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Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Associations - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:55 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 5:55 pm, 27th January 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for bringing this issue to our attention and for having it debated this evening.

Although no final decisions have yet been made, it is quite clear that there is a head of steam building up to replace the current devolved structure of the RFCAs and the national council with a centralised system. As the noble Lord said, this would involve an executive committee with a chief executive, and the national and regional councils would become purely advisory. I find this somewhat surprising, bearing in mind the Government’s desire to devolve in most areas of their endeavour. As I understand it, the report mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, says that the current RFCAs offer excellent value for money. Can the Minister confirm that that aspect of the report is absolutely correct—that they provide very good value for money?

The phrase “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, rather jumps to mind. It is quite clear that the current arrangements do not fit neatly into the ordered, centralised organisational structures so beloved of our splendid Civil Service, but sometimes something unstructured is just what is needed. I believe this is one of those times.

One of the great strengths of the current system, as has been referred to, is that it is staffed by unpaid volunteers: local people from that region who love the military and know a great deal about local conditions. Headed by lords-lieutenant, they embrace people, as has been said, with a wide range of backgrounds: education, local government, banking, accounting, property, and so on, all brought together by their belief in the Reserve Forces and cadets, and love of the military. They feel that they can make important decisions—and indeed they can.

I am particularly nervous about the establishment of an all-powerful executive committee with appointees undergoing the OPCA-compliant process. I fear that those seeking these slots, as has been mentioned, would expect to be remunerated, and that it would become overpopulated by quango kings and queens with no deep love of reserves and cadets, and limited local links to vast swathes of the country.

It cannot be beyond the wit of man to find a way of resolving the bureaucratic problems of the present system without destroying the current structure that is so important in maintaining the crucial connections of the reserves and cadets to the societies that, in the final analysis, they serve. In particular, the north will not be pleased that, once again, London becomes the focus. Can the Minister please pass on these concerns to those conducting the review?