27 Jun 2011

Ministry of Defence faces ‘radical’ reform

As the Defence Secretary outlines major reforms for the MoD, the head of a defence think tank tells Channel 4 News the military realises it must change or face being “hung out to dry” by politicians.

Ministry of Defence faces 'radical' reform (Getty)

Defence Secretary Liam Fox wants to ensure there is no repeat of the profligacy which led to the £38bn budgetary black hole the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently struggling with.

His plans include changes to the organisation and management of the MoD, which aim to increase accountability for spending. But he also wants to decentralise the department and give service chiefs more control.

Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke, Director General of the Royal United Services Institute, told Channel 4 News that the military recognised that change was necessary.

They realise they are up against it and if they are not flexible they will be hung out to dry by politicians. Professor Michael Clarke

“They have been talking about this themselves, they haven’t been dragged kicking and screaming,” he said.

“They accept there is a need to streamline the way the service is currently working – abolishing some of the most senior or ‘four star’ jobs, making the top of the pyramid narrower. They realise they are up against it and if they are not flexible they will be hung out to dry by politicians.”

But Dr Fox used his speech to rebuke military chiefs for the way they have raised their concerns saying: “In a war you have got to be careful of the messaging you give to the other side.

“There is a time and a place for anyone in the armed forces to give ministers a message and they have a much greater chance of success in delivering it in the appropriate manner.”

‘Cost-effective’ MoD

The reform follows a 10-month study by the Defence Reform Unit, which Dr Fox set up last year. The changes are targeted at complementing the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which set out spending cuts and job losses for civil servants across the armed forces at the end of 2010.

Dr Fox said the new “radical” model for the MoD will be “simpler and more cost-effective”.

The proposals also include reducing the size of a top committee within the MoD – the Defence Board – by removing the heads of the individual armed forces.

Read more: armed forces' morale hit by budget cuts

Dr Fox hopes the changes will allow the MoD to prepare itself for future challenges, including moving from traditional military intervention to tackling new threats such as cyber and electronic warfare.

Professor Clarke said there was acceptance in the military that there would need to be a change of culture, as well as much greater skill in the way military personnel and civilians within the MoD do their contracting.

“This is a first step, which on the face of it looks sensible. The military has to be adaptive – they recognise there’s been a change in the public mood, there is a real sense that the military is no longer beyond criticism and actually that it is a bit of a nuisance.

“That’s not the soldiers on the frontline – but the admirals and generals, what they say about the civil service – the suits and bowler hats. There’s a general sense they need to think in new terms.”