Select Committee on Defence Fourth Special Report


1. Introduction (para 10): We recognise the value of an overarching strategy in setting high standards and demanding targets, and eliminating obtrusive inequalities in treatment. In an era of ever-increasing 'jointery' between the three Services, it answers a particular need. But we also approach our consideration of the policies in the spirit of an underlying conviction that there is much to be said for subsidiarity in the application of personnel policy—excessive centralisation and uniformity in its application could stifle imagination and innovative approaches to the particular needs of particular groups of personnel.

The Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy explicitly recognises that each of the Services is different and has its own requirements. It is neither the wish nor the intention of the MoD to be overly prescriptive: people join and serve in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force, not Defence. There are common values and standards amongst Armed Forces personnel, but the identity and group loyalty of each individual Service, and of ships, regiments and squadrons within each Service is a key ingredient of both a successful personnel strategy and of operational effectiveness alike.In some policy areas—for example equal opportunities, pay and pensions—Service personnel policy formulation is led by the MoD and there is little leeway in how those policies are implemented by the Services. However, there are other MoD-led policy areas where the single Services may vary, within agreed limits, the manner in which policy is implemented. This ability to vary is known as 'tolerable variation'. Moreover, whilst the MoD, in consultation with the Services, formulates Service personnel policy, the Services themselves are largely responsible for its implementation.

2. Cadets (para 16): .... 45% of air crew recruits of all ranks have been through the cadets.

The RAF places great value on the cadet forces, which helps to develop an interest in flying and aviation matters and hence benefit the Service. During 1999/2000, 17% of the total RAF civil life intake were former members of the Air Training Corps or Combined Cadet Force. The figure rose to 46% for the airmen aircrew intake.

3. Volunteer Reserve Forces (para 18): Greater use of part-time personnel, and greater flexibility of employment patterns, are features of the solutions sought by almost every civilian organisation facing rising personnel costs and/or skill shortages. Similarly, the government has frequently restated its commitment to forging a more effective alliance between the public and voluntary sectors. These are areas in which some really radical thinking could be done by the Armed Forces.

New approaches by the Services in the use of part-time personnel and flexibility on employment patterns have been in development for some time, albeit overshadowed by the more high-profile SDR work. Each Service is developing the concepts of Full Time Reserve Service and Additional Duties Commitments provided in Part III of the Reserve Forces Act 1996. These forms of service will allow, inter alia, for job-sharing and for more flexible and connected regular and reserve career patterns, particularly in areas of skill shortages. For example, the Committee themselves have noted the initiative regarding reservist aircrew in paragraphs 68 and 69 of their Report.

4. Increasing Armed Forces' visibility (para 21): But building and maintaining links with the wider society should be regarded as core tasks of the Armed Forces, and should be afforded a high priority.

Because building and maintaining links with wider society is regarded as a core task, the Armed Forces already maintain effective and long-term alliances with the voluntary sector through the Reserve Forces' and Cadets' Associations (RFCAs), the National and Local Employers' Liaison Committees (NELC and LELC) and the Cadet Organisations. All these organisations are constantly on the look-out for initiatives to encourage further volunteer participation. The RFCAs, NELC and LELCs are already committed to looking closely at the link between Reserve and Cadet requirements and what additional support might be provided through the skills, experience and contacts of their volunteer members.

AFCO staffs are a uniformed presence in the High Street and undertake a variety of public engagements, motivational and PR activities, which promote integration with the civilian community. The RAF, for example, is recruiting Community Development workers who will be tasked to work closely with local communities/service providers to ensure mutual benefit. Two RAF Regiment officers are engaged in motivational and PR work, including extensive coaching of children under 12 years old at schools in under privileged areas of West Yorkshire.

The Defence Training Review has given high priority to the need to establish a central focus to develop and maintain links with wider society, not only to address defence needs but also to offer defence training and education opportunities to the benefit of wider society. Greater integration through training and education is one of the key themes of the final report.

5. The Recruitment Challenge (para 26): Despite the healthy state of recruitment, it is clear that the manning problem is worsening rather than improving. The Table below (Table 5 page xvi) demonstrates that this is the case for the trained strength against the trained requirement, as well as for total numbers in the Services.

All three Services have suffered from significant manning shortfalls for several years. Inevitably, there have also been (and continue to be) fluctuations in the requirement and strength figures as each Service adapts and restructures to meet the role defined in the Strategic Defence Review.

The trained strength of the Armed Forces as at 1 February 2001 was 189,002, a shortfall of 10,997 against the Post-SDR requirement for 2005. We acknowledge that achieving full manning will be challenging, particularly in those areas where the civilian employment market is buoyant. But we are working hard to address these problems.

6. The need for a more radical approach (para 30): We recommend that the plans to open a second Army Foundation College should be realised as soon as possible.

We agree with the view of the importance of maximising junior entry, evidenced by the success of Harrogate. The Army Foundation Project is looking, as a matter of urgency, at what can be delivered, both in the short and longer term.

7. Ethnic minorities (para 35): The achievements of the Armed Forces in tackling the issue of racial discrimination are considerable. Even if the actual results in terms of recruits remain a little disappointing, the culture change has, we believe, been profound.

As the Committee recognise, the Armed Forces have made considerable progress in the last few years in tackling issues of racial discrimination. We intend to build upon this by responding positively to our obligations under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. We share the Committee's disappointment on ethnic minority recruiting. As witnesses made clear, the Department and the Services are committed for the long haul to better ethnic minority representation and will continue efforts to raise awareness in minority communities of military careers.

8. Ethnic minorities (para 39): This is one area in which we are sure that an over-arching, tri-Service strategy is relevant and useful. We recommend that more systematic evaluation of all recruitment strategies is carried out to identify those which are most successful, with particular attention to those directed at ethnic minorities. In this context, we were particularly disappointed that our MoD witnesses did not lay much greater emphasis on the cadets as a rich recruiting ground for members of ethnic minority communities, despite the success of cadets in attracting large numbers of youngsters from ethnic minorities into uniforms.

The need for systematic evaluation of ethnic minority recruitment strategies has already been recognised and, with growing experience over the last 3 years, has increasingly influenced the construction by each Service of its annual Ethnic Minorities Recruiting Action Plan. A tri-Service forum exists to facilitate the sharing of results of evaluation, together with details of initiatives, research and marketing strategies.

We value the contribution that Cadets can make in attracting more ethnic minority recruits to the Regular Armed Forces. Consequently, the potential of the Cadet Forces in ethnic minority recruiting has already been recognised by their inclusion in the Department's Ethnic Minorities Recruiting (Best Practices) Forward Business Plan for this year.

