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Independent Defence Authority comments on SCOAF’s 2020 Annual Report

The Service Complaints Ombudsman’s 2020 Annual report was laid before Parliament on 27th May 2021.  The report is well written and comprehensive and a link to the full report is here: https://www.scoaf.org.uk/2021/05/27/ombudsman-publishes-fifth-annual-report/

The IDA have pulled out some general points that put the state of the Service complaints process into context.  The report finds, “once more that the system is not yet efficient, effective and fair.”

Of the different complaints categories, bullying, harassment or discrimination make up 27% of complaints. 21% of all complaints are from Women, with BAME service personnel next. There remains two Complaints submitted before 2016 on the open books.  The SCOs assessment of how Efficient, effective and fair the process is is below:

The number of complaints submitted by service are below:

 

 

Putting this into context, in November 2020 the SCO told the Defence Select Committee that 90% of those who should complain, don’t, therefore these number only represent 10% of the complaints that should be in the system – the actual number therefore that the SCO herself said should be in the system is 18,330, that is over half the size of the RAF or the RN!

Of the complaints submitted, over 50% of complaints not hitting target times to be dealt with.

 

 

At the same evidence in November the SCO said 100% of all those in the Service Complaints system suffer mentally. Therefore, the following finding is shocking as highlights a very basic failure in duty of care by the MoD to its people.

The types of complaint make interesting reading:

 

 Therefore, combining the bullying, harassment or discrimination findings with improper behaviour and victimisation from the other category up to 47% fall into Inappropriate Behaviours categories! This is for the year after the Wigston Review into Inappropriate Behaviours, which reported in 2019.

The Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP said in December 2020 “So, one year on from the publication of the Wigston Review, I asked Danuta Gray to assess what progress was being made. Her findings show there have been some significant improvements.” This claim was repeated by MoD staff to various defence committees and sub committees through 2021 but is not borne out of the ‘Independent’ Service Complaints Ombudsman’s own findings. The IDA is concerned that there are two views of what is being briefed as the truth and no independent auditor of the reality.

 

Women still make up the largest percentage of complainants and this will be covered in more detail by the Sarah Atherton Review into Women in Defence due to be published within the next 6 weeks.

The following extracts form the report speak for themselves:

One piece of consistent criticism in evidence to various defence committees and subcommittees this year has been a lack of training and experience for those making decisions about complaints. This was raised as an observation by the SCO in her 2019 report. The MoD response has been to reject the need for such training.  The IDA believes this will continue to perpetuate a flawed and unjust system and questions what other activities in defence are found to be acceptable by untrained personnel?

In conclusion, the IDA remain shocked but unfortunately not surprised. Defence is a process not people centric organisation and until there is a body able to hold it to account independently this will likely remain.  The disparity between what defence is saying, in particular about the implementation of the Wigston Review and what the Ombudsman herself has identified continues to suggest an at best watering down of Wigton’s recommendations, if not ignoring them completely.

The Secretary of State accepted all of the Wigston Recommendations in full and said, “Alongside the Chiefs of Staff, I am determined to make sure Defence now delivers.”  Unfortunately, it is clear that that is not happening and is merely talk. The IDA remains ready to help defence turn talk into action and help address these issues. Unfortunately, we also believe Defence has no intent to address any of them properly.

 

PJ INGRAM MBE

Co-Founder of the IDA