Saturday saw widespread coverage across BBC Breakfast, BBC Today Programme and Sky News, as well as pieces in the Guardian, Financial Times, the Times, the Independent, Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Mirror, reporting that the British Army is creating a “special force of social media warriors”, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age. Reports suggested that the 77th Brigade is to be based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire and will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the Army including Reserves and civilians.
The Chief of the General Staff said:
The Brigade consists of more than just traditional capabilities. It is an organisation that sits at the heart of trying to operate 'smarter'. It comprises of a blend of Regular troops from all 3 services as well as reserves and civilians. In fact the Brigade is 42% reservist, drawing upon talent specialists from across the nation. It will be seeking to draw the very best talent from the regulars and reserve as well as finding new ways of allowing civilians with bespoke skills to serve alongside their military counterparts.
Fijian nuclear test veterans
On Saturday, the Independent reported that a programme of compensation has been announced for the Fijians who took part in the 1950s UK nuclear testing programme in the Pacific and goes on to criticise the UK for refusing to compensate in the same way.
It is an over-simplification to compare the compensation arrangements of other countries, as these must be viewed in the context of social welfare provisions in that country. In the UK, any veteran who believes they have suffered ill-health due to service has the right to apply for no-fault compensation under the War Pensions Scheme, and health care for veterans is free, with NHS priority treatment for disorders causally linked to service. The government continues to recognise and be grateful to all the servicemen who participated in the British nuclear testing programme. They contributed to important tests that helped to keep our nation secure during the Cold War.
The Daily Star Sunday reported this weekend that hundreds of Marine Commandos and around 150 Royal Navy officers are set to be slashed in order to allow the Royal Navy to pay the £80 million-a-year running costs of its 2 new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.
There are absolutely no plans to reduce the number of Royal Marines and to suggest otherwise would be entirely wrong and irresponsible. The Prime Minister has consistently stated his commitment to maintaining the armed forces at the level they are now.
The Daily Telegraph this morning carries comment from Con Coughlin following last week’s Russian aircraft activity and RAF response. He argues that the military is the forgotten issue in this election campaign. Setting out reductions in the armed forces since the end of the Cold War, he warns that government officials are beginning to consider further cuts. He also says defence spending is forecast to drop below the 2% gross domestic product (GDP) target by 2018, which was a key theme of the NATO summit.
With the second largest defence budget in NATO and largest in Europe, this government is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence. The Prime Minister recently reiterated his commitment to maintaining the armed forces at the level they are now. Decisions on spending after financial year 2015-16 will be determined in the next Comprehensive Spending Review. We are not going to speculate on the outcome of an Strategic Defence and Security Review which will only begin after the general election.
Service Complaints Commissioner
The Ministry of Defence is pleased to announce today the appointment of Nicola Williams as the new Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) for the Armed Forces. The SCC is an important part of the Service complaints system, and as Commissioner, Ms Williams will provide an alternative point of contact for service personnel and others (such as family members or friends) who, for whatever reason, do not have the confidence or are not able to raise allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other improper behaviour directly with the chain of command. Ms Williams will have the power to refer these cases to the chain of command for action and be notified of the outcome. She will also provide independent assurance on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system to the Secretary of State for Defence by way of an annual report which is laid before Parliament.
Defence Minister Anna Soubry said:
I am pleased to welcome Nicola Williams to this post, and I have no doubt she will hold us firmly to account for delivering an armed forces complaints process that is fair, effective and efficient. Independent oversight is an important part of the complaints handling process. It is fulfilled at the moment by the SCC, with the Ministry of Defence currently taking a Bill through Parliament to further strengthen the role into that of an Ombudsman.
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