Armed Forces Day is an important opportunity for the nation to acknowledge and celebrate the work of our service personnel and their families, the young cadets who are the future and the veterans who have given so much to defend our country. I am proud that it was a Labour government that introduced Armed Forces Day in 2006 and this year the national celebration will be held in Llandudno, north Wales on Saturday 30 June.
As well as providing an important focus for Britain to pay tribute to our three services, Armed Forces Day also provides an opportunity for us all to ensure that we give the best possible support to those who serve and have served our country. The Armed Forces Covenant is central to this.
Across the length and breadth of the country local authorities have appointed Armed Forces Covenant Champions. But unfortunately the extent of support varies enormously from one council to another. It is so important that we give the best possible support to veterans and every effort ought to be made to ensure the greatest possible consistency in the delivery of the Covenant.
It is also important that we recognise that there is much work to be done on Armed Forces pay, on the housing for our forces and their families and the need to recruit and retain more women and men in the forces.
On pay, it cannot be right that the ‘pay cap’ has still not been lifted and our Armed Forces have no certainty about when, or indeed if, there will be a pay rise in the near future. Surely, there is now an overwhelming argument for the pay cap to be lifted and the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to make recommendations on pay levels without the Government imposing an unjustifiable limitation.
The quality of service family accommodation, in many cases, is widely accepted to be below an acceptable standard. This must be tackled as a matter of urgency and where private companies have failed to deliver, action must be taken. At the same time, there needs to be meaningful consultation with Forces personnel on how the quality of accommodation can be improved. This is important because the poor quality of housing is a key reason why Forces retention is an issue.
It is understandable why retention in the Forces is problematic when we appreciate the frustration felt by many. Making things worse, is the level of recruitment to the Forces. Recruitment levels are low and a major part of the problem is the fact that recruitment to Army is in the hands of the private company Capita. Many in the Army have pointed out how Capita is not only failing to recruit sufficient personnel, but is also failing to present an honest and accurate picture of what the Armed Forces have to offer potential young recruits.
Over the past few years, I am pleased that more attention has been given to veterans. But much more needs to be done. Greater attention needs to be paid to the distinct issues faced by veterans and, in particular, how service personnel can effectively make the transition to civilian life.
Having attended a number of local celebrations over the past few years, I have no doubt that this year too will see many successful events, complementing the national celebration in north Wales. These events will be important because it will be an opportunity for the nation to show its collective appreciation to our Armed Forces. At the same time, it will be an opportunity for all of us to think about how things can be made better for our past and present Armed Forces personnel.