April-June 2023 – IDA Update
Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces
The focus of the IDA remains the People strand of Defence and the need for objective advocacy and representation.
The latest recruiting failures and attitude surveys continue to show that defence is incapable of maintaining even minimal headcount, reflecting leadership failures and an antithetical culture. All the problems that are being raised currently have been highlighted, to defence leadership, for over a decade. The lack of will to address the challenges comes at a time when threats from key adversaries are increasing. It is critical that the UK maintains its strategic advantage and plays its full part in NATO. There is a worrying new trend, of defence using Non-Statutory Inquiries for headline investigations rather than the formal system, which emphasises the inherent systemic failures. The cutting short of the tenure of the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Patrick Sanders, is symptomatic of a growing crisis at the top of the pyramid. The need for an Independent Defence Authority continues to grow.
RAF Facing further negative publicity due to Illegal Positive Discrimination
Having been played out very publicly over the past year, a Non-Statutory Inquiry (NSI) report released on 28th June 2023,found that the RAF had implemented a policy which amounted to positive discrimination (illegal), rather than positive action (legal). At the order of the then serving Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston, women and ethnic minorities were to be given preference over white males on training courses. In pursuing this policy, the RAF had pressurised the then serving RAF Head of Recruitment, Group Captain Lizzie Nicoll, to affect this policy, despite the Group Captain voicing her concerns. Eventually she resigned in protest and is now pursuing unfair dismissal with a likely substantial payment. In addition, 31 recruits found to have been discriminated against, on grounds of gender and ethnicity, have been offered a payment of £5,000 each. Funds will be wasted on compensation, which could have been used for operational purposes.
The NSI report highlights that Air Marshall Sir Mike Wigston’s original protestations, that there had been no discrimination against white males, to be a falsehood. Whilst the new CAS, Air Chief Marshall Sir Richard Knighton, has stated,“ I have apologised (and paid out) to those affected. The report makes uncomfortable reading for the RAF “, the IDA remains sceptical that the RAF is capable of true reform. Sir Richard was previously Deputy Commander of Capability and People from 2022-2023, so highly likely was complicit in the original decision-making to force through this illegal policy. The new CAS has inherited the unresolved toxicity still circulating within the ranks of the Red Arrows, with justice for many female victims still very much absent. There are more issues the IDA is aware of, to come out.
Wider crisis of confidence emerging across the Armed Forces
No doubt the RAF is hoping that the early departure of the previous CAS will draw a line under an ‘annus horribilis’, but the damaging effects are very much evident in the latest continuous attitude surveys. The RAF is not alone in suffering a recruiting & retention crisis and lack of confidence in defence leadership; the RN (and RAF and Army) are seeing a significant fall in numbers, even against their reduced targets to recruit. It is not surprising that the question as to whether the Chief of Defence, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, has a force that is fit to fight has surfaced. In that same week, we learned that Chief of the General Staff, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, is to leave his post early because of disagreements over the continuing shrinkage of the Army. These strategic leadership failures only further depress morale and play into the hands of our adversaries.
The NSI on the Red Arrows is still not published some 18 months after the promise of a swift resolution, whilst it appears the Royal Navy is also delaying the NSI into the allegations of a submariner crash depth rape list.
These high profile cases are adding to the malaise that is driving out too many of the best from serving due to the inability of the leadership to address serious issues; these issues include poor housing; low pay; erratic work-life balance; lack of HR support; a failed complaints and redress system and failure to care for employees during transition and when accessing their pensions, especially if injured (see VeteransUK below). Clearly Defence is worried having commissioned the Hay Thornthwaite report. Published in June 2023, this independent report examined ways to attract and retain new and next generations to the Armed Forces to 2035 and beyond. Whilst it has many good recommendations, without an IDA, it will remain window dressing and a mitigation stunt. It will join the many other reports gathering dust on the expanding shelves. Knowing what is wrong cannot improve morale – only addressing the issues, in an objective and equitable manner, will do that.
Sponsor of Women in Defence Report once again writes MoD “Must Improve the treatment of service women”. 
Sarah Atherton MP has once again written openly that Defence is failing its serving women. Using the platform of the new Women in Defence All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), she is making some inroads into the issues raised by female veterans (of lack of access to charity funds/events and transition services – as well as feeling of not belonging), but less success for serving women. The big issues remain – addressing the misogynistic culture, career fouling, service justice system failings and lack of victim support, but resolution remains woefully poor. There has been some progress for LGBT veterans who are due to hear the outcome of the Etherton review in the next few weeks.
Veterans UK – Parliament Refusing to Disclose the Full Report
The IDA is now aware that the full results from the APPG Veterans Survey have not and are not being released which is hugely disappointing given how damning the summary (that was released) is. Over a thousand veterans participated, expecting change, only to find out that some internal deal has been struck to withhold the full evidence. This becomes yet another report that corroborates very poor performance by the Service pension service. The veterans most in need of their pensions have lost confidence and the indifference and combative culture of Veterans UK staff is resulting in deaths. It is critical that veterans are informed of what is happening with Veterans UK, if there is to be a rebuild in the trust that has clearly been lost.
Military people issues continue to hit the press headlines showing that the culture in the services still has a long way to go. The IDA maintains that the gulf between the reality on the ground and what those in the Centre and therefore Ministers think is happening is as wide as it has ever been. We have referenced just a few articles; there are many more examples appearing.
And finally, some Positive News
- LGBT review update- the Etherton report, into the historic treatment of LGBT service persons, was submitted to Parliament in May, and while there are some worries that, like the AFCS report, it will not be fully published, early indications are that the LGBT community are finally to have their voices heard. If the report is delayed, or potentially shelved, it would leave over 1,000 veterans who contributed deeply bruised.
- Meeting with Chief of Defence People – Philip Ingram MBE one of the co-founders of the IDA had a positive and constructive meeting withVice Admiral Phil Hally, the new Chief of Defence People, who outlined some of the initiatives he and his staff were dealing with and listened to some of the issues the IDA has identified recently. It is hoped this is the start of a continuing informal dialogue.
- The next Armed Forces Bill is due in 2026 – During the passage through Parliament of the Armed Forces Bill in 2021/22, the Secretary of State for Defence engineered a three-line whip to prevent the progression of a motion for an Independent Defence Authority to be enshrined in law (as had been recommended by many reports and reviews). The next AFA is in 2026 and tabling the agenda items will start soon. Given the events of the past few years with scandal after scandal emerging about toxic behaviour within the Armed Forces going unchecked and many veterans still being treated badly, there is a growing imperative to ensure a more open and democratic approach this time. It is noted that the Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, has recently said that a Labour government would agree to a Defence Czar. According to The Sun on 17th June 2023, “The Armed Forces Commissioner would sit outside the military chain of command and have the power to investigate and highlight issues affecting Forces and their loved ones. “The IDA will be engaging early with the process to ensure critical representation and objectivity is pursued at all times.