General Sir Nick Houghton promises ‘straight-talking approach’ to keep service personnel on side as cuts are implemented
The new head of Britain’s armed forces has warned that members of the military may become “cynical and detached” because deep cuts have not been properly explained to them.
The chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, admitted he faced a “huge challenge” maintaining morale and performance as the services are dramatically reduced. But he promised an “honest, straight-talking” approach to ensure that in future everyone was “on side”.
In an interview with the internal MoD magazine Defence Focus, Houghton said the country needed to “recalibrate our expectation” of the global role and capacity of British forces. He conceded that the long-term outcome of the 12-year war in Afghanistan “still sits in the balance”.
Houghton said the government austerity drive could be used to “liberate our thinking about more efficient and effective ways of doing business” but that changes had been insufficiently explained internally. “I plan to be honest, straight-talking and supportive,” he said. “I think there’s a significant amount of scope for better internal and external communication.
“With transformation for example, this should be more than just communicating a message – we should be doing it in a way that makes everyone feel on side with what is going on, believes in it and can see the part they need to play.”
Houghton said the military was also “guilty of creating bureaucracy, people checking up on others and holding people to account unnecessarily” and needed to slim down HQ operations. “I don’t think any of this is beyond the wit of man to get right,” he told the magazine.
“But the combination of making manpower reductions, keeping our people motivated, maintaining the right skillsets in the right places, and continuing to prosecute operations and run the day-to-day business of defence is a huge challenge.”
Speaking about Afghanistan, he said: “While everything we’ve invested … in terms of blood and treasure and effort over the past 12 years has helped transform the security situation, the enduring outcome for Afghanistan still sits in the balance.”
He said “no decisions have been made” on any UK military involvement in Syria.
The shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, said: “Rather than strategically remodelling our forces for a post-Afghanistan, post-crash, rapidly evolving security landscape, the government have simply shed capacity.
“Army strength and numbers rely on a reserves plan in complete crisis, which could severely limit our ability to respond to and shape world events.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Some of General Houghton’s quotes in a recent interview have been taken out of context. He did not suggest that changes in defence have reduced our capabilities or expectations, in fact the CDS said that in future, as we prepare for contingent operations rather than an enduring operation, we have to recalibrate our capabilities.
“He has been very clear that he wants members of the armed forces to understand and be actively involved in the delivery of Future Force2020 and is committed to communicating regularly and …read more