9. Women (para 43): It is not made clear, in enunciating this policy on women in combat roles, whether this exclusion is on the grounds of physiological ability or moral distaste for women having to do such work. If it is the latter, it is time it was abandoned.

The current policy is based on the criterion of operational effectiveness. A review into the wider employment of women in combat roles is well advanced.

10. Women (para 45): [The EOC also thought the Navy could do useful comparative research into the number of women who are unwittingly pregnant in surface ships.] We agree.

The Committee implies that it should be possible to rely on women not becoming pregnant when about to serve in submarines, drawing a parallel with women undertaking space flights with NASA. Hence the suggestion that comparative data about women in surface ships would be useful. Although work is in hand to improve statistical data in this area, it may not be possible to arrive at a definition of "unwitting" pregnancy that does not involve unacceptable intrusion into individuals' privacy.

11. Women (para 46): However, the Navy has to decide what its policy on women submariners should be in 10 to 15 years' time and factor this in when designing or refitting submarines for the future.

The Defence Scientific Advisory Committee has reviewed the medical evidence. The policy regarding the employment of women in submarines remains under active review.

12. Women (para 47): Gender-neutral physical fitness tests can meet the primary criteria of ensuring operational effectiveness. We recommend that all three Services follow the Army's example in adopting them to assess physical fitness for any post. The Army's study of the impact on combat effectiveness of women in the front-line may provide more objective evidence on which to make policy decisions. But operational effectiveness must remain the overriding consideration.

Work is already in hand, on a tri-Service basis, to examine physical fitness testing. This will take into account the Army's experience of gender-neutral physical fitness testing.

13. Recruiting the right people (para 51): It is not, however, clear to us to what extent the colleges had weighed the efficiency gains from more remedial training against those of kicking out low-achievers promptly and increasing general throughput. There may be a case for better targeted investment. We need to be assured that those considerations are being weighed and balanced.

Britannia Royal Naval College. Three factors influence the decision to discharge or provide remedial training: the capitation cost of a repeat term is some £11,000 against recruitment cost of some £16,000; most failures are in leadership training and the record shows that the majority of those who repeat the leadership module subsequently succeed; and in the current recruiting climate it is essential that the Naval Service makes the best of every recruit. There would be a very limited pool to draw on to increase general throughput. Remedial training is, therefore, cost effective, fair to the individual and shows that the Naval Service is a caring employer.

Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Just over 40% of candidates sent to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) are considered to be "risk" candidates. Of those, some 30% are identified as "high risk" and in need of developmental training prior to attendance on the Commissioning Course (CC), which is currently provided within the RMAS and contributes a significant number of cadets who would, perhaps, otherwise have been denied a place. As the Committee is aware, RMAS does not provide specific remedial training but relies on "back terming" weaker individuals. This allows them to repeat elements of the CC, which in many cases proves successful, as some individuals are "late developers" who benefit from this process. The existing selection process is an exhaustive one that already weeds out, at the start, those that would be unlikely to achieve success. As in all areas of operation within the Army Training Organisation, the RMAS is constantly reviewing existing practices to weigh up the true cost effectiveness of these.

Royal Air Force College Cranwell. The RAF already pursues the policy that it is more economical to invest in additional training for those who fail one or more aspect of the Initial Officer Course (IOT) on the first attempt than to remove a cadet from training. The vast majority of Cadets re-coursed are ultimately successful at IOT. A fact borne out by the overall pass rate of 97.5%. A policy of suspending cadets at the first sign of failure would, assuming the final pass rates stays the same, need an increase in recruitment to 130% of current norms to meet the training target.

14. Recruiting the right people (para 53): The recruiting agencies must assess whether appropriate safeguards are in place to guard against poor recruitment practices. They must also ensure that those selected to carry out recruiting are the most suitable people available, and that they receive the necessary training and retraining.

Rigorous measures are taken to ensure high standards in Service recruitment practices. For example, since September 2000 for the Naval-recruiting organisation, a travelling Standards Team has conducted weeklong audits in the Careers Offices. Officer Recruitment Centres are inspected biennially by the Deputy Director of Naval Recruiting. The Army Recruiting Group has been the subject of a number of studies and a continued programme of research to assess the qualities of recruitment practices. Specific posts have been introduced into the Headquarters to audit procedures and practices to ensure a consistent and high quality operation. A recent IiP assessment of RAF Recruitment and Selection practices concluded that the processes are extremely robust and carried out in a professional manner.

So far as recruiting staffs are concerned, all Naval Services recruiting staffs are thoroughly trained at the Royal Naval School of Recruiting. DERA expertise is used extensively to ensure that all test material is valid and proven against Industry standards. Army recruiters are subject to a rigorous selection process involving interviews, attachments and completion of a four-week course at the Army School of Recruiting. Course content is also under constant review and practices and procedures are revised and updated as appropriate. The RAF continues to strive to adopt best recruiting practices and safeguards, modifying training and educating staffs as changes occur.

15. Recruiting the right people (para 54): There have been improvements in recent years in the co-ordination with the work of Job Centres. There is a great deal more, we believe, that could be done at the level of individual initiatives to make more use of them, but practice is very patchy across the country. Here again, we find a sense that the MoD is being insufficiently energetic and imaginative in tapping into a wider civilian resource and building up links with a wider society. This is an area where more 'joined-up government' is needed.

The importance to recruitment of linking up with non-MoD organisations and initiatives is already being acted upon. MoD forged partnerships with DfEE's Employment Service and Careers Service (access/links with secondary schools) in the mid-1990s; both organisations are represented on the Defence Recruiting Committee and firmly involved. Another aspect of the partnership is the contribution of the Armed Forces to the Government's 'New Deal' scheme whereby a Personal Development Course or a Service 'Taster Day' is offered to those young unemployed people who show an interest in the Armed Forces. Elsewhere, we are working with the Home Office on the recruitment into uniformed services (eg police; fire service; Armed Forces) of more people from the ethnic minority communities. MoD's new youth initiative, Skill Force, also demonstrates our use of a 'joined-up' approach; it began in September 2000 in Newcastle and Norfolk after development with the DfEE, the Home Office and local authorities and is now being extended to a further eight localities.

16. Recruiting the right people (para 55): The case for the Armed Forces representing British society as a whole in its recruits is not just a moral or political one. It is an urgent practical necessity.

