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Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces December 2021 Independent Defence Authority Update

Government Response to the Parliamentary Women in Defence Report

  • In being over two months late in responding to the WID, the Government showed disrespect for the primacy of Parliament. It conveyed the public message that it did not really know how to handle the multiple criticisms levelled at it, by hiding behind the pretext that it wanted to get it right.
  • The Government has missed the opportunity, afforded by the WID Report, to over-turn long- standing inequities and miscarriages of justice within the Armed Forces. This is especially evident in ducking one of the most important provisions of the Parliamentary Report, also enshrined in the Lyons Report, namely that all cases of rape and sexual assault would be removed from the military courts and tried in the civil courts. The MoD gives no real justification for resisting this proposal. Nor is it equitable to deny making the Service Ombudsman recommendations binding.
  • Instead, inadequate and biased systems and procedures seem set to be perpetuated, albeit being dressed up as independent and free from the Chain of Command. The so called new Outsourced Investigation Service and the Defence Serious Crime Unit, headed up by a Provost Marshal will be these very agents. If, as is suspected, these organizations are staffed exclusively by members of the Armed Forces, they cannot be classified as truly independent, and unlikely to gain the full confidence of victims/complainants.
  • Nor can the MoD Directorate D&I be considered a truly independent authority, being staffed from within the MoD and reporting to the Chief of Defence People, who on occasions has been economical with the truth.
  • Nor is it clear how toxic behaviours will be magically over-turned through bringing in more training. The military have been undertaking D&I courses, Active Bystander courses etc for some years now – what would be different now in taking this training? Moreover, unless this training is directed at all ranks, and not just from OF 5 upwards, the desired effect will never be achieved. Equally, a top to bottom leadership objective should be introduced, but in a system riddled with prejudice, bias and nepotism, true enforcement and evaluation remains suspect. Defence Communications

On balance, a very poor month on the domestic and international front. Key own goals have been -:

  • Senior Leadership Mixed messaging. There appear to be very mixed messages coming out from the top echelons of the Armed Forces about “laddish behaviour and culture”. Giving evidence to the Defence Select Committee on 10th November 2021, there was a 360-degree turnabout, when CDS stated that, https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/652/html/ https://www.forces.net/news/military-chief-laddish-culture-encouraged-face-enemies-needs-change
  • Defence HQ responded to the series in the Times on a lack of action on Inquiry recommendations by tweeting an unsubstantiated statement that “most have been done”, clearly contradicting previous evidence given to the Sarah Atherton Parliamentary enquiry, Women in Defence. https://twitter.com/DefenceHQPress/status/1464700058264379398?s=19
  • This is a follow on to the MoD being forced to correct part of a narrative given by the Chief of Defence People to the Sarah Atherton enquiry when the IDA pointed out that his claims regarding consultation with Mike Wigston over the establishment of a D&I 2* to fill the Defence Authority role were found to be inaccurate.
  • Alleged cover ups of the death of a sex-worker in Kenya has caused strategic damage, domestically and internationally. https://twitter.com/bealejonathan/status/1460267678862659589?s=19 Medical Care of Veterans and Serving Personnel
  • Suicidesan uncaring image? The constant reporting in the press of suicides of serving personnel and veterans portrays an uncaring and unflinching organisation. Ostensibly, there are some shoots of hope with the Armed Forces announcement in late November of the creation of Mental Health Task Forces, and OP COURAGE being hailed as a ground-breaking approach to dealing with Veterans’ mental health issues. However, this has resulted in a misconception that this NHS England initiative is UK wide; it cannot be accessed from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The equivalent programmes from the devolved Governments are not being given the same visibility by MoD Ministers – the impression is of a 2-tier approach to veterans’ support – England and then the rest.
  • The Armed Forces Compensation (AFCS) Scheme. There is an incoming tide of criticism regarding the AFCS and Veterans UK. Several cases are hitting tribunal level over the coming months and what is clear is that the recordkeeping of either or both the MoD and Veterans UK is woefully inadequate or there is a policy of failing to disclose all available information. Veterans are being denied access to medical files, tribunals are being presented with incomplete briefs and judges are becoming concerned. There are

In July 2020, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) stated that the Armed Forces must stamp out “laddish culture” and it was “simply unacceptable “that the military had failed so far to “move the dial” on the issue. ‘Part of the reason that we encourage a laddish culture is that ultimately our soldiers have to go close and personal with the enemy.” With an understandable backlash about this recent blatant promotion of toxic behaviours, there needs to be an unequivocal rejection of such statements, with Ministers calling it out. The Wigston Report recommendations remain dormant. Two cases, at least, where diligent veterans are correcting Veterans UK narratives; details are bound to come out in the coming months.

  • The Office of Veterans Association (OVA) meeting – the messaging is that the OVA is getting to grips with the issues, but its credibility is at stake as there is still a plethora of stories of poor treatment of veterans. https://twitter.com/SteveBarclay/status/1464175405632573442?s=19
  • Health & Safety report into Ajax – the length of time taken to release the Government report is conveying the message that it is trying to buy more time. It looks like the MoD is trying to ignore the HCDSC report into failures in procurement failures earlier this year. Service Complaints and Service Justice – continuing systemic issues
  • The IDA has been working closely with one Single Service chief to resolve serious personnel issues that have not been dealt with within the system and if released into the public domain would have a huge impact on the Global Britain Brand and MoD’s part in delivering it. Given the Service Chief his due, and despite probable policy not to engage with the IDA, the issues are on the path for resolution out of the public domain. They were serious enough to be career ending at senior levels and have a potential significant political impact.
  • The new Service Complaints Ombudsman, Mariette Hughes, has stated she will not raise another report this year as she wants to see defence enact some of the recommendations from the last 5 years. This plays to the same narrative of failing to enact recommended reforms.
  • Service Justice. This month, the coroner has written again to MoD to express concern about its duty of care. https://twitter.com/JamesRSheldon/status/1459091830268735494?s=19 Legislation Updates – the Armed Forces bill
  • Despite a three-line whip in the House of Commons to block key amendments, the IDA was able to arrange briefings with the House of Lords through multiple channels, leading to the request for the House of Commons to reconsider areas of service justice and also to discuss a future IDA. With the Bill due to get its Final Reading in the House of Lords and come back to the House of Commons, there are still opportunities to go further than the Government’s response to the WID report.

The IDA will endeavour to publish regular updates as to what it is seeing in Defence, this is being provided to Parliament.