On the surface Thursday's widely reported U-turn on the naval carriers doesn't look like Army business but with the announcement of the new Army 2020 structures already overdue, the nagging suspicion that the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was a rushed financially driven downscaling exercise, rather than an independently assessed threat based review, continues to gather credence. I am beginning to fear that other decisions taken in the past 18 months that impact army families, are likely to be affected by the same flawed calculations that have lead to this dramatic U-turn?
The big announcements of the past 2 years, from the army families' perspective, are:
· the accelerated drawdown in Germany - bringing troops back to the UK;
· the reduced requirement for manpower – redundancy;
· the bigger role for reserves – requiring resources for recruiting and training and
· the New Employment Model - encouraging stability and a reducing use of SFA
With the carrier U-turn forcing us to re-examine the driving factors behind each initiative, the fear must be that these may be built on the same flawed procedures. All of this simply adds to the uncertainty facing our soldiers and their families.
The Germany rebasing work is already struggling to deliver, we think due to the requirement for massive infrastructure investment against the ‘zero sum’ demands. Are units being put where they can best deliver operational effect or are they being shoe horned into any real estate defence can find? Where is the money for the infrastructure to make these changes sustainable? No one will stay in a unit that feels permanently isolated and under resourced.
Fears over redundancy are well described. Rumours abound over ‘scorched earth’ tranches 3 & 4 when numbers reduce dramatically to make way for the increase in reserves. If the maths has gone awry, as it did so badly over the carriers, we could be sacking people this year and looking for a wave of recruits next.
The role of reserves and the required expansion in the TA is a big saving. Why pay full salary and pensions for a soldier when you can 'hire' him/her only for the periods you need them? But what if this accounting proves to be false and we can't recruit, train and maintain anything like the numbers required, what will be the effect for all families both Regular and TA? More work for those left behind and for the UK an under-manned defence force leading us vulnerable and unable to react to political direction. We’ll be back in the bad old days of broken harmony and ‘running hot’ with no progress made. And in the short term, training the reserves who do join will take a herculean effort.
How sustainable is the New Employment Model's aim to promote stability and integration in the community if units are placed in isolated barracks far from any such infrastructure and away from local economies which can deliver work for family members? The costs of developing it are enormous and as huge financial crisis continues to engulf the country no one is betting on the money being available to support it properly. The fear must be that a ‘make the most of a bad situation’ mantra will prevail and families will once again bear the brunt of rushed and poor decision making.
As a final note, all of these options have significant up front costs at a time when we can least afford it - and the economy isn’t getting any better any time soon. This all leads to saving money in the short term, with cuts to allowances and pay freezes. There is no thought that the erosion of the 'package' (pay, allowances, pensions) and welfare provision for those serving is to be reassessed when the changes are finished and the promised injection of finances take place (we are not holding our breath for it). Those who are left behind will find the package they have inherited is not even a shadow of what is deserved. With no union to rally public opinion to the cause, it will be down to AFF to fight on your behalf, and hold the Chain of Command to account for the decisions they have been forced into making. It's no wonder, according to 'The Sun' that they've been told not to give interviews without permission