The Armed Forces need to recruit and retain a sufficient number of high calibre personnel to deliver the UK's requirement for operational capability and to meet the required levels of operational effectiveness. Our diversity policy assists that aim in a number of ways, promoting equality of opportunity for all personnel irrespective of race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, social background or sexual orientation. It recognises that individuals from diverse backgrounds bring fresh ideas, perceptions, skills and attributes that not only benefit decision-making but also enhance capability. It also assists our recruiting efforts with those parts of the UK population whose potential we have not adequately tapped.

17. The scale of the retention problem (para 58): In fact, for the Army, the percentage of other ranks leaving the Service as a proportion of the trained strength was higher in the year to April 2000 than in any of the previous four years and the position for Navy ratings is little better.

As the figures in the Committee's report show, premature voluntary exits of Army other ranks from trained strength in 1999/2000 (at 6.4%) were at their second lowest level in 10 years and well below the peak at the beginning of the 1990's. The rate this year (6.3% as at 1 February 2001) is also encouraging. The Naval rating/Royal Marine other ranks voluntary exit rate peaked at 6.3% in August 1997, and fell to around 5% in mid 1998, where it has remained. There are indications that it has fallen during 2000, but the trend is not yet clear due to the transient effect of the recent change from 18 to 12 months Notice to leave the Service.

18. The scale of the retention problem (para 58): In no category other than naval officers did the Services have a net gain in personnel in the last financial year.

The Naval Service has applied considerable effort to the challenge of meeting the post-SDR requirement. The officer recruiting success in 1999/2000 is re-inforced by the January 2001 figures recently released, showing real increases in both officers and ratings strengths during the preceding 12 months. The Army had a net inflow into the trained strength of the Army for the first time in 15 years in FY 1999/2000. For the RAF, the net outflow is in line with the restructuring of the Service to undertake the role of an expeditionary Air Force. Total outflow during 1999/2000, expressed as a percentage of trained start strength, for both Officers (5.8%) and Ground Airmen (8.1%) was lower than in the previous year, whilst recruitment achievement was good.

19. The scale of the retention problem (para 61): It is extremely worrying that the target date for achieving full manning in the Army keeps receding. The Army itself believes it will be difficult to achieve the 97 per cent manning target by 2004 and it is not clear to us why there should therefore be any great confidence that they will achieve full manning by 2008. We do not believe that the MoD nor the Army are yet tackling poor retention rates with sufficient urgency and imagination to address the manning problems, and we expect to see much greater effort.

We cannot accept the Committee's comments that we are not tackling retention with sufficient urgency or imagination. Armed Forces retention is being tackled as a matter of the highest priority. A wide range of measures aimed at improving levels of retention through policies that genuinely reflect the priorities of our people and their families, both at home and on deployment, have been introduced. The Army, singled out for particular criticism, is putting considerable effort and imagination into both recruiting and retention and remains firmly committed to the target of achieving full manning by 2005. Whilst the current strength figures pose a very significant challenge to achieving this target, work is in hand across a very wide range of initiatives. This is taking the form of a three pronged approach; maximising recruiting, reducing wastage during training and improving the return of service of trained soldiers. Two examples of the effort and imagination that the Army is putting into recruitment are the present Scotland-wide trial of recruiting through a civilian agency and the extensive use of the internet on-line recruiting service. The recruiting trial commenced on 1 April 2001 and will last for one year. It follows a series of studies in 1999, which led to the proposal that utilisation of an experienced commercial human resources company could lead to an improvement in recruitment and reduction in associated costs. Throughout the trial, a commercial company will be responsible for the regional and local marketing of the Army, manage the processing of applicants through to final selection and will maintain contact with individuals until they enlist in the Army. If judged successful, this may be introduced throughout the UK. As Minister(AF) has observed in the current edition of Focus: 'This is a bold initiative which shows that the Army has its finger on the pulse when it comes to modern recruiting methods'.

The Army's on-line recruiting service is an extension of its website. It allows enquirers to 'chat' on-line with an experienced recruiting officer. This service reflects the growing use of the internet amongst the target population and provides an information forum for those individuals who may, for whatever reason, be reluctant to visit a careers office. It is intended that the site will be further developed to allow completion of much of the application process on-line, with only the formal interview and initial selection process requiring a visit to the careers office.

More widely, the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body have again been accepted this year. As recently announced in the House of Commons, we are planning to spend up to £200 million per year on an upgrade programme of single living accommodation. A further package of improvements to the Operational Welfare Package will be introduced from April this year. In addition to these tri-Service Initiatives, each Service has a raft of measures aimed at improving retention. These include innovative uses of technology; for example, the Army has expanded its website with significant benefits for the soldier and his family. Service personnel and their families can now collect a comprehensive amount of information on units and garrisons world-wide including medical facilities, schools and other educational establishments, the Army Welfare Service, and the Army Families Federation. Service personnel are also able to access policy, personal development issues and training opportunities available to them, and information on resettlement contracts.

These measures appear to be having an impact on retention. Outflow so far this financial year is showing an improvement on the same time last year and we expect this to continue.

20. The short-term manning problem (para 67): We believe, in particular, there is room to recruit more women as pilots.

Applications from women are welcomed by the RAF. Females compete for entry as pilots on an equal footing with male applicants. The RAF, for example, currently employs 34 trained female pilots and a further 19 women are undergoing training.

21. The short-term manning problem (para 68): The Royal Navy Reserve, supporting a much smaller front line force, includes 88 pilots (81 trained to full readiness) of which 14 are fast-jet pilots (though they are on a lower level of call-out liability than the RAF's).

The Royal Naval Reserve has been recruiting pilots since 1980. During this period a highly co-ordinated and flexible approach to managing the requirement and training has been developed, and it is pleasing that the Committee recognises the success achieved.

22. The short-term manning problem (para 69): It is evident that these arrangements to use reservist aircrew point to one very productive way forward. The RAF is, in a way distinct from the other services, part of a wider world—the aviation world. The initiatives the RAF has already taken in building relations with that wider world need to be built on to develop a strategy in which they work even more closely together.

Reservist Aircrew are currently employed on a large number of different aircraft types in the RAF, and their numbers are to be increased to help ease the regular aircrew manning deficit. Nevertheless, a balance between regular and reservist aircrew must be achieved, with regulars in the majority. The delivery of operational air capability requires a core of full-time regular professional airmen and women to deploy wherever required at short notice.

