Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tory Veterans Minister- out of touch with Armed Forces

David Ellesmere , soldiers and tickets to watch Jools

Tory Veterans Minister - out of touch with Armed Forces? - Some would say no surprise that a Minister is out of touch with those who he is meant to represent, but I was surprised how much Tory Minister, Andrew Robathan was out of touch with not only veterans but serving members of our Armed Forces. Why surprised? Mr Robathan is a veteran himself. Without being seen to be playing the class card it may be as an ex Guards Officer he does not understand the pressures that both serving soldiers and veterans are living under.

Andrew Robathan - out of touch?

I attended the Local Government Association sponsored conference in London on Tuesday. It was attended by councillors and council officers from all over England plus representatives from the Ministry of Defence, serving soldiers plus representatives from Service charities.

Most of the councils represented were County Councils and the idea of the conference was to get councils to sign up for the Community Covenant Scheme. Hampshire, Oxfordshire and North Yorkshire have led the way. By signing up you are able to access grants from the MOD to help both the local and Military communities.

Disappointingly Suffolk County Council did not attend but I represented Ipswich Borough Council and we will be looking at joining the Community Covenant Scheme. We have already started working closely with our local military units. On Saturday a number of troops from Wattisham received free tickets to see Jools Holland at the Regent and next week those who reside in Ipswich will get access to our sports facilities. Most of the troops residing in Suffolk live in our more rural districts and the County Council would be best placed to set up a scheme with the military. But as Suffolk seem more keen on getting rid of the services it is already responsible for it seems unlikely they will want to commit to the scheme.

I was fortunate to be able to ask the Veterans Minister a question and then get into a discussion with General Rollo, the senior soldier presentm both my questions led to further debate.

General Rollo, waiting for my question?

Most of the councils were Tory run, and I expect that Mr Robathan expected an easy ride but that did not happen. Mr Robathan was quick to boast about how the Tory Government had doubled the Operational Allowance, a Tory councillor from Huntingdon (and a veteran) was quick to tell the Minister that this increase had come at the same time that many other military allowances were being cut, including Disturbance Allowance and grants for education.

The Minister was then warned by Dawn McCafferty, chairman of the RAF Families Federation, about the impact of redundancies and cuts to allowances on service personnel.

She told the Local Government Association conference on the covenant that many were "keeping their heads down" in an attempt to avoid the next rounds of job cuts.

"Families are hurting and actually the covenant doesn't mean a great deal to those who have just received a redundancy notice," she said.

This was disappointing to hear and I hope the Minister took note but as he did not stay for the afternoon session, I am not sure he understood how many in the military and those working for military charities feel totally let down by the Tory Government.

What was good, is that many in the Ministry of Defence are keen to work with local councils to improve the lives of those in the military, veterans and their families.

You can be certain that Ipswich Borough council will be playing it's part.

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