UK

Defence Told To Spend More On Personnel And Less On 'Shiny' Kit To Boost Retention

A new report has used hundreds of submissions from personnel and their families among its research.

The British military has been told it must spend more on forces personnel and their families in order to improve retention.

A report, first commissioned by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in December 2018, urges defence to spend "less on shiny new equipment".

Titled 'Stick or Twist? A Report for the Prime Minister into Retention in HM Armed Forces', the study was led by former Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mark Francois MP.

It concludes: "Defence will have to take some difficult balance of investment decisions in order to spend more money on Armed Forces personnel and their families.

"If not, within several years, there are unlikely to be sufficient qualified and experienced personnel in defence to operate the highly expensive kit in the first place," it adds.

The report used previous National Audit Office findings among its source materials, as well as more than 200 individual submissions from service personnel and their families.

It includes chapters on the impact on family and personal life, childcare, pensions and accommodation.

Warrior upgrade at Bovington in Dorset 221119 CREDIT BFBS
The MOD has been told to focus less on "shiny new equipment" and more on personnel and their families.

The team conducted 11 'ground truth' visits to service establishments across the UK to conduct focus groups with personnel and their families to learn more about why people leave the Armed Forces and what could be done to retain them.

The report says the impact of service life on their family life "is still the single greatest reason" for why personnel leave the military.

It urges the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to take action on the "high tempo recycling of personnel... without compromising key operations".

"Senior commanders may need to take a more empathetic approach when personnel cannot re-deploy on yet another short-term trawl," the report adds, otherwise personnel will "simply vote with their feet".

'Stick or Twist' also suggests a lack of active combat operations affects retention, with personnel reluctant to spend time on "repetitive tasks".

The cost and availabiilty of childcare is also highlighted in the report, which states a need for it to be more affordable, including 'out of hours' support.

"It is morally at least highly questionable that junior ranks are having to pay £1,200 to £1,300 per month in some cases for childcare, whilst some MOD centre civil servants have theirs highly subsidised for a third or even a quarter of the cost," the report says.

Earlier this month, a childcare scheme was announced for the military, with pilots being launched later this year.

Regarding accommodation, the report states: "Some are now living in conditions which many in civilian life would simply not be prepared to tolerate."

It adds that personnel and families have for decades been "underinvested in" on the issue of housing, while suggested other options should be explored for providing service accommodation.

The Government last week pledged nearly £200 million to be used on improving Armed Forces housing.

Housing at Bulford 200919 CREDIT BFBS
The report points to "woeful" maintenance provision regarding forces accommodation.

One member of the RAF recalled once being told "how what we were doing was extremely important to defence and how the nation greatly valued our contribution to national security".

"I couldn't help but thinking 'Well, sir, if that's true, why are my kids showering in cold water - yet again?'," the anonymous service member added.

Interviews with all of the UK's service chiefs were also conducted during research for the report.

Mr Francois recently criticised the MOD's track-record over procurement during a session with Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter.

"Please nip back to the department and ask them to sort their bloody selves out, because if not, [Dominic] Cummings is going to come down there and sort you out his own way – and you won't like it," Mr Francois told the military chief.

WATCH: Mark Francois tells Armed Forces chief that Dominic Cummings will "sort you out".

Commenting on the report’s findings, Mark Francois MP said: "My team and l have worked for over a year to provide proposals to improve retention.

"Some of these, such as extending the Forces Help to Buy Scheme and expanding childcare for service personnel are thankfully already being actioned.

"We have made further proposals, including taking Service Families Accommodation (SFA) away from the failing Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and vesting it in a dedicated Forces Housing Association (FHA) instead.

"This new entity would be optimised to provide decent, affordable accommodation for service personnel and their families and would be run in their interests, not that of the MOD bureaucracy.

"However, there is always more to do, in order to persuade personnel to 'stick’ rather than to 'twist', and dare I say it, remain in HM Armed Forces."

In response to the study, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace highlighted the announcement of a 2% pay rise for personnel, a matter which the report says is "not an overriding" factor when it comes to people leaving the military.

"We’ve also recently introduced flexible working, pumped £200m of new funding into modernising accommodation and will be introducing free breakfast and after-school childcare to bolster the retention of our people and better support their loved ones," Mr Wallace said.

"My thanks go to Mark Francois for compiling such a thorough report and we’re already working towards introducing a number of its recommendations."