The RAF is keen to build on the good links it has established with the civil airlines in connection with the employment of both regular and reservist aircrew. A non-executive Reservist Aircrew Advisory Group has already been established as a forum, involving the civilian airlines, the regulatory authority and the 3 Services, where mutual concerns over the employment of reservists may be discussed and resolved. Additionally, through schemes such as the RAF Civil Airlines Recruiting Scheme and Linkup, the RAF has regular contact with the civil airlines.

23. Defence Medical Services (para 71): The slow progress made in treating the DMS problem indicate the unlikelihood that general recruitment initiatives will be sufficient to remedy critical shortages in some key specialist areas. We remain to be convinced that these problems are being addressed with sufficient imagination.

There is no single solution to the manpower shortages in the DMS. We need to improve the professional attractions of service in the DMS—which applies equally to retention—and find ways of making the DMS a more attractive career option for people completing their medical training. The opening of the Centre for Defence Medicine on 2 April is a clear sign that the DMS have a bright future. Specifically on recruitment, we are working closely with the Department of Health (DH) to ensure a joined up approach across Government departments. For example, the DH have agreed that DMS requirements should be included in national manpower planning and MoD representatives included in the new Workforce Confederations. We have revised the arrangements for starting pay for direct entry qualified personnel to enable us to offer more attractive starting salaries, and are discussing with NHS Trusts joint recruitment. We intend to start placing advertisements shortly.

24. Other short term initiatives (para 73): Moves towards extended service might also embrace, in the longer term, a more creative approach to the use of part-time service to meet particular shortages.

Personnel in Full Time Reserve Service appointments already make a valuable contribution to the trained strength of all three Services. In the Naval Service, it will be possible to offer suitable Full Time Reserve Service vacancies to part-timers with effect from July 2001. Army Full Time Reserve Service personnel—TA or ex-Service personnel with reserve commitments—have been used increasingly; some 613 were serving as at February 2001. The RAF actively seeks out reservists who are willing to serve on Full Time Reserve Service who are then used to fill gapped regular posts.

Options for part-time service for Regular personnel will be reviewed in the course of the current Naval Manning Strategy study (Project TOPMAST). The Army is indeed thinking creatively and imaginatively. For example, the Multiple Service Engagement study began in January of this year and is expected to lead to new or revised forms of engagement next year. Mobilised Reservists—some of who may have a reserve commitment—are specialists who are deployed in operational theatres; some 661 were serving as at 1 February 2001. There are also some 366 Military Provost Guard Service personnel also currently undertaking security duties.

For the RAF, the introduction of Additional Duties Commitments (ADC) terms and conditions of service also allows a reservist to undertake intermittent or part-time employment compatible with any concurrent civilian employment. ADC allows for a reservist to serve full time for a limited period.

25. Overstretch and time away from home (para 83): If a sustained pattern of high operational tempo is to be maintained, it may be that the Services simply need more people to do the job than we envisaged in the SDR.

We are grateful to the Committee for emphasising the importance of the retention battle. Improving personnel retention is a vital factor in improving manning levels, reducing overstretch and obtaining the optimum return on the investment in training. While time and the world has moved on since the Strategic Defence Review, its principles and conclusions in relation to force levels are proving as robust and well-founded as we expected them to be. The success of our forces in Kosovo, and our ability to deploy effectively to East Timor and Sierra Leone, show this. We are pleased to report that commitment levels have reduced since 1999/2000. For example, at the height of the Kosovo operation, 44% of the trained strength of the Army was committed to operations; this has reduced to 22%.

26. Overstretch and time away from home (para 83): The problem is, if the Services continue to lose the retention battle they will not hit their SDR targets and meanwhile the pressure on serving personnel will continue. If the Services cannot substantially reduce the burden on personnel in the short to medium term they may have to look at rewarding personnel more generously both financially and with other benefits to induce them to stay.

We are reducing the burden on personnel. Levels of commitment have reduced significantly since the height of the Kosovo operations. We have also introduced a range of measures to improve retention. Outflow from the Armed Forces in 2000/2001 is showing an improvement on last year. We continue to seek to enhance welfare support for personnel deployed on operations. As announced in the House of Commons on 19 March 2001, a review has recently been conducted into operational welfare, addressing the shortfalls and inconsistencies in provision between different theatres of operation. We will now be introducing significant improvements to the Operational Welfare Package as a result of this review, including extending provision to cover maritime deployments and exercises lasting for 2 months or more. These improvements will be introduced from 1 April 2001.

27. Pay (para 87): It is unfortunate that the introduction of Pay 2000 was delayed by a year, thus delaying its benefits. We hope for a successful introduction in April 2001 and expect the MoD to be able to demonstrate through the promised evaluation that the new system is having a positive effect on morale and on retention rates.

MoD is confident that Pay 2000 will be introduced successfully in April 2001. The delay to implementation was regretted but proved necessary to allow extra IS development and testing time. The Department will monitor the impact of the new pay system closely and assess the impact on retention and morale—particularly in the early years.

28. Pay (para 88): The problem which bonuses are meant to tackle are one area where the 'tolerable variation' of which AFOPS speaks must be used to ensure that individual services are not excessively restricted in their ability to tackle specific problems.

Financial retention initiatives (FRIs) are seen as a measure of last resort, and are targeted to specific retention issues to retain personnel and buy time while other measures are instigated to correct the cause of that particular shortage. All three Services have initiated FRIs in recent years; including to counter extreme external market forces pressure.

29. Pay (para 88): The MoD needs to be flexible but also more strategic in its approach if it is going to use additions to pay as a retention tool, and in particular needs to assess both the negative and positive effects of bonuses.

A comprehensive review of Additional Pay was undertaken in 1998. The Review concluded that while there was scope for some rationalisation of payments, the major forms were best handled through a system separate from basic pay not least because this provides flexibility to target additional cash where it is needed. MoD is aware that there are adverse features to the use of FRIs, but believes they are needed for the foreseeable future, as a measure of last resort, to target specific retention issues.

30. Training and accredited qualifications (para 94): The Review Team believed that the crucial elements in taking transferable qualifications forward in the Services were that it should be done on a defence-wide, rather than a single Service basis, and that the MoD should use its 'muscle' in this area to better effect: it is the biggest user of training and education in the country, with a budget of over £3 billion. This is an area where the 'overarching' approach to personnel is likely to be very beneficial.

The Defence Training Review has emphasised the importance of transferable qualifications to the recruitment and retention of personnel and the benefits of approaching accreditation on a defence-wide basis. A Defence Accreditation Cell will be established to set defence accreditation policy, avoid duplication by a co-ordinated approach to the market place and use the MoD's corporate "muscle" to achieve best value for money. We will also develop a progressive approach to accreditation throughout an individual's career.

