Defence reform 'gives service chiefs greater control'
21 September 2012
The June 2011 independent report published by the Defence Reform Steering Group, chaired by Lord Levene, made 53 recommendations establishing what the report's Executive Summary refers to as a 'New Model' for the structure and financial management of UK defence. The then-Secretary of State Liam Fox agreed to all of the recommendations, and they are currently being introduced as part of the government's wider Defence Reform agenda, with a target date for full implementation of April 2014.
The Royal Navy faces particular challenges in this process. As well as implementing the Levene reforms, the service that encompasses capabilities across all three domains is faced with a reduction in personnel to 29,000 by 2020, in the midst of which the Queen Elizabeth class carriers and the F-35B will arrive, the new Type 26 frigate will be in development, and the new MARS replenishment vessels will be incorporated into the fleet.
Rear Admiral Tim Fraser, Defence Reform (Maritime) Implementation Team Leader, discussed the practical implications of the Levene Report with DMJ at Navy Command.
One of the key changes that Levene introduces is a reduction in the roles of the service chiefs at the corporate and strategic governance level of defence, and a refocus of their efforts towards running their services. Rear Admiral Fraser describes this as an opportunity for the First Sea Lord: "Although he has always been the professional head, there is now greater delegation, more control of the levers that allow him to deliver the totality." In the New Model, he outlines, "the First Sea Lord will be responsible for generating and delivering the naval service – planning new equipment, the use of in-service equipment and greater freedom to prioritise. That means he will be more focused on the running of the Royal Navy's top-level budget, and the Navy Command."
These responsibilities, Fraser explains, bring with them "a new process of holding to account" with the Permanent Under Secretary, the department's Chief Accounting Officer. "This all comes from the Levene approach of less committee-based decision-making," he says, and a focus on accountable decision-making. Navy Command cites April 2013 as the date when it begins to undertake this rigorous new regime.
As the services take greater control of their own decisions, the Levene Report voiced the expectation that their staff presence at Head Office would be reduced and a greater emphasis would be placed on the Service Commands. Fraser acknowledges that Navy Command is changing. Headquarters underwent a "rigorous analysis" in the autumn of 2011 "to make sure we were properly structured to give the First Sea Lord the confidence that we can deliver output". The aim, he says, is for "a more strategic headquarters, delegating some of the responsibilities that have traditionally been held here and preparing to receive these delegated roles". There will be a requirement for new skills within headquarters, he confirms, which "are being identified, and definitely being put in place".
The New Model is welcome, says the Rear Admiral. "It is attractive because of the greater delegation to Navy Command, and control of the levers to develop and generate our naval capability, and with that comes real opportunity, which I think is enabling." Better decision-making, and faster and more cost-effective decisions, could all come as a result of the New Model, he believes.
This might raise the question of where all these aspects were before. Had decision-making at Head Office been lacking, not least in accountability? Would the New Model change that? "I think it's not so much holding Head Office to account," says Fraser, "but it is an opportunity for the First Sea Lord to express and articulate his thoughts and concerns back to Head Office."
However, he stresses, efficient delivery of capability in the future will require more than just a new working relationship with Head Office. "We still rely on other areas of defence to deliver to us. Though these new delegated powers are extremely attractive in placing more levers in control of the First Sea Lord, he doesn't have them all." While Fraser acknowledges that the New Model gives the First Sea Lord an opportunity to indicate to Head Office "where he is being impacted by other areas", he insists that "this will only work with less people in headquarters if the headquarters are allowed to get on and deliver without more oversight from Head Office".
Increasingly, focus will be placed on the effectiveness of the recently established Joint Forces Command. "Undoubtedly we will be relying on Joint Forces Command for the planning and delivery of capabilities that are essential to delivering our naval outputs," Fraser contends. There is hard work under way to establish what the Rear Admiral refers to as "the right linkages" to enable this, and he emphasises that "we want to avoid the friction in parts of procurement that in the past have made it inefficient. It is in Joint Forces Command's best interest – and in Naval Command's best interest – to work extremely closely to deliver the best in defence."
