Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009

PM 'to examine' 47m MoD bonuses

Troops kneel as a Chinook helicopter takes off in the background
Critics say a helicopter shortage is undermining UK forces' operations

Gordon Brown has said he will "examine" bonuses to Ministry of Defence civil servants after it was revealed they had amounted to £47m so far this year.

Families of some soldiers killed in Afghanistan have attacked the sum and the Tories said troops would be aghast.

Hazel Hunt, whose Army private son died in August, said the performance-related pay-out for 50,000 staff was "obscene".

The prime minister said some bonuses had gone to civilians who were "out in the field" supporting troops.

'Not delivering'

Speaking at an engine manufacturing plant in Gillingham, Kent, Mr Brown said: "If there are any questions asked over the bonuses, I will examine them.

"I've got to say that some of the people who have received help have been working out in the field and people that have been supporting people out there.

Many in the armed forces will be aghast that bonuses are being paid on the basis of 'outstanding performance'
Liam Fox
Shadow defence secretary

"We want to send a message of support to our armed forces."

Home Secretary Alan Johnson told GMTV that MoD civilians did "difficult and sometimes dangerous" jobs.

Defence minister Kevan Jones had revealed the bonuses figure in a written reply to a Tory parliamentary question.

The MoD says 50,000 staff got bonuses under previously arranged pay deals, averaging less than £1,000 each.

But the Conservatives said troops serving in Afghanistan would be angry to learn of the payments.

BBC correspondent Helen Fawkes said the figures had been revealed at a sensitive time for the MoD, with casualties mounting in Afghanistan.

Ms Hunt, whose 21-year-old son Richard was killed in a blast while on vehicle patrol, said the MoD was "not delivering".

"It is obscene they have got such bonuses while our troops are being short changed; not only in equipment but also in the fact that my son was barely on £17,000 a year," she added.

Graham Knight, whose son Ben was killed in Helmand in 2006 when his RAF Nimrod exploded in mid-air, queried the payments in light of the MoD's policy of trying to make savings.

Mr Knight said: "On the one hand they're looking to seek efficiencies, on the other hand they're paying out £47m in bonuses."

It comes as the families of those killed in the Nimrod disaster are due to meet armed forces minister Bill Rammell at RAF Kinloss following the publication last month of an independent review into the crash in which 14 military personnel died.

'Out of balance'

The lowest-paid Army privates earn £16,681 a year, with a six-month tax-free operational allowance of £2,380 if they are posted to Afghanistan.

An MoD spokesman said: "These pay awards are met from within salary budget and have no impact on the operational or equipment budget."

According to reports, bonus payments for senior officials could be as much as £8,000.

Jonathan Baume, leader of the FDA civil servants' union, defends the payments

The spokesman added that the £47m sum, paid between April and October, was not expected to increase significantly before the end of the financial year.

The MoD employs 85,000 civil servants - one for every two active armed forces personnel. Its figures showed a total of £287,809,049 had been paid out in bonuses since 2003 - the year Britain went to war in Iraq.

Shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox, who requested the figures, told the Daily Telegraph: "Many in the armed forces will be aghast that bonuses are being paid on the basis of 'outstanding performance'.

"This will only increase the view that the armed forces and the MoD administration are hugely out of balance."

The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, described the bonus awards as "scandalous".

He said: "Ministers claim budgets are too tight to provide more vital equipment - such as helicopters - to our forces in Afghanistan. Yet they can still find almost £50m in the last year alone to hand out to MoD mandarins.

"The government must cut back on the amount it spends on civilian jobs at the MoD. The savings should then be used to provide our brave troops with the pay and conditions they deserve."

Mr Johnson said he "instinctively" wanted as much funding as possible to reach service personnel.

He added: "Let's be clear - our priority always has to be the soldiers at the front line for equipment, for pay, for conditions."

But he said civil servants also had to go "into the front line" - for instance, to develop techniques to protect troops from improvised bombs.

"When they do that my understanding is they work 17, 18 hours in Afghanistan," he added.

"They don't get overtime for that - they get a bonus to compensate."

In recent months, a leaked government report criticised the MoD's systems for buying equipment. Auditors have also criticised the department for wasting millions of pounds and having a payroll system that was inefficient and open to fraud.

Meanwhile, separate Commons committees have said helicopter shortages were undermining operations in Afghanistan and "inadequate" planning had led to a shortage of spare parts for vehicles and aircraft.

Ministers have insisted the procurement process has improved and that the Army has sufficient helicopters but that more will be sent to bolster operations.

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