News story

PUS and Service Chiefs issue letters to civil servants and civilian staff

In light of this, recognising that civilians across Defence face a time of considerable personal uncertainty while work to establish how we …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

In light of this, recognising that civilians across Defence face a time of considerable personal uncertainty while work to establish how we will deliver the required reductions in the civilian workforce continues, the Permanent Secretary (PUS) has written to all MOD civil servants, and the single Service Chiefs of Staff have written to all civilian staff who work to support the Navy, Army and RAF to:

• recognise the quality of their work;
• set the future in some context;
• thank them for their continued professionalism and commitment to supporting the Services; and
• emphasise that civilians are and will continue to be an integral part of all that the Armed Forces do and are vital to success.

Co-ordinating with the work to implement the conclusions of the SDSR, the Defence Reform Unit is taking forward the Defence Reform Review examining all the major aspects of how Defence works: policy, strategy and finance; the Armed Forces, with a particular focus on non-front-line elements; and the acquisition, commercial, estates and corporate services. The Grimstone review of civilians in Defence is part of this work. The Defence Reform Unit will re-evaluate the way the MOD is structured and managed and will report in July 2011. We expect changes to be implemented incrementally as the review progresses.

The full text of each letter can be found below.

Letter from the Permanent Secretary, Ursula Brennan

Dear Colleague,

In recent months the Civil Service in general, and the MOD Civil Service in particular, have taken quite a battering. As civil servants we know that most of what is written about us is usually only part of the story and is often quite simply wrong, but getting the press to present a more accurate picture is very difficult. Last week there were a couple of useful attempts to set the record straight.

The first was an article by Sir Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, in the Guardian [see below and Related Links]. Newspapers are not usually interested in this sort of material and it is hard for the leaders of the Civil Service to get this sort of message across so I hope you will take the opportunity to read the article.

The second opportunity to put the Civil Service in a different light came with the Civil Service Awards on 11 November 2010. The MOD was nominated in no less than seven of the 15 categories of these awards, which are designed to recognise the achievement of outstanding individuals and teams. Our nominations illustrated the diversity of what civilians do in Defence, from our commitment to collaborative cross-government energy procurement to training Afghan policewomen, from our Educational Outreach Programme to technical innovation in helping to solve helicopter brownout, and from a cross-departmental vacancy service in the West Midlands to the development of radar systems that work with wind farms. The Apache helicopter depth service team were winners of the Public Value Award and the team members were able to meet Her Majesty The Queen at the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace [see Related News].

I know that this period of working through the details of the implementation of the SDSR is a time of great uncertainty for staff. We know that we will need an early departure scheme, and that we plan for as many of those departures as possible to be under voluntary rather than compulsory terms, but until the legislation is enacted we cannot confirm the details of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme. We hope that this will be resolved by the end of January but I am afraid we are reliant on the parliamentary timetable here. In the meantime, our HR team are planning for the introduction of a departures scheme in MOD and we will be providing more details as soon as we can. Delivering the job reductions will not be easy. The Civil Service Awards have highlighted just some of the innovation and commitment which can be found right across the MOD Civil Service and which we will need to help us reshape a smaller, more focused Department. I thank you for your support and commitment through these difficult times.

Yours sincerely,

Ursula Brennan

Message from First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope

I am conscious that early communications on the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review announced on 19 October 2010 tended to be dominated by the impact on front line capabilities and the Armed Forces. This was partly because very little information was available then about the impact on the MOD’s civilian workforce beyond the headline figure of a reduction of 25,000 civil servants.

Three weeks on, the effect on Navy Command civil servants is still far from clear but I wanted to write to all Navy Command civilians to explain what we do know, and how we intend to approach the staff reductions required of us. Starting with the challenge we face, civilian staff reductions within Navy Command will affect both civil servants and Royal Fleet Auxiliary [RFA]. For civil servants the target is expected to be around 25 per cent, whilst RFA reductions will reflect the impact of the SDSR front line reductions as well as a 10 per cent efficiency challenge.

In broad terms we intend to approach this in much the same way as we have approached earlier initiatives, which have enabled Navy Command over the years to lead the way in business transformation and continuous improvement programmes. Indeed, as a result of these, we are the leanest and most manpower effective of the front line TLBs [Top Level Budgets]. I and my Navy Board colleagues continue to take every opportunity to stress this point and to secure a proper ‘reward for good behaviour’. We will also be pressing MOD to move more quickly towards targets based on benchmarks, where our good performance is acknowledged, rather than pain in equal proportions.

