Ministry of Defence must uphold the Forces' Covenant
2 Jul 2018 12:07 PM
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) must show that it has learned the lessons of the lamentable record, in managing Service accommodation, of CarillionAmey, Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and the Ministry itself. So says the Defence Committee in its latest report, published on the 2018 Armed Forces Day, into the Armed Forces Covenant. (The Covenant expresses the moral obligation that the Government owes to those who serve or have served in our Armed Forces, and to their families.)
It is clear to the Committee that the accommodation contract was 'not fit for purpose' and it is unacceptable that there are no enforcement measures that can be imposed on CarillionAmey for their shortcomings. In addition, the MoD's agreement with Annington Homes has proved to be a disastrous failure and has exposed the Department to considerable risk. That flawed agreement is yet another example from which the MoD, the DIO, and wider Government—especially the Treasury—must quickly learn lessons.
Mark Francois MP comments
Mark Francois MP, Defence Committee member and former infantryman, says:
"For years, Service personnel have received a sub-standard accommodation service from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and their contractors. This has gone on long enough and simply has to change. The DIO is a frankly dysfunctional organisation and the Committee is now calling on MoD Ministers to get a grip—and come up with a radical action plan to reform the DIO and show Service personnel and their families that they are indeed valued and will be treated as such in the future."
The Committee is asking the MoD to show how it will learn lessons from the appalling accommodation story and how it will apply them to future contracts. Failure to improve the maintenance of Service accommodation will have a major adverse impact on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces.
1% pay cap
If the MoD retains the 1% pay cap for Service personnel while other departments increase their pay, it will undermine morale and have an increased negative effect on recruitment and retention. While the Government has signalled that there is some flexibility for departments to move away from the public sector pay cap of 1%, it seems that no additional funding will be made available to the MoD to pay for increases above this level for Service personnel.
Chairman of the Defence Committee, Julian Lewis MP, says:
"It would be disgraceful if our Service people missed out on an increase in pay while they watched others who work for the Government receive pay awards. What kind of message does that send to soldiers about how much we value the difficult and sometimes dangerous job that they do?"
The Veterans Board
The report welcomes the creation of a new Veterans Board, even though it lacks formal Cabinet Sub-Committee status. The Committee calls for the status of the Veterans Board and the frequency of its meetings to be kept under review so momentum is not lost in terms of its work.
The Armed Forces Covenant is a UK-wide commitment and the report is therefore asking the Government to ensure the full participation of the devolved administrations in its governance. Therefore, the report calls for the devolved administrations to have full-member representation on the Veterans Board. This would provide an opportunity for best practice from every area of the UK to be shared and adopted, leading to better co-ordination and delivery of the Covenant across the country.
As a priority, the Veterans Board must develop the appropriate mechanisms to hold Government departments to account within their areas of responsibility. As a first step in focusing each department's work on the Covenant and veterans’ issues, the report calls for relevant Government departments to include a section in their Annual Reports and Accounts on how they have discharged their responsibilities for these matters.
The Committee was concerned to hear that war widows and widowers believe that they are at risk of being forgotten and that they have been neglected for a long time. The MoD must do whatever it has to in order to reverse this view. The Government should urgently address the concerns raised that a War Widow's Pension is often incorrectly perceived as a benefit rather than compensation for loss of a spouse or partner. If it were treated as compensation—as it should be—it would not result in the loss of, or reduction in, income-related benefits.
Similarly, the Government must "urgently address the absurd anomaly where a war widower or widow, who lost his or her pension upon cohabitation or remarriage, and did not get it reinstated because it was before the reinstatement date, could … get it restored by temporarily splitting up and then reuniting with the former spouse or partner".
Use of LIBOR Grants
An element of independent scrutiny must be built into the monitoring of the Covenant. This is particularly important as the Government proceeds with the new and comprehensive Veterans Strategy, informed by such valuable initiatives as the Veterans Gateway and the Map of Need. There are concerns following the NAO's findings that the Treasury and the MoD still cannot confirm that charities properly spent all their grants that were awarded to them through the distribution of the benefits of the LIBOR fines. The Committee says that delay in the Government’s review is unacceptable and has resulted in heightened concerns about the use of LIBOR funding for Covenant projects.