31. Training and accredited qualifications (para 95): We believe the [Standard] Learning Credit scheme should be more generously funded. We recommend a phased increase in the sums available up to a target of £500 per person per year.

The Standard Learning Credit scheme is already generous in comparison to most employers. It was introduced in 1999 and replaced the Individual Refund Scheme, increasing the amount available by 25% in the process. The level of the award is reviewed annually.

32. Training and accredited qualifications (para 95): This [Enhanced Learning Credits scheme] seems an excellent idea, although the precise details of how it will work are not yet clear and we look forward to receiving further information in response to this Report.

The Enhanced Learning Credit scheme will work as follows. After an initial 4-year qualifying period of service an individual will be able, in each of a maximum of 3 separate financial years, to claim 80% of the fees for a learning purpose. If the claim is made between 4 years and 8 years service the individual can claim up to a maximum of £1,000 per annum. If the claim is for learning after the 8 year point the maximum is increased to £2,000 per annum thus rewarding those who remain in the Armed Forces. The scheme recognises the difficulty some Service personnel may have in undertaking study and so allows claims for up to 10 years after leaving the Armed Forces.

33. Training and accredited qualifications (para 96): But the figures about take-up of this scheme also point once again to the risks of going too far in the direction of single solutions for all three Services. In general, the RAF has always provided its people with skills which are highly applicable to civilian work opportunities. Yet the RAF is attracting some two-thirds of the funding of this scheme. Here again, the overarching aims of the strategy need to be weighed against single-Service specific needs. It is parts of the Army, above all, who need to be developing this aspect of their training—and it must be adequately funded in doing so.

The Standard Learning Credits (SLC) scheme is demand led. The take-up rates amongst soldiers have not been as high as in the RAF. The longer-term trend in the Army suggests that things are getting better: from a take-up rate of less than 2% in 1999/2000 it now approaches 5%. This improvement has resulted from active marketing of the opportunities offered by the SDR 'Learning Forces' initiative. The Army is pursuing a wide range of accreditation opportunities, which will also encourage SLC take-up.

34. Training and accredited qualifications (para 98): We hope that the findings of the Defence Training Review will fully recognise the value of transferable qualifications and that it will recommend appropriate changes in Armed Forces training and career patterns to reflect this. The funds available should be focused on those personnel whose military jobs do not automatically provide valuable civilian qualifications. Commanding officers must accept such training as part of a Service man or woman's career and not simply an add-on which they undertake in their free time.

The Armed Forces have long recognised the need to enable Service personnel to achieve civilian recognition of Service qualifications. A great deal of single Service training is already formally recognised and accredited by external bodies. The establishment of the Defence Accreditation Cell will take that process further, on a Defence-wide basis. That will be closely integrated to the introduction of individual Personal Development Records for all Service personnel, which encourage personnel to plan and invest in professional and personal education and training, in conjunction with line managers, as a formal element of individual career management.

35. Training and accredited qualifications (para 99): Good training is a recruitment incentive. But it will be by convincing people that the longer they stay in the Services the better trained they will be that retention can be improved. The Services all have some way to go yet before they approach to the best available in the private (and public) sectors in terms of creating a genuine lifelong learning environment, in which self-development is an integral part of manpower resource planning.

The Services are well aware of the need to retain personnel and the valuable contribution that training and education makes to this end. The Defence Training Review is proposing a range of initiatives, which support the Government's policy of Lifelong Learning. These will improve the delivery of training within the Services, increase the levels of civilian accreditation of that training and encourage individuals to undertake learning in support of personal development. To aid this latter aim, we are introducing the Enhanced Learning Credits scheme, which allows personnel to draw down funding for up to 10 years after leaving Service employment.

36. Operational welfare (para 102): We agree that it would be better if personnel were able to take leave to which they should be entitled unless unavoidable operational commitments make this impossible. If over-commitment is preventing leave being taken on a regular basis, it is only fair that the MoD should investigate financial means of compensating those affected. In the long term, the MoD should be able to demonstrate that leave is an integral part of their manpower resource planning.

Leave is required to enable people to relax, spend time with their family and friends and to return to their duties refreshed and better equipped to cope with the demands of military life and thereby ensure that they are individually and collectively capable of delivering their element of operational capability. The obligation to ensure that leave is taken wherever possible is placed on the chain of command. We do not accept that financial compensation should be offered when leave is lost as this would risk the ability of commanding officers to achieve the required levels of operational capability.

37. Operational welfare (para 103): But we cannot emphasise too strongly our belief that generous access to free communications with families is a fundamental right which should be available to personnel on operational deployments wherever possible. The record of the MoD in this area is poor. Improvements have been made in recent years. Further improvements should be made.

As the Committee acknowledges, free telephone time to those deployed on eligible operations has increased since 1997 from 3 minutes per week to 20 minutes per week. The Review of Operational Welfare conducted in Autumn 1999 has led to a fundamental re-appraisal of how personnel are supported in welfare terms on operational deployments.

The recommendations of the Review are being implemented from 1 April 2001 and will cost an additional £60 million over the 5-year period. The resulting changes give high priority to communications with home by telephone, E-Mail, conventional post and free aerogrammes, including electronic free aerogrammes ('E-Blueys'). In addition to the considerable range of improvements being introduced across the operational theatres, the eligibility for access to free communications is being extended to all those on extended exercises, maritime deployments and those serving in the Falklands; this should ensure parity for all.

38. SLA (para 107): The first priority for the MoD must be to set a timescale and a detailed annual budget for improving the SLA. If the Adjutant General's prediction that it will take at least 10 years to complete the upgrade is correct, this is simply unacceptable. In addition to ensuring that the worst accommodation is improved as a matter of urgency the MoD needs to adopt a strategic and considered approach in assessing the long-term accommodation needs of unaccompanied Service personnel.

As the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 14 March, a very significant programme of expenditure on single living accommodation for our Servicemen and women is being launched. The upgrade programme will involve a major investment year-on-year for the next decade. We plan to build up to new investment levels of around £200 million per year on new and upgraded single living accommodation. A number of upgrade and rebuild programmes are already under way—for example at Andover in one of our first construction prime contracts, and in a number of PFI projects. Action is in hand to let other contracts shortly for specific projects. The principles of 'Smart Construction' will be applied to the new programme, achieving greater efficiencies and economies of scale through prime contracting or contracts covering the whole country and close collaboration with the building industry. We will invite industry to offer us innovative solutions to achieve as much as is possible, as quickly as possible. A scoping study is in progress and an integrated project team is being formed. The detailed timetable will depend on what solutions industry offers us.

