This week has seen two stories dominate defence news. Firstly, it emerged at the weekend that a small number of British Army soldiers have been deployed to northern Iraq to train Kurdish troops to use heavy machine guns donated by Britain. The soldiers, believed to be from the Cyprus-based 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, are based near the Kurdish capital of Erbil. Additional small training teams to teach Iraqi forces basic soldiering, medical skills and how to cope with roadside bombs will follow. It has also been announced that RAF Reaper drones are being moved from Afghanistan to an undisclosed location in the Middle East, from where they will contribute to intelligence gathering and perform air strikes over Iraq. The wider war against the Islamic State has seen the group’s attempts to capture the Kurdish border town of Kobane in Syria stall in the face of US attacks. However, the group has continued to make gains in Iraq’s Anbar province. In addition, Turkey has offered the use of its territory for both the air campaign and for training moderate Syrian rebels.
Secondly, this week has also seen the sailing of RFA Argus to Sierra Leone. The ship, carrying specialist personnel, helicopters and medical supplies, will act as the UK hub for efforts to counter the Ebola virus. However, it is not expected that patients with Ebola will be treated aboard the ship. The deployment is expected to last around six months.
Armed Forces personnel drive ambulances during strike
The Daily Telegraph reports that around 130 military drivers replaced striking London Ambulance Service and North West Ambulance Service staff earlier this week. NHS workers in England went on strike for four hours on Monday, with a number of public sector unions planning further industrial action over pay during the rest of the month. One hundred military drivers were drafted into London while 30 assisted ambulance services in the North West. London Ambulance Service (LAS) said patients in a life-threatening situation received an ambulance response, but people with injuries such as minor breaks or women in routine labour sometimes did not. Defence sources said 50 Army personnel, along with 20 from the Navy and 30 from the RAF, acted as ambulance drivers during the dispute.
Defence Support Group staff carry out strike action
Following the decision (reported in last week’s monitoring) by members of the union Unite working for the Defence Support Group (DSG) to vote for industrial action in response to an offer of a one per cent pay rise, this week has seen workers down tools for an initial 24 hour strike. Staff staged action on Wednesday at sites in Bovington, Dorset; Catterick, north Yorkshire; Colchester, Essex; Donnington, Shropshire; Sealand, north Wales; Stirling and Warminster, Wiltshire. In total, more than 800 of the DSG’s 2,400 nationwide workforce took part in the walkout. Unite has threatened further action if the pay offer is not improved.
Early retirement of Police Officers leads to pensions deficit in London
The Daily Record reports that the police pension scheme in Scotland has seen a £18m overspend as a consequence of an increase in the number of officers opting to take early retirement. The deficit comes at a time when Police Scotland is trying to hit Scottish Government-imposed savings targets of £60m a year.
Police support staff to be balloted on strike action
The Press Association reports that police staff in England and Wales are to be balloted for industrial action in protest at a one per cent pay offer. Those involved in the dispute include community support officers (PCSOs), 999 call takers and dispatchers, fingerprint experts, criminal justice unit clerks, custody and detention officers, and a wide range of operational and organisational support personnel. Unions have asked for a three per cent pay rise for police staff as well as a three per cent increase in allowances.
Budget cuts bring into question future of Bloody Sunday prosecutions
The Daily Telegraph reports that the criminal investigation into the shooting of protesters by the British Army in 1972 is likely to face significant delays as a result of cuts to the budget of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The inquiry, which could see members of the Parachute Regiment face prosecution over the 14 deaths, has seen the size of the investigation team reduced to “single figures” after the PSNI was told to save £51m in austerity cuts. Relatives of the 14 protesters shot dead during a civil rights march in Londonderry are threatening to take the police to the High Court if they do not carry out a full inquiry into the shootings.
Question on MoD Police asked in Parliament
This week saw Angus Robertson MP (Mory) (SNP) receive a written answer from the Defence Secretary regarding his inquiry into what proportion of posts at the Ministry of Defence Police complement at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Burghfield, are currently vacant. In his response, the Defence Secretary declined to answer, for reasons of safeguarding national security.