From today’s Times newspaper
Volunteers for Army job cuts put service in disarray
Downing Street was accused of playing politics with soldiers’ jobs last night, as commanders voiced fears that thousands of Army redundancies were leaving critical roles unfilled.
Documents seen by The Times show how No 10 has leant on military chiefs to accept voluntary rather than compulsory redundancies when 5,000 posts are due to be cut this month.
Commanders argue that this would affect their ability to control the future shape of the Army, with talented soldiers free to leave and less-competent or important staff allowed to remain.
There was also concern about whether the Territorial Army is able to fill the gap left by the cuts, with documents and internal data showing a growing number of job vacancies that are putting the regular Forces under growing strain.
Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and former Army colonel, said that it was wrong for politicians to interfere with military planning.
“When you come to redundancies it is deeply unpalatable, then the Government starts interfering,” he added. “Compulsory redundancy is important if you are restructuring.”
Dan Jarvis, another former Army officer and a Labour MP, said that there had been a conflict between Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence for the past two years of painful restructuring aimed at cutting costs and improving efficiency.
“I understand why there is this tension, but having made the difficult and controversial decision about the cuts, you cannot undermine the logic that underpins those cuts by short-term political expediency. Undoubtedly this comes at the cost of long-term operational capability,” Mr Jarvis added.
An internal Army e-mail, headed “Redundancy War Game” sent among a group of senior officers, discussed plans to implement the next two tranches of redundancies.
One officer wrote on November 27, last year: “All the evidence to date is that No 10 is not yet convinced of the need for more tranches and the sensitivity is particularly acute over ‘non-applicants’.”
A second officer replied: “Despite the positive progress [so far] of the letter drafted for SoS [Philip Hammond] to No 10, regarding the measures to increase the number of applicants, there is a real risk that No 10 could still block all further ‘non-applicant’ redundancies.”
The Army is expected to shed 9,500 jobs during the next two years. But one senior officer said that there was a suspicion that the job cuts would be accelerated to get the pain over and done with more quickly.
Soldiers have been subjected to two previous rounds of redundancy as part of a plan to cut the size of the Army from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, a move that has damaged morale.
Internal briefing notes outline the growing number of vacancies, known as “gapping”. A letter to commanders from the Army Personnel Centre, dated September 13, 2012, spoke about “the growing problem of gapping across the Army”.
It concluded: “A shortage of manpower supply against demand will continue for some time, requiring frequent, timely and pragmatic engagement by the chain of command.”
The problem even appeared to be affecting the Army’s ability to fill jobs in Afghanistan, despite this being the MoD’s main focus.
The Times has seen an internal army memo from November “trawling” for three Lieutenant-Colonels to be available for the next tour in Helmand province. “Unfortunately we are at a spike in demand for army Lieutenant-Colonels that cannot be satisfied by any method other than by centralised trawls,” the memo said.
A Downing Street source said: “We do not recognise the suggestion that we have been trying to speed up the redundancy process. This is a complex issue and one that needs to be carefully considered.
“Yes, voluntary redundancies are always preferable but army restructuring is a decision for the military and the MoD, and it must be one which leaves us with a flexible Army with full operational capability.”