“Yes Please Minister!”

“I intend to do everything I can to support you and your families.” 

These were the opening words of Rt Hon Mark Francois MP newly appointed Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare & Veterans at the AFF (Army Family Federation) 30th Anniversary Conference.  In  a refreshingly open and honest way, Mr Francois gave the AFF audience a short synopsis of his career to date, which included his time as a TA officer in the 80’s attached to the Royal Anglian Regiment, experience which puts him in an excellent position to support and guide the army in its implementation of Future Forces and the more substantial role that the TA will play within the services.
He admitted that in his time in the TA he had only ever seen real bullets on the training field, but this training and understanding of army life, together with his MA in War Studies, can only serve to enhance the quality of his decision making in matters concerning defence.  That and actually listening to and acting on the issues that really matter to military service personnel and their families.
Mr Francois,  in the open forum hosted by BBC’s Kate Silverton, took questions from service personnel and their families.  The subjects ranged from issues of housing, to welfare, mental health and visa applications for families of soldiers from overseas.  Housing seemed to be a burning issue, and one that has run for many years.  One soldier stepped up to the mic and described a catalogue of problems he and his family had experienced in accommodation. Mr Francois acknowledged the issues and promised to visit a range of army accommodation to familiarise himself with army housing and ensure the quality is uniform and up to standard for all.
Support for TA families was also an issue discussed.  This is something which the army is aware of and needs to address in order to ensure families, isolated from units and regiments and whose spouses are sent on operational duty, are given the same welfare support as families of the regular army.  One wife of a TA soldier described receiving a tatty, badly printed letter, stating her husband was going on a sixth month tour of duty to Afghanistan.  This had been her one and only contact with the army during her husband’s tour.  A suggestion coming from the floor was that TA units should have welfare officers assigned or that a simple call from a regular army welfare unit to check all was well and if the family needed anything every couple of months or so  would be a great start.  The very positive news to emerge from the conference was the fact that the Minister is willing to look at the forces pension issue and try and find a just and fair solution for those made compulsorily redundant close to pension point.
The Minister is keenly aware of the Military Covenant, having helped enshrine it in law.  He understands what service means, his father having been a veteran of the D-Day landings.  As he said on the day, the Governement and the MoD, must make  a career in the armed forces “attractive to the best” .  Upholding the Military Covenant  and the promises made to its experienced and long serving soldiers regarding pensions would seem  a very good place to start.
So it’s a “YES” from us Minister! Yes to you looking at the issue with fresh eyes and helping find a solution.  As you said yourself ” behind every service number there is a service person”. The soldiers of “the warrior generation” and their families deserve to be listened to.  They have shown loyalty and commitment and honoured their side of them Military Covenant, all we ask is that the Government now shows a similar loyalty and respect.
Please sign the epetition and help get the soldiers’ pensions issue talked about in Parliament:
Listen to BFBS report from the AFF conference.  Here Rt Hon Mark Francois confirm his intention of looking at the pension issue.  Click on Link below to watch report  from inside the Conference.

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