Nick launches 'Don't Short Change Our Troops' campaign

by Stephen Tall on September 2, 2009

It’s been a busy day for Nick… speaking out on the Prime Minister’s contortions over the release of Mr Al Megrahi, confirming his intention to accept Sky News’s invitation to a televised leaders’ debate, as well as launching a new Lib Dem campaign, this one aimed at increasing the pay of the lowest-paid troops by £6,000 a year.

Here’s the summary of the new proposals:

The proposals, which would mean that no service personnel in the Army, Navy or RAF would receive less basic annual pay than a new-entrant police constable or development-level firefighter, would be funded within the MoD’s existing budget.

Key points include:

* The lowest paid personnel would receive an increase of £6000 – placing them on £22,680 and an equal footing with a development-level firefighter or new-entrant police constable
* Privates and lance corporals would receive an average annual pay increase of over £3000, with the average annual basic pay across these two ranks rising to around £25,000
* Higher NCO ranks would receive an average annual pay increase of around £1,000

Launching the campaign today, Nick said:

Nobody can put a price on the sacrifices our brave service men and women make on our behalf. But it is painfully clear that pay levels are a national disgrace. Those who are prepared to die for this country deserve to be treated better. It is simply unacceptable that we have reached the point where we hear of some forces families having to rely on handouts. Widespread dissatisfaction over pay among the lower ranks has had a dreadful impact on morale.

“The Liberal Democrats would ensure that no soldier, sailor or airman goes into harm’s way on less basic pay than a new recruit to the police or fire service. We would increase the salary of the lowest-paid privates – many of whom are fighting now on the front line – by £6000 a year. This can be afforded with only a fraction of the sum wasted by the MoD on bloated bureaucracy, bungled procurement projects and an outdated Cold War missile defence system.

“Action is needed now to restore the military covenant between the Armed Forces and the British people. We must start with the scandalously low pay our troops receive.”

You can read more on the party’s Forces Focus website.

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The advice that Nick is getting on defence is extremely weak at the moment, and it shows in this instance. Adding £6k to an already fair salary needs to be reflected in the entire personnel structure. there is an impact on pension liability, NI contribution and operational allowances. As an “unfunded proposal” the kind of money that needs to be found isn’t going to come from an already overstretched system. Nick makes the usual tabloid insinuation that the Civil Service is full of desk jockeys, but more than half of the numbers he talks about are Royal Fleet Auxiliary, guard service, logistics and clerical. There are undoubted efficiencies to be made, but the results of those should be going to things that matter to service personnel.

I’m in the service, and whilst our pay isn’t great it isn’t bad. Those who can banage their income are doing fine, those that can’t aren’t going to be helped by this.

What would be appreciated more would be funding for more people to reduce overstretched, better living conditions and less admin overhead, allowing us to do our jobs properly.

I do, of course, appreciate that this isn’t about supporting our service personnel, but about tabloid populism and pandering to a public that understand little aboit what we do, and why we do it. Another wasted opportunity to do something meaningful.

by Karma on September 3, 2009 at 7:26 am. Reply #

She Stoops to Conquer

Remember the plot line? Wealthy country man Mr Hardcastle arranges for his daughter Kate to meet Charles Marlow, the son of a wealthy aristocrat, hoping the pair will marry. Unfortunately Marlow is nervous around upper-class women, yet the complete opposite around the lower-class females. On his first acquaintance with Kate, the latter realizes she will have to pretend to be common, to make marital relations with the man possible. Thus Kate stoops to conquer, by posing as a barmaid, hoping to put Marlow at his ease so he falls for her in the process.

We should be grateful for Karma’s first hand experience, but Karma, you are too charitable towards this leadership. What we have here is a Liberal Democrat Leader – a Liberal Democrat Leader – indulging in jingoism. Or as Goldsmith would have it: posing as a barmaid.

Better as you say to look at some of the deeper issues of concern to military personnel AND of course asking the big question; whose friend are we in Afghanistan?

by Bill le Breton on September 3, 2009 at 9:30 am. Reply #

Karma: All the holes in this policy you have identified exist because this isn’t a policy but is simply positioning.

There may well be a case for paying our troops more but there is nothing in Nick Clegg’s message that is distinctive or particularly Liberal. As with Clegg jumping on the Libyan prisoner bandwagon, this is more short-termist populism driven by marketing imperatives.

by Simon Titley on September 3, 2009 at 10:19 am. Reply #

Note to self – iPhone isn’t ideal for lengthy responses on the train!

by Karma on September 3, 2009 at 10:22 am. Reply #

This seems to be an uncosted spending commitment from a leader who only weeks ago was saying he would never ever make such commitments (or words to that effect).

