Get. The Fuck. Out.

January 14, 2014 12:50 pm

Better pen pushers. Normally I advocate their removal but hey. But if we have people getting us discounts and swift deals and not signing us into flawed contracts that has to be good. Maybe just getting a few people with brain cells to read the small print!!!

Sir Humphrey
January 14, 2014 12:58 pm

My heart sank in this and the Telegraph stories at the outrage at how ’85’ MOd civilians earn over 100k per year, (ignoriing just many military do – about 10 times that amount). I know so manyo f my peers who are leaving because they are fed up of working in an environment where whatever they do is wrong and when they do well, they are criticised for the audacity of having a fairly reasonable remuneration package. There is a sense that you cannot win so the good leave, while the bad cling on (although that is much much harder to get away with now). Irf you want results you have to pay for them – that means money as there are no bonuses, benefits or shares that can come in a MOD CS package.

January 14, 2014 1:24 pm

It will soon be realized that 30 staff is not enough. In a couple of years there will be 300 staff requiring highly paid IT, HR, publicity and legal directors along with their managers, assistant managers and sub managers.

January 14, 2014 2:15 pm

And another thing, why does an organisation of just 30 people require its own board?

January 14, 2014 2:37 pm

@Sir Humphrey: I agree that the CS’s lot is never a happy one. But since the 80’s, many military and civil organizations have been outsourced, the military services are about half the size of what they were previously, dozens of sites have been closed and merged, and the MOD has gone from 100K during the 80’s to… 65K. We should all at this point be asking; “what the fuck?”.

The Securocrat
January 14, 2014 2:37 pm

@Sir H

The Telegraph story was even more dishonest than that; it constantly referred to ‘officials’ , ‘mandarins’ and ‘quangocrats’, but the list in the main story about ‘800 mandarins’ ( includes a host of 2, 3 and 4* officers. In other words, the Telegraph either a) can’t read or b) is suggesting that the military is losing people and therefore needs to er….pay its senior people less?

January 14, 2014 2:50 pm

wf – maybe like the NHS there has been a mass reassignment of staff to new (and vital) levels of management where much powerpoint is needed to brief status of progress? OK very cynical but it does seem that a huge amount of effort is expended these days on internal briefings, status, proposals and audits all on shiny presentations. This seems to be the case in industry and public sector alike. Sometimes you wonder how much would be saved if those doing the work were trusted to get on with it without seven levels of middle management and sixteen audit departments all demanding regular updates on progress…

January 14, 2014 3:02 pm

: I’m quite sure the biggest driver of surplus on both the military and CS size is a surplus of starred positions.

Sir Humphrey
January 14, 2014 3:33 pm

the MOD has declined from 250k in the very early 80 to 65k today and 52500 by next year. I t will doubtless get even smaller in the next review. The MOD CS took more job cuts in SDSR 201 than all three services combined.
Dont forget it is not an exclusively pen pushing bunch of office suits. This figure includes the RFa, storemen, dockyard workers, some tea ladies, all the rocket scientists, teachers, MOD Guards, overseas staff and so on. When you break it dwn there are roughly 30000 office workers most of whom are the sort of low paid clerical E1 or D grades that work in support of the military on bases as admin clerks. The sooner people realise MOD is a catch all for all the many thousands of services needed to keep all three services working the better – it is not an organisation of Sir Humphries!

The Securocrat
January 14, 2014 5:04 pm

I got spam burned before, so this is a second go:

@Sir H

The Telegraph story was even more dishonest than that; it constantly referred to ‘officials’ , ‘mandarins’ and ‘quangocrats’, but the list in the main story about ’800 mandarins’ ( includes a host of 2, 3 and 4* officers. In other words, the Telegraph either a) can’t read or b) is suggesting that the military is losing people and therefore needs to er….pay its senior people less?

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
January 14, 2014 5:46 pm

As a former MoD employee, I suspect the lack of shrinkage is due to the fact that many functions have to exist regardless of the number of uniformed personnel, bases or platforms. My job, scheduling housing maintenance for six Army bases in Easter England would presumably still have existed had there only been four such bases. Ditto I suspect there would still be a programme manager for the Typhoon even if we had half as many of them. I can completely identify with Sir Humphrey’s P.o.V. on this issue.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 14, 2014 6:55 pm

I have over the years written letters to all the broadsheets suggesting that if they are going to pontificate about how much people with real jobs are paid, they ought first to own up to how much they get paid for their “work”…if that is not too kind a term for what most of these worthless reptiles do…

Oddly enough, although my publication rate is pretty good (especially in the Indy – not much competition!)…none of them have ever published any of those letters or owned up to how much they are paid for being smug and “clever” at the expense of people who actually have to deal with difficult stuff as opposed to just putting everybody else right about matters of which they know nothing.

