The Retired Officers Association have contacted me about the problems that confront retired officers who are working for the Ministry of Defence. I am taking this up with the Secretary of State - see below. The link leads to a subsequent article from the Sunday Telegraph, 24th March 2002.
The Rt Hon Geoffrey Hoon MP
Secretary of State
Ministry of Defence
London SW1A 2HB
26th February 2002
I wrote to you on November 23rd about a constituent of mine employed by the MOD on the Retired Officer Scheme and you acknowledged this on November 30th (ref 05356/2001). After some ten months of protracted negotiations, his contract was renewed for a further year.
The reason I am writing again is because I have subsequently discovered that this is not an isolated case; over 20 MPs have been contacted by constituents whose service is to be unilaterally terminated. In response to representations from these colleagues, your department has referred to a study being carried out, to consultations to take place and to announcements in due course. But in the meantime, individuals are being dismissed even though the posts they occupy continue to be needed. Indeed, I understand that your department is shortly to be taken to an Employment Tribunal by the Retired Officers Association as a result of what is happening.
I am writing to urge you to take steps to avoid this, and to ensure that the resources of the ROS continue to be available to the MOD. Initially, I believed that the representations made to me might simply have been a case of officers seeking to safeguard their own positions; but I have become convinced that there is real benