Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces
Tribute to the Armed Forces:
It is important to pay tribute to the 5,949 members of the UK’s Armed Forces who were deployed on ceremonial duties since the death of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. This included 846 personnel from the Royal Navy, 4,416 from the British Army and 686 from the Royal Air Force. In addition, about 175 members of the Armed Forces from Commonwealth nations also took part in the proceedings. This visible demonstration of service that serves our nation so well makes it all the more important to ensure that the Armed Forces Covenant is implemented properly.
Team at the Top in the Ministry of Defence- an opportunity for true reform:
With the appointment of campaigner Sarah Atherton as the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, and encouraging messaging by the re-appointed Minister of State for the Armed Forces and Veterans, James Heappey, that he will engage on behalf of veterans, there is optimism that meaningful reforms can be introduced which treat serving military personnel and veterans in accordance with the Armed Forces Covenant. However, unless prevailing top to bottom institutional attitudes and cultures are changed, any ostensible reforms are likely to be either watered down or resisted by the MoD. Getting that implied ‘buy in’ from those who has experience in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, will be crucial. As will a bold move to establish an approach that is capable of holding the MoD to account when it fails to deliver on repeated inquiry recommendations. An upcoming test case will be how the MoD responds to the Defence Sub-Committee report, sponsored by Sarah Atherton, on ‘Protecting Those Who Protect US: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life’.
However, Veterans Minister post stripped out of the Cabinet Office:
There has been significant disquiet from many veterans at losing their Cabinet level representative as it appears that the position of Minister for State for Veterans Affairs in the Cabinet Office was abolished in September 2022, with Johnny Mercer stepping down. It is not clear if all these duties have been transferred to the MoD, but, on the face of it, looks like a Government down-grading of veterans’ issues at a time when there are significant challenges to address – the worryingly high level of suicides of veterans, the appalling failures of Veterans UK and the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) and the failure to provide clear pathways to ongoing support for the most needy veterans are the most pressing.
RAF Diversity Day is condemned as a whitewash and contradictory statements issued:
In a bid to remedy several months of adverse publicity, which reached a crescendo with the debacle over diversity targets with the RAF forced to admit it had made mistakes, the RAF Board held a senior leadership Away Day on 7 September to discuss claims it had unlawfully prioritised women and ethnic minority candidates over white men. That away day will also have discussed the delayed investigations and cover ups of alleged sexual misconduct and unprofessional flying practices within the flagship Red Arrows and the failing pilot training programme. Yet the media, quoting anonymous defence sources, condemned the outcome of the meeting as a “cover-up”, a “whitewash” and “mealy-mouthed”, with little action promised to address any of these failures. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, had opined afterwards that, “There was absolutely no drop in operational standards, no drop in any standards. There was no discrimination against any group, no standards were dropped, there was no discrimination against any group”. However, an MoD spokesperson has since acknowledged that, “despite the best of intentions, some mistakes were made.” The credibility of the RAF writ large in its management of diversity and inclusion remains severely compromised.
Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) review – needs to be meaningful:
Having been refused by a previous Minister of the Armed Forces (Leo Doherty, who has now been quietly moved), at the request of the House of Commons (HoC), it is good to see that the MoD will now carry out a review of the AFCS, but only after the media has exposed how veterans are being ‘laughed at and belittled’ by those administrating the pension service.
The myriad of accumulating issues was best described by the HoC in March 2022 as “ disrespecting those who have served their country; abrogating the Government’s duty of care and unconditionally surrendering the financial burden of victims’ injuries; the system is loaded with presumptions that veterans are not entitled to compensation, adversarial systems and a sense that Veterans UK are trying to deter applications by making them prove eligibility beyond any reasonable standards and treating veterans as swindlers; the system is mired with complicated terminology and legalese, with little signposting for those who need it most; lacking objectivity and over-riding external professional (medical) assessments; and a poor response rate and length of time into looking into complaints. “
The IDA continues to call for an independent defence watchdog, capable of calling the MoD to account for failing to implement all previous recommendations – this includes previous AFCS reviews (and similarly recommendations to address failings of the former War Pensions failings), failed criminal justice reforms, poor progress on addressing inappropriate behaviours as well as the known failures of procurement systems, housing and feeding of serving personnel and the appalling service complaints system – all place the service person or veteran as unrepresented and second class when facing the MoD.
As a starting point and to establish any credibility, the MoD should reveal what it has done to implement the recommendations of previous reviews. The current series of meetings between veterans, charities and Veterans UK, is cautiously welcomed, but we will be working with these groups to ensure that the minutes of these meetings (and subsequent promised action plans) are shared with all veterans, to give confidence that their significant concerns are being addressed.
And finally: A small case study that summarises well the inability of MoD to resolve contractual issues with suppliers:
After over a year of failed bus services, StageCoach South is now being monitored by media and various online serving and veteran campaigners to address the issues of repeated cancellations of services in garrison towns, such as Bulford and Tidworth. The service has let down families and service children, including leaving young children abandoned on the side of the road. Yet, it is only the combined pressure of media and individual campaigners, who are starting to shine a light on this issue, rather than the garrison leadership, that are leading the fight for a proper bus service. The Director for Basing and Infrastructure was finally forced to comment, very late in the day, but only after the failings hit the press; it is still not clear that the garrison leadership will hold StageCoach to account.