On 30th September the Royal Navy announced the 1,020 personnel to be made redundant in the first ‘tranche’ of 5,000 redundancies that the government has forced on the RN. At least 350 of those leaving will have been thrown out against their will as here have not been enough volunteers for redundancy.
This process is just another step in the on-going destruction of the RN that has been going on since 1990. Of course if there are fewer ships then it makes sense to reduce the number of sailors, but the basic folly lies in the cutting of the fleet, not the reduction in manpower that surely follows. Before the Defence Review many RN ships were “gapped”, ie going to sea short-staffed and when HMS Ark Royal and the 4 Type 22 frigates decommissioned many of their crews were quickly re-deployed to fill these gaps. It is not the case that the RN has a lot of people sitting around with nothing to do. Of 3 the services those in the RN arguably work the hardest with around 25% on active service at anyone time compared to the 4-5% of the Army and RAF.
“As the smallest of the 3 services with a close knit community, the impact of these cuts has been felt not just by the servicemen and women, but by their families and loved ones who are so often forgotten in the fight.”Bethany Torvell, The Navy Campaign
The redundancies have caused great uncertainty and damage to morale in the service at a time when it is already overstretched by the demands the government has been making on it. The process itself seems harsh and has been rushed – a direct result of the hasty and brutal October 2010 Strategic Defence Review, driven by accountants with no thought for the long term consequences. The reduction in numbers could have been achieved through natural wastage by a slow down in recruiting and more incentives to take voluntary retirement. This might take longer but would probably not cost much more as there is considerable expense in recruiting and training people anyway.
Like most organisations the RN’s people are its most important asset. Decommissioning a ship, which is ultimately just metal, is one thing but people are special. Those that have risked their lives or at the very least made big personal sacrifices for their country deserve particular respect. Amongst the 400 who will be sacked there are likely to be a few who were only recently serving in HMS Cumberland, HMS Iron Duke, HMS York and HMS Brocklesby on active service off the coast of Libya. This seems to be a particular injustice. There MoD has devised a bizarre formula for sackings which means if you were on a ship that went out to Libya in March but came back in June you may be fired but if you went to Libya in April and are still out there you will not be fired this time round! This is just another example of how governments in recent years have treated servicemen with contempt, sending them into warzones when it suits them often ill-equipped, and now tossing them on the scrap-heap when they return. It is simple political cowardice – sending people off to fight but failing to look after them fairly and properly because it would be unpopular to take money from other government department’s budgets.