During the last month, the news in the UK has been dominated by the build up to and the consequences of Scotland’s referendum, as well as events in the Middle East. With more than 3.6 million votes cast – a turnout of 84.6 per cent – the ‘No’ campaign prevailed by a double-digit margin of 55.3 per cent to 44.7 per cent. Prime Minister David Cameron said that plans were to be drawn up for a greater devolution of powers to all four nations in the UK, but that the management of UK defence and foreign policy will remain exclusively with Westminster.
With the end of the NATO conference and a ceasefire apparently holding in Ukraine, attention has once again turned back to the situation in Iraq and Syria. After the execution of Scottish aid worker and former RAF member David Haines, Parliament was recalled to debate the UK’s involvement in the campaign against the Islamic State, and there was approval of action in Iraq by the House of Commons. The first attack took place on Tuesday last week, with further strikes occurring on Wednesday and Thursday. The Defence Secretary has estimated that the operation could take two to three years, and the debate in Parliament indicated that there may be support amongst MPs for extending the operation into Syria – a measure the government has not rules out.
Australia has announced the deployment to the UAE of eight fighter aircraft, an early warning and control aircraft, and an aerial refuelling aircraft. In addition, France has declared its willingness to join the US-led air campaign. Meanwhile, the Syrian element of the anti-Islamic State campaign also began with US cruise missile, drone and fighter attacks against targets associated with both the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan Group. The US was joined in the raids by a number of Arab states.
The Political Approach
The Federation has continued its engagement with the MOD during the last month, focusing on two principal issues – these being the retirement ages and pension provisions of serving officers, and plans for officers to undergo one-off biometric testing.
The DPF has met with the Minister’s officials in the last month to discuss the pensions issue, and specifically a compromise measure the Federation put forward, under which the retirement age for officers would be a maximum of 65 (and therefore not the State Pension Age, as would be the case under the Public Service Pensions Act) with officers also having the opportunity to retire at 60 if they make increased pension contributions.
The feedback we have received on this proposal from the Department’s civil servants has been positive. We are now waiting to receive formal notification of the MOD’s position from the Minister, and will of course keep members closely informed of progress.
We have additionally been engaging with the MDP over plans for officers to undergo one-off biometric testing. The Federation’s position on this matter is that there is a clear need to demonstrate the integrity of the MDP workforce – however, while the Federation would be supportive of biometric testing of officers if fully consulted upon, carried out routinely and discussed as part of terms and conditions of service negotiations, undergoing testing as a one-off will be of limited value to the MDP and will not represent good value for money at a time when departmental finances continue to be stretched. We have notified the Department of our position and confirmed that we will brief our parliamentary supporters if, as we anticipate, the Department endeavours to include one-off biometric testing in the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill currently passing through Parliament.
We have continued our programme of briefing MPs and peers, and earlier this month Eamon met with Graham Evans, Conservative MP for Weaver Vale. Mr Evans is the Private Parliamentary Secretary (PPS) to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces. The meeting was a positive one and forms part of a programme of consolidating our existing parliamentary relationship and extending awareness of the MDP’s role and importance ahead of a Defence Review in 2015. We are currently in the process of arranging a briefing with members of the Defence Select Committee, including its new chairman Rory Stewart, once Parliament returns from recess.
We are continuing to take forward meetings with the defence correspondents of national broadsheet newspapers as a means of briefing them on issues affecting the Federation and its members, and to ensure continued good relations with the national media ahead of next year’s Defence Review.
An article regarding the Federation’s engagement with the Department on the subject of pensions was also published in Police Oracle, and can be accessed via the following link:
We would suggest that members refrain from contacting their local MPs at present while dialogue with the MOD and Cabinet Office on the subjects of terms and conditions of service and pension provisions is ongoing, but would remind any member wishing to contact their MP that any correspondence is subject to MDP regulations.