In Praise of Bean Counters (not really)


In my last blog I mentioned the  “bean counters” who will be urging the British PM to save the unknown extra cost required to have proper aircraft carriers.

When I say ‘Bean Counters” I mean those sort of people who can tell you exactly how many, but not what they’re for, or how they operate.

They’re the military equivalent of train spotters – who incidentally are allowed to deduct the time they spend on trains that are late, from their 37 hour working week.  (This often means so I’m told, that  they stay at home on Fridays – or any other day they prefer).

A small number of the right men, properly led, maximising the weapons they’ve got, will confound any bean counters’ predictions.  If you look at UK Armed Forces’ actions since WW2, you can choose any number of examples (despite the prominence of bean counters in the UK MoD).

When Sun Tzu urged rulers to count the cost of war, he wasn’t making a plea for fair play to bean counters (who all military men dislike with a vengeance).  He was advocating that rulers consider the likely cost of war in terms of blood and treasure compared to the benefits, before committing to fighting.

Britain’s problem is that its government has not done the research necessary to determine what its Forces should be capable of defending.  So the UK MoD is therefore simply cutting capabilities in order to save money, then creating a narrative to justify what they’ve done.

UK’s MoD Bean Counters are very good at making cuts. Over the decades they’ve devised Defence Reviews, Options for Changes, Strategic Defence Reviews, Defence Cost Studies, Strategic Defence and Security Reviews…. different titles for what are actually just very large cuts.

These are all supposed to create “optimal force strengths” usually “for our changing world” or something similar. But all they in fact deliver are short-term budget savings, all too often followed by all manner of bizarre additional expenses:  for example immediately following savage bouts of redundancy, re-hiring many of the redundees at greater expense than before…

In between these large reduction exercises, the bean counters opt for “salami-slicing”   – cost-cutting exercises that nobody’s supposed to notice.   But as with large-scale defence cuts, they manage to do it so inefficiently as to waste money in the longer term.

All the while, the bean counters are reducing hard-won military capabilities – by which UK defence forces provided the value for money the Nation has been paying for all these years.

The reason for all this is simple; because the MoD is ruled by Bean Counters, who (to borrow another expression), know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

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