Report urges MOD to spend more on personnel than ‘shiny new’ kit

Harry Lye 22 July 2020 (Last Updated July 22nd, 2020 17:06)

A new report on retention in the UK Armed Forces has advised the Prime Minister to spend more on personnel and their families to improve retention in the Armed Forces, even if it comes at the cost of new equipment.

Report urges MOD to spend more on personnel than ‘shiny new’ kit
Pictured is a SLAM (Single Living Accommodation Modernisation) Block at Imjin Barracks, Gloucester. Accommodation for junior soldiers who ‘live in’ at their unit. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

The report written by Conservative MP and Defence Select Committee member Mark Francois concludes: “Defence will have to take some difficult balance of investment decisions in order to spend more money on Armed Forces personnel and their families and less on shiny equipment – because if not, within several years, there are unlikely to be sufficiently qualified and experienced personnel in Defence to operate the highly expensive kit in the first place.”

The report titled “Stick or Twist”, that has been seen by the Prime Minister was written using information from the National Audit Office (NAO), Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and interviews with the four service chiefs. The report also includes over 200 submissions from Armed Forces personnel and their families.

The report from Francois was originally commissioned by then Prime Minister Theresa May in December 2018.

The Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Workforce Requirement deficit currently stands at 8.4% (12,170), up from 6.6% (9,650) the year before. In 2020 the services saw a net inflow of 600 personnel, due to an increase in recruitment to the British Army.

The year before, the services recruited 11,092 compared to 14,698 who left the forces. Commenting on retention, the report recommends: “Senior leaders in the Ministry of Defence must fully appreciate the pressure on Retention caused by a relatively buoyant economy and must not rely on a potential economic downturn to rescue them from this challenge.”

In conducting the report, Francois’ said it also conducted 11 ‘Ground truth’ visits to service establishments to ask why personnel left the armed forces and what could be done to keep them in the forces.

Commenting on the report’s finding’s Francois said: “My team and I have worked for over a year to provide proposals to Improve Retention. Some of these such as extending the Forces Help To Buy scheme and expanding Childcare for service personnel are thankfully being actioned.”

On childcare, the report found ‘a clear and unacceptable dichotomy’ between Service personnel and staff in the MOD’s main building. The report noted that while Junior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) were having to pay up to £1300 a month in childcare, Civil Servants including senior ranks had access to ‘the best-defended creche in the United Kingdom’ at a subsidised cost of £300-400 a month.

The report called the balance of Childcare costs for Civil Servants and Service personnel ‘morally at least highly questionable’.

Francois added that the report included a number of further proposals the MOD could take action on, including reforming the armed forces approach to housing.

“We have made further proposals, including taking Services Families Accommodation (SFA) away from the failing Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and vesting it in a dedicated Forces Housing Association (FHA) instead.” Francois said, adding:

“This new entity would be optimised to provide decent, affordable accommodation for service personnel and their families and would be run in their interests, not that of the MOD bureaucracy.”

The report includes an anonymous comment from a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) saying: “We had an Air Vice Marshall visit us a few months ago to give us all a pep talk about how what we were doing was extremely important to Defence and how the nation greatly valued our contribution to National Security.

“While I was standing at the back, I couldn’t help thinking, well Sir, if that’s true, why are my kids showering in cold water – yet again?”

Last week, the MOD announced it was providing an extra £200m of Government funding to carry out ‘vital’ work to personnel’s accommodation. With the new funding, over 5,000 personnel ‘will have homes modernised with new kitchens, bathrooms and furnishings including re-roofing to reduce the risk of mould and damp.’

The funding is also set to make the defence estate more environmentally friendly providing new doors, windows, and boilers, as well as funding new play areas and road resurfacing.

The MOD, this week, also announced a 2% pay rise for the Armed Forces which the MOD said was awarded ‘in recognition of the vital work they do every day protecting the country.’ The pay rise will be awarded in September pay packets and be backdated to April.

Despite progress on Help to Buy and Childcare, Francois added: “However, there is always more to do, in order to persuade personnel to ‘Stick’ rather than to ‘Twist’, and dare I say it, remain in HM [Her Majesty’s] Armed Forces.”