Our approach will, however, also be affected by further work currently being done under the auspices of the Defence Reform Review which is looking at the entire structure and organisation of MOD, and of the Grimstone review of civil servants in Defence, which is looking to bring corporate functions back into MOD centre ownership (albeit with many staffs remaining in their TLB locations) and which will also distinguish between policy and delivery functions. Given this background it is clearly likely to take some time to work out what is likely to happen to individual functions although it is likely that some reductions will be required across most functions.

At the same time, the scope, structure and terms of the civilian voluntary early release scheme (VERS) are still being worked up. The Government concluded its negotiations on a new Civil Service Compensation Scheme only days before the announcement of the SDSR and associated endorsement of plans for a MOD-wide VERS. The Department’s own plans are built on the Civil Service-wide scheme and the details will be developed with full Trade Union consultation over coming weeks. But the Defence Board and Ministers are already clear that we intend to deliver the changes required of us with minimal disruption and maximum emphasis on voluntary release rather than compulsory.

I recognise that many of you will be worried about how this will affect you and am sorry that we do not have more meaningful information to give you at present. But I would like to assure you that as soon as this is available, it will be promulgated widely throughout the Command. In the meantime, may I also assure you that, along with Navy Board colleagues, I fully recognise the crucial role that Navy Command civilians and Royal Fleet Auxiliary play in supporting the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in the delivery of maritime capability. I also know that we can rely on our civilians, uniformed and otherwise, to continue to support us with the professionalism and commitment that you demonstrate day-in, day-out. We need this even more in the challenging times to come, and will do our best to support you and keep you informed as our plans develop.

Message from Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I particularly wanted to write to civil servants and other civilians who work with the Army following the announcement of the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review on 19 October 2010. MOD civilians are at the heart of Defence and play a key role in delivering all that the Army does. As part of an integrated team you are vital to our success in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I have seen how critical your contribution is at first hand throughout my career, and most recently as Commander-in-Chief. I want to make clear that I have your interests and concerns at heart, and value you every bit as much as those in uniform. I have already met many of you, and look forward to meeting more of you over the coming months. I also want to ensure that I get regular feedback on your views and concerns.

I am very conscious that this is a time of considerable uncertainty.The SDSR provided a number of strategic, high level answers, setting out a range of key decisions and a direction of travel for the next decade and beyond. But there is a great deal of work now to do to flesh out and give effect to the headline decisions. The detailed impact of many of the decisions on our military and civilian workforce is not yet clear. On the civilian side, we do not yet know the scale of reductions which will be made to the civilian workforce supporting the Army.The White Paper published on 19 October 2010 said that there will be a reduction in the total MOD civilian workforce (including locally engaged civilians and those working in Trading Funds) from around 85,000 now to around 60,000 by 2015, i.e. something like a 30 per cent reduction. The Army currently employs some 21,000 civilians, including those who are locally engaged. But - as I say - I am not yet in a position to say what scale of reduction we will be required to make in that number. I undertake that we will keep you informed - and rapidly informed - as and when we know the detail of what is going to happen.

What I can say is that I am very aware that the scale of the reductions is likely to be significant, and that I am acutely conscious of the uncertainty and the unsettling effect which that will have for many. My objective - and indeed the objective of colleagues on the Defence Board and on the Army Board - is to seek to ensure that we reduce that uncertainty as quickly as we can, but not by making premature decisions that we later regret. Hasty certainty will not be in anyone’s interests.
What is already clear is that there will be a civilian early release scheme and that that scheme will start to operate next year. The financial settlement for Defence resulting from the Comprehensive Spending Review (announced on 20 October 2010) contains provision for that scheme. Further details of the terms of the scheme, and how it will be operated, will be published in the coming months, although it may only be the beginning of next year before this happens. As usual, there will be prior consultation with the Trades Unions.

There is a strong Defence commitment - which I fully share - to ensuring that, in the operation of the early release scheme, any compulsory redundancies are kept to a minimum. As many reductions as possible will be achieved through continuing restrictions on recruitment and on filling posts, and through natural wastage. Across Defence, it is estimated that these factors will lead to net reductions of at least 4,000 over the next three years. In the Army, we have for example already made reductions in the civilian headcount of over 500 since April this year by not filling vacant jobs, and I anticipate being able to make more reductions in this way over the next couple of years. For the reductions which we will need to make beyond that, there will be a strong preference for voluntary early releases where that is possible. And we will continue to attach priority to the many posts which support the main effort in Afghanistan.

