Syria has dominated the headlines both at home and abroad during the past month. The situation led to Parliament being recalled early to Westminster by the Prime Minister last week to debate a high profile motion on British involvement in military action against the Assad regime that ultimately led to a shock defeat for the Government.
The fallout from this defeat has been considerable. Commentators have questioned whether the Prime Minister’s authority has been undermined, while also heavily criticising the Government operation to secure the support of its MPs. Jesse Norman MP, who abstained in the vote, has been removed from the Downing Street policy team and commentators have questioned whether other senior Conservatives, including a number of ministers, might fall foul of Downing Street’s insistence that there will be consequences for not support the Government. Suspicion has also abounded that British withdrawal from military action could impact on relations with the US, which is now to also debate military action in Congress (albeit with a greater likelihood of action being endorsed). Despite the unfavourable result for the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Ed Miliband has not escaped without criticism over the Syria debate.
The House of Commons is now in session until 13 September, when the various political parties will disperse for their annual conferences. While the political agenda has inevitably be dominated by Syria in recent week, Westminster has begun to return to normal after the summer recess, with a Public Bill Committee commencing its scrutiny of the Defence Reform Bill, which would fundamentally overhaul the running of Defence Equipment & Support in favour of ‘GoCo’ (Government-owned, contractor operated) model that would place the running of MOD procurement in the hands of a private sector contractor. The public was handed a timely reminder of the deficiencies of current MOD procurement in recent days, with a report from the Public Accounts Select Committee heavily criticising the rising costs associated with the development of new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.
The DPF has been fully engaged with the Parliamentary passage of the Defence Reform Bill and has made a submission of evidence to the Bill Committee to raise a number of important points. We are also continuing to engage with the Department on the issue of officers’ pensions, ahead of a report to Parliament in December.
The political approach
Since the return of the House of Commons to Westminster (the House of Lords will not sit until early October), a Public Bill Committee has begun reviewing the Defence Reform Bill, which is part of the scrutiny process for any piece of legislation.
The Defence Police Federation has made a submission of evidence to the Bill Committee to help ensure its analysis of the Bill is factored into any recommendations on or amendments to its content. While the terms of the Bill would ensure MDP officers have the same level of authority within a ‘GoCo’ model as is currently the case with DE&S, the Federation has used the opportunity of an evidence submission to raise the following points:
- A ‘GoCo’ model must address existing issues of MOD procurement that allow costs to rise exponentially – including any incentives that lead to personnel adding costs to procurement projects
- Clarification is required as to how the MOD’s desire for savings will be reconciled with a private sector contractor’s imperative of generating profit. It is particularly important that there is clarity as to whether it is the MOD or the private contractor that shoulders financial risk (such as the cost of ‘lost’ materiel) under the new model.
- Greater clarity is required over the accountability of a private sector contractor and the nature of ministerial and parliamentary oversight
- There must be clarity over a GoCo’s assurance processes, which must be an improvement on those of DE&S that have resulted in significant losses for the MOD
- The MDP’s CID should be utilised more effectively and proactively to minimise the loss and theft of assets under a GoCo model
- Clarity is required as to the responsibility of the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance to a private sector contractor within a GoCo model
Alongside the Federation’s activity on the subject of the Defence Reform Bill, we have also made enquiries of the Department into the applications of CID officers to IHAT, and are in the process of arranging a series of meetings with Parliamentary supporters to brief them on the issue of officers’ pensions and terms and conditions in advance of the MOD’s/HM Treasury’s report (stemming from the Public Service Pensions Act earlier in the year) to Parliament in December.
During the last month, the Federation has briefed the national press on its submission to the Defence Reform Bill in order to highlight its concerns about the MOD’s on-going exposure to theft and loss, and belief that this exposure could be addressed through better and more proactive use of the MDP.
We will be continuing to brief contacts in the national media on this issue over the coming months, in addition to the issue of officers’ pensions. To support these activities, we will be producing reports on the role of the MDP’s CID officers and MDP pensions that will assist our engagement with both the media and with Parliamentary supporters.
In the coming days we will be making a toolkit available for members that will provide detailed background on issues relating to MDP officers pensions and terms and conditions following the passing of the Public Service Pensions Act. Members will recall that an amendment to the Bill, which was pursued by Parliamentary supporters at the DPF’s urging, required the MOD and HM Treasury to report to Parliament by the end of the year on the subject of pensions for MDP officers and the MOD fire and rescue service.
This document will set out in detail the current situation with regards to that report and the Federation’s concerns about its limited scope. Its purpose is to advise members on how best to communicate their concerns to their local MP, and to offer suggestions as to the most effective points to make in such communications.