Shiny Arse Civil Servants

SDSR 2015 announced that the MoD civil service personnel would be reduced by 30%.

Unfortunately, the civil service is saddled with a reputation of being shiny arsed Sir Humpries long overdue for the chop, but NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH and I get fed up of the right wing press labelling them as such.

Civil servants in the MoD support the armed forces; they are vehicle mechanics at Army Reserve Centres, scientists at DSTL or contract managers at Defence Equipment and Support.

I have defended civil servants many times about this over the years, a 2009 post about Daily Mail outrage at Civil Servant Herrick medals, Liam Fox attacking the civil service in the run-up to the election and SDSR 2010, and something about focussing on quality of civil servants, not numbers, for example.

In light of the latest SDSR, thought I would have a wade into the always brilliant Defence Statistics output and try and present the numbers in graph form.

Before the graphs, it is important to note that this is a very quick and dirty look at the numbers. Consistency in reporting from 1975 is difficult to obtain because the reporting methodology changes but the graphs show UK Service Personnel v UK Civilian Personnel, they exclude FTRS and Gurkhas in the most recent years, defence trading funds and locally entered personnel such as those employed in Germany or Canada.

In addition to these caveats (including the simple fact that I am not a statistician so a health warning is included FoC) the numbers show a steady decline in both numbers but a clear divergence in the proportion of uniform v civilian as a result of various reviews and a number of step changes as a result of changes to the operating model. The transfer of Royal Ordnance Factories in 1985 resulted in 18,000 personnel disappearing from the numbers, Royal Dockyards another 16,000. Until 1994, the MoD’s numbers also included GCHQ, in 2001 DERA was sold to QinetiQ and in 2008, following the merger of DARA and ABRO, 1,000 personnel were transferred to Vector Aerospace.

The trend is clear though, MoD civil servants are an increasingly small percentage of MoD personnel.

The 2015 figures are from the October personnel bulletin so not the full year.

The first graph show total numbers

UK Regular v Civil Service Graph 1

This final graph shows the percentages of the total.UK Regular v Civil Service Graph 2

This might actually be misleading in some regards, the civilian personnel are still there, just that they are in the private sector, whether that is for recruiting, network management, research or managing Army diggers.

With a further 30% reduction, the overall effectiveness of the MoD will inevitably suffer as a result of a dogmatic right wing that thinks the private sector is automatically better, clearly, for some activities, it is not, especially functions that do not have mass in the civilian world. However, for some, it is an established means of reducing costs, organisations all over the world do it. The trick is to get it right, in the right areas.

The MoD should be in the business of maximising efficiency and whilst there are no doubt always room for savings across both military and civilian populations, protecting its civil servants with their specialist knowledge and not slashing and burning for ideological reasons should be top of the list.

As I said yesterday, the real challenge in SDSR 2015, is people.

Hope that is useful, looking at you Daily Mail.

 

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Hohum
Hohum
November 25, 2015 1:40 pm

Blah blah…civil servants are wonderful…..blah blah….right wing press…blah blah…evil Tories.

Sure, many civil servants are great, but a significant chunk of them are lazy parasites, and that’s from experience. I would argue a significantly greater chunk than in the services. They are also frequently overpaid and over-pensioned which is actually the main reason for transferring them to the private sector, government seems wholly incapable of paying market rates.

jim30
jim30
November 25, 2015 1:57 pm

Lazy Parasites – Check
Overpaid – Check
Pensions – Check

Oh goody its time for the stereotypes game to be played. Bottom line is that every industry out there has bottom feeders, and unfortunately there are some (usually very few) who stick in peoples mind for the wrong reason. The vast majority of keen and competent types get forgotten and stunningly vindictive levels of vitriol are thrown at people for the audacity of wanting to be a civilian in Defence.

A lot of research has been done that shows that far from being overpaid, the average CS post outside of the most menial admin grades is underpaid by a factor of between 10-50% of their civilian peers. Lets not let facts get in the way of a good rant though!

Hohum
Hohum
November 25, 2015 2:02 pm

It’s not a stereotype at all, its a statement of fact.