Changes at the top level of command will also mean changes in personnel. Levene specified that the increased role for the service chiefs would reduce the requirement for a separate four-star commander-in-chief, and, in Navy Command this has necessitated the end of the post of Commander-in-Chief Fleet, which was disestablished in April to be replaced by the three-star post of Fleet Commander. Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who held the post of Commander-in-Chief Fleet, currently holds the post of Fleet Commander and will continue to do so until he is replaced by Vice Admiral Philip Jones at the end of 2012.
There will also be a decrease at other levels. "We are on a path of reducing overall numbers in defence and along with that is a reduction in the number of senior officers," Fraser reveals. "We structure the service appropriately for the future, and there is no doubt that we are delivering the same outputs with less people." However, he adds, "there is still a requirement for senior management structure".
"One of the recommendations was to manage and use senior military and civilian personnel more effectively," says Fraser. "People staying in post longer, with more transparent and joint career management. However, Navy Command has been on this transformation journey for quite a while, and therefore we are reasonably practised at it. Certainly in the 1990s, post-SDR, it was recognised that we needed to make more savings to deliver capabilities. The navy had gotten smaller, and its organisational structure was too big for the size of the navy we had."
This was turned to an advantage that, in Fraser's opinion, the navy still holds. "There was an opportunity there to significantly rationalise the headquarters structure, and that really started a 12 to 15-year period where we have been on a continuous path of transformation. Trying to maximise the efficiency of the resources we do have, and optimise the frontline effort."
This has meant "not spending anything on areas of activity that are not strictly related to delivering that output," explains Fraser, which has led to some difficult decision-making, including the contractualisation of some areas of training. "I think that was unproven and it was uncomfortable to make that jump, but I think it has been a good one in terms of efficiency."
Given that cost effectiveness and cost efficiency were factors that shaped the Levene Report, the question must be asked – is the path to the New Model just another way of saving money? "There's no doubt that defence has had to play a part in the fiscal climate we are in, in terms of government resources," says Fraser, and as a result further reductions in personnel have been made. "However, "the aim is to be better at some of the decisions we make in terms of delivering capability for the future.
"I think a lot of Lord Levene's recommendations point at managing defence better," the Rear Admiral concludes, "and using this as an opportunity to do that rather than just concentrating on the fact that we've had to make reductions. In Navy Command that means a change in behaviours, and a greater delegation of activities outside of headquarters to the lowest level possible, to create that space to be able to take on these new delegated responsibilities and take advantage of them."
HAVE YOUR SAY
21 September 2012
Joint Forces Command - sounds so simple, what a shame it won't work as non of the sevices can work together for the common good of UK LTD.
Either they work together or they are broken up and combined as one force, getting rid of two tiers of command ranks. As the forces get smaller and the budget gets squeezed can we trully maintain three services and their separate commands?
JC - UK
22 September 2012
Exactly the same as New Management Strategy and Keep It To Essentials failed to do in the 1990s, then. Same old same old. Meanwhile, top brass attempt to pass off 38% cuts in resources as somehow advantageous. If it weren't so tragic, it'd be funny. Still, knighthoods all round, no doubt.
AlMiles - Bristol, UK
26 September 2012
My personnel POV - Doing more for less again- the Navy still needs to learn to say 'No' we cannot do that task any more.... The Nelson can do attitude will slowly strip away the RNs capabilities to carry out support of UK dependent territories and provide support of UK National interests on a global basis.
Alasdair Gilchrist MBE - UK
30 October 2012
The Service chiefs need to be held to account for their present actions, to show than can handle their current levels of reposnsibility before being given more. Their behaviour at times is, from what I have seen and experienced, reflective of the effects of power without (financial) responsibility.
But the wheel continues to turn, with old ideas being dug up, dusted off and rebadged every 10 years or so. Some corporate memory seems to be a key requirement for MoD, if history is not to continue repeating itself.repeating itself..repeating itself..repeating itself...
Muddler - UK
13 December 2012
The New Model reduces still further the 'Footprint' of the RN. Rusticated to Portsmouth the opportunities to influence, have presence, inform and network make it more difficult for the maritime needs of the UK to be heard. Already there is dwindling linkage to the Public at a time when protection of UK increases in importance.
Christopher - Guildford