The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd April:
Our Armed Forces are essential to our national resilience, as well as national defence. They have helped the country through this pandemic -; from building Nightingale hospitals to assisting the vaccine roll out -; we owe them a great deal.
Last week the Government announced its long-awaited Integrated Review. This is a review by the British Government into our Defence and Foreign policies, arguably the biggest overhaul in a generation, and the perfect opportunity to ensure that we have armed forces that are fit for the 21st century in this post-COVID age.
I am regularly in awe of our brave service men and women’s sense of duty and selfless service to our country that shines through in times of national crisis. I have seen first-hand the amazing work they do when I took part in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
The Government has regularly praised our armed forces throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but along with other key workers, when push comes to shove, they haven’t been rewarded for their hard work.
The Government have instead eroded our Armed Forces’ strength with 45,000 personnel being cut since 2010. As a result, our military is now 10,000 below target strength, and updates to our already under-equipped war-fighting division are being delayed into the 2030s whilst also being slimmed down. It is now widely expected that another 10,000 will be cut from the Army.
The Prime Minister has stated that this review will end an ‘era of retreat’ but the harsh reality is that this slimming down of our forces reduces our inability to respond quickly to threats overseas, support allies, and maintain a robust national defence. That is now severely under threat.
The Government should work cross-party to find a long-term solution that ensures our forces are fighting fit and fully equipped not only for the next couple of years, but the next couple of decades.
It could set out a long-term plan to boost Britain’s industry through defence procurement in steel, shipbuilding, aerospace, and cyber security. Investment and development in all these sectors would provide jobs and greatly help to boost local economies throughout the country.
I’ve met veterans across Barnsley and know how much they have given to our country. The Office for Veterans is currently facing a 40 per cent budget cut as part of cost-cutting measures -; that is unacceptable.
The gap between what the Government says and what it does is not the same. Governments should be judged not on their words, but by their deeds.