12 Oct 04. The Times reported that the dire state of morale inside Britain’s Armed Forces is laid bare today by an internal report showing the widespread belief that taxpayers’ money is being wasted while troops lack the basic supplies they need. Just one in seven of the military believes that the £30 billion defence budget is being spent wisely and fewer than one in five believes the forces are well equipped. The Times has uncovered an extensive poll of both service personnel and MoD staff which asks their views on effectiveness and spending.
Only 3.3 per cent of the 1,600 personnel who responded strongly agreed that they are looked after by the MoD and just 1.7 per cent strongly agreed that the ministry makes the best use of taxpayers’ money.
Almost one in four believes that the Services fail to recruit, train and promote the most talented people regardless of their background. The findings come despite a pledge from Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, to learn the lessons from Iraq, when tanks were sent into battle without chemical or biological protection filters, and from a damning National Audit Office report which said that 200,000 body armour sets issued since Kosovo in 1999 had “disappeared”.
The Conservatives demanded an explanation last night for the “thoroughly shifty” way that the polling, which had to be published under the Freedom of Information Act, was included on page 5 of the “MoD Internal Communications Survey” on its website. The Act comes into force in January but departments have started to publish some previously un-available information.
A government insider said: “They have to put the details out under the Freedom of Information Act but were petrified they would be picked up — that is why they are in a report which mostly asks what they think of Army News and Paperclips magazine.”
Nicholas Soames, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said that the poll findings showed the MoD was “in denial” about the depth of problems besetting it. Mr Soames said: “This survey shows that members of the Armed Forces agree that the way the MoD spends money is positively incontinent.
“The shocking thing is how little they seem to learn. Servicemen and women on the front line are appalled at the way they see money being wasted. This [the way the document was published] is thoroughly shifty behaviour by the MoD and this document needs to be widely read and studied.”
Mr Soames said that Mr Hoon’s “complacency” over shortcomings in Iraq and the rejection yesterday by Lord Bach, the junior Defence Minister in the Lords, of large parts of a critical Defence Select Committee report, showed that ministers were “in total denial all the time”. He added: “They all live on Planet Blair — which is not a real place.”
Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “Morale will of course be severely shaken if they are not given equipment that is fit for the task. I think this survey shows that they believe it is not fit for the task. This is what 1,634 people believe. Their views should be more widely known.” The survey — of 273 naval personnel, 515 Army, 367 RAF and 479 civil servants — was undertaken by the Defence Analytical Services Agency in the spring, before Mr Hoon announced in July the Armed Services review which will see regiments combined and the phasing-out of up to ninety Challenger II tanks and six warships. Bruce George, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: “There are some startling comments here with just 1.7 per cent strongly agreeing that the MoD spends taxpayers’ money wisely and 13.3 per cent agreeing.
“Remember that staff who are pressurised, overworked and running the risk of getting fired are going to feel pretty low in morale. But, that having been