They are a disgusting breed, and deserve no mercy

An enraged Gloomy

January 14, 2014 7:12 pm

You can not help to ask why the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) needs 20,000 staff.
I know there are lots of on-going programs but shortly they do not need that many.
I know the example you always hear is that the Israeli’s have a similar sized budget and force size yet the equivalent agency only employs 5000 people to do the same job. that could all be lies but that is the example I have been told.
I suppose if you are only purchasing from 4-5 domestic company’s it make life easier. They are willing to perches thing for more expense to be made in country.

January 14, 2014 7:36 pm

The sooner people realise MOD is a catch all for all the many thousands of services needed to keep all three services working the better – it is not an organisation of Sir Humphries!

Sir. H.,

That would require proper – thus expensive journalism – and the ‘papers much prefer to make the issue ‘Our Brave Troops – Good’, ‘Our MoD – Bad Wasters’. It’s cheap and cheerful reporting.

In some cases the MoD is at fault and in some cases the ‘Green Machine’ is at fault but to write those detailed stories takes time and effort and with the broadsheets having ‘Their Own House Expert’, it could get very tricky and embarrassing for them to run such stories.

After all it might be very difficult for the paper to shout ‘former Officer ‘X’ was the idiot who screwed over MoD and his / her own service, when Officer ‘X’ is also the ‘Editors Trusted Aide on Military Issues’.

I’m also willing to be bet if you took a mixed group of 250 journalists and average members of the public and said, “Right, here’s a beer and some sandwiches….we’re going to give a couple of presentations on what MoD and DE&S and all the associated agencies do….” at the end of the day, there’d be more than one or two thoughts along the line, “Wow……I had no idea that MoD did……’X’ or was responsible for ‘Y'” but the reporting wouldn’t change that much due to the complexity of the issues involved….

… I honestly think that the public reading the ‘papers aren’t lazy or stupid, it’s just that the issues take time and effort to get a grip of.

Plus of course on occasion MoD / HMG can make themselves look total f**kwitz.

John Gough
January 14, 2014 8:55 pm

Actually £550 a day is a very reasonable.

January 14, 2014 9:51 pm

@Sir Humphrey: I clearly need to peruse your blog for details. Care to point in the right direction?

January 15, 2014 4:40 am

I read the advert in The Economist and my reaction was ‘underpayed’ . It’s going to be a tricky role. It suggests to me that lessons have not been learned in MoD, ie the underpaying of contracting specialists, which was one of the drivers for the GOCO concept. The new office is going to need some very sharp contract lawyers and very astute financial types. They don’t come cheap, but perhaps they are going to be engaged as required for a task.

550/d is not a lot.

Sir Humphrey
January 15, 2014 5:43 am

The des figure includes a wide range of services like defence communications services. Essentially it is a catch all term for everyone in defence, civ and mil involved in procurement, delivery into service, trough life support, military communications (both traditional and it) and a wide range of other jobs. There are not 20,000eople at abbey wood buying kit, it’s a lot less than that. !

January 15, 2014 9:00 am

Obsvr – ref pay scale – if the new independent public body is just another bunch of toothless auditors then I wouldn’t want to pay anything at all for it. Am I the only one that sees the constant gravytrain of Public Enquiries and Judicial Reviews and Independent Boards of Experts as completely ineffectual? Anyone remember the Chilcot Enquiry into the legality of Gulf2? Apparently by March last year the process had cost us taxpayers £7.4m and thus far it has produced nothing. Zip. Rien. Perhaps in future these pointless expensive placebo-courts should be paid on results, not on existence, then they’d all be zero cost.

if on the other hand the new body gets powers to kick some energy & pragmatism into the procurement system, then maybe it needs high paid experts. Big if.

Sir H – I have tried to get MOD(PE)/DE&S/whatever-this-year’s-name-is to work in a different, unconventional and cooperative way on my projects for the purposes of reducing cost and timescales. Thus far only one person has engaged in discussion on this, but would not be moved to give it a try. The majority of MOD personnel won’t even acknowledge there could be different (possibly better) ways of working, instead describing the normal ‘We will only work with corporations like GD, BAE or LM because they are big enough, rich enough and important enough to match our status. It is the process’. Indeed, the last two e-mails I sent to IPT leads did not raise any response whatsoever, not even an acknowledgement or ‘Thanks but no thanks’, and these were sent 6 and 10 weeks ago. Combining recent first hand experience of trying to engage MOD with earlier first hand experience of working on major programs for defence prime contractors, I see only an organization full of its own importance, treating its suppliers current and potential with all the disdain of an Edwardian schoolmaster confronted by grime-engrained urchins due to be his next pupils. Like I said, first hand experience.

While I share GNB’s views of the activity wrapped under the grand misnomer of professional journalism, and have little time for their grubby half-truths, scandals and inventions, I do not automatically credit those that the press write about as wholly innocent victims of whiter than white blameless character. Sorry.