Meanwhile, we have just completed a difficult and painful Defence and Security Review. To those who believe we should have taken more time over…
Meanwhile, we have just completed a difficult and painful Defence and Security Review. To those who believe we should have taken more time over it, I would say that concluding it alongside the Comprehensive Spending Review enabled us to use the strategic arguments to try and influence the resource allocation process - with some success.
This would not have been possible had we adopted a more leisurely pace. Nevertheless, the Government’s intent to reduce the deficit meant we had to take some hard decisions. The fact that our budget was reduced by less than that of many other departments cannot disguise the pain of what we have had to do.
This has led to some inevitable short-term incoherencies. The question for us has been whether we can get through this lean period to a strategically and militarily coherent position in the longer term. The answer, I believe, is yes, with one important caveat: we will need to see real-terms growth in the Defence Budget in each of the five years of the second half of the decade.
I have made this point forcefully to both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. I am delighted that the Prime Minister gave his personal commitment to such growth in his statement to Parliament on the Review.
And now the future is in your hands. If the last few years have been demanding, the next few will be no less so. The world is a complex, dangerous and unpredictable place, and the contribution of our armed forces will be crucial to fostering the stability on which the United Kingdom’s peace and prosperity depend.
Within the military, our most crucial asset will continue to be the courage, skill and training of our people. I have no doubt that you will rise to the challenges ahead as you have to those in the past. This country can and should be enormously proud that it still has men and women of such quality and integrity who are prepared to step forward and serve. It has been the privilege of my life to have served alongside you. Good luck and God speed.
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL SIR JOCK STIRRUP
Farewell message from Sir Bill Jeffrey
As I step down after five years as MOD Permanent Secretary, I wanted to offer my thanks and good wishes to all our staff, civilian and military.
The last five years have been an extraordinarily difficult and challenging time for Defence and for the Department. Public attention has, rightly, focussed on the commitment and courage of our front line troops, particularly in Iraq and in Afghanistan. That is as it should be. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
As the Department’s senior civilian, I would add my own personal thanks to the many hundreds of civil servants who have voluntarily served on operations in support of military colleagues, and done so with distinction.
But the last five years has also stretched the Department itself in its vital support role. One of the inspiring features of my job over these years has been to hear at first hand from those in all parts of the MOD who have been working to support deployed operations. In Abbey Wood, at PJHQ, in the Front Line Commands, in the Defence Support Group, here in Main Building, I have met staff - military and civilian, because it is a team effort at all levels - whose enthusiasm and contribution has been exemplary and of whom we can all be proud.
The last few years have also seen acute financial pressures on the Defence budget, which we have had to work hard to manage, and most recently the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Government-wide Spending Review. I believe we emerge from these in a stronger position than might otherwise have been the case. The SDSR has correctly concentrated on defining a force structure for the 2020s and beyond - more flexible and adaptable forces, which will be smaller than we have now, but will nevertheless be among the most capable in the world. The challenge for our political masters and our successors will be to ensure that these capabilities are funded and affordable, and like CDS I welcome the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to the necessary growth in the latter part of the decade.
In the shorter term, the position has undoubtedly been greatly affected by the fact that the Government’s highest priority at the moment is to take the steps necessary to reduce the fiscal deficit and restore the economy. We fared better in the Spending Review than most other parts of Government, but the outcome is nevertheless a significant real terms reduction in expenditure over the next few years, and particularly in running costs, which will be painful and difficult to implement. I know that the civilian reductions in particular are a source of anxiety and concern, and I understand why. My successor is determined, as I would have been, to ensure that we manage that process openly and professionally.
Otherwise, my main message to the Department as I depart is that you should all be proud of what you have achieved. I have mentioned support for operations. In DE&S, although there is a major programme of acquisition reform still in train, staff can take satisfaction from the fact that the recent Major Projects report praised ‘an emerging trend of improved project performance’. The support for ministers on the Defence aspects of the SDSR, led by Tom McKane’s team but with many parts of the Department involved, was the MOD operating at its best in the Department of State role and has been remarked on very favourably by the Defence Secretary and his colleagues. The MOD, I know, is a long way from the MOD I read about in the newspapers.
To the MOD civil service, I would say simply that it has been a privilege to lead you. Defence is well served by its civilians, as the senior military are the first to acknowledge.
There are, I suspect, challenging times ahead. In Ursula Brennan I have a successor who is already well respected in the MOD and widely experienced in Whitehall, and to whom I pass the baton with confidence. I wish her, and all of you, the very best for the future.