David Blackburn

Whitehall’s monolith faces reform

The Ministry of Defence is one of Whitehall’s largest and most dysfunctional departments; and it has long resisted effective reform. However, the parlous public finances dictate that reform take place. 8 per cent Budget cuts have to be delivered, while attempting to bring a £36bn black hole under control.

Strategic retrenchment aside, efficiency is Liam Fox’s most potent weapon. To that end, Lord Levene has conducted an examination into departmental structures. Levene reports that the MoD’s maze of committees and sub-committees should be ripped-up to improve decision making and save money (and perhaps one of the ministry’s five ministers of state). ‘Sound financial management,’ he says ‘must be at the heart of what the MoD does.’ 

Administrative streamlining will also be applied to the services. First, the number of senior officers retained by the MoD will be reduced, but only in line with 17,000 personnel reductions being made to the services as a whole over the next four years. Senior officers will therefore remain perhaps too significant as a proportion of personnel as a whole. To counter that, Levene suggests that a joint command be introduced, where the service arms are represented by one officer. Currently, each service is represented by two officers of equal rank; one who is responsible for long-term strategy, the other for day-to-day operations. This has led to spectacular procurement failures in the past: for instance, at the time of the Strategic Defence Review, the navy was split into two camps: one that favoured a ‘blue-water strategy’ centred on super-carriers, the other favoured a strategy based on smaller and more numerous ships, which demanded that much of Britain’s current fleet be retained for the time being.

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