Sometime ago we thought we would write an AFF blog. At first it was reasonably simple but then as the cloak of doom wrapped itself ever tighter around morale it has become difficult to give a timely, measured statement, rather than just a rant over the ever depressed state of defence. I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the ever creeping depth of cuts; everything I thought sacred - pensions, allowances, housing and pay seems to be crumbling around us.
The announcement that the Army are to lose even more personnel was sneaked out. You don’t have to be Max Clifford to appreciate how deft the timing was – with the media’s self obsessed phone hacking scandal. Someone, somewhere, waiting for a day to bury bad news clicked send on the press announcement knowing that the drastic news on Army cuts would gain fewer column inches than on a quiet day. Safe in the knowledge that summer leave would give it time to blow over.
After the deluge of cuts personnel and families are at an all time low – and one wonders whether we can recover. The cleverly named ‘pause’ in the housing budget hardly raised an eyebrow. Numbers applying for redundancy are way beyond the numbers required and as more cuts are announced and the full effect of the austerity measures bite, the exodus will grow. By the time the army looks to consolidate in 2015, any hint of the green shoots of economic growth will see the Army return to the under manning crises of only five years ago. But this time the Force will be too small to juggle manpower to meet the commitment, and instead we will simply be moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.
What most are staggered by is that this assault on pensions, pay and allowances is being engineered by a government at a time when we are still heavily involved in overseas operations. All the talk of ‘black holes’ and ‘overspending’ hides the huge underfunding problem that is crippling the Army to such an extent that the damage will never be repairable. Whilst I accept that there are obvious issues in procurement (has anyone actually been held to account and lost their job as a result?) the vast majority of the Army have operated under stringent financial conditions for years. There is no huge outcry over the housing spend ‘pause’ because we are all used to living in poorly maintained houses – it’s nothing new.
Unlike other industries the Armed Forces can’t strike or even openly voice their concerns. No one accepts carefully crafted statements about such things as the Armed Forces Covenant; it is insulting to think they still believe we accept the half truths and skewed statistics about future investment and the belief in the role we fulfil. In the spin obsessed ‘Westminster Village’, where words are more important than actions, professional politicians with no experience of the real world accumulate gold plated pensions and ‘non executive advisory appointments’ to fund their champagne life-styles. In the Army, where people have always been judged on actions rather than words, the real motives for decision making is obvious and the contempt for those leaders who try to mask it is overwhelming. The difference between what the Government wants the Armed Forces to do, and the investment they are willing to make is laughable. No amount of smoke and mirrors can hide the fact that one day soon that difference will become publically and internationally apparent and whilst politicians might be embarrassed, soldiers are likely to be hurt or worse.
I wonder what soldiers and their families across the world will think when Remembrance Day comes this year? Is it possible to honour the soldiers of the past whilst abusing those serving today and fundamentally and irretrievably undermining the Army of tomorrow?
AFF Director Communications