*** UPDATE ***
I know that I won’t be alone in wanting to wish each and everyone affected by the defence review announcements today the very best wishes. All over the country families will be thinking now about what this means for them and the ones they love. I know too that many local business owners will also be worrying about their own livelihoods.
I come from a military family so I have a sense of what we owe those who defend our country doing things that most of us would shrink from. Nothing I can say will help. But you have my thoughts.
Watching the breakfast news this morning has been a sobering experience. Ark Royal going, bases going, civilian and military personnel going, tenancy rights going and, on the local news, exhortations from local council leaders for the public to step in and do their bit.
The danse macabre (or the Strictly Come Dancing perhaps) of the various reviews of government spending are reaching their end points. Public servants and the people they serve can only wait and see. It’s a horrible feeling. We’ve all tried to learn the new steps for the tunes the coalition want to hear. Gone are the lyrics about regionalism, third sector and targets. We’re all localist, Civil Society, Big Society outcome measurers now.
But will any of that be enough to save us when the results of the popular vote are announced tomorrow? Remember there are no dance offs this year to save the better dancer if their routine or personality is less popular than their competitor. Better get those, ‘It’s been a journey Tess, a real roller-coaster …’ speeches written and ready to go.
If I’m flippant it’s because there has been a bit of the game show about all of the reviews. Good but untelegenic work is at risk. Stuff that’s arguably far less vital but is more popular looks like surviving. I’ve knocked around long enough to know that politics is presentation – often – and the local politicians I know can’t do anything unless they get elected. A source of slight relief to my mood over recent months has been to ask local lib dem politicians how good it must be to be able to be implementing locally the national policies they have fought for so hard. Some still find it possible to look sheepish.
The news this morning is dominated by aircraft carriers. Don’t get me wrong I like aircraft carriers. And it’s right perhaps in the week of Trafalgar Day (21 October) that the Navy gets the early headlines. But what I’ve been thinking about this morning is the work I was really lucky to get to know over recent years done locally to support military families.
We’ve perhaps got used to being at war but for the garrison communities affected when units rotate in and out of Afghanistan there’s a daily toll of worry. This is often made worse by isolation both physical and psychological. Locally military and civil organisations have really got their acts together to support their communities. But when I last caught up with what was going on folks were worried.
The MoD team on the round had been reduced, people hadn’t been replaced. Partners were starting to talk about what things wouldn’t be funded in future. Individually these things don’t seem that important – an outreach play session close to some isolated quarters, providing extra visible policing to deter intrusive journalists and crooks that prey on communities empty of their menfolk and providing local council support as families part and come together again. But they all add up to treating the military families as equal citizens.
Hardware always gets all the attention but its the software, the people, that makes all of this work. The local councils involved in this work may have to reduce their spending by 40% not the 8% facing the MoD. So there will be fewer people around the table when partners try to work out how to continue the support they know military families value and rely on. The Geddes Axe ending the ‘homes fit for heroes’ after the First War still rankles. Now the people I met were thinking that after CSR2010 it would be services fit for heroes that would be most at risk now.
Speaking with locally based civil servants is a salutary experience just now. Many believe that the government is holding off confirming that its local operations will cease because that will automatically trigger the statutory process leading to redundancy. They suspect that government is instead waiting until the new compensation arrangements have been through Parliament so the whole process will cost less. Years of personal financial planning are being torn up as colleagues start again.
Meanwhile they live a strange half-life like an unloved uncle at a family gathering parked in a corner with a glass of stout and a pork pie watching the party going on around them but not welcome to join in.
At least I have some clarity. I’m in the hall with my coat as my hosts gently but firmly usher me to the door. I know that many other public servants are in that half-life though and hoping and dreading that tomorrow provides some answers.