With the nation's media focused on our future sovereign, could there be a better day to try to hide bad news? The quote 'Lies, damned lies and statistics' I am sure has been uttered at both the MOD and in the Army HQ in the past few days, but what is BAFF's view of the AFCAS survey published today?
Focusing on representation first and foremost - the key headline is that the majority of both officers and soldiers do not believe that senior officers understand and represent our interests. The figures for those who have confidence in our senior officers are consistently falling (Officers: 41% (down from 45% in 2012); Soldiers 26% (down from 31% in 2012). That only one in four of our soldiers has confidence in our generals has to be most concerning for the top brass. Similarly, when asked if senior officers are keen to get their views, only 46% of officers and 29% of soldiers felt that this was the case.
Chief of Defence Personnel (CDP), General Andrew Gregory, said of the findings:
"In my role as CDP it is vital that I understand how our people feel about life in the Armed Forces and so I am encouraged with the increase in the number of responses we have received this year, which at 48% are the highest ever seen for the AFCAS survey."
But, what is the value of the survey if the majority of us do not believe that senior officers are keen to get our views and more importantly fail to represent us effectively? Surely it is time to formally establish a federation to get effective representation for Servicemen? Whilst BAFF acknowledges the good work of both the Service Complaints Commissioner and the Armed Forces Pay Review Body - they are deliberately restricted in their scope. Ensuring that those serving the nation in the Armed Forces do not have a single unified voice ensures that any opposition to unpopular measures is effectively stifled or discounted in a piecemeal fashion. This contrasts unfavourably with other uniformed services such as the Police.
Secondly and of greatest concern to the chain of command must be the issue of ever decreasing morale. Dropping from 59% in 2010, only 40% of all ranks consider their own morale to be high. It is always interesting to note that while an individual's view of their morale is likely to be high, they view the morale of the Services more negatively. And boy is that the case! Only 4% of officers and 14% of ORs (30% and 33% respectively in 2010) report high morale across the Army! Not surprisingly the upshot is that 49% of officers and 39% of ORs state that morale across the Army, and their own personal morale, as a reason that increases their expressed intention to leave the Army. There are a number of further issues that influence the desire to leave, with the most pronounced being that 54% of all ranks are dissatisfied with the impact of Service on their spouse's career.
A third key concern, in view of the future emphasis to be placed on the Reserves, is the Regular Army's negative perception of the Reserves. 41% do not perceive the Reserves to be professional, with more than half of officers and ORs (52%) declaring no interest in joining the Reserves on leaving the Regular Army. As the Army draws down from Afghanistan, the Regulars will enter into closer training and pairing arrangements with the Reserves, it is perhaps too early to assess if this will be a welcome move, or will increasing familiarity breed more contempt?
General Gregory states:
“I am personally committed to ensuring that we take the necessary action to address the areas of discontent such as pension benefits, morale, integration with Reserves and welfare support."
Let us hope that the General will be given the financial means to implement this worthy intent - I for one am not convinced....