Government has never been able to put in place market rates for pay and pensions or be able to drive productivity, the ONS records it an average of just 0.3% growth between 1998 and 2012. Its for exactly that reason that government pursues outsourcing.

TD may not like it but outsourcing is a mechanism for increasing productivity and this increasing overal MoD spending power.

LouisB
LouisB
November 25, 2015 2:14 pm

Hmmm – makes me wonder about civilians in the employ of MoD (N) although also applies to the other services. Admiralty civilian employees working in the ammunition and weapons facilities at home, abroad and afloat. The RFA for example, somewhat more militarised these days but still civilian manned. For the other services there are many scientific, design and research facilities, all civilian personnel. It is doubtful that many if any at all have shiny backsides to their trousers.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
November 25, 2015 2:25 pm

Any more details known about this 30% reduction? Is that across the board in all areas or concentrated in Main Building and other MoD offices functions only? I would not support any further cuts to Civil Servants in DSTL or the DIS for example.

John Carter
John Carter
November 25, 2015 2:33 pm

The graph is very telling. I would like to draw attention to the specialists, for example in music, who have made UK military bands the best in the world. Hidden in the graph are 5 academic and 24 instrumental professors, working at the Royal Military School of Music Kneller Hall (RMSM) as MOD civil servants. It is often contentious to measure the effect of music on the morale of a nation and its sailors, soldiers and airmen. However since the late eighteenth century the British Military has been the largest employer of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish musicians by a substantial margin, so there must be something in that fact. These professors, albeit also civil servants as that is how they are paid, have experience in working within the best brass bands and orchestras in the UK and abroad and bring to the RMSM such expertise that could not be replaced within the ranks of the military recruits. I would argue that civil servants, because they are civilians with experience of other ways of life are essential, as well as the high standards they provide to the ceremonial standing of the Nation. At the very least to substantiate this argument these music specialists must be retained.

Senior Moment
Senior Moment
November 25, 2015 2:46 pm

Surely where the blame game is concerned , it is best to separate the wheat from the chaff. I.e Those civvies who do an important and underpaid job on bases and behind the scenes and those @*^§ who work in defence procurement and then bugger off to work for Boeing when their gig comes to an end.
One is valuable -the other purely exists for itself.

Hohum
Hohum
November 25, 2015 2:46 pm

Ideology has nothing to do with it. Outsourcing has been inspired by experience, I know of numerous examples of subsequently outsourced MoD entities that were insanely inefficient including one sold off in the last parliament. There is another being lined up, not for sale but to be an outsourced service for the same reason.

I don’t dispute that some efforts at outsourcing have gone badly, invariably though this has been down to poor contract writing and source selection by civil servants.

vince
vince
November 25, 2015 4:50 pm

Often, civil servants are ex-military personnel. Blaming problems on the civil service is an old favorite in politics, but politics is all that it is.

Outsourcing services has the same problem as purchasing equipment. It’s often driven by politics rather than military need.

MSR
MSR
November 25, 2015 5:00 pm

Outsourcing is more efficient? My left testicle and every hair on it!

I have personal knowledge of the disastrous effect cutting the back room, and outsourcing it, has had on areas such as social care, the emergency services and infrastructure where staff have witnessed valuable and necessary functions sold to private contractors who then run those parts of the service into the ground, working exactly and precisely to the specified terms of their contract and going not one penny, or one second, beyond those terms. And everyone suffers, because man does not exist on bread alone. Most jobs in most areas only get done properly when the work force is keen, interested and feels rewarded and respected. That’s why a ‘work to rule’ is so devastating. Private contractors taking on what were formerly the responsibilities of the state feel absolutely no equity in the proper and good functioning of that state for the benefit of the civil populace. They just see profit. This is, of course, illogical and psychotic because these companies are composed of people who live within that same civil populace, but I guess they imagine that their fat profits will insulate them from the horrible effects of running down the service in question. And the rest of us are left to rot.

