While this week has seen further reports regarding the potential for a new infrastructure police force, the highest profile security and defence news has been a highly critical report into the Royal Navy. The Guardian reports that the Royal Navy would struggle to deal with the threats facing Britain unless the Government steps up plans to modernise the country’s fleet, MPs have warned. According to the Defence Select Committee, the UK already has a “woefully low” number of vessels available and uncertainty remains over plans to replace ageing frigates that are due to be decommissioned by 2035. The Committee’s chairman, Dr Julian Lewis MP, said the MoD risked leaving the country with fewer than 19 frigates and destroyers, which he said “was already a pathetically low total”. The MPs said that dropping below that number even for a short time would be “completely unacceptable” and leave the UK vulnerable to threats from sources, including Russia and the Middle East, as well as unprepared to deal with conflicts in the South and East China Seas, and to meet its NATO obligations.
In all, 13 frigates are due to leave the service at a rate of one a year between 2023 and 2035. MPs said they had “serious concerns” about the funding and timetable of the fleet that will replace them. They also attacked the MoD for the “extraordinary mistakes” in the design of Type 45 destroyers after it emerged they had faulty engines that were not designed to operate in hot climates for an extended period of time.
An MoD spokesman said: “We are investing in a growing Royal Navy by building two aircraft carriers, the new Type 26 global combat ship, Dreadnought and Astute class submarines, and offshore patrols vessels. We are also developing new class of lighter general purpose frigate so that by the 2030s we can grow the size of the fleet.”
The report has prompted further criticism from defence experts on the state of British naval capability, but more broadly must be seen in the context of MoD efforts to achieve financial savings and efficiencies. As noted in this document, the problems with the Type 45 destroyers manifested in a particularly public incident this week, which the DPF has responded to as part of its media communications.
Elite police force planned to protect transport and nuclear sites
Both Sky News and The Times report that Theresa May is set to approve plans for an elite armed police force to protect Britain’s most sensitive infrastructure from a Paris-style terrorist attack. The new force would merge existing bodies including the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the MDP to form the new Armed Infrastructure Constabulary force. Mrs May, as Home Secretary, said there was a need for a central command because of the targeting of transport hubs and civil nuclear sites by Islamist terrorist groups in Europe last year.
In one model under consideration the new force would be split between an unarmed and an armed unit, with about 6,000 in the former and 4,000 guarding the most sensitive sites and providing a rapid response unit. Under that model the armed officers would include the British Transport Police but not, as originally intended, Highways England’s enforcement arm. As well as airports and key sea ports the new force would oversee the rail network and some roads, a senior government figure said.
The Cabinet Office is examining the costs of each model and a meeting of the most senior civil servants in the Department for Transport, Home Office, MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is due within weeks to decide which will be recommended to ministers. The Prime Minster is expected to take the final decision early next year.
This report comes in the wake of a similar story in the Financial Times last month. As noted in the membership circular issued earlier in the week, the DPF has not had sight of officials’ preferred options and would need such information in order to comment substantively. The Federation has, however, identified a number of questions that must be answered in order to demonstrate the feasibility of such a force; with members of the National Executive also taking a lead (alongside the other Forces’ staff associations) in communicating with the officials leading the review. We have also contacted the journalists at the Financial Times, The Times and Sky News to ensure the Federation provides comment on any further news stories.
One in five Border Force staff wish to leave, survey claims
The Daily Express reports that budget cuts and increased workloads mean one in five employees securing the UK’s borders now say they want to leave the service immediately. In addition, only one in three said they were proud to work for the unit, with even fewer willing to recommend it as a job – 30 per cent lower than the civil service average. More worryingly for the Government, less than one in five Border Force workers said the service was being managed well. The internal survey was conducted among staff earlier this year.
Other findings in the survey revealed that nearly 60 per cent of Border Force employees did not think they felt valued for the work they did. In addition, six in 10 employees said their workload had simply become unacceptable. A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We value our highly-skilled Border Force officers who work tirelessly to protect the UK border and keep our families, communities and country safe. We are committed to maintaining and increasing staff morale within Border Force.”
Investigatory Powers Bill set to become law
This week has seen the House of Lords give its approval to the Investigatory Powers Bill, setting the stage for it to become law later this year. The Bill will grant the UK Government some of the most far-reaching surveillance powers in the Western world, and has been condemned as a ‘snooper’s charter’ by its critics.
The bill has been the subject of some notable media attention. The Independent reports that the legislation will allow organisations including the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions to see UK citizen's internet browsing history. The Bill forces internet providers to keep a full list of Internet Connection Records (ICRs) for a year, and make them available to the Government if it asks. The same part of the act also includes the minimum office or rank that each person within those organisations must be if they want access to the records. In the police, any viewer must be an inspector or a superintendent. The legislation also legalizes the bulk collection of communications data and targeted hacking by the security services.
