Friday, 12 November 2010

Forces Covenant - where has it gone?

Today's Times carried a letter from the Chairman of the Forces Pension Society that the widows of Service personnel are going to be financially worse off following government changes to indexation of public sector pension schemes. Changes to pension indexation announced in the emergency budget on 22 June 2010 affect all public service pensions. The Forces Pension Society is calling for the Armed Forces to be exempt from these changes.

The reply from the MOD mandarins is that it is not possible to treat the Armed Forces differently from other public servants. To do so would be unfair on those who do similar worthy and in some cases dangerous jobs. Furthermore, attempting to retrospectively change previous pension schemes would cost billions of pounds. It is a prohibitive cost that could not be justified, especially given the current financial situation.

Now, here is a funny thing - the letter appears in the actual paper but not in full on the Times On Line internet version. I wonder why this is - can it be related to the contents of the Chairman's letter? He points out that the comparison with civil servants is fallacious. The Services never strike, have no union representation, can be sent into a war zone at no notice and may be killed, crippled or mentally and physically damaged by their experiences. He goes on to say that Cameron extolled the Services at every opportunity but his words have a hollow ring unless he instructs his Ministers do not understand and show no intention of wanting to do so. I suppose that the situation was surrendered during the review in exchange for ships we do not need and will not have for some years ahead.

It was exactly this sort of similar but different status of the Army that was meant to be addressed by The Military Covenant. This is very clear -
Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces.

In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.

In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation.

This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action.

Army Doctrine Publication Volume 5
Note that this was published as a official Army Doctrine. Cameron cannot claim he does not know it."In March 2008, David Cameron set up a commission to examine the health of the military covenant and how Government and society can better support the Armed Forces." On his very first visit to Afghanistan as PM he said
"What you are doing here will never be forgotten. It is great and important work. You are incredibly brave and professional in what you do. I stand here as your prime minister wanting to tell you from the bottom of my heart that you should be proud of yourselves and what you do because your country is incredibly proud of you."
So, more of what the Army calls bullshit and the rest of the nation might regard as just another set of lies.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Power to the People!!

I had seen the warning letter regarding transparency from Prime Minister David Cameron to Government departments on plans to open up Government data. This was back at the start of summer. I read it and thought that someone had hacked into Government files and produced it as a laugh. Then, yesterday we got the words from the asses mouth. "The transparency website brings together a range of information - including basic details of ministers' meetings, hospitality, gifts and overseas travel, timetables for implementing policies, staffing structures and salary ranges for top civil servants, some of which was already publicly available but was published separately" My first thought was that we website had been knocked out by the junior at some India-based help centre in his tea break. It requires downloads - speedy it ain't. The colours are garish - factual documents do not require technicolour. I had a quick peek at one - Department for International Development - Minister's Gifts - the data is missing. What are they hiding? Rt Hon Michael Gove hasn't had any meetings since July 2010, apparently. I may have scanned through it quickly - my disbelief overcame my interest - but I see no method whereby any Department collates queries and comments so as to answer questions raised. If taken centrally, who distributes them to the appropriate civil servant? If there is a mechanism for querying things directly, how would I know to whom I might address my questions. Everything has to be prepared, collated and checked by someone who posts it to the website. A fine paper-chase that surely will require increasing head counts and dilution of job savings elsewhere in the Westminster machine.

I then looked at some of the detail. The right to know extends into local council planning. Local government spending transparency. New items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011. New local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 to be published in full from January 2011. The £500 threshold seems incredibly low and will again - I assume - put an extra workload on council staff made more onerous by savings on payroll costs by shedding workers. It appears I will also be able to view tender documents. I handled many such invitations to tender and there is often doubt as to the exact requirement. The anoraks and self-declared experts will be in a position to ask for an explanation for any project ranging from why it is wanted, right through to "why not use MDF in place of the tender specification for plywood?" If we are permitted to know what is in a tender, should we not be able to view and comment upon the responses and bids from contractors?

Announcing the new measures yesterday, Cameron said "We will be the first government in a generation to leave office with much less power in Whitehall than we started with. We are going to take power from government and hand it to people, families and communities – and how we will do that is set out right here in these Business Plans." I cannot understand what is the point of "We will be the first government in a generation to leave office with much less power in Whitehall than we started with" 'Power to the people' was a rallying call in a bygone TV series but Citizen Smith was not a role model. I was under the impression last time I voted that I was stating a preference for someone who would be part of a government that would adhere to their overall role of defending the Realm. If the intention was to reduce their oversight and hand it over to some few million citizens, what will those who lounge on the red or green benches be doing? Whence will come the proper and considered debate if their control is lessened - what would be my neighbour's wishes if someone has WMD on 45 minute deployment? Over As recently as 20th October 2010, 60% of the population stated that we should not be in Afghanistan. So why are we still there?

There may well be a element of Bread & Circuses in the new idea. Whilst we are caught up in demanding to know what happened to the gold Rolex gifted to Minister X by Sheik Shantytown we will not be aware of whatever dodgy plan is being put together. Our concerns for the aged, the sick and long-term unemployed (unemployable?) will be diverted.

Bugger Power to the People - if they should ever really want it, they know how to go about it