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Parliamentary Report w/c 10th March

Published: 20/03/2014

The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced that more than £300 million is to be invested into building the Royal Navy’s next generation of nuclear submarines. The MOD says that over the next 8 years, the BAE Systems boatyard in Barrow-in-Furness will undergo a transformation to improve infrastructure at the site. Older buildings will be replaced with larger and more modern facilities to enable the construction of the Successor class of submarines.

Former GCHQ director Sir David Omand has criticised the Scottish National Party’s stance on Trident, according to the Daily Telegraph. Sir David, who spent two years as the director of GCHQ, before serving as the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office for three years, told the newspaper that the SNP’s proposals for the removal for Trident within the first parliament of an independent Scotland would create “huge practical problems” for the military and would “cast a great shadow of uncertainty” over the deterrent.

Contents

  • Ministerial Statement on Defence Infrastructure Organisation reform
  • Ministerial Statement on armed forces ombudsman
  • NATO mission in Afghanistan could end completely by 2015
  • Discrimination and abuse of service personnel to become illegal under Labour plans

Ministerial Statement on Defence Infrastructure Organisation reform

In a ministerial statement to the House of Commons, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation will commence a procurement process to assess whether the involvement of a strategic business partner offered the best value-for-money solution for defence. He said that following the conclusion of the competitive stage of the procurement process, he was pleased to announce that the appointment of a strategic business partner which would enable the DIO to make a significant contribution to departmental savings and asset realisation targets, as set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review. Mr Hammond said that a private partner will provide better incentivisation and management of staff against performance through the introduction of a more commercial approach to the business and access to private funding for “spend-to-save” efficiency improvements.

Capita has been selected as the preferred bidder for the 10-year contract, with payment for services to be made through an incentive-based arrangement. Mr Hammond said that following the contract award in spring 2014, the DIO will remain fully within the MOD; however during a transition period the strategic business partner will help the DIO prepare to move to an incorporated model, currently assumed to occur in 2016. This will entail the creation of a Government Company (GovCo) to manage defence infrastructure, which would exist as a separate legal entity, owned in its entirety by the Secretary of State for Defence. The MOD will oversee the performance of the new company through a governing authority set up within the Department.

The Financial Times says the deal will essentially lead to Britain’s military bases being part-privatised. The DIO employs 2,500 staff, managing almost 230,000 acres of land covering conservation sites, office blocks, barracks, homes and military bases. The MOD has said that the deal will deliver “substantial savings” for the taxpayer as well as income from land sales that are expected to begin within two years. The FT says that preferred bidder, Capita, has pledged to trim £300 million from DIO’s £3.3 billion annual running budget. Andy Parker, CEO of Capita, said the partnership will couple the knowledge, skills and resources of the MOD while adding the capability to tackle the significant cost-saving targets currently facing the MOD.

Ministerial Statement on armed forces ombudsman

In a ministerial statement to the House of Commons, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced that the MOD has produced an outline for a new model of the service complaints system, which the Department believes will offer important advantages over the system introduced by the Armed Forces Act 2006. Mr Hammond said the central feature of the new model is that the Service Complaints Commissioner would, in future, have the power to consider whether a service complaint has been handled properly, once it has completed its normal internal stages.

Hammond said this is in contrast to the current arrangements under which the SSC cannot become involved in the handling of an individual complaint, other than to monitor its progress through the system. He said that in the new model, where the commissioner considers there has been maladministration in the handling of a complaint, he or she would make recommendations formally to the Defence Council, for the complaint to be reopened and reconsidered. This aspect of the new model is intended to lead to a higher proportion of complaints being decided more quickly and complainants will have the right to apply to the commissioner if they believe their complaint was mishandled.

However, the Times says that victims of abuse have warned that the changes fall short of what was needed to protect vulnerable servicemen and women. Critics of the proposals include Major Ross McLeod who submitted evidence to MPs about failures in the way the military administers justice and investigates abuse. Major McLeod called the proposals a “whitewash” and said the changes were superficial. One of the key criticisms of the changes is that the new ombudsman, similar to its predecessor, lacks powers to ensure the military chain of command listens to its recommendations.

Speaking to the Times, Mr Hammond defended the proposed changes, saying they would instill greater confidence in a service complaints system that was set up following the Deepcut scandal. He added that the ombudsman will remove an additional level of appeal that service personnel must currently go through when fighting to resolve a complaint – a process that can take years, causing enormous stress and anxiety to the individual involved.

NATO mission in Afghanistan could end completely by 2015

The Times reports that all NATO soldiers could be forced to leave Afghanistan this year unless the Afghan government signs a key security deal with the alliance by this autumn. The newspaper says that the point of no return for Britain could be as soon as August, while other NATO allies may be forced to cancel pledges to keep troops in the country in an advisory capacity after the end of this year. NATO had intended to keep up to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan to support the country’s police service and Army, however the Times says that military planners are in limbo after President Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States. The agreement is necessary to create a legal framework for US forces to remain in the country after the combat mission ends in December. It is understood that NATO countries are now formulating a “zero option” contingency plan should the Afghanistan government fail to sign a security agreement.

Discrimination and abuse of service personnel to become illegal under Labour plans

The Daily Telegraph reports that shopkeepers and pub landlords will be banned from discriminating against members of the Armed Forces if Labour wins the next election. Ed Miliband has announced plans to institute a new criminal offence of discriminating against serving troops, veterans and their families. The new offence would be similar to discriminating on the grounds religion, ethnicity and disability. A physical or verbal assault on a member of the Armed Forces would be classed as an “aggravated” offence, potentially leading to a more severe sentence. The new Bill would also ban the discrimination against servicemen and women in the provision of goods and services.

The Telegraph highlights that the proposal has come as Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker gave the strongest indication yet that Labour will halt the current programme of cuts to the Army if it wins the next general election. Speaking to the newspaper, Mr Coaker said the Government must “pause” the policy of cutting the Army by 20,000 to 82,000. Mr Coaker said he could not promise to reverse all the cuts but he stated: “First of all we need to pause it and see whether it is working or not.”

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