THE SUN’S revelation yesterday of the threats to the safety of our gallant soldiers in their barrack rooms makes very depressing reading.
It is not only depressing because the hard-hitting report described appalling safety standards discovered by the Ministry of Defence’s own safety watchdog, but because we have been here before.
The Defence Secretary must keep up the pressure on the Treasury to properly fund the defence of the realm
Time and again senior officers have raised the issue of the standard of single-soldier and married-quarters accommodation, but the issue is never fully addressed. There have been several high-profile high-cost refurbishment programmes in a number of our garrisons — Catterick, Colchester, Aldershot and Tidworth/Bulford — but these only address a modest part of the overall defence estate.
Admittedly the MoD is very keen to dispose of small single-unit camps and barrack areas as they are expensive to maintain But with 20,000 troops returning from Germany over the past five years, these small camps are still needed. If they are to be retained for a while longer, they must be safe, and they must be at a good standard.
Thousands of soldiers have been found to be living in death traps including the 33-storey Hyde Park Barracks
We owe this much to our troops, who are quite prepared to rough it on operations or exercises but deserve good accommodation when they are at home. It is especially true of the Army that people are the beating heart of its capability. And our people need to be looked after properly. There have been too many failures in the past.
At the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, medical facilities, welfare support and much equipment were of a poor standard. Something had to be done. Eventually the MoD replaced the Snatch Patrol Vehicles in which so many soldiers lost their lives, but improvements to medical and welfare conditions were too slow.
It was with the support of The Sun and the great British public that Help for Heroes was formed to work vigorously on behalf of the “blokes”.
It is increased investment in people that will have an overall bearing on the capability of our Armed Forces
The network of Personnel Recovery Centres in Catterick, Colchester, Plymouth and on Salisbury Plain at Tedworth House only came about through the generosity of the British public and the founder of Help for Heroes, Bryn Parry, dragging a reluctant MoD to do the right thing. The nation owes him a great vote of thanks.
So, this is the challenge to Gavin Williamson, the present Defence Secretary. He is already arguing the case with the Treasury for more money for Defence and had some modest success in the last Budget, getting an extra £1.8billion out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But our defence spending needs to rise by another £3-£5billion a year.
Fire safety failings were exposed at many bases, some of which had already been hit by blazes
As we leave the European Union on March 29, we need to send a clear message to our European friends that Britain is not walking away from our part in the collective security of Europe, delivered through our membership of Nato. To raise our defence spending would send a loud message to our European partners to up their game — rich Germany spends only 1.5 per cent of its annual wealth on Defence, against the Nato target of two per cent.
US President Donald Trump, who is wrong about so much, is however right when he says the Europeans need to spend more on their own Defence. Britain can lead the way. We stood alone on behalf of Europe in 1940 — they need to help themselves rather more now and not rely on an increasingly reluctant United States of America.
The people of this country will spare no mercy on politicians and senior officials who do not fight tooth and nail to look after our citizens in uniform
Increased money for Defence can, of course, buy newer and better equipment but an increased Defence budget must provide for more money to be spent directly on our people. It is not just the need to improve and make safe the living accommodation for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, but to provide a better quality of housing for their families, too.
There are too many examples of poor accommodation, as the Army Families Federation constantly points out to the MoD. It is this increased investment in people that will have an overall bearing on the capability of our Armed Forces.
Young soldiers living in run-down accommodation are said to be at risk of a Grenfell Tower-like catastrophe
A better quality of care, not just in accommodation but in matters such as mental health, will have a significant effect on retaining existing servicemen and women in the ranks. It will also begin to boost the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force through stronger recruiting.
Our Armed Forces currently have 6.6 per cent fewer service personnel than we need.
The leaked MoD watchdog report concludes there is a ‘high’ risk of ‘a fire resulting in significant loss of life’
Action must be taken at once to ensure that never again are matters allowed to slip to the point that a fire safety report is so embarrassing to the MoD that it has apparently been suppressed — as Tom Newton Dunn has revealed.
Gavin Williamson, as Defence Secretary, and Tobias Ellwood, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, must keep up the pressure on the Treasury to properly fund the defence of the realm.
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THE SUN SAYS
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THE SUN on sunday SAYS
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Politicians may believe that there are no votes in Defence, but the people of this country will spare no mercy on politicians and senior officials who do not fight tooth and nail to look after our citizens in uniform — our Armed Forces — who are prepared to risk life and limb for the safety of our country.
That belief is at the heart of the Armed Forces Covenant — the Government must keep its side of the bargain.
- General Lord Dannatt was Chief of the General Staff from 2006–2009.