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Armed Forces Pay

Part of Opposition Day - [4TH Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 1st November 2017.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford 1:59 pm, 1st November 2017

The hon. Lady anticipates what I am about to say. I will come on to boilers in just a minute. Her point about acting to the spirit of the contract is well made, and I agree with her.

The FCAS report states:

“Satisfaction with most aspects of SFA fell markedly in 2016 due in part to underperformance by the National Housing prime contractor and changes to the SFA charging method in April 2016.”

Similarly, the Army Families Federation—sometimes affectionately referred to as the Army freedom fighters—reports that housing continues to be the biggest concern for Army families. There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence about the poor performance of CarillionAmey and, put simply, we are not honouring our people by providing them with this shoddy service. We send a serviceman halfway around the world to fight for their country and we call them a hero, as that is what they are, but back at home their wife spends weeks trying to get their boiler fixed because of the startling ineptitude of the people we have hired to keep their home warm. And then we wonder why people leave.

This has gone on for too long, and it is simply unacceptable. Either CarillionAmey should materially raise its game on behalf of our service personnel or it should be unceremoniously sacked and we should find someone competent to do the work instead. Housing associations and registered social landlords around the country have been carrying out basic maintenance and repairs as bread-and-butter work for years, so why cannot CarillionAmey do the same?

There are a variety of reasons why people are leaving the armed forces at present, and pay is one factor but—as has already been pointed out—not the predominant one. As the Minister rightly said, the armed forces continuous attitude survey published in May 2017 points out that the primary reason for people wanting to leave the services is the effect of separation or long hours on their family life. That is the greatest challenge that Ministers have to grapple with. The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill, which we debated in this House on Monday, should help in this regard, as it will allow service personnel to vary their commitment, rather than face an acid test of only being able to leave the services in order to reduce the pressure on their family. In other words, it might persuade some personnel to stick rather than twist when their family are under pressure because of their commitment to their country.

The issue of pay itself has now become something of a challenge, particularly in relation to retention. The AFCAS notes that only 33% of personnel are satisfied with their basic rate of pay, and that only 27% are satisfied with their pension benefits, although it should be pointed out that the armed forces have one of the few remaining pension schemes anywhere in the public sector where employees do not have to pay a contribution of their own—something that I know MOD Ministers have fought valiantly to defend.

Recommendations on pay are made by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and its recommendation in January 2017 was essentially for a 1% pay increase, although certain personnel would qualify for additional increments and also for specialist recruitment and retention pay, particularly if they serve in areas where the armed forces are struggling to retain specialists. Any further pay increase for the armed forces will be subject to the next recommendation of the AFPRB early next year, so we will have to wait and see what it recommends. It is likely that any increase above 1% would need to come out of the Defence budget, which could have implications for some elements of the equipment programme, for instance. However, given that the police have now had an above 1% pay increase, if the AFPRB were to recommend something similar next year, I think that Ministers would have to take it seriously.