In 2000, Tony Blair introduced the Military Covenant to refer to the mutual obligations between the nation and its armed forces. It was an informal understanding, rather than a legally enforceable deal, but it was explicit in stating that service personnel, who forgo some of their own rights, should always expect the nation and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals, and to sustain and reward them and their families.
The covenant formed the basis for a range of initiatives to enhance the lives of current and former service personnel and their families. So, for example, each of the councils in our area committed themselves to particular types of assistance, like priority access to certain housing services.
However, the progress made in the first decade of this century has been undermined by the attitude and performance of the coalition government and its Conservative successor.
Service personnel are feeling more overstretched and undervalued than ever. Morale is being badly undermined and there are serious risks to recruitment and retention. In this years Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, just 46% of personnel described themselves as ‘satisfied with service life in general’, down from 60% in 2010.
The single biggest issue of concern to service personnel is the quality of service housing. Just as in the outside world, rents have increased significantly at the same time as repair and maintenance standards have deteriorated.
A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report found that satisfaction levels about the standard of service accommodation are at their lowest for many years. Last year the Army Families Federation recorded more than 4,000 complaints in relation to housing issues – a record high and an increase of 45% on the previous year. Complaints specifically about repairs and maintenance rose by 58% between 2014 and 2015.
This comes after the government imposed a three-year “pause” on a major programme of upgrade work for service families’ accommodation between 2013 and 2016. This decision was strongly criticised by the cross-party Commons Defence Committee, which described the decision as a ‘false economy’ which ‘sent the wrong signal to armed forces personnel about the importance the government attached to the Armed Forces Covenant’.
Management of the MoD’s £626 million contract with CarillionAmey has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee. Those companies have now admitted that their performance has been completely unacceptable. They had little choice; their performance was disgraceful.
It’s difficult to conclude other than that this government and its predecessor – and despite all the warm ministerial words – have been careless and neglectful of their commitments to our service personnel. It is currently a broken covenant, and that is not acceptable.