I am very conscious that we do not yet have specific answers to the burning question for most individuals, ‘what does this mean for me?’ We are working hard to develop those answers, and will share the results once they are known. But in many areas that will take some time, and I do not want to hold out a false promise of early certainty for individuals.

What I can say with confidence though is that the Army will continue to need a substantial and well-qualified civilian workforce, and that that workforce will remain integral to all that we do, and to our ability to deliver success now and in the future. We will continue to offer a wide range of challenging and interesting jobs, and to rely on your skills.

In closing, it is worth underlining that this period of change is a period when the demands on the Army, and therefore on you, are high, and I hope that I can count on your continued energy and commitment. I value that very highly; it will be vital to our continued success.

Finally, thank you for your hard work and for your stoicism in these uncertain times.

Yours sincerely,


Message from Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton

I recognise that the announcement of the findings of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the continuing work to translate them into measures for implementation has been, and continues to be, a worrying time for all those who work with and support the RAF, and for their families. In these challenging and uncertain times, I should like to emphasise my enormous appreciation of the essential work that civil servants do in supporting the RAF in delivering its mission. I witness and admire the professionalism and individual dedication of the civilian staff we see every day working energetically and earnestly across Air Command, in DE&S [Defence Equipment and Support] and across MOD, directly contributing to the work of the Royal Air Force. We are all part of the RAF family. With this in mind, I should like to offer my thoughts on what the future may look like for the civilian staff who support the Royal Air Force, although I hope that you will appreciate that it is impossible to be definitive at this stage.

The SDSR announced plans for a Future Force 2020 that will include a modern and very capable Royal Air Force, equipped with some of the most advanced military aircraft, including Tornado, Typhoon, modern fleets of support helicopters, A400M, FSTA, and a range of Remotely Piloted Aircraft. However, tough decisions had to be made about the path to Future Force 2020 and, as I am sure that you will know, it was decided to withdraw the Harrier Force from service and not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service. Along with these reductions in capability, we will also reduce RAF uniformed and civilian manpower and rationalise the RAF estate. I know that there is, inevitably, much speculation surrounding the future of certain RAF stations in the wake of the SDSR announcements. However, the only decisions taken to date are to close RAF Cottesmore and RAF Lyneham, as announced before the SDSR. RAF Kinloss will no longer be required by the RAF, but no decisions have been made as to its future use. There will be a basing study, conducted in Head Office but with the close involvement of Air Command, to review the RAF’s requirements, including in the context of returning troops from Germany, and further work will be required to define the basing requirement for the Military Flying Training System. So, while the SDSR referred to two other bases being no longer required, there is considerable work to be done to confirm our precise future estate needs.

Plans for future RAF personnel numbers, flowing from changes in the force structure, were sufficiently well defined for the SDSR to announce that around 5,000 reductions will be made by 2015. Plans for the civilian workforce were less precise, but as you will be aware the SDSR announcement included the headline statement that 25,000 civilian posts would be lost from across Defence by 2015. This equates to a very significant reduction of about a third of the 85,000 civilians employed by MOD, around 8,700 of whom are employed in Air Command. The nature and distribution of the reductions across the MOD remains unclear for the moment.

That said, it is only right that I should acknowledge that there will be a significant reduction in the number of civilians currently employed in Defence, which will be of concern to many of you, both in terms of immediate job security and longer-term career aspirations. I recognise that there will be a strong individual desire to know what impact this will have and to achieve that clarity from one’s personal perspective as soon as possible. I believe it is also important that decisions of this magnitude are taken in a considered manner to ensure that the Department and the Royal Air Force, in particular, can provide clear and practical advice to those who will be leaving whilst continuing to focus on providing a challenging and rewarding career for the majority who will be remaining. Unfortunately, this prolongs the uncertainty for individuals and their families. I have very clearly articulated in the Defence Board and elsewhere that while rigour is essential in such work, it must be concluded as swiftly as possible, to avoid uncertainty continuing for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Please be assured that just as soon as the plans become clearer I shall ensure that you are informed promptly. Meanwhile, we are identifying restructuring and associated reductions at HQ Air Command, and beyond, that will contribute to meeting the demanding savings targets.