Europe must spend more on defence, says NATO leader
The Times reports that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told Theresa May that European nations must fall into line with Britain and fulfil their defence spending commitments to avoid souring relations with the US. His warning came amid concerns that Donald Trump could scale back America’s commitment to NATO. The US President-elect branded the alliance “obsolete” during the campaign and indicated that the US would not rush to help an ally that did not meet the spending target. NATO nations are expected to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence, but only Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece meet this minimum spending agreement. On average defence spending among European nations has fallen to 1.4 per cent of GDP.
Mr Stoltenberg said that he was “absolutely certain that US will remain committed to NATO as incoming president Trump stated to me”. He also told Channel 4 News: “Theresa May assured me that Brexit will not change the UK’s relationship with NATO.”
Although the UK’s defence spending is to an extent ‘padded out’ by accounting methods which see items such as MoD pensions and some aspects of intelligence gathering added into the total, the UK still exceeds NATO spending average by a significant margin, with this week’s Autumn Statement renewing existing commitments to defence spending
MPs back new 'Walter Mitty' medals law to criminalise 'military imposters'
The Daily Telegraph reports that a new ‘Walter Mitty’ law should be introduced to make it a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail, for anyone to pose as a military veteran by wearing medals they have not earned themselves, MPs have said. The Commons Defence Select Committee warned that the lack of any legal deterrent to imposters wearing medals awarded for service and bravery is not only an “insult” to genuine recipients but could threaten public trust in the military honours system itself.
The Committee gave its backing to a private member’s bill tabled by the Conservative MP Gareth Johnson, creating a new criminal offence similar to bans in place in other countries, carrying a maximum penalty of six months or a fine of £5,000. A previous ban was discontinued in 2009 as part of a wider legislative tidying-up exercise relating to the Armed Forces.
Royal Navy warship towed home after engine failure
The Daily Telegraph and The Times report that a Royal Navy warship has been towed back into port after suffering a total propulsion failure days after she sailed. The Type 45 destroyer, HMS Duncan, had been taking part in routine manoeuvres off the Devon coast. The Daring-class vessel left Devonport naval base at Plymouth on Sunday to engage in maritime war games with Spanish, Portuguese and German warships. She returned to Plymouth on Wednesday under tow and shadowed by three additional dockyard tugs as well as an MDP escort.
On Monday the Defence Select Committee published a scathing report criticising the MoD for “extraordinary mistakes” in the design of six Type 45 destroyers, which cost £1 billion each. A series of electrical failures have affected the warships, which were hailed as the most revolutionary in the world when the first was commissioned into the fleet seven years ago.
This incident served to highlight the vital role the MDP has in escorting Royal Navy warships when they are in UK territorial waters. The DPF has written to the Daily Telegraph to highlight this point.
Autumn Statement announces more funds for Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre
Civil Society Media reports that Armed Forces and emergency services charities will receive a further £102m in banking fines over the next four years, the Chancellor announced in this week’s Autumn Statement. The organisation receiving the largest sum from banking fines is the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC), which will receive £20m to contribute towards the capital building costs of its new centre, Stanford Hall. Run by the DNRC Charity, which was previously called the Black Stork Charity, the centre is due to open in 2018.
Additionally, the Army Museums Ogilby Trust, which supports over 138 individual Regimental and Corps Military Museums, will receive £5m from the banking fines, which largely come from fines paid by banks following the Libor fixing scandal. Combat Stress, which works with veterans suffering from PTSD, will receive over £2m, while the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund will also receive £2m to contribute towards building a respite facility for RAF veterans in the Midlands.
Mob of teenagers attack police officers
The Evening Standard reports that a police officer was beaten to the ground and his colleague punched in the jaw in an attack by a mob of up to 30 schoolchildren in south London. The two officers were on routine patrol in Lewisham when they were set upon by the group of teenagers after they spotted a youth trying to hide a large knife. After trying to search the suspect seen with the knife, one of the officers was punched in the face several times by some of the other youths, causing him to fall to the ground. When the second officer stepped in to help her colleague she was punched in the jaw.
A 15-year-old male was arrested at the scene on suspicion of actual bodily harm and was taken to a south London police station. He has been bailed to a date in mid-December.
Royal Navy fires flairs at Spanish vessels near Gibraltar
The Guardian reports that the Royal Navy has fired flares at a Spanish research vessel after it strayed into British Gibraltar territorial waters. HMS Sabre gave the warning to Angeles Alvarino after attempts to contact it by radio failed. The research vessel, which is investigating the geological risks to the seabed, left British waters after the flares were fired. A MoD spokesman said: “The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters. We back this up by making formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish government.”