39. A more family friendly career structure (para 110): The Armed Forces should do more to recognise and accommodate the changing needs of personnel during their period of service. We recommend that the MoD takes a more imaginative approach to terms of employment in the Service and investigates in detail the possibility of offering career breaks and guaranteeing personnel with families more stability at periods in their career when they need it. We further recommend that it explores ways of making greater use of the resources the Services have in personnel who have completed their 22 years' service.

All three Services are embracing a number of initiatives designed to meet the reasonable expectations of both the individual and their families to assist Service personnel combine Service career commitments with family responsibilities, subject to the overriding operational requirements of the Service. That said, careful management of such initiatives is required to ensure that they are not at the expense of operational capability or overstretch on others. The Naval Service is, for example, actively considering the possibility of career breaks and offering personnel with families more stability at periods when they need it. Additionally, policy is being urgently developed to ensure that both parents of young children are not at sea simultaneously and overlap their shore service by at least 3 months. A number of family friendly policies have already been introduced by the RAF, including monitoring and managing the turbulence suffered by individuals, giving greater importance to personal posting preferences. In addition, improvements to the maternity arrangements for Armed Forces personnel are under consideration.

With regard to continuance, the Naval Service already makes extensive, but judicious, use of Extensions of Service beyond 22 years, typically offering careers for selected personnel out to at least 32 years. Additionally, suitable recruits are accepted for 22-year engagements up to the age of 33 years, thus serving well beyond the middle of their working lives. The Army has a number of mechanisms or incentives in hand to enable soldiers to serve beyond 22 years. Around 27% of officer intake for this financial year is expected to come from late entry commissions from the ranks and some 400 are serving on continuance. In addition, the Multiple Service Engagement, a study in hand at the moment, is expected to lead to new or revised forms of engagement next year. In the RAF, extensions of service to 22 years are normally offered on promotion to corporal, and beyond 22 years on promotion to sergeant. To address shortages within certain ground trades, however, the RAF is offering some 700 junior airmen the opportunity to extend their service to 22 years. This package was introduced last year and is planned to run for 4 years; to date around 350 airmen have agreed to extend their service. Further work is in hand to identify the possibility of expanding this package to include more senior personnel in critically manned trades. Where there is a Service need, RAF personnel are already invited to extend their period of service beyond the normal retirement age of 55 applicable in most branches and trades.

40. Ethos and Discipline (para 115): Self-discipline combined with respect for authority remain the cornerstone of Service ethos. The balance to be struck in preserving this, whilst continuing to attract and retain people from today's less disciplined society, is a very delicate one which the Services and the MoD need to keep under constant review.

We agree. This is the approach that the Services and the Department are following.

41. Leadership Skills (para 117): In looking at people management skills, the Training Review will need to examine the balance between management tasks and more direct operational skills. The former are important, but should not be allowed to squeeze out the latter.

The Defence Training Review recognises the requirement to optimise the balance between management training and operational skills. As announced by the Secretary of State for Defence on 27 March, a Defence Leadership Centre will be established to design an overarching policy framework and strategy for managerial and leadership training, to meet the wider needs of defence.

42. Leadership Skills (para 120): Personnel management is an area in which the Services need to develop if they are to provide a working environment which meets the demands of today's employees. This has been demonstrated to be an issue which the Services cannot ignore. We welcome the Services' acceptance that change is necessary and expect to see evidence of a more professional approach to managing people.

Naval Service. We are pleased that the Committee has acknowledged the measures taken at Britannia Royal Naval College to improve the training of new officers. Personnel management is delivered in the RN/RM through 'Divisional'/Regimental officers and senior rates who are all required to undergo formal training and whose performance is monitored and assessed by their superiors. The recent introduction of Drafting and Career Management Liaison Offices in the three Base Port Areas and the Air Stations at Yeovilton and Culdrose enables personal advice to be given to all ratings regarding career and drafting opportunities. They can contribute to, and influence, their own career planning. The RN/RM continue to monitor the effect of the measures already taken and are pursuing a programme of continuous improvement including the developments flowing from the Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy, the Naval Personnel Strategy and the Naval Strategic Plan.

Army. The Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy, and now the Strategy for the Army/Personal Development Agenda, have brought personnel issues to the top of the Executive Committee of the Army Board's agenda. A major review of officers' generic training (Review of Officers' Career Courses) is ongoing and due to report in November 2001. Similarly, a further study concentrating on Non-Commissioned Officers' generic training, primarily command leadership and management skills, is also underway and due to report in April 2002. In addition, the Junior Officers Leadership Programme is a pilot course, focused on young officers, aimed at developing leadership and management skills. It is envisaged that this will, once established, become a requirement for promotion.

Royal Air Force. The RAF is making significant advances in this area. The personnel department has been reorganised to manage skill sets more effectively; competencies are being recorded on revised appraisal forms and will now be a key consideration in appointing individuals to posts. From October 2001, all RAF personnel will also have direct access to their personnel manager. Transparency of all personnel management processes has also been significantly improved and wherever sensible the management of officers and other ranks has been harmonised. The importance of good personnel management is accepted. All RAF personnel staff receive regular training and updates on Service and civilian issues, routine letters and forms are being reviewed and, where necessary, rewritten into plain English, and a comprehensive programme of outward and inward visits will help ensure that the personnel department stays in tune with its customers.

43. Harassment and Bullying (para 128): We believe the Services have made great strides in changing their working environment to one where all members of society can be expected to feel welcome. But there is no room for complacency: regrettable incidents of racial and sexual harassment and other forms of bullying are still occurring and efforts to eradicate these must continue. We recommend the MoD takes full account of the views of the EOC and the CRE in working towards an effective equal opportunities policy which will meet the high standards which the Services have set themselves. The MoD should demonstrate its commitment to a harassment free working environment by ensuring that there is no display of material which may either be seen as offensive to women or of a racist nature, in any public areas in any of its premises or that of its agencies.

Much has been achieved to introduce an environment in the Armed Forces where men and women, irrespective of ethnic background, sexual orientation or religion, can work without fear of discrimination or harassment. Certainly there is no room for complacency. We will continue to work closely with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality to tackle any prejudice and to import best practice from elsewhere. All three Services will continue to act decisively to remove any literature or material, which might be sexist, racist or offensive to those of different sexual orientation.

