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Senior Tory MP Warns Army Is Already "Overstretched" As Soldiers Prepare For Ambulance Strike

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood on Westminster's College Green (Alamy)

3 min read

Ministers have vowed to become less reliant on the Army to step in during strikes amid growing concern among military figures about the impact on soldiers and military resource.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, on Monday joined the chorus of figures who are urging the government to not overuse the Army. 

Ellwood, a former soldier, said the military was already "overstretched" and that asking them to carry out jobs like driving ambulances and working at airports this winter could put the UK's long-term national security at risk.

“I’m conscious that it's not just nurses [on strike] and that the scale of industrial dispute taking place is putting additional pressure on those who have to fill the gaps: the armed forces," Ellwood told PoliticsHome.

"I worry that they're going to be overburdened. They're already overstretched doing their day jobs. Our world is getting more dangerous and I'm worried that it is going to have a longer-term impact now on our security.”

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of Britain’s Armed Forces, last week told The Telegraph that soldiers must not be seen by the government as "spare capacity" or "the ultimate backstop" when strikes disrupt the public sector.

“We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation. We’ve got to focus on our primary role," the chief of defence staff told the newspaper.

He stressed, however, that the tasks being asked of soldiers during the current period of industrial action was "miles off [having] an impact on operational effectiveness".

As many as 750 military personnel are expected to support the National Health Service during upcoming strike action by ambulance drivers, No 10 said this morning, while 625 will be deployed to help Border Force when over 1,000 border staff walk out over public sector pay. 

The government today said it would work to become less dependent on the Army as part of a long-term strategy for becoming more resilient to major disruption.

In plans set out this afternoon by the Cabinet Office titled "The UK Government Resilience Framework", the government said there must be a "more strategic application" of MACA (Military Aid to Civilian Authorities) – when government formally requests the assistance of the Army to help respond to major disruption. 

To help achieve this there will be a shift towards locally-based Reserves rather than full-time military personnel partaking in MACAs, according to Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The strategy also confirmed that an emergency text message system that will inform people when threats to life are approaching their local areas will be launched in early 2023 after it was delayed. The system, which the government was initially supposed to implement in October, will be used to warn people about imminent floods, fires, storms or other potentially fatal risks.

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