But actually, ranting aside, Hohum is correct. It comes down to badly written contracts, which are ultimately the reason why we have this stereotype of shiney arsed Sir Humphrey’s… because it’s the arts or management degree Sir Humphrey’s with no experience in the wider world who are often responsible for negotiating these contracts and they get shafted by the private sector sharks every time, while the hard working and formerly keen and interested workers on the ground, or in various necessary specialisms, all tarred with the same brush, get to watch their hard work go to waste when the private contractors take over and wreck it, and then suffer the consequences when the government responds the problem by cutting more of the civil service.

/end rant

TAs
TAs
November 25, 2015 5:04 pm

There is not a single useless or unnecessary civil servant in the Joint Headquarters. Every single one brings a non-military, specialist or just plain common sense perspective to a multitude of operational demands, and they are worth their weight in gold. Especially when it comes to persuading thick-headed Ministers to do the right thing.

That said civil servants are not well paid and unless you remunerate them well, the best and brightest will always leave when a better opportunity presents itself.

A 30% cut is going to be brutal.

TAs
TAs
November 25, 2015 5:05 pm

“private contractors who then run those parts of the service into the ground, working exactly and precisely to the specified terms of their contract and going not one penny, or one second, beyond those terms.”

Shock horror, a contracted service not providing additional services for free.

Hohum
Hohum
November 25, 2015 5:17 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah, all contractors are evil, not a very useful metric.

Sir Humphreys are only one component of the civil service and indeed many of them are utterly useless, in part because of civil service internal policies but they are hardly the main driver for outsourcing. Whitehall CS is always going to be a problem but its not the major factor here.

The major issue is with inefficiently run MoD outfits (often with banal functions like warehousing) that are practically impossible to reform by government. And their staff are overpaid, overpensioned and under-worked doing things the private sector could do much better. There were horror stories about one recently sold MoD outfit that were legendary in industry, for example.

Outsourcing was driven by exasperation rather than politics, it was broadly found to work when the right things were outsourced and they were outsourced well.

MSR
MSR
November 25, 2015 5:47 pm
Reply to  TAs

That is not what I said and not even vaguely implied. You know full well what I meant.

jim30
jim30
November 25, 2015 7:27 pm

“! And their staff are overpaid, overpensioned and under-worked doing things the private sector could do much better.”

If you’re going to throw that crap around, at least have the moral courage to put a figure out there – because I know what MOD CS are paid, and it isnt half of what people think it is.

DMG
DMG
November 25, 2015 7:27 pm
Reply to  LouisB

The RFA are civilian but not technically Civil Servants. They are not under threat just now, the SDSR having promised 3 new ships in addition to the 4 being built.

Anixtu
Anixtu
November 25, 2015 8:27 pm

RFA are civil servants by any sensible definition, but are not “mainstream” MoD civil servants. RFA are subject to civil service policies (i.e. PRGs), participate in PCSPS, etc. Contractorising of the RFA has been proposed in the past and would be a relatively easy way to get rid of 2000 civil servants towards the 16,000 required, could help solve some of the RFA’s severe recruitment and retention problems and would seem to be broadly in line with Tory doctrine (noting that the last attempt to push towards contractorisation was under a Labour administration).

The underlying reason for poor retention is of course the poor pay and conditions some of these MoD civil servants receive relative to the private sector to which they have been flocking in droves, leaving ships unable to put to sea for lack of engineers.

DaveS
DaveS
November 25, 2015 8:41 pm

Hohum is happy to make sweeping statements about civil servants. From my experience in the private sector, contracting out is just as likely to fail to meet expectations as not. And don’t forget that in some MOD organisations there are quite a lot of embedded military officers amongst the highest paid “parasites”.

East_Anglian
East_Anglian
November 25, 2015 9:49 pm

We have several Civil Servants in our Regiment. They are dedicated, hard working members of the team. Our job would be impossible to do without them. They are paid peanuts, but work hard to support us.

LouisB
LouisB
November 25, 2015 11:26 pm
Reply to  Anixtu

Having served within the RFA and at present drawing my Civil Service pension I would find it interesting to see how an outsourced Naval support service would function. In my latter service years I also found that the strange salary/rank system was not the best way to attract staff, especially on the engineering side – this seemingly hasn’t improved to any degree as is now apparent with the present manning difficulties.

