In the lead-up to Christmas, the UK's military is set to stand in and help the Government as the country is hit by a wave of public sector strikes.
Seven hundred and fifty military personnel are set to be deployed to cover ambulance strikes.
A Ministry of Defence (MOD) spokesperson confirmed the MOD had accepted a request from the Department of Health and Social Care under the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities process, also known as 'Maca' – but what does that mean?
When the UK's Armed Forces provide support to civil authorities, it is officially termed as Military Aid to the Civil Authorities, or Maca.
The Maca legislation allows the UK Government to call on the military to assist in times of emergency and to share the burden with civil organisations such as the police service, fire service, Border Force and the National Health Service.
However, there are many other reasons the military can and does step in.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 defines an emergency as: "An event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in the United Kingdom or in a part or region, an event or situation which threatens serious damage to the environment of the United Kingdom or of a part or region, or war, or terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom."
Laid out in Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (Maca) principles, Maca may only be provided when the request meets the following criteria:
- There needs to be a definite need to act and the tasks the Armed Forces are being asked to perform are clear
- Other options, including commercial alternatives and the voluntary sector, are not possible
- The requesting authority lacks the capability to fulfil the required task or would be too expensive to develop
- The civil authority has all or some capability, but it may not be available immediately, or to the required scale, and the urgency requires rapid external support from the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
What tasks can the Armed Forces perform during Maca?
Many of the UK Armed Forces personnel specialise in many areas, including planning and project management, disaster relief, driving, security and intelligence, and medical – all skills which can be highly valuable during emergencies and to back-fill any local authority or government departments.
Members of the military can also be required to assist local or national law enforcement, if necessary.
The MOD says: "Military support may be provided to civil law enforcement agencies, such as the police or Border Force, in the maintenance of law, order and public safety using specialist capabilities or equipment beyond that of civil powers."
In instances where military assistance to civil law enforcement is approved, any support provided is on the basis that the relevant civil authority retains responsibility for, and control over, the situation or emergency, and any personnel used will remain under their military command structure.
The MOD also confirms that, unlike the police, service personnel only have the same powers of arrest as ordinary citizens, which may limit them if or when supporting the police.
Is the use of Maca legal?
There are three potential legal bases for a Maca deployment: the Royal Prerogative; a Defence Council Order under the Emergency Powers Act 1964; or emergency regulations made under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
The National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 provides an insight into when and how the UK Armed Forces might be used, if and when a Maca request gets approved.
It says: "Our Armed Forces are also ready to provide support, if needed, in the event of a terrorist attack.
"We have 10,000 military personnel available on standby to assist the civil authorities for significant terrorist incidents at short notice, supported by a wide range of niche military experts and equipment, such as bomb disposal specialists.
"The Government will ensure that our Armed Forces have strong cyber defences and that, in the event of a significant cyber incident in the UK, they are ready to provide assistance.
"We will provide the Armed Forces with advanced offensive cyber capabilities, drawing on the National Offensive Cyber Programme which is run in partnership between the MOD and GCHQ.
"We will continue to help Nato and other allies to protect their networks using our intelligence and technical insights, and we will use our advanced capabilities to enable the success of coalition operations."
The guidelines continue: "We have strengthened co-operation between the police, security and intelligence services and Armed Forces, between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, and between the UK and international partners."
"We have established a global reputation for hosting major international events safely and securely, including the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“The Armed Forces support civil authorities when needed in times of emergency. This ranges from providing specialist teams after aircraft crashes, to ensuring continuity of essential services during industrial action.
"We have helped local responders understand the support that the Armed Forces can provide and how to access it quickly. We have integrated military experts and planners more closely into local planning and emergency response, and conducted more preparatory exercises at local and regional levels.
"To improve our response further, we will place military planners in key government departments to give the military a wider and more formal role in supporting national resilience contingency planning.
"We will regularly review the National Risk Register and associated contingency plans to identify areas where the Armed Forces can contribute more.
"This is in addition to the 10,000 military personnel available on standby to assist the civil authorities for significant terrorist incidents," it adds.
When has Maca previously been approved?
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and women have previously helped Government departments with:
- Flood relief efforts during Storm Dennis – more than 140 British Army personnel were deployed in 2020 to help assist civil authorities in providing flood relief to local communities in West Yorkshire
- 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games – In total, up to 13,500 personnel and several military assets were deployed including Royal Navy warships and RAF fast jets
- Whaley Bridge – In 2019 a RAF Chinook helicopter was tasked to Whaley Bridge to assist with a collapsing dam at Toddbrook Reservoir amidst residents’ fears their Derbyshire town could be flooded
- Operation Temperer – UK Armed Forces personnel were deployed following the Manchester Arena Bombings and then again following the Parsons Green attack in London
- Operation Rescript – In March 2020, The UK Armed Forces supported the national response to Coronavirus, from delivering PPE to air transport support and mobile testing units
- More than 2,000 military personnel from all three services, including hundreds of reserves, were tasked to assist with venue security as well as undertaking a number of ceremonial roles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
- Operation Shaku – the military contributed to flood relief efforts across the north of England following Storms Desmond and Eva, between December 2015 to January 2016, this was following the widespread disruption and damage caused by both storms
- Operation Prismed – Between October 2014 to January 2015, a Maca request was granted for the use of military personnel to drive ambulances, standing in due to industrial strike action across the health service
Who can approve or request Maca support?
Any Maca requests for military help by civil authorities are made through the Ministry of Defence Operations Directorate and require ministerial sign-off before being approved – although if there is an immediate threat to life, this approval could be waivered.
The MOD says: "Requests must be in written form and authorised by a senior representative of the requesting civil authority.
"The request format must contain the name of the requesting organisation, which organisation will be accepting financial liability, and as much detail as possible on the nature of the desired effect."
Who can be deployed during Maca requests?
Regulars and Reservists who have not completed phase one military training are prohibited from Maca operations.
Civil servants with relevant experience and specialist skills can support Maca requests.
The MOD has also said that university cadets can only provide Maca assistance if there is an "immediate threat to life" or to protect "significant" property.
Cadet force adult volunteers are allowed to contribute to Maca requests if they are correctly trained and equipped for the task.