Ministry of Defence handling of job cuts grotesque, say MPs

MPs have damned as "grotesque" the way members of the armed forces are being subjected to compulsory redundancy while no civil servants at the Ministry of Defence have been asked to leave against their will.

The Commons cross-party defence committee dismisses explanations given by ministers and senior officials, describing the different treatment meted out to military personnel and civil servants as "shocking".

In their report, which is withering even by the standards of their frequent attacks in the past on MoD practices, the MPs say theft and fraud in the ministry continues to rise, the ministry does not appear to want to "understand the costs of its current operations", and it is "hiding behind official security classifications" to suppress information.

They also deplore the Treasury's failure to explain what it is doing to persuade the MoD to comply with official financial reporting standards. And – ironically, given the £35bn-plus black hole in the defence budget – the ministry underspent last year to the tune of more than £6bn, the report discloses.

The MPs say the MoD "should consider whether the terms of redundancy offered to either the military or civilian staff are fair or appropriate in the light of the stark and shocking difference between the application of compulsion in redundancy to the two branches of service in the MoD".

They add: "For military redundancies to be compulsory in 40% of cases, yet for civilian redundancies to be compulsory in none, is so grotesque that it requires an exceptionally persuasive reason."

They say they are not persuaded by explanations that civil servants were more "flexible" in what they could do, and that many civil servants but insufficient members of the armed forces applied for redundancy.

The committee's chairman, James Arbuthnot, said: "Look at the areas where the armed forces are undermanned. Why cannot the MoD retrain service personnel, who face redundancy, to fill those many trades where there are shortages, such as combat medical technicians or intelligence gatherers?"

Meanwhile, thefts of military equipment are increasing and the amount recovered by MoD is low, the MPs say. Helicopter rotor blades worth £50,000, £45,000 night-vision goggles and an inflatable boat were among recent thefts, which totalled more than £1.9m last year. Just £19,000 worth was recovered and there were 11 prosecutions, seven cautions and five dismissals.

The MoD said it had announced 17,000 military redundancies in total so far, although more will be imposed on the army, and 32,000 civil service redundancies.

The shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, said: "Thousands of service personnel are being unceremoniously sacked. It is essential that the painful impact of David Cameron's decisions is minimised wherever possible. The transition between military and civilian life is always difficult and the government should do more to provide opportunity and stability."

Murphy added: "It is vital in the face of deep cuts to defence that ministers account for every penny and wipe out waste. Responsibility for financial management in one of the most important departments lies at the prime minister's door and he must deal with these worrying weaknesses."