Grim901
Grim901
November 25, 2015 11:44 pm

As one of the parasites Hohum is levelling his vitriol at I will point out that I have watched many contract staff brought in to replace civil servants in recent years and very often they happen to be exactly the same people. You go out the door, take a job with a contractor, come back in on double the money, and cost the MOD 4x the money once your company has taken its slice.

pompeyblokeinoxford
pompeyblokeinoxford
November 26, 2015 6:12 am
Reply to  Hohum

I am a MOD Civil servant and my salary is a lot less than my military equivalent. And whilst I am the first to agree that some do not pull their weight, whilst I often work 8-10 hours a week – unpaid- in excess of what I’m contracted for, know that a uniform doesn’t always mean the wearer is a weight puller.

Mark1603
Mark1603
November 26, 2015 6:26 am

As some have said, every firm, industry, job type has good and bad. What makes me mad, is you see efficiency savings, way to do things better, but the system is such that it is impossible to get them implemented, changed as either managers up the chain block it or don’t do anything about it. (Enter your own reason why they should). Perhaps what is needed is an honest and open workplace where the hard working guys and girls at the bottom of the pile can actually make suggestions to the top, without fear of interference from the middle tier which are normally the biggest issue. They are almost like the past over “Major”, promoted on time and basic aptitude, but never going to make it to Regt command.

Senex
Senex
November 26, 2015 8:58 am

I haven’t worked in MOD since 1989 and nor have I been active in the Reserves since that time. However, it always struck me that, on the whole, the civil servants were generally brighter than both the military and the private sector personnel I encountered. Where they suffered was being hamstrung by burdensome “accountability” and transparency requirements mandated by Parliament and by government policies that favoured the private sector and industry at the expense of the public good.
It was always a source of grim amusement to hear politicians blame civil servants for “inefficiencies” which were in fact legislatively mandated processes that were almost entirely the responsibility of those same politicians.
As for the military, the majority seemed to have the problem that, as they climbed the greasy pole, their staff increasingly treated them like little tin gods and they seemingly came to believe they could do no wrong. Too many, unfortunately, gave the impression that they were unwilling to let the facts get in the way of their opinions. The private sector always over-promised and under-delivered, yet still seemed able to persuade the politicians that that the defence budget should carry the project risk while guaranteeing profits for the private sector (their staff may not have been intellectual power houses but they certainly weren’t stupid).
So, I don’t object to people ranting on about their stereotyped views of civil servants (however misguided they may be) … as you can see, I had equally stereotyped views of senior military personnel and the staff of private companies. And don’t start me on consultants …..

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 9:47 am

The only myths and sweeping statements being spun here are about how wonderful all things publicly delivered are. They aren’t, especially in MoD they are a mess which is precisely why they are outsourced.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
November 26, 2015 10:02 am

I joined the MoD CS when there was a major programme to recruit civilian staff to replace military personnel in the support area, allowing them to be used in more forward areas, and of course save money on wages. The level I worked at was initially the equivalent of Sgt yet I was paid only half as much. To add to this it was decided that the level of responsibility for Civil Servant within the MoD would be one grade higher than their actual grade as compared top other departments at the time. This increased the savings the MoD was gaining even further. I was part of a team of six civilians responsible for all the spares and servicing of a certain fast jets engines and all the GSE that went with it. We worked with a team of both military and Civilian staff who were responsible for the engineering and flight safety side.

The system I joined was ledger based with the only IT being an steam driven system called SCCS. During my time thing improved in this area but this was driven changes in financial practices brought in by the Government to micro manage our accounts rather than improve the supply chain. The government spent tens of millions on trying to introduce new IT systems but had little success. At the coal face both Civilian and Military staff thought there was serious trouble at both Governmental and Senior Civil Service level and were pissed off that the Media and Governmental spin often placed the blame on the CS as a whole.

As for pay, we were lucky to get anything over a 1% pensionable annual pay rise and the often talked about bonus, for which a maximum of 50% of staff could attain amounted to a one off payment of £850.. Yes I was lucky in that I retained the old final salary pension but anyone who has joined the CS over the past two decades is not getting such a pension. The Pension was a counter to the levels of pay we received but even that has now gone. As a comparison a person working for RR doing exactly the same job was earning almost twice as much at the time and the gap has probably widened since then. AS we have contracted out most of our Engine support to industry (read RR) we are paying for these higher salaries as part of the contract.

