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Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Associations - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:22 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative 6:22 pm, 27th January 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former honorary colonel of a Royal Engineers reserve regiment. My comments are focused on the effect on the costs of what is proposed in the draft report.

Her Majesty’s Treasury’s publication Managing Public Money says in chapter 3, under “Accounting Officers” that

“the accounting officer should ensure that the organisation, and any ALBs it sponsors, operates effectively and to a high standard of probity. The organisation should … use its resources efficiently, economically and effectively, avoiding waste and extravagance”.

That is much in line with a common-sense approach to controlling costs properly and obtaining value for money. MPM also says that the accounting officer should

“avoid over defining detail and imposing undue compliance costs, either internally or on its customers and stakeholders”.

The draft report on the review is complimentary about the ability of RFCAs to control costs. It says at paragraph 4.0.3:

The Review found that the RFCAs deliver a great deal on tight resources, proving strong value for money.”

Paragraph 2.10.6 says:

“The RFCAs are able to exploit synergies by combining their work across functions to deliver greater than the sum of the parts.”

Tellingly, and with masterly understatement, it says at paragraph 2.5.7:

“Evidence from customers is that efficiencies would be unlikely to be realised if the maintenance tasks were transferred to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is responsible for the equivalent function for the regular forces estate.”

Paragraph 8 of annexe B to the draft report says that the review proposes to

“identify activities conducted across Defence that could be done by the RFCAs more effectively and/or at less cost.”

The report then comes up with quite a long list of new tasks that the RFCAs could be considered for taking on, apparently improving efficiency and value for money, such as managing small training areas, working on the injured servicemen’s living accommodation project and delivering elements of the MoD’s veterans’ strategy.

This all seems to imply not only that the RFCAs are highly competent at controlling costs and obtaining value for money but that the author thought so quite strongly. He is not beating about the bush. Yet recommendation 5.6a proposes that board chair and members should in future be OCPA-regulated and that regional board chairs should also be appointed on OCPA principles. It would be very unusual for those appointed to similar positions on other government bodies on OCPA principles not to be paid for their time. Indeed, recommendation 5.6d says that

“consideration should be given to remunerating RFCA board and regional council members.”

So here is the draft report recommending the introduction of a new and quite unnecessary cost, which would have to be funded by so-called savings elsewhere and would inevitably mean greater centralisation and less localism, going against what it is trying to achieve.

Currently, the chairs and board members work for the RFCAs for free. They live and breathe the volunteer ethos. They understand the Reserve Forces and the huge pressures that apply to members in reconciling the demands of family, civilian work and military responsibilities. Purely in terms of value for money, let alone the casting aside of the network of experienced volunteers, I suggest the need for a rethink.