Outrage at £47m bonus for MoD pen pushers

A £47 million bonus pot shared by Ministry of Defence civil servants was condemned last night by military families who have lost loved ones in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

• Soldiers in Afghanistan remember the dead.

The performance bonuses were paid out to 50,000 MoD office staff and will range from less than 1,000 to 8,000.

But the pay-outs have angered many grieving families, who feel the money would be better spent on equipment for the troops.

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Hazel Hunt, whose 21-year-old son, Richard, died in Helmand province in August, called the bonuses "obscene".

She said: "I would take great exception to bonuses paid for 'exceptional performance'."

The MoD said the bonuses – going to about 50,000 staff – averaged less than 1,000. However, some senior officials may have received up to 8,000. The figure emerged in a written reply from the defence minister, Kevan Jones, to shadow defence secretary Liam Fox.

Mr Jones revealed that, in the seven months from April to October, MoD staff received bonuses totalling 47,283,853.

The figure was down on the 52,984,656 paid out in 2008-9, but it was higher than the previous year's 46,103,238 and almost double the bonuses totalling 24,866,213 paid out in 2003-4.

The official MoD figures showed a total of 287,809,049 has been paid out in bonuses to civil servants since 2003 – the year Britain went to war in Iraq.

Dr Fox said: "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 MoD last night defended the pay-outs, insisting they did not affect frontline troops or their equipment.

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A spokesman said: "These pay awards are met from within (our] salary budget and have no impact on the operational or equipment budget.

"Pay awards were given to around 50,000 civil servants, resulting in an average payment of less than 1,000.

"The vast majority of these awards were paid in August as part of agreed pay deals, so we are not expecting this year's total to increase significantly."

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

Phil Cooper, whose son, Jamie, received 200,000 in compensation for injuries suffered in Iraq – last night condemned the bonuses as "absolutely disgusting".

Private Cooper, then aged 18, became the youngest soldier to be injured in the conflict in 2006.

His father said he was "laughing with astonishment" at news of the bonus pay-outs, adding: "What exactly have they done to earn that? How do they justify it?

"I find it ludicrous," Mr Cooper said. "It makes me angry that they are being paid 47 million to pat themselves on the backs.

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"That money might not buy much in the way of helicopters, but it could buy a lot in the way of personal armour for troops on the ground.

"It is absolutely disgusting that they can do this from the safety of their armchairs."

Corporal Darren Bonner, 31, from Gorleston, Norfolk, died in May 2007 in a land-mine explosion in southern Afghanistan, where he was serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment.

His mother, Christine Bonner, who has organised several sponsored walks for charities linked to her son's regiment, also spoke of her shock at the bonuses revelations. She said: "My initial thought is that this money should have been spent better.

"It should have been spent on whatever the soldiers need out there because, at the end of the day, they are the ones on the ground," she said. "They need the equipment and the kit to do the job.

"It makes me cross to think that we are fighting like crazy to get them the special equipment and kit they need when people are getting money for old rope."

Mrs Bonner said she recently raised the issue of kit and equipment with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, but felt her concerns had been dismissed.

She said: "I asked him what he had to say about the fact I know of mums who are sending boots and socks and underpants out to their sons because theirs are worn out, and all he could say to me was that they wouldn't have been allowed on the plane without them.

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"That's not the point," Mrs Bonner said. "They wear out and they can't nip down to Marks and Spencer for new ones. It's the kit that builds morale for the lads."

Mrs Bonner said many parents and relatives of soldiers would be angry at the news of the bonuses.

"No words can describe how it feels," she said. "That money could go on kit, equipment, or what about putting some of it in the charities I raise money for?"

Graham Knight, whose son, Sergeant Ben Knight, died when an RAF Nimrod exploded in mid-air over Helmand province on 2 September, 2006, said news of the bonuses "beggars belief".

He added that the bonuses were "an insult" to the forces "making do" in Afghanistan.

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