44. Code of Social Conduct (para 130): We are pleased that the introduction of the new code of social conduct so far appears to have caused no problems and look forward to receiving further results of the MoD's ongoing monitoring. It is important that the Services look ahead to anticipate problems of this kind and how they wish to respond, rather than being forced into action by outside authorities. In the case of homosexuality, the Services may have found a policy which proves to be acceptable to the majority of Service personnel.

A further management review of the Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct and homosexuality policy is planned for July 2002. The main findings of the review will be reported to the Committee.

45. Family welfare (para 136): We recommend that the provision of 'cyber cafes' and distance learning centres for families in every significant Service community should be adopted as a definite target.

All three Services have widespread access to the internet at Service facilities. Subject to administrative requirements, Naval Service spouses will have access to the education facilities in all 18 RN/RM Learning Centres. Work is in hand to achieve this extension of service and to advertise its availability and RN Families' Centres are also internet fitted. For the Army, all major Garrisons and stations have publicly funded internet facilities for families, which are available through local HIVEs. In addition, many units have set up 'cyber cafes' at their own expense. A recent initiative between MoD, NAAFI and Public Internet Services Ltd has provided coin-operated internet kiosks in nearly 50 unit locations for both soldiers and families. Distance Learning Centres are available to both soldiers and families in 33 Army Education Centres (AECs) and 53 Army libraries located world-wide. The plan is to have such facilities in all AECs by financial year 2002/2003, with the primary purpose being access to educational and training packages. The RAF provides internet facilities at every RAF HIVE, which are normally located with other community facilities, such as coffee shops and childcare centres; therefore, they offer easy access to the internet for families in a relaxed atmosphere. Learning Centres have also been set up on 10 RAF stations and these have on-line internet access. Each Centre has a Personal Learning Advisor to provide advice and guidance. Although primarily intended for the use of Service Personnel, MoD civilians and Service dependants aged 16 and over can also use the Centres.

46. SFA (para 138): A study undertaken in 1991 by the Army Personnel Research Establishment indicated that Army personnel were significantly less likely to take early severance if they stayed in service accommodation up to the age of 35 or so. We recommend that this study be re-run, and take in the RAF.

The majority of subject areas covered by the Army Personnel Research Establishment study and subsequent report are now monitored on a regular basis, and in a more sophisticated manner, through the revised Army Continuous Attitude Survey. This contains over 40 questions relating to housing, accommodation, retention and welfare and provides valuable input to policy decisions. A tri-Service Defence Housing Review is currently in progress, which inter alia, is examining the effect of Defence housing on recruitment and retention and measures that might enhance that effect.

Analysis of the Continuous Attitude Surveys of Service leavers, spouses and serving members show that the ability, or lack of ability, to exercise choice over where and how their families live is an important factor in retention of personnel. The initial findings of the Defence Housing Review suggest that, although it remains important to provide a good standard of accommodation to those who need it, the retentive effect of families' accommodation is greatest where personnel are allowed to exercise freedom of choice.

47. SFA (para 140): The budget and the target date for achieving the upgrade have proved unrealistic: at the beginning of 2000, a revised target date of 2005 was announced, with a budget of £582 million. We welcome the increased funding, if not the delayed target dates.

The original target date of 2003 had to be necessarily extended following the identification of additional works through a major stock conditions survey completed in 1998. The Department is confident that the upgrade will be substantially complete by November 2005 as noted by the Committee.

48. SFA (para 144): A high standard of accommodation should be available to all Service families who want it. Achieving the upgrade of the estate in a reasonable time span is essential. This is one area where more money would have immediate and beneficial effects for Service personnel and their families and, in consequence, massive potential benefits for the Services in terms of morale and retention. The Treasury took a huge amount of money from the sale of the married quarters estate in 1996—nearly £1.7 billion. It let the MoD keep only £100 million, a sum clearly inadequate for the promised upgrading of the married quarters. We recommend that more of the proceeds of the sale should go back to the Services in the form of an immediate, ring-fenced increase in the funds made available to the Defence Housing Executive specifically for the upgrade of the Service Families Accommodation. At the same time, we recommend that the MoD tailor its policies on Service Family Accommodation to meet the specific needs of each Service.

The split of receipts between MoD and Treasury from the sale of the married quarters estate in November 1996 was decided by the previous Government. The £100 million allocated from the sale for the upgrade programme was not the only funding available; at the time, the Department had already identified some £370 million for upgrade work, bringing a total of £470 million over seven years. The additional funding for Single Living Accommodation announced by Secretary of State for Defence on 14 Mar 01, also includes further provision for improvements to family accommodation in Germany and other overseas locations.

Funding requirements increased following the completion of the stock condition survey referred to above. The work programme was necessarily extended by two years, with additional funding, bringing the target date to complete the upgrade of the bulk of long-term core stock to November 2005. The need for additional funding will be kept under review in the light of future contract costs and demand for accommodation from Service families.

49. Service Families Task Force (para 145): We welcome the MoD's initiative in establishing the Families Task Force.

Since its inception, the role and agenda of the Task Force has grown as new areas of difficulty for Service families come to light. We will continue to address these in co-operation with the Departments in whose area of responsibility the issues lie.

50. Service Families Task Force (para 147): We expect to see a more active engagement by the DfEE and Department of Health in the issues affecting Service family welfare, and we recommend that our successor committee take evidence from Ministers in those Departments on their achievements of these goals.

Other Government Departments are engaged on a day-to-day basis with the problems faced by Service families and they have responded positively in helping to resolve many of these. However, we recognise that this involvement has in some cases been responsive rather than pre-emptive. We plan that the Ministerial Group should meet in the Autumn and review the way in which key Departments outside MoD are engaged in addressing Service families' concerns.

51. Service Families Task Force (para 148): We recommend the rapid development of key indicators of the quality of education and health provision for Service families, the rapid development of targets for improvement, and the public measurement of progress in reaching these. The government has been setting national standards for health and education for the population as a whole. These should represent a minimum for Service families.

Service families based in UK are covered by the same educational and health services as the rest of the population, including targets for levels of service provision. The Service Families Task Force (SFTF) identifies areas where the families' mobile lifestyle creates added difficulties and takes action to address these.

Children of Service families receive the same standard of education as the rest of the population. This includes education provided overseas by the Service Children's Education (SCE) agency, which is inspected by OFSTED. Mobility can affect a family's choice of school as a result of moving outside the normal academic year. We recognise families' concern that they should not be disadvantaged in terms of choice and are addressing this. Available data, for example on achievement levels at SCE schools, indicates that the performance of Service children is comparable with that of children in the wider population.