As you are probably aware, the MOD has already announced, via the intranet and cascaded emails, that a Civilian Voluntary Early Release (VER) Scheme will be put into operation in April 2011, with supplementary schemes in subsequent years. Further details will be announced nearer the time and following consultation with the Trade Unions. Staff will be briefed through their line managers and with details on the intranet, supported by presentations delivered by the Air Command Human Resources Business Partners. For staff based on stations already faced with a drawdown, we will be seeking to support people, through up-skilling, job searches and one-to-one interviews. We will draw on the widest support available to assist people faced with losing their jobs.

However, I and the Defence Board collectively are clear that reductions should be achieved with the minimum of compulsory redundancies. In order to reduce the potential impact, Air Command has put in place restrictions on external and internal recruitment, and will make savings from gapped posts and the usual flow of people leaving their jobs. Measures of this nature alone are expected to save 4,000 posts across MOD to 2013 and the VER scheme is intended to support the strong presumption that further reductions should be made voluntarily wherever possible.

I am sorry that I cannot offer any greater certainty about the future at this stage, but I hope I have put some of the key issues into a broader RAF and MOD perspective. One thing I can be certain about is that the RAF will continue to need a substantial and professional civilian workforce to support it along the path to Future Force 2020 and beyond. As I have said, once I have more definitive information I will ensure it is made available to you. In the meantime, I, the CinC [Commander-in-Chief]Â and the Command Secretary would like to thank all those civilians and their families who support the Royal Air Force in the widest sense for their continuing steadfastness and commitment, and to reiterate our continuing high regard for the value of your contribution. Your work is vital for the maintenance of Defence, and the evolution of the Service, especially through this age of uncertainty.


Sir Gus O’Donnell’s article in the Guardian on 10 November 2010

Tomorrow the Civil Service Awards will take place in Buckingham Palace, rightly recognising some of those civil servants who - in Britain and overseas - have gone beyond the everyday and done something truly extraordinary to make people’s lives better.

Nominees for awards include inspirational civil servants who have, through their energy and creativity, helped to change people’s lives - whether through driving down drug use in prison, improving the use of helicopters in combat, or helping parents to access the free school meals to which their children are entitled.

While entertaining, the tired old caricatures of the Civil Service stand in stark contrast to the modern reality, epitomised by the recipients of these awards. But perceptions remain stubbornly resistant to change. Regrettably, misrepresentation of Civil Service roles and their pay and conditions is not unusual. The hackneyed stories of civil servants on Premiership footballer-style salaries, living and working in luxurious conditions in Whitehall, enjoying a job for life, and retiring on fat cat pensions, are becoming increasingly absurd.

It is hard not to grow weary of the repeated references to featherbedded pen-pushing bureaucrats in Whitehall. The reality is that more than 84 per cent of all civil servants are outside London, working across the whole country and overseas, delivering and supporting front line services.

And let us be absolutely clear. It is not the lure of pay and pensions that draws most people to the Civil Service. The median salary of a civil servant is £22,850 a year - lower than the wider public sector, and lower than the private sector. Indeed, 60 per cent of civil servants earn less than the private sector median of £25,000. The average pension is £7,000. Nor has the number of civil servants grown over recent years - in fact, quite the reverse. We will soon have the smallest Civil Service since the beginning of the Second World War.

As head of the Home Civil Service, I am acutely conscious of the impact of this misrepresentation on men and women working extremely hard for their communities, especially at a time when many face a renewed uncertainty about the future.

Civil servants are fully aware of the challenges the British economy faces. They are, after all, working tirelessly and professionally to support the Coalition Government through the current challenges, every day, and in every part of Britain. I also know - as they do - that civil servants must play their part in sharing the pain of the difficult times ahead. Most government departments face administrative cuts of about a third over the coming years, with a pay freeze, reforms to pensions, and, of course, inevitable job losses.

These are not easy times for the Civil Service. But, as it has done through so many challenging periods in the past, the Civil Service will continue to draw on the dedication and quality for which it is internationally renowned. I am proud of the way the Civil Service rose once again in 2010 to the challenge of handling the transition from one government to another without missing a beat, and has quickly got into its stride in helping the Coalition Government to implement an ambitious policy programme.

And this week, with support from all political parties, we enact legislation to set in statute the abiding principles of the Civil Service: honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity. There are too many countries where the values we take for granted in our civil servants simply do not exist. Seeing these values in action, applied with dedication by hardworking individuals, makes me proud to lead a service that is making life better for millions across Britain.

Published 15 November 2010