Select Committee on Defence Second Report


IV RETAINING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Conditions of service and welfare

OPERATIONAL WELFARE

100. As we have described above, the nature of operations today means that Service personnel are spending more time away from home, and this is one of the aspects they find most difficult about Service life. The MoD have recognised this and have taken various steps to provide compensating benefits. Longer Separated Service Allowance (LSSA) and Longer Service at Sea Bonus (LSSB) were enhanced in December 1999: £1,000 is now paid to all personnel experiencing more than 280 days' separation since December 1997 and £2,000 for those who have experienced more than 365 days' separation. The long service allowance qualifying period has been halved from 3 years to18 months; and those repeatedly deployed away from home bases, but who do not currently fulfil the 10 consecutive day qualifying period, are now to be eligible for separation allowances.

101. Additional leave (called post-operational tour leave) is granted to those returning from operational tours. For Army personnel returning from a six-month detachment, this is 20 days, over and above the normal leave allowance. Other Service personnel also receive extra leave, depending on the time spent on detachment and the working conditions experienced. This is welcome; but we raised with the Minister our concerns that personnel were sometimes not able to take this, or other leave to which they are entitled, because the workload of their unit meant that they could not be spared. Naval personnel told us that engineers and technicians who had been busy while ships were at sea found that they could not take time off when they returned to base port because that was the time when essential maintenance was carried out, for which they were needed.[188]

102. We put to the Minister and DCDS (Personnel) a suggestion made to us by individual Service personnel, that if they were not able to take their extra leave entitlement, they should be able to 'sell' it back to the Services, so that they received some additional benefit, if not the leave itself. DCDS (Personnel)'s view was that, although there might be specific instances of individuals who were unable to take leave on some occasions, this was not generally the case.[189] The view of the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body, who carry out a survey each year of leave patterns, is that it would be better for leave to be taken and they believe it should be an entitlement (subject to operational commitments) rather than a privilege. In their report for 2000, they found that 5 per cent of naval personnel, 25 per cent of Army personnel and 23 per cent of RAF personnel lost leave and have now asked the MoD to look at how a financial compensation scheme for lost leave might operate. We agree that it would be better if personnel were able to take leave to which they should be entitled unless unavoidable operational commitments make this impossible. If over-commitment is preventing leave being taken on a regular basis, it is only fair that the MoD should investigate financial means of compensating those affected. In the long term, the MoD should be able to demonstrate that leave is an integral part of their manpower resource planning.

103. If the present pattern of deployment continues, it seems inevitable that for the foreseeable future members of the Armed Forces will be spending a greater proportion of their time away from home than most people would find acceptable. It is therefore vital that they are able to keep in touch with family and friends reliably and cheaply, as we have stressed on a number of occasions in the past. The MoD has been working on improving telephone and e-mail facilities for those deployed on operations. Project Welcome is a new welfare telephone system which can be installed at very short notice, within 24 hours of deployment and which allows every person a 20-minute free phone call each week.[190] We reported on problems encountered with the Project Welcome system following our visit to the Gulf in April last year and the MoD have now assured us that these problems have been resolved.[191] But we would like to see evidence of the MoD taking even more advantage of the dramatic technological changes in communications. Using its market position could, for example, potentially enable it to exploit the mobile phone market relatively cheaply. If the Services do not provide sufficient communications, personnel may start using their own. In some circumstances there could be a security risk. We think there is scope for the MoD both to increase and to regulate the use of mobile phones, by issuing them directly to individual personnel. The electronic 'bluey' enables families to send messages to personnel in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Falkland Islands and to some naval vessels. The facility will be extended to the Gulf and Northern Ireland in the near future. Internet facilities are increasingly available in family centres, in overseas garrisons and on ships.[192] These are a popular innovation. But we cannot emphasise too strongly our belief that generous access to free communication with families is a fundamental right which should be available to personnel on operational deployments wherever possible. The record of the MoD in this area is poor. Improvements have been made in recent years. Further improvements should be made.