DE&S has had many problems and still retains a few but this is not down to the general CS. Senior Management and Governments have placed both unworkable practices on the organisation and wanted their cake and eat it. Everything revolved around annual accounts and this took up much of time of all branches not just the finance ones. At least 50% of my time was spent inputting financial data into databases. Any plan greater then a year was barely worth to paper it was written on as the availability of funding often changed on a monthly basis.

Outsourcing does not actually save much money it simply moves the line in the budget. Like PFIs any change outside what is written into a support contract will cost a substantial amount as the Contractor will make the case that the additional requirements go against their long term programme costs and must be reclaimed over a short time span.

ANYONE who states the Civil Service is overpaid, doesn’t do tis job and has fat pensions does not have any knowledge on the facts and should apologise to all Civil Servants who have worked their asses off these past decades supporting our Armed Forces.

a
a
November 26, 2015 10:31 am

Everything that Hohum says is wrong.

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 10:37 am

Everything Hohum says is right.

The idea that the public sector is wonderful at providing defence services is a complete fiction which is why outsourcing has been deployed so widely since the 1980s. The ideology, so much as this is one, was driven by bitter experience of the appalling inefficiency of various state run entities and the near impossibility of reforming them internally. One only needs to examine the public sector productivity stats the NAO gathers to see that.

IanW
IanW
November 26, 2015 12:43 pm

Hohum has views on many things and few of them admit to shades of grey.

El Sid
El Sid
November 26, 2015 12:48 pm

@Hohum – sounds like you’ll be putting in a call to the Duke of Atholl? :-)

El Sid
El Sid
November 26, 2015 1:01 pm

@Lord Jim
“a person working for RR doing exactly the same job was earning almost twice as much at the time….Everything revolved around annual accounts and this took up much of time of all branches not just the finance ones. At least 50% of my time was spent inputting financial data”

So you spent <50% of your time doing your actual job, could this be linked to getting 50% of the pay for the job? I'm not blaming you as an individual, but this is an example of government systems reducing the productivity of those who work for them. In my experience, the public sector isn't very good at looking at this kind of thing holistically, it would rather have two specialists wasting 50% of their time on admin rather than have one specialist and one (cheaper) admin person.

It's also easy to think the grass is greener on the other side, and it's easy to underestimate the value of pensions – this article suggests that (as of 2011) pension contributions add 9.3% in the private sector, versus 44% in the public sector and 71% in uniformed services. I'm not suggesting the military should have the same pension arrangements someone working in KFC, but you've got to look at these things as a whole. It also has the stunning statistic that the length of the average retirement has gone up 40% since 1990, but teacher pension contributions are still at about the same level as the 1920s, the government has absorbed all the costs of longer retirements :
blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2011/03/a-second-national-debt-that-needs-to-be-dealt-with/

The pay argument is a bit more nuanced, see these stats from a paper arguing for an end to national pay bargaining in the public sector :
http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/public-and-private-sector-pay-2013-update
•The average public sector worker benefits from a 6.1% pay ‘premium’, meaning that they can earn as much as £1,400 a year more than someone in the private sector, taking into account age, gender, full time and part time work, region, qualifications and length of employment. This represents almost a 20% and 8% rise respectively in the premium compared to the same quarters of 2007 and 2010.
•The average premium has been relatively steady since mid 2010 suggesting that the Coalition’s decision to freeze public sector pay rises is starting to re-alter the balance.
•In the North East, Merseyside and South West the public sector 'premium' is as high as 14% or over £3,000 a year.
•In central London, the East and South East, the average public sector worker gets paid less than their private sector equivalent.

Slightly Agricultural
Slightly Agricultural
November 26, 2015 1:06 pm

Not everything Hohum says is wrong (and that’s from someone who could be in that 30%).

