It would be too glib of me to suggest that the Ministry’s preferred way to respond to the Conservative opposition’s call “to cut MoD costs by 25%” would be to abandon the Royal Navy (or ground the Royal Air Force), but it’s hard to imagine them voluntarily cutting their own numbers:
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox is expected to tell the party’s conference: “Some things will have to change and believe me, they will.”
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said Mr Fox had asked for savings in bureaucracy – the MoD has 85,000 civil servants.
The Tories have pledged to cut overall Whitehall budgets by a third.
In his speech to party members in Manchester, Dr Fox will accuse Labour of having creating “a black hole” in defence budgets, which are affecting the war in Afghanistan and threatening to create an “on-going defence crisis for years to come”.
Of course, there’s nothing new about the administrative “tail” of the armed forces growing . . . C. Northcote Parkinson documented the phenomenon (PDF) back in 1955:
The accompanying table is derived from Admiralty statistics for 1914 and 1928. The criticism voiced at the time centered on the comparison between the sharp fall in numbers of those available for fighting and the sharp rise in those available only for administration, the creation, it was said, of “a magnificent Navy on land.” But that
comparison is not to the present purpose. What we have to note is that the 2,000 Admiralty officials of 1914 had become the 3,569 of 1928; and that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work. The Navy during that period had diminished, in point of fact, by a third in men and two-thirds in ships. Nor, from 1922 onwards, was its strength even expected to increase, for its total of ships (unlike its total of officials) was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement of that year. Yet in these circumstances we had a 78.45 percent increase in Admiralty officials over a period of fourteen years; an average increase of 5.6 percent a year on the earlier total. In fact, as we shall see, the rate of increase was not as regular as that. All we have to consider, at this stage, is the percentage rise over a given period.