Our civilian workers do an excellent job. I recognise that reductions in our workforce will require the Ministry of Defence to look strategically at the way in which we operate. The majority of the planned reductions are under way and there is an opportunity to identify further efficiencies across defence. Our priority is to deliver a smaller, more productive workforce that will ultimately generate savings for reinvestment in front-line capability.
Does the Minister acknowledge that further cuts to the civilian workforce will inevitably shift the burden on to armed forces personnel? How does he think that will affect the retention, recruitment and morale of our troops, which, according to servicemen and women in my constituency, are already worryingly low?
Under the “whole force” approach, we have tried to find the balance both between regular and reserve service personnel, and between MOD civilians and contractors. This is a mix that successive Governments have followed. We try to use the right people in the right place at the right time.
Civilians at Defence Equipment and Support fulfil one of the MOD’s most important responsibilities—making sure that our troops have the right kit—yet they, along with the rest of the MOD’s civilians staff, face 30% cuts. DE&S requires highly specialist expertise, for example to make sure that our aircraft are safe, so will the Minister explain how he can impose 30% cuts without losing such vital skills?
The Minister is telling us that although there will be 30% cuts across the civilian staff, some areas will face cuts to civilian staff higher than 30% and other areas will face 20% cuts. It is in the strategic defence review that there will be 30% cuts to civilian staff, but he tells me that they will not be at DE&S, so where will they be instead? In the last two years alone, DE&S has lost 5,000 staff. At the same time, the cost of contractors has spiralled. We are in the ludicrous position where the Public Accounts Committee says that we are spending £250 million on contractors who are advising us on how to reduce our reliance on contractors. Surely the Minister ought to learn from experience and make these cuts in a strategic way, as opposed to introducing arbitrary cuts.
I am grateful for the pithy question. There is a basic misunderstanding here. The hon. Lady needs to understand that many of these programmes are already in place. For example, the footprint strategy, which will see our footprint reduced by some 30%, will naturally mean that there is less need for civilians in certain parts of the estate. Some of the measures are already under way, so we do not simply have to impose a blanket 30% cut in DE&S.