I’ve met some stunningly useless Civil Servants in my time (and some pretty hopeless industry people as well to be fair). Certain MoD bodies need a good kick up the arse to sort their lives out. However, the best outsourcing i’ve seen only works because there is a substantial amount of good will/give & take between the supplier and MoD. It’s borderline impossible to contract for that, therefore you can’t really guarantee achieving it…

As others have pointed out though, the problem isn’t necessarily the people but the rules and regulations we burden ourselves with. DE&S had a bunch of management consultants in who were apparently amazed at what was achieved under the conditions.

The bottom line is that this SDSR has come right out and said plainly that MoD CS are second-class employees compared to the Services. That is not doing wonders for a workforce that has already endured substantial cuts from the last SDSR (~25k I believe) and has been undermanned ever since. Org charts look like swiss cheese with gapped posts everywhere and most roles only 1-deep (almost zero resilience). This results in false economies like the gutting of the admin (e) grades (no travel cells for us). The gaps inevitably get filled with contractors at far greater expense as the workload hasn’t decreased any. There were some promising signs of reform perhaps improving the working conditions at least (no-one is really expecting more money) but an artificially-imposed cap at 41k MoD CS is going to scupper that (not really what you want during a major recruiting campaign for skilled staff now, is it?).

In short, it looked like we might finally be getting somewhere with rebuilding the organisation and then the SDSR came and kicked over our sandcastle. People are still waiting for the dust to settle and word to filter down from on high about how this will affect us. Lovely Christmas gift though…

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 1:28 pm

Oh there is plenty of inefficiency in industry, if anybody ever asked me to cut the costs of the procurement the first thing I would do is put a stop to all the half-day Fridays and other similar perks that exist at many UK defence companies. But situation is not as bad as it is with government employees.

stephen duckworth
November 26, 2015 1:53 pm

@Hohum
“The idea that the public sector is wonderful at providing defence services is a complete fiction which is why outsourcing has been deployed so widely since the 1980s. ”
And that’ll explain T45 (half delivered and late ) , T26 ( 10 years from delivery and only 8 ) , FRES and all its predecessors , a decade+ late etc ;-)

Tony Barratt
Tony Barratt
November 26, 2015 2:05 pm
Reply to  Think Defence

Would an outsourced employee go out on a limb and order £.75m of desalination equipment to speed up delivery as happened in 1982. He could because he was experienced in what needed to be done. A private sector person, understandably, could not as he has to serve the bottom line. In Life there is a difference between commercial businesses and a support service

Peter Elliott
November 26, 2015 2:05 pm

An interesting comparison is the extent that private contractors were used in Britain’s Napoleonic war machine, which was built and run by a comparitively tiny core of public officials. Plenty of examples of waste, fraud and incompetance there too but it does show that the 20th Century concept of a universal public sector bureaucracy is not the only answer to the challenge of supporting a large military organisation.

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 2:07 pm

sd,

Oh please, you can find plenty of examples of procurement efforts from MoD run entities just as disastrous. And its all to often the requirements setting and contracting, done by the MoD, that results in such failure anyway.

stephen duckworth
November 26, 2015 2:14 pm

@Hohum
Very true on the MoD’s Inc all concerned branches very large contribution costing the UK tax payer twice as much for half the quantity for be it very good kit (in its niche , a T45 can’t do all the functions of a AR FII can it? but you get what you ask for assuming your other plans all go on time and to budget , but to assume makes an ass out of you and me and our wallets :-(

jim30
jim30
November 26, 2015 4:47 pm

” But situation is not as bad as it is with government employees.”

Its really easy to keep spouting this rubbish, but in all of your rants, you’ve not provided any evidence or hard fact to underpin your utterly baseless assertions.

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 5:19 pm

jim30,

Multiple pieces of evidence have been put in this thread related to civil servant pay and productivity as well as examples from my own experiences. You obviously chose to ignore them due to your ideological obsession with having the state run everything.

jim30
jim30
November 26, 2015 5:32 pm
Reply to  Hohum

I dont think the state should run everything – I’ve never said that, no one else has ever said that. But I’ve not seen you provide actual figures, evidence or empirical data which underpins your views. Its all “the public sector is bad and must be gotten rid of because it is gold plated”, which is fairly unhelpful and ignores the reality of what the MOD CS does.

