The UK, along with France and the US, has conducted air strikes on a suspected chemical weapons factory in Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapon attack on the streets of Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region of the country. The chemical attack took place on 7thApril and killed up to 75 people. The Government said that “Our action is proportionate, specifically aimed at degrading the regime’s ability to use chemical weapons and deterring such appalling acts.” The UK’s contribution was “four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s and four RAF Typhoon FG4s in support. The Tornados launched eight Storm Shadow missiles at the Him Sinshar chemical weapons storage site.”
NAO report finds significant shortfall in military personnel
The National Audit Office has published a report titled Ensuring sufficient skilled military personnelin which it exposes the shortfall in personnel numbers as the biggest it has been in 10 years. The Armed Forces currently has 137,300 personnel overall, which is 8,200 people below the requirement. However, “more significantly,” the figures show deficiencies in “critical skills” in the military in areas such as engineering, piloting, and intelligence analysis. The report says that there are 102 “pinch point” trades. It also projects that this shortfall is unlikely to be met within the next five years, as the Armed Forces are 23 percent below their target for training new recruits. This is despite the MoD having spent £664 million on recruitment in the past four years.
Head of the NAO Amyas Morse said: “Ensuring the Armed Forces have the right number of skilled personnel in place is not a new challenge, but given the complexity and development of new, modern-world threats, it is a challenge that will only continue to grow. The Department needs to fundamentally change its approach to develop skilled personnel and address the long-established shortfalls that persist.”
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier, has responded to the report saying that “The Ministry of Defence needs to take a long hard look at its current approach. Without more innovative methods to attract and retain staff, the UK risks continuing with big gaps in capability and overstretching already hard working and crucial service personnel.”
The NAO’s findings support the claims of various serving and retired senior Armed Forces officers in recent months, and will add further weight to calls for additional funding of the MoD The Army recently launched a new recruitment drive which is seeking to change its brand and focus on promoting inclusivity and the “belonging” aspect of being in the Armed Forces, however this drive – as noted by the NAO – is unlikely to arrest the issue of skills and number shortages.
The Public Accounts Committee may choose to conduct an inquiry or hear evidence in relation to the NAO report, and will review any terms of reference to such an inquiry with a view to submitting evidence form the DPF. The Federation has also recently submitted written evidence to the Defence Select Committee’s inquiry on the Modernising Defence Programme, and is preparing a submission on the MoD’s own consultation.
Labour questions Government on failure to create National Infrastructure Police
Infrastructure Intelligencehas reported on the Labour Party having accused the Government of reneging on its 2017 General Election manifesto pledge to create a National Infrastructure Police by merging the MDP, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the British Transport Police. The Conservative manifesto said that the merger would “improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network.” However, in the year since the election, the project has not progressed on from reviewing its “feasibility.”
Labour has raised this criticism as US intelligence issued a warning with the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre that hostile entities such as Russia are likely to target critical national infrastructure in both the UK and the US through cyberwarfare. The statement references “routers, switches, firewalls, and the Network Intrusion Detection System.”
Ciaran Martin, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, said:“Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace so tackling them is a major priority for the National Cyber Security Centre and our U.S. allies. This is the first time that in attributing a cyberattack to Russia the U.S. and the UK have, at the same time, issued joint advice to industry about how to manage the risks from the attack. It marks an important step in our fight back against state-sponsored aggression in cyberspace.”
The merger has officially been put on hold and the three forces concerned have only been asked to demonstrate their efforts to improve “interoperability.” Despite Labour raising this issue, it is highly unlikely that the merger will proceed. National Chairman Eamon Keating has a meeting with Labour’s Shadow Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, Gerald Jones, next week in which he will raise this issue as well as issues regarding workforce size, security of MoD assets, and the Modernising Defence Programme.
London’s murder count continues to rise
The number of fatal stabbings in London in 2018 reached 60 this week after three murders in two days, The Timeshas reported. This compares with 116 homicides in London in the whole of 2017, and 601 murders nationwide. This follows the launch last week of the Government’s Serious Violent Crime Strategy amid criticism that politicians across the political spectrum were not doing enough to address the issue. Scotland Yard’s newly formed violent crime taskforce has been involved in the raiding of eight properties and seven arrests over the weekend.
It has been reported in the Daily Telegraphthat Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has defended Scotland Yard’s falling murder conviction rate as she said that murders are becoming more frequent and harder to solve. The murder detection rate has fallen to 72 percent in London last year, from a typical level of around 90 percent. She noted that victims are becoming younger and subject to group attacks for which police officers are met with “a wall of silence” which prevents them from acquiring the necessary evidence to charge someone.
Police officers denied nearly a quarter of a million rest days
Police Oracle has reported that 237,697 rest days for police officers have been cancelled, remain outstanding or are waiting to be re-rostered across England and Wales in the year to September 2017. It has separately listed every force that responded and the number of rest days they are overdue. The information, obtained by the Press Association under a Freedom of Information Request, shows that more than 70,000 officers are owed rest days across 30 forces. The total across all forces is expected to be significantly higher, especially considering the two biggest forces in the UK – London’s Metropolitan Police and the West Midlands Police – were unable to provide the information.
Following on from this, Police Oracle reported on the impact of lost rest days on officers’ mental wellbeing. Calum McLeod, Chairman of the Police Federation in England and Wales, said that eight in 10 officers are displaying signs of depression or anxiety as a result of “doing too much” and of police welfare departments being subject to cuts.
Mr McLeod said that this was having a negative impact on officers’ morale, physical and mental health, and on the efficiency of the service they deliver. He said it was further evidence that “policing is in crisis” and that it does not “have the resources at the moment to meet the demands of the public.” He said, “The government needs to take this situation seriously because it’s quite clear the model is not working.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Police forces have a statutory duty to manage the working time and welfare of officers and ensure they can take the leave and rest days to which they are entitled.”
West Midlands police officer sacked over stolen terror secrets
Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Marcus Beale, has been fired from his job for gross misconduct after losing highly confidential documents last May, The Times has reported. The documents contained information about live investigations, counterterror meetings, and profiles of people and crimes committed. They were taken from his car after he broke protocol and took the documents out of the police station. The documents have not been found since, but Mr Beale said he believed that they had been stolen by someone who broke into his car when it was in his driveway.
Mr Beale has been dismissed without notice but will keep his pension, a tax-free lump sum of £215,000 owed to him because he had effectively served 30 years’ service when the time spent under investigation, including two judicial reviews he launched, is taken into consideration. Prior to this incident his retirement had been scheduled for what turned out to be 10 days after this dismissal, leading Mr Beale’s counsel, John Beggs QC, to call the dismissal “merely symbolic.” Mr Beale has also been convicted under the Official Secrets Act and fined £3,500 at Westminster magistrates court for compromising national security.
Mr Beggs called Mr Beale “one of the good guys in policing,” which he claimed is evidenced by the support he had received from some of the most senior counterterror police in the country, as well as other high-ranking officers. Mr Beggs said that Mr Beale’s response to realising what had happened was “swift, professional, selfless, and imbued with the characteristic that runs through him like Brighton rock — honesty and integrity.”