Clegg: 'We can't reward lions with peanuts'
02 September 2009
"We can't reward lions with peanuts," the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said when he launched his party's 'Don't short change our troops: fair pay for our armed forces' campaign
Urging action to restore the military covenant between the armed forces and the people, Clegg said that nobody could put a price on the sacrifices made but recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have revealed the disparity between what the country expects of its soldiers and how they are rewarded.
A key change would be to put service personnel and their welfare at the heart of defence policy, he said, so that no soldier, sailor or airman goes into harm's way on less basic pay than a new recruit to the police or fire service.
The Lib Dems are also dissatisfied over pay in the lower ranks which they reckoned had a dreadful impact on morale and retention and they said money must be found to pay for this from inside the Ministry of Defence. Clegg said it was "ridiculous" that there was one civilian for every man or woman in uniform but almost 1000 people working in communications alone – "the equivalent of a whole infantry battalion!"
"Major reform is necessary to reduce costs within the department," he said. "Those savings should go to where they are really necessary, to the people prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice."
Clegg said the main problem was that over 51,000 (over a quarter of the armed forces) receive less in basic pay than a new recruit police constable or fire-fighter. The basic pay for the lowest paid Private is £16,681. Also, 13,000 lower-ranked personnel receive under £17,000 a year basic pay. Even with operational allowances, they receive less than a new recruit to the police force. What's more, in 2007-08 the average working week for junior ranks was 46.2 hours a week and the average private pay was £6.74 an hour. There is also an operational allowance of £2,380 and separation allowance of £1,100 paid to all personnel on operations and no opportunities for overtime pay, Clegg said.
The Lib Dems are proposing that a fully-trained private would receive an average basic hourly wage of £9.44, giving them an extra £115 a week. Also, the average pay across the ranks of private and lance corporal would rise to around £25,000 and other non-commissioned officers would receive pay rises of £20 to £30 a week (£1000 per year depending on rank). This would cost around £300m to £400m or 1 per cent of the MoD's total budget.
On personnel ratios, Clegg said: "At the moment there is one desk job for every two servicemen. We believe the ratio should be reduced, particularly as so many desk-jobs in MoD are already done by serving officers. The defence budget and the department itself are in such chaos that the next strategic defence review will have to make tough choices. Now is the opportunity to ensure that pay levels are not compromised or salami-sliced further."
Clegg said that savings could be achieved through a headcount reduction in MoD staff of around 10 per cent (around 10,000) by rationalising procurement practices in the department, reducing non-essential staff such as communications, through natural wastage over the course of the next parliament, and by re-aligning priorities of the strategic defence & security review.
The Lib Dem leader reckoned that in equipment terms the pay of all privates and lance corporals could be raised for the price of four Eurofighters (unit cost around £70m) which are widely regarded as expensive Cold War white elephants, the loan that Lord Mandelson gave to keep production of the ailing A400M aircraft going (£340m), and the amount "wasted" on the bungled FRES armoured utility vehicle programme.
"One Eurofighter would pay a battalion of privates (400) for a decade and the budget over-run on the new destroyers alone covers the salary increase for five years (destroyers reported as having over-run by £1.5bn)," Clegg said.
He went on: "Nobody can put a price on the sacrifices our brave service men and women make on our behalf. But it is painfully clear that pay levels are a national disgrace. Those who are prepared to die for this country deserve to be treated better. It is simply unacceptable that we have reached the point where we hear of some forces families having to rely on handouts."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that the latest 2.8 per cent pay rise came from an independent body and was "among the best in the public sector". He said: "On top of basic pay, personnel deployed in Afghanistan for a six-month tour receive a tax-free operational allowance worth an additional £2,380 and a longer separation allowance worth at least £1,194."