Hohum
Hohum
November 26, 2015 5:46 pm

You haven’t looked hard enough then. El Sid has also provided data.

Jonathan
Jonathan
November 26, 2015 8:28 pm

Shall I tell you all a some secrets…….

No system is perfect.
Most people try to do their best.
Public sector delivered services can be far more efficient and effective than private sector delivered services…..and……. Shock horror………Private sector delivery can be far more efficient than public sector delivery.
There are no wholly right or wrong answers to complex questions.
People who see the world in black and white tend to be wrong half the time.
We all die to soon, so stop arguing about silly points…….

Barborossa
Barborossa
November 26, 2015 9:51 pm

In support of Jonathan- three personal examples

1. RAF St Athan- At one time the Maintenance Unit responsible for Tornado cockpit canopies- the refurbishment of these was done at the unit and by industry. St Athan’s CO put forward and had accepted a busines case for bringing in ALL refurbishments to the MU. This was done by operating a night shift (thereby Increasing the machinery utilisation- reducing cost per item). The result? Turn-round time was reduced from 12 weeks to 6 and item cost was also reduced, with higher quality as well. Unfortunately, this didn’t fit with the great ‘only private industry is good’ mantra.

Equally you might want to look at the sorry saga of service housing… Handed over in its entirety to a private company, which a few years later dumped the remains back on the MOD, after selling off all the prime housing & buying, frankly, run-down crap to replace it, whilst coining in the improvement and maintenance funding that came with it. It is now in the hands of a company set up by the MOD to manage it, after all the management companies ran away laughing (due to the impending maintenance bill).

The best pension I ever had was that by a private company… by comparison the public entity pension I was given a few years later was shit (sorry TD, but I’m being explicit, to make a point).

The service my company now receives from the Royal Mail is also shit…. Ten years ago it was excellent… Ten years ago it was still in public ownership, now it is a private company. The only reason were still using them is because the alternatives are way, way worse.
By the way, remember when the government was aghast at the blackhole in the RM pension? Couldn’t have had anything to do with the ‘Great Financial Genius’ deciding that he didn’t need to put employer contributions into it by any chance?

On the other hand, I once had dealings with MOD civil servants that didn’t understand that big aeroplanes need lots of fuel, if you want go a long way… Although to be fair I had a similar problem with a naval aviator not understanding why a 160 tonne B767 was not going to get off a 4500″ runway at full load. After all his ‘Wet Dream used to do it everyday’… Mind you he also didn’t understand about single-point, pressure-refuelling either… he was eventually led away by a kindly CPO….

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
November 27, 2015 3:34 am

I will admit I have worked with a few people both military and civilian, who seems to be simply going through he motions. Yes they ticked the boxes required but never went the extra mile I required. The vast majority of people I worked with did their best in a system that seemed to do its best not to meet the end users needs, and some how we got the job done.

Problems seemed to come from a few main areas. First and foremost were the “Next big idea”, from up on high backed by their legion of consultants. Names and processes seemed to change on a yearly basis, with the promise that plan A would produce savings that would fund plan C. Problem was or is that the funding was removed before any savings were actually achieved if at all and even worse the next idea would be introduced as well. It was a continuous process, where we never actually saw if a new idea actually worked before the next one was introduced. The next big issue was RAB. This is what caused the need to spend so much time inputting financial data so that managers could have meetings to go over countless spread sheets and power point presentation. It also caused a huge increase in the number of staff employed in the finance branches.

Was/is the CS inefficient compared to industry, I would say they are too different to truly compare. A lot of in house expertise has been lost as the MoD has cut civilian numbers and it takes time to bring others up to speed. Projects like the Jaguar GR3 programme (Engine excepted) greatly increased the capability of that platform for little money per airframe compared to larger industry run programmes such as the Tornado GR4. But contractorisation enables the books to be cooked so to speak and the Treasury loves it as it provides a fixed expenditure on an annual basis unless something unexpected happens like going to war. The biggest problem with the passing of support to industry is that it as irreversible. Officially there was always to be a fall back if industry couldn’t delivery, in other words a return of the work in house. In reality as soon as the decision was made to transfer said work the infrastructure was dismantled and there was no going back. Usually the work was only able to be given to a single contractor and so the MoD was now over a barrel, with no options or alternatives. Some of these support contracts have worked but other have been an issue from the beginning that cannot be solved until the platform being supported leaves service.