As Simon Titley says, it contains nothing that is particularly Liberal. Nor is it even populist other than in one or two garrison seats.

Why is Nick Clegg and why are the Liberal Democrats not being loud and clear on the shambles that is Afghanistan?

by Daniel Bowen on September 3, 2009 at 10:48 am. Reply #

It’s something which will cost money to implement with the usual “there must be some bureaucracy we can cut somewhere to pay for it”. That’s the sort of juvenile politics we’ve heard too much of in recent years. David Cameron is full of the same thing.

Grown up politics might start by admitting with many things that sound nice the problem is they cost money, that’s why they aren’t done already. Costs have to be paid by more taxes, or by clearly identifiable cuts elsewhere. Wittering on about “bloated bureaucracy” and “procurement” just isn’t good enough, however much it plays to the gallery. One might very much hope that savings might be made that way, but that attitude does have a habit of backfiring if you just airily wave and say “oh, go and find that bloated bureaucracy and that bad procurement practice and make X million savings from cutting it” to someone else. I’ve seen how that works in local government – things are cut which a few years down the line turn out to have been vital and the lack of them costs more in the long run, a whole new bureaucracy of imposing financial straitjackets and fancy procurement mechanisms is grown which ends up costing more in the long run. In the worst cases private consultants are brought in to advise (because they must be good having all this private-sector know-how we are always told about), and as they have to do something to justify their fat fees they propose some pointless restructuring, which most likely restructures back to how it was before the last restructuring and wastes a whole lot of time and effort and money as people deal with that rather than the services they’re mean to be providing.

by Matthew Huntbach on September 3, 2009 at 10:58 am. Reply #

It’s difficult to disagree with Karma’s very well made argument, but I’d add one more thing – when did conference agree to this? Did I miss something? It’s a rubbish idea, it cares little for alienating the base in a chase for media coverage, and it’s been cooked up by Nick and his media team with apparently no input anywhere else.

A bit embarrassing all round, I think.

by GregoryHouse on September 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm. Reply #

Conference is neither long enough nor extraordinary prescient enough to decide everything for 6-8 months in advance. We can argue the details in a couple of weeks. Support for front-line personnel and their families is shameful, and if the only result from this are families seeing another party than the Tories promising to “look after the troops” then

But as far as I’m aware, this isn’t a new policy. It’s part of our strategic defence review where we stop, you know, blowing money away on Trident, supercarriers, Eurofighters, and subsidies, and start spending it on useful things like helicopters, body armour, and wages. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

by Robson on September 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm. Reply #

“Don’t Short Change Our Troops” is Sunspeak.

It sounds OK for the Sun. For a party which aspires to the thinking person’s vote and would like to be taken more seriously, it sounds (to quote another recent piece of Sunspeak from our leader) “Frigging Ridiculous”!

by David Allen on September 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm. Reply #

An absolutely bonkers policy.

Unfunded and untenable populism – the sort of nonsense we expect from Chris Grayling and David Cameron but not a Liberal Democrat worthy of the name.

Yes, we did great things with the Gurkhas, and should build on it with a strong theme of a fair deal for the military – equipping them properly for their job, making sure the strategy in Afghanistan makes sense, helping with their accommodation, and providing decent after-combat psychiatric support and careers services.

Clegg definitely shouldn’t jump on ridiculous bandwagons like this. It cheapens us to treat voters and the service personnel like fools.

by Kate on September 3, 2009 at 6:44 pm. Reply #

@Robson

Some might consider it intellectually dishonest to go into a Strategic Defence Review with a clear indication of the expected answer, particularly when it’s the classic mistake of writing a strategy to fight yesterdays war, not tommorrows.

We need to step back and start from the Foreign policy, what foreign policy objectives do we expect our Naval, Military and Air Force to support, what are the threats and what capabilities do we anticipate requiring. Then we need to ask what all that would cost, and compare it to what we’re prepared to spend. After that we need to trade off what we want to achieve against what we want to pay for. Vacuous statements about doing away with any capability that is not understood don’t add anything to the debate and undermine credibility.

Do we want to maintain an expeditionary capability? If we do then we need to maintain strategic sealift, and the means to protect it. We need to be able to project military capabilities from the sea, indicating heavy lift helo capability, ISTAR. Afghanistan is not a typical environment, from my staff course I recall a figure of about 70-80% of the world population lives in the littoral region, withing 500 miles of the coast.

Alternatively do we want to degrade our strategic capability and become a purely COIN force, dependent on our ”friends and allies” (that’s the ones that won’t sell us full capability equipment) to provide our strategic lift, strategic communications, life support and force protection?

