Saturday, 12 January 2008

Des Browne's progress: spin or substance?

In a speech to Parliament on January 10th part-time Defence Secretary Des Browne reeled off the improvements the Labour Government says it has bestowed on the troops fighting in the frontline. But what does this generosity really amount to?
  • A tax-free operational bonus of £2,230. That's all of £12 per day! The MoD is dishing out bonuses of £35,000 to its civilian staff posted to Iraq and Afghanistan. Link> here
  • Council tax discount for those on operations. That's a generous discount of up to a maximum of £140. The 25% rebate is considered divisive as only those soldiers in operational zones and who pay Council Tax actually benefit - of the 13,000 troops in Afghanistan only 8,000 are thought to qualify. It should be noted that prisoners in HM jails get a full 100% Council Tax discount. Link> here and here
  • Free post, free telephone calls and internet access. The provision of free postage announced last September was only meant to last up until Christmas. It look a lot of bloody hard work by the likes of Parcels43 to get the Government to reluctantly agree to extend free postage beyond Christmas.
  • Childcare voucher scheme. This isn't a freebee open to all serving personnel. Only soldiers with eligible children receiving care from registered providers can exchange up to £243 of their monthly salary for childcare vouchers. "Individual circumstances will determine whether joining the scheme is worth your while or not". Link> here
  • Improvements to mental health treatment. Most of the improvements have been brought about not by the MoD but by charities such as Combat Stress. Only a third of the cash needed to help veterans suffering from PTSD is being provided by the Government leaving the charities having to raise £6million a year to meet the increasing demand. Link> here
  • A military managed ward at Selly Oak. All 8 military hospitals in the UK have been closed by this and the previous Tory governments. In their place are the so-called Military Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs) which are simply wards in regular NHS hospitals put aside for wounded troops. Selly Oak is part of University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, it was accused in 2007 of mistreating service personnel and received notoriety following a visit by Jeremy Clarkson. And again the Government is relying on the charity Help for Heroes and the hard work of the likes of Bryn Parry to raise the funds to provide rehabilitation facilites for injured troops. The MoD is now having to hire private doctors to fill medic shortages. Link> here and here and here.
  • Personnel Command Paper. Nothing has come yet come out of this "cross-Government personnel strategy". Civil servants talking together. Hhmm.... we wait to see what wonderful innovations this will throw up. No doubt EDS will be handsomely rewarded for providing some other fully integrated, multi-functional, pan-departmental, etc, etc .. multi-£million but not actually working, computer system - like DII and the MoD's payroll system perhaps. Link> here and here
  • National Recognition Study. Again wait and see. Its a sad indictment on the manner in which this Government has been honouring our troops that they are now having to set up a study into ways to get the public more engaged. If the Government had been showing due respect in the past they wouldn't now need this grandly titled body to come up with the blindingly obvious. Link> here
  • Harmony levels improved. This means that the situation is gradually being brought back into line with the MoD's own guidelines. The harmony bar is not actually being raised. In fact there is concern that tours of duty are set to get longer. The length of time senior officers spend on deployment is already frequently being extended and it is thought that this may become the norm at all levels; 12 month operational tours similar to those of the US are now being considered. Link> here
  • Increased pay. Increasing the lowest ranks pay levels by 9.9% is nothing to sound smug about when a soldier risking his life for his country in Iraq and Afghanistan now, today, takes home little more than £1,000 per month. It is widely believed that the Government will reject the AFPRB's expected recommendations to significantly increase soldiers' pay. Link> here
  • Accommodation - progress is being made. Too bloody right its deplorable that troops are returning from the frontline to a "very poor standard of accommodation". The nuLabour Government has had 10 years to get things right and yet only now, as a response to media headlines and public outrage, are they beginning to do something about it. 110,000 bedspaces in single accommodation are considered by the MoD itself to be sub-standard. Des seems to think that, by taking 5 years to modernise just half of these, he's doing a great job. Think again Des. Link> here
  • Access to Homebuy scheme. Although being able to participate in this scheme will enable more service personnel to get a foot on the property ladder, it will only by of help to those who can afford both mortgage and the additional loan repayments. Thousnads of veterans are homeless and this scheme will not help them at all. Link> here
  • Inquests. It is a national disgrace that inquests into the deaths of service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking many months to be heard; there are cases of widows having to wait FOUR YEARS to find out how their loved ones died. Des Browne has promised to clear the backlog; lets hope he actually provided the various coroners the resources to do this. Link> here

So what does all this rhetoric from part-time Des tell us?

  1. What's being done is too little, too late.
  2. The Government has been forced to respond to public pressure - they will do nothing voluntarily.
  3. The MoD is relying increasingly on charities to do their work for them.
  4. nuLabour's spin doctors are still earning their fat salaries.
  5. The Government doesn't care about the disgraceful compensation tariffs provided to injured troops.
  6. ...and the rest

Link> MoD: Browne speaks to House of Commons on Armed Forces support