Redundancy and Resettlement

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th December 2011.

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Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 19th December 2011

What steps he is taking to mitigate the effects of redundancy on those leaving the armed forces.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

What steps he is taking to support service personnel through the process of resettlement.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

What steps he is taking to support service personnel through the process of resettlement.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

In addition to the tax-exempt compensation and, for many, an immediate pension, the welfare of those leaving the services is very important to the Ministry of Defence. We have in place a robust and effective resettlement system that helps our service personnel on a number of levels, and allows them to serve knowing that they will receive professional and tailored assistance on leaving. The MOD fully understands that making the transition from the armed forces into civilian life can be daunting, and we remain committed to supporting service leavers in taking this important step.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for his reply. Given the increased challenges for those going through the resettlement process, will he commit to including an update on the success of the process in the Secretary of State’s annual report on the military covenant?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

That is an extremely good point. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we estimate that 96% of ex-forces personnel find employment within 12 months, and that 93% of the total do so within the first six months. He has made a good point, however, and we will see whether it is possible to do as he asks.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I ask the Minister whether the new Cabinet Committee will allocate new funds to tackle the important issue of homelessness among veterans?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We are very concerned about anyone being homeless, and the Ministry of Defence is especially concerned about homeless veterans. One should, however, make absolutely certain that one deals in facts. While any individual being homeless is a concern, we reckon that approximately 3% of those who are found homeless on the streets in the United Kingdom are ex-service personnel. Indeed, I commend to the hon. Lady the organisation Veterans Aid, based in Victoria, which I recently visited. It does fantastic work with ex-service personnel who are homeless.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The country is already facing a significant housing shortage, massive increases in unemployment and real difficulties relating to primary school intake numbers. Is this not absolutely the worst time for 17,000 of our service people to be entering that housing and jobs crisis? Is that not a pretty shabby way to treat people who have served our country so well?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that we are not happy to be making people redundant from the armed forces? Unfortunately, however, we have a serious financial situation in this country, as I think he and everyone on the Opposition Benches will recognise, and we have to address that. Regarding housing, he will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has announced that he is in discussion with local authorities to ensure that ex-service personnel get to the front of the queue, because they might have local connections. He is consulting on that issue at the moment. Regarding employment, I have just said that ex-service personnel are eminently employable and that they are valued by the employment market, and I think that those leaving the services will, God willing, not find it too difficult to find a job.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Chair, Defence Committee

Over Christmas, will my right hon. Friend find time to think about the difference between those in the armed forces who are made redundant and those in the Ministry of Defence civil service who are made redundant? Members of the armed forces are frequently made redundant compulsorily, but that has not happened to a single civil servant so far.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My right hon. Friend will know that there have been a large number of applications from civil servants for the voluntary early release scheme. That is why very few people are likely to be compulsorily made redundant at the moment. Those in the armed forces have been less forthcoming with applications for voluntary redundancy, but only 40% of those taking redundancy are doing so compulsorily, the rest having applied for it.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

My right hon. Friend will know that it tends to be early service leavers rather than those who have served their full commissions who feature disproportionately in criminal justice and homelessness figures and mental health statistics, yet the resettlement facilities—such as they are—are focused very much on those who have served the armed forces for a long time. What can we do to redress the balance?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend speaks from his own personal experience, and he is absolutely right that early service leavers are often those who have the greatest difficulty. I would like to thank him again for his “Fighting Fit” report on the mental health needs of ex-servicemen, and indeed for his recent work on prosthetics. In fact, everyone—even someone who has served for a very brief period—gets some resettlement advice. Inevitably, those who have served for a brief period have less need to adjust, if I may put it that way, because their service has been so short.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Will the Minister look again at ideas put forward by me and others in the past to allow service personnel to buy a property while still serving in the armed forces, or to build housing equity before they leave, in order to avoid the problem of homelessness?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My right hon. Friend raises an excellent point. There are schemes that we are taking forward to ensure that people can get priority in some ways. For instance, my right hon. Friend may not know that until recently—in fact, this is still the case—a BFPO address may not count as a proper address for creditworthiness; we are taking steps to change that.

Photo of Gemma Doyle Gemma Doyle Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Daily Telegraphreported over the weekend that a further 150 trainee pilots may be sacked and have to go through the resettlement process. Will the Minister confirm that that is not correct?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I understand that the story to which the hon. Lady refers is, in fact, a rehash of a previous story. We very much regret making trainee RAF pilots redundant—but by reducing the number of aircraft we have reduced the number of pilots that we need. We have no plans for further redundancies from the RAF’s flying training pipeline.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission

There are widespread reports in today’s press that the Government are planning a large cull of senior officers. I know it is a bit of a joke that there are now more admirals in the Royal Navy than major warships—but can the Government not solve this problem by increasing the number of warships instead of cutting the number of admirals?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his pre-Christmas question. Unfortunately, we have a slight problem with paying for the number of warships. I am sure we will bear it mind, but I have to say that the reduction in the number of senior officers has been spoken about at great length, including in the recent report by Lord Levene.