SINGLE LIVING ACCOMMODATION (SLA)

104. We discuss later the condition of Service Families Accommodation and its effect on morale. The living conditions for unmarried personnel are equally important and regrettably the standard of Single Living Accommodation (SLA) is as bad, if not worse, than married quarters. The Adjutant General acknowledged the poor state of much of the Army's SLA and its effects—

Thirty-four per cent of naval single living accommodation ashore is also graded at the lowest level[194] and when we visited RAF Cranwell we were told that the lowest level of accommodation there (grade 4) was not due to be upgraded until 2004. As an example, on the visit we were told that a breakdown in the primitive centralised station heating system had resulted in no central heating for several weeks of the previous winter. The Minister agreed that some of the accommodation was 'dreadful' and even though those accommodated in the worst grade did not have to pay for it, the situation was 'unacceptable'.[195] For personnel returning from frequent operational tours, where living conditions are often difficult, the prospect of living in grade 4 accommodation for the foreseeable future could be the trigger for them to leave the Services. The Minister agreed that those this might be a retention issue for those who had served for a number of years and who 'frankly require higher standards of accommodation than we provide.'[196]

105. Families' accommodation at least has an Agency to supervise the upgrade, and a dedicated budget. The improvement of the SLA relies on the individual Services finding money within their own budgets. A study following the SDR found that the total investment required to improve all SLA (116,000 bed spaces) in the UK to the desired standard would be £1.85 billion. The MoD provided us with details of some PFI projects in place to improve SLA but has not set out a timescale for the overall project.[197]

106. The Minister told us that he and his colleagues are 'engaged in some fairly intense dialogue in the Department at the moment as to how we can bring forward a programme for rectifying this' and we sincerely hope that this is the case.[198] However, it does appear to us that the MoD and those responsible in the Services are throwing their hands up in horror but not actually addressing the issue. We question whether, in any case, the Services are really setting their sights high enough in this area: will the standard they are setting now be equal to what young men and women would expect if they were working for other organisations and renting or buying their own accommodation? The new SLA we have seen is adequate but many young men and women are still expected to share rooms with at least three others, something they would not have to do in university accommodation, for example.

107. The first priority for the MoD must be to set a timescale and a detailed annual budget for improving the SLA. If the Adjutant General's prediction that it will take at least 10 years to complete the upgrade is correct, this is simply unacceptable. In addition to ensuring that the worst accommodation is improved as a matter of urgency the MoD needs to adopt a strategic and considered approach in assessing the long-term accommodation needs of unaccompanied Service personnel.

A MORE FAMILY FRIENDLY CAREER STRUCTURE

108. Like other institutions, the Services have to balance the need for youth and energy against the need for wisdom and experience. In their long term strategic plan, the Navy appear to have accepted the need for a more flexible career structure and one that takes account of the fact that younger people might wish for excitement and mobility while those with families might prefer greater predictability and stability. A more radical approach to employment seems to be being contemplated to encourage personnel to continue their service when they have families. The Navy have raised the possibility of offering career breaks and the EOC believed that this was something all the Services should consider.[199] Addressing the needs of personnel with children should be a priority. The EOC commented that—

    ...there remains a view that to be in the Armed Services is incompatible with family life—at least for women ...

and that the way the Armed Forces deals with women returning to work after maternity leave 'has been one of the most difficult cultural problems to address'.[200]

109. All three Services currently use re-engagement of personnel at the end of their 22-year term to counter shortages in key skill areas and a number of senior NCOs are offered commissions at the end of their careers, to enable the Services to keep this considerable depth of experience which they would otherwise lose. The Services might also find benefit in showing more flexibility generally in their approach to the age at which personnel must retire from the Services. It is clearly not desirable to extend the service of all other ranks coming up to their retirement age of 40: fitness is a consideration and outflow of people at the end of their careers is necessary to maintain promotion prospects for younger people.[201] However, the Navy is already considering the recruitment of older people, which might in itself have implications for the retirement age. All three Services should look again at whether they are getting the most out of the precious commodity of trained personnel by requiring them to leave the service halfway through their working lives.

110. The Armed Forces should do more to recognise and accommodate the changing needs of personnel during their period of service. We recommend that the MoD takes a more imaginative approach to terms of employment in the Services and investigates in detail the possibility of offering career breaks and guaranteeing personnel with families more stability at periods in their career when they need it. We further recommend that it explores ways of making greater use of the resource the Services have in personnel who have completed their 22 years' service.


188  See paragraph 79 above Back

189  QQ 731-733 Back

190  Sixteenth Special Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999-2000, Iraqi No-Fly Zones: Government Observations on the Thirteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 930, para 13 Back

191  Thirteenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Iraqi No-Fly Zones, HC 453, paras 57-58 Back

192  Ev pp 39-40, paras 19.4-19.5, 19.9 Back

193  QQ 322-323 Back

194  AFPRB Report 2000, para 128 Back

195  Q 742 Back

196  Q 742 Back

197  Ev p 46, paras 30.1-30.5 Back

198  Q 740 Back

199  Naval Strategic Plan: The Next Fifteen Years, p 11; Q 196 Back

200  Ev p 77, para 5.3.2 Back

201  QQ 285-287 Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 February 2001