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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Backing up the troops - are we doing enough?

10 November, 2010
The issue of defence funding just won't go away. For years we have heard an increasing number of service personnel, at all levels, asking questions of the government's commitment to providing the needs of the British armed forces. And increasingly, they are voicing concerns that shortfalls are not just leaving individuals exposed but apparently, in some cases, denying personnel of even the most basic requirements of peacekeeping activity.

The debacle over territorial army training, with a speedy u-turn following an instant and incredulous media campaign, suggests that most of what is said and done at Westminster with regard to defence policy is both political and reactionary. In fact, the stated policy itself has been lacking in detail and government ministers have appeared confused over the objectives, particularly in Afghanistan policy, until media pressure brought a substantive clarification over a number of weeks. It is difficult to know what, exactly, the funding issues are when politics is so much a feature of the information available. On helicopters, on armoured vehicles, on food, on accommodation, on weapons, on suitable apparel and more, we are told by forces chiefs that supplies simply do not reflect the needs of military objectives; yet ministerial statements tell us that the government is doing all it can, has committed adequate budget and is doing more on each occasion. We cannot say for certain that, despite the findings of the Nimrod enquiry, ministers were actually at fault over safety failures. But we can see the results of years of neglect in forces accommodation, years of falling behind on equipment renewals, years of real-term budget cuts at a time when the demands on the forces and the capabilities of those they are facing are significantly on the up. With an election on the horizon, political leaders of all persuations will have to demonstrate that they can balance the needs of service personnel and public expenditure, not by ignoring problems until the press put them in front of voters but by deciding what the policy is before sending men and women to fight and by backing up those policies with money, equipment and commitment befitting people who put their lives on the line for their country.

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