Why Ministers must look at the numbers of Top Brass

Constrained public spending and a rapidly evolving security landscape demand new policy solutions in defence.

A rushed defence review has limited Britain’s strategic global reach and a timid industrial strategy abandons is not serving UK defence industry.  By contrast, Labour has made these issues a priority, leading the debate on defence procurement and initiating a comprehensive review into future global threats. We want a modern defence industry attuned to the capabilities of the future, based on a genuine assessment of the future security landscape, serving an agile, 21st century armed forces.

Success, however, relies on wholesale reform, including to our force structure.

The size of the most senior cadre within the MoD – one star and above – has risen by a third since 1990. We have a higher number of officers across all three services than both the French and American air, land and maritime forces. This ‘top heavy’ model has even been recognised by the MoD, which has stated, “the simple truth is that the defence senior cadre is larger than we can afford, is judged to be out of proportion with a reducing manpower base and also with modern working practices and societal tolerances.” Despite this, recent figures show that just one in 20 of the most senior officers in all three services have lost their jobs while 20 per cent of more junior ranks will lose their jobs as 30,000 service personnel are axed.

The government has been slow to correct the clear imbalance which exists between top and bottom. Indeed, the government is holding a review into cuts at senior levels but plan reductions “in broad proportion with overall personnel reductions”. This approach perpetuates rather than challenges the imbalance.


We are arguing that Ministers must look again at the numbers to correct ‘top heavy’ structures. It is right to demand efficiency of those at the bottom but we cannot justifiably do so while protecting those at the top. We can’t ask the lowest paid to bear the brunt so we must go further at the top. There is no excuse for a top heavy imbalance.

We know there needs to be change across our Forces and savings must be found, including in manpower and the equipment programme as well as efficiency savings.


We are concerned, however, about the human and military impact of the Government’s defence plans. We now have concerning capability gaps, for example in maritime surveillance and carrier strike. Ministers have made deep cuts to civilian and military personnel numbers without being ready to adapt to the consequences.  Allowances which make up meaningful support to frontline personnel have been reduced.  The Government has an inadequate plan to ensure value for money over the long-term.


These concerns are magnified by the Chancellor’s failure to stimulate domestic growth and the likelihood that he will miss economic targets, making future tough decisions tougher still.


As part of necessary wide-ranging reform in defence I hope Ministers will look again at modernising our Forces from top to bottom, in particular the numbers of ‘top brass’. Labour will reform to increase value for money and deliver the best for our Forces.


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