Similarly, research gives no grounds for concluding that the mobile lifestyle of the Service family adversely affects educational achievement.

The major concern of Service families with regard to health provision is with waiting lists. There is a Government programme to address this in so far as it affects the population as a whole. The SFTF is addressing the added problem faced by some Service families due to moves between NHS Trust and on returning to UK from overseas.

Specific Service family problems with regard to health and education are monitored through Service and MoD family welfare organisations, through the Families Forum by the Minister for the Armed Forces and through Continuous Attitude Surveys. We have no reason to believe that the systems in place for education and health are failing to identify issues of significance and, on this basis, we have no plans to introduce new monitoring systems or targets for the quality of educational and health provision to Service families.

52. Service Families Task Force (para 149): Whilst government policy has been substantially to increase health and education expenditure in the UK, the provision of such services to families accompanying Service personnel on overseas postings has had to be accommodated within a broadly static defence budget. Against a background of increased government spending on health, education, and social services in the UK, there is a risk that provision of such services to families in overseas garrisons, which fall on the defence budget, will be relatively disadvantaged. We recommend that the MoD at least match funding increases for such services, and seek commensurate Treasury uplift in the defence vote.

Wherever practicable, the overseas commands act as Local Authorities for their Service families in terms of ensuring the provision of health, education and social services. The Service personnel staffs keep the resulting services under review to ensure that Service families receive a standard of support that is comparable with that available in the UK, including meeting any statutory obligations. Should arrangements fail to match those available in the UK, we would address this, seeking funding as necessary. For example, in view of the rapid changes in social welfare legislation, a DoH consultant was employed by the MoD to draw up the statement of requirement on which the contract for social welfare support overseas was based. The resulting services are being funded from within the Defence budget.

53. Unmarried partners (para 152): We expect a comprehensive statement of policy on unmarried partners in response to this Report and encourage our successor committee to give consideration to this important matter of principle at an early stage.

Unmarried partners are not at present eligible for those benefits that are available to married couples. An extension of eligibility would raise complex questions of principle, practicality and cost. The Department is keeping the issue under active consideration but an early conclusion is not anticipated.

54. Pensions (para 160): We expect the [AFPS] review findings to be published before the government replies to this Report.

The Review findings for public consultation were published on 16 March.

55. Resettlement (para 163): We recommend that 'resettlement' facilities are made available to spouses.

Many of the existing arrangements are already open to spouses. Each Service leaver has access to a personal career consultant and spouses are welcome to attend interview sessions. On the courses run for those who wish to start up their own business, attendance by spouses is not only encouraged, but recommended; in fact few do attend for a range of practical reasons, often involving employment or children. Last year we extended full resettlement support to the spouses of those medically discharged, who themselves are unable to take it up. In FY 1999/2000 the number of Service leavers eligible for the full Career Transition Partnership service totalled 14,000; whilst not all are married, the additional cost would obviously be very considerable. The RAF and Royal Air Force Association are developing a "Point of Contact" scheme, which will be available to serving personnel and spouses seeking local employment opportunities and information on discharge.

56. Resettlement (para 164): We recommend that the MoD make resettlement training and advice an entitlement for Service personnel which should be available for up to 12 months after discharge.

There are different levels of 'eligibility' dependent on the Service leaver's length of service. For those eligible who register for Career Transition Partnership (CTP) (>80%), advice is already available for up to 2 years post-discharge. All training is done pre-discharge, whilst the Service leaver is still not only being employed and paid by MoD, but is also therefore eligible for the appropriate allowances. The rules already allow for exceptions to be made for genuine operational or other Service reasons. Those who have only served for a very short period of time are not eligible for the full resettlement package. The CTP, as the title suggests, is about career transition; those who leave after only 3 years are not seen as having had a 'career' and should not need the support that those who have been isolated from the civilian world for much longer are deemed to need.

57. Resettlement (para 165): It is the Services' own interests that those leaving the Armed Forces take a positive experience back to the civilian community. The Services need to do more to ensure this is the case and should draw on the knowledge and experience of organisations who work with ex-Service men and women, and therefore understand their problems, in further developing their resettlement package to meet the needs and expectations of those who have served their country.

It is the Service leaver's experiences whilst serving that will give the messages, good or bad, which he/she takes back into civilian life. Resettlement is a part of the whole career package and seen very much as a positive part of both recruitment and retention. In FY 1999/2000, over 93% of eligible Service leavers were in appropriate employment within 6 months of discharge, perhaps an indication of the success of the current resettlement arrangements.

58. Sick and Injured Veterans (para 170): These are complicated issues but, as we have commented before, the MoD has not in the past handled the issue of sick veterans with anything like the sympathy and concern which it should demonstrate.

The Government welcomes the Committee's acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues. It also notes the Committee's past acknowledgement of the efforts that have been made since 1997 in addressing the concerns of Gulf veterans. Continuing to deal with these issues remains a high priority for this Government.

The Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme (GVMAP) continues to be run efficiently and the vast majority of veterans who have attended have been well satisfied with its services. This is borne out by the responses to a user questionnaire, introduced as a result of the 1999 external audit, which showed that 94% of those who used the GVMAP and completed a questionnaire were satisfied with their assessment and 27% added further comments to express the extent of their satisfaction.

Since July 1999, the GVMAP has been utilising a network of psychiatric assessment centres with specialist knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to which Gulf veterans have been referred as appropriate. In general we believe this system has been working very well. A range of measures aimed at preventing PTSD among serving personnel is in place, including pre- and post- deployment briefings and professional counselling in theatre. Service personnel needing counselling or psychiatric treatment have access to the Community Psychiatric Service at units, out-patient care at the Royal Hospital Haslar and in- or out- patient care at the Duchess of Kent's Psychiatric Hospital, Catterick.

Ministers of State for the Armed Forces have held eight meetings with Gulf veterans' representatives and also met a number of veterans individually accompanied by their MPs. Regular meetings have also been held between Gulf veterans' representatives and officials from the Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit. All veterans' letters and phone calls receive comprehensive replies.

Fresh arrangements were announced on 21 November 2000 to address the health concerns of Porton Down Volunteers, some of whom believe their ill health may be related to participation in the human trials programme at Porton Down. A Medical Assessment Programme has been set up and discussions continue with the Medical Research Council to establish an epidemiological research programme.

Our initiatives on Gulf veterans, Porton Down volunteers, and recently on screening in respect of health concerns about depleted uranium show that we are determined to respond to the concerns of veterans.

Ministry of Defence

10 April 2001

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