Why less can mean more in Whitehall world

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

OBFUSCATION and confusion typical of the television programme Yes Minister reigned yesterday as three Ministry of Defence mandarins were asked by MPs yesterday to explain why the MoD was failing to cut its civilian and senior officer manning levels, writes Chris Blackhurst.

The three David Heyhoe, assistant under secretary of state (civilian management) policy, Richard Hatfield, director general of managment audit, and Commodore Rod Lees, director of defence personnel told the Commons Defence Select Committee that numbers were not falling as fast as MPs would like. In fact, the number of civilians had risen in the last year, to 129,000. Part of the reason was the MoD's New Management Strategy to implement the cuts. Around 300 people had been hired to oversee the plan.

They were supposed to be aiming for a 20 per cent cut across the board from 1990-96, the MPs said, but could they say when someone was last ordered to divest himself of 20 per cent of his staff? 'That is not the way it works,' Mr Hatfield said, knowingly.

The MPs were right to identify clerical and secretarial grades - 40,600 in 1990, down by a mere 300 to 40,300 today 'as one area where levels had not come down at the required rate'. But they were wrong to focus on other personnel. While it was true that the MoD did employ some 1,800 retired officers, they were cheaper than serving officers.

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