Monday, 18 July 2011

Don't Panic! TA increase will not create Dads Army

During the general election, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the HQs of our local TA (http://neilbradbury.blogspot.com/2009/11/when-are-scottish-not-scots.html) to speak with the Tyneside Scottish Association. It was clear that despite the obvious benefits of having a strong TA in keeping our defence costs down and in bringing valuable experience into the Army, they felt demoralised and that the TA was  suffering from chronic under-investment.

The decisions of the last government to reduce TA payments as a desperate way to reduce the army bill seemed like a very counter intuitive piece of public policy. All the time this was being done, the MoD was racking up mega bills signing massive aircraft carrier contracts for kit we didn't need, conveniently built in Gordon Browns back yard.

So I really welcomed the announcement by Liam Fox that the government is going to spend an extra £1.5bn on the TA and fund this by reducing our regular troop commitment. The TA represents tremendous value but, somewhat like retained fire fighters, is undervalued. A journalist on a 24 hour TV news broadcast I watched talked about the TA as a "dad's army" which just shows how out of touch the media are.

The governments move to legislate the military covenant into law, to strengthen the TA and to get the military the right kit (which a select committee has agreed that the last government did not do whilst sending our troops into Helmand) are implementing Lib Dem manifesto commitments and are to be welcomed.

Personally, I think our armed forces should be moved to a smaller core of well paid (current military pay is too low at private level) professional soldiers, able to help out with humanitarian problems, allied to a strong TA to help with larger commitments. We spend 2.4% of our GDP (Source: CIA factbook) on military spending, including £3.6bn on overseas military aid. I would like to see that go down and for us to stop our penchant for overseas adventures, which have seen us be involved in foreign conflicts continuously since 1997. A well equipped, well supported TA is a crucial step to achieving this.

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