Nia Griffith: Labour will deliver serious leadership of our Armed Forces
From scrapping outsourced contracts to investing in equipment and recruitment, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith outlines her priorities for the armed forces
This is a critically important time for the United Kingdom, our allies, our place in the world and our defence and security.
At a time of growing instability around the world and a range of threats to our security here at home, Labour is clear that the government has no higher duty than protecting our citizens and maintaining national security.
That overriding duty is at the heart of our defence policy, and the next Labour government is committed to doing everything necessary to protect the security of this country and of the British people.
This means not only using the UK’s influence as a force for good in the world, but also investing properly in the world-leading equipment and the latest technologies that are necessary to keep us safe. And we must match that investment with a commitment to the driving force behind our country’s defences – our armed forces personnel.
Sadly, on this government’s watch we have seen a disturbing fall in the number of servicemen and women across all three services. Despite the Conservatives promising at last year’s election that they would maintain the overall size of the armed forces, the number of personnel has fallen dramatically since then. Every service now has fewer personnel than last year, and they are well short of the targets set for 2020, with no plan on how to make up the numbers.
It is clear that the government’s costly recruitment contract with Capita is simply not fit for purpose. It is not doing its basic job of recruiting people to the army – with numbers continuing to fall, month after month, and nor is it making the savings that were promised. Labour is clear that we would scrap this failing contract and bring the service back in-house to be delivered by personnel who know what they are doing.
We will take a similar approach to other contracts that the MoD has outsourced needlessly to the private sector. Where they are failing, where they are letting down our service personnel or their families, where they do not deliver good value for taxpayers, we will have no hesitation in scrapping these outsourced contracts.
But it is not just recruitment. We must also address the reasons why so many personnel are deciding to leave the armed forces. The public sector pay cap means that our servicemen and women have endured seven years of real-terms cuts to their pay. I am pleased that the government has finally come forward with a pay rise for this financial year – something we promised back at last year’s election. But unlike Labour’s plan to fund the increase properly, the government has not provided any new money, meaning that the burden will fall on the MoD’s existing budget.
That budget is in total crisis. The equipment plan – which sets out the £178bn of kit that we need for the next 10 years – has a funding gap of up to £21bn. There are persistent rumours that the government will have to cut yet more equipment and personnel in order to try to balance the books.
The defence secretary should be using the ongoing defence review – the Modernising Defence Programme – to get to grips with these issues. But all we have seen so far is outlandish briefing to newspapers about his supposed bust-ups with various cabinet ministers over demands for funding that are then rebuffed. Like a low-budget version of Francis Urquhart in House of Cards, he has apparently even threatened to bring down the prime minister if he does not get what he wants.
These challenging times call for serious leadership that is focused on delivering the best for our nation’s defences and our armed forces – and that is exactly what a Labour government would deliver.
Nia Griffith is Labour MP for Llanelli and shadow secretary of state for defence