This is the debate that we should be having, and not just about Afghanistan.

From a personal perspective, banging on about body armour and personal protective equipment is about 5 years out of date. Personal equipment now is excellent, and there is a huge amount of it issued. The body armour that we have is outstanding. But personal equiment is reasonably easy and quick to procure, larger and more complex kit takes longer. I do appreciate that things aren’t all that rosy in the FOBs, there are difficulties getting reliable supply chains, but then people are shooting at the logistics convoys and local commanders have to make decisions about what needs delivered to the FOB as a priority, and what can wait. The key constraint there is manpower, not the availability or otherwise of equipment.

by Karma on September 3, 2009 at 7:13 pm. Reply #

“We need to step back and start from the Foreign policy, what foreign policy objectives do we expect our Naval, Military and Air Force to support, what are the threats and what capabilities do we anticipate requiring. “

Next you’ll be telling us the party should make a proper estimate of how much money can be raised by efficiency savings – rather than starting with the amount of money it wants to raise, and then dividing by £35,000 to work out how many people will have to be sacked …

by Herbert Brown on September 3, 2009 at 7:24 pm. Reply #

Karma,

Can you give us the benefit of your informed view on some of the other political stuff that is flying around just now, please? Is the helicopter shortage real or not, are lives being lost because of lack of copters, and is it Government’s fault? Thanks.

by David Allen on September 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm. Reply #

@David It’s hugely off topic, and what seems significant to me is probably very different to what seems important to you 😉 And I don’t think with any of the ongoing issues that ”it’s the governments fault” comes close to being a realistic position. Our Armed Forces grow people from within, it’s just not viable to recruit people in at mid seniority either as Officers or Other Ranks, because the experience is built over many years. Over my career I’ve seen two parties in power and am likely to see a significant change in the next nine months again, yet I’m dealing with some issues that are rooted in political decisions in the 80s. The main issue is the demographic profile of the personnel, following the parallel redundancy and hiring freeze of ’92-’94 we have a huge black hole, currently at mid seniority Major/ Lt Cdr/ Sqn Leader level in the Officer Corps and Staff Sgt/ Chief Petty Officer/ Flight Sergeant level in the Other Ranks. That’s compounded by the fact that whilst recruitment is pretty good, retention isn’t, we lose lots of people at about six, twelve and eighteen years of experience. We won’t fix the retention problem with gimmicks like promising a pay rise. We keep hold of people by not driving them into the ground, giving them decent living conditions in the UK and providing support for families.

Notwithstanding that the helicopter issue is a pretty good illustration of some of the debate. Dealing with the simple question, do we have a shortage of helicopters? Probably yes, although would we get any significant benefit from having more?

Using Afgh to illustrate, we provide heavy lift, medium lift and lightweight/ communications helos into the coalition, and we have ”planned access” to the pool to an equivalent level. That level of planned acccess allows us to plan movement of people and stores in support of sustainment and offensive action. That planning involves choices about use of helo assets or vehicle, and having more access would change some of the judgements that we’d ave to be making. However we need to trade off the type of transport with the effect that we’re looking for, frequently using ground vehicles brings more operational benefit than helos. We have to accept that part of that decision cycle is what our appetite for personnel loss is. We will lose people, and we recognise that. The losses are still painful, but we can’t live in a risk free environment.

The other side of the Helo coin is when we read stories of fatalities for want of a cab. The available lift capability includes a responder capability, a number of airframes available to recover injured or incapacitated personnel. There is a finite amount of that, and at times people will die as a result of the cabs being occupied elsewhere. The numbers available vary depending on other activity, but it would be impractical and unreasonable to allocate two or three per company group on a 24/7 basis. We provision the capability, and recognise that at times we will need more.

And that’s just airframes, there is a finite amount of space at Kandahar and Kabul to sustain and maintain these airframes. We can’t maintain them in good condition out of the back of a Land Rover, we need sound accomodation for them. We have it, but space in these airfields is at a premium, throwing more airframes at the problem leads to more people, more infrastructure, more logistic tail, more force protection. And reflecting back to the personnel black hole, we don’t have enough people to keep them operating, and fly them. As well as more airframes we’d also need to uplift our headcount, and the training pipeline is at capacity right now. Some trades have an 18 months lead time to join.

But yes, I would like to see more helo capacity, but it won’t stop people dying.

by Karma on September 4, 2009 at 9:33 am. Reply #

Thanks Karma. Like most of the posters on this thread, I hate seeing my party indulge in cheap-shot populism. It certainly doesn’t help the real situation that you describe. Does it even win us votes? I’m doubtful about that too. These days, most people have a pretty good nose for bullshit.

by David Allen on September 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm. Reply #

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