Jonathan
Jonathan
November 27, 2015 8:07 am

My experience is the same as lord Jims (except in health care) where you have an in house service there will always be flexibility and a willingness to adapt and change services on the fly ( the focus is getting it done over cost).
The moment you issue a contract (especially if there is only one potential provider), a fixed set of rules come into play.if you have not been able to map out all potential possibilities (an impossible task in complex dynamic systems) within the contract you end up having A) a contractor refusing to do the task you need B) paying out the nose each time you need them to do something new.

so in my expeirence if you have a simple fixed task, such as supplying dinners to 500 people in a set place Monday to Friday and there are a number of providers in the market place then potentially the private sector can provide this in a more efficient way. If on the other hand you are looking to provide high quality public health or mental health services to a community of around 1 million any form of traditional contract is going to end up a strait jacket.

wf
wf
November 27, 2015 10:00 am

@Lord Jim: you always get the impression that the politicians and CS at the senior level have no clear idea of what they want the MOD to do: before farming operations out, it’s a good idea to have a very clear idea of such. Much outsourcing decision making seems to be made by the middle to senior level trying to carry out the expressed (but not properly enumerated!) wishes of the top levels, with the “hard but necessary” outsourcing projects left out, but some “not in a million years” stuff like AWRE left in.

It would be nice to see regional pay brought in across the CS, it would save a lot more money. It would be even nicer to see outsourced maintenance spending roughly settled when specifying requirements….

ChrisM
ChrisM
November 27, 2015 12:17 pm

Observations from the finance world – staying in the same office under three regimes.
As a mutual (which has similarities to the public sector). No shareholders meant little pressure to be efficient, and this coupled with demotivating universal pay rises meant even the good people tended to coast, and no one bothered with efficiencies.
Demutualised company. Much sharper focus on costs. More motivation due to individual performance related pay (and the ability to manage people out – “There is a 4% pay rise bucket…here is your zero pay rise, suggest you look for a new job”). Recruitment freezes lead to gaps and overload, but do concentrate the mind of what really needs doing, what could be done quicker, and the need to stop ignoring piss-taking wasters.
Getting outsourced. There is a contract. If it isn’t in the contract you don’t do it, unless your management say so (and there is give and take – a grumpy client doesn’t recommend you to others and will hammer you for any supplier side failings). I pointed out to a senior manager that outsourcing would lead to a lack of flexibility, particularly for quick projects and his answer was insightful – if you need people to re-prioritise then they will be not doing some BAU they should be doing, and/or you are not correctly scaled in the first place.
One of the major gains of outsourcing public services is transparency. A politician can not just come up with a new, impossible, target that they then blame the civil servants for failing to achieve. If they want something the provider will tell them what that is going to cost.
A minister can tell an NHS hospital to halve waiting times, without extra resource, and then blame the hospital for missing targets.
Tell a privately run hospital to halve waiting times and he will get told to come back with some money and a contract variation.

DMG
DMG
November 28, 2015 7:45 am
Reply to  Anixtu

Anixtu. They are by recruitment and qualifications Registered Seafarers which is how they are able to easily move to the commercial sector. You may be a little out of date. The main attraction for engineers has been the oil industry which since the fall in the oil price, is not what it was. Quote from the 1st Sea Lord.” Global reach with RFA support: 3 new Solid Support ships to join our 4 new Tide Class tankers, and RFA manpower protected .”

Anixtu
Anixtu
November 28, 2015 1:13 pm

RFA marine engineers left for a variety of destinations. Large yachts was one of the most popular. Electrical engineers tended to head for the offshore wind turbine sector. Despite market conditions the RFA has still not recruited any engineers with more than EOOW and still has three ships laid up (and one disposed of prematurely) due to lack of engineers.

TUPE is one way of protecting manpower. ;-) But 1SL’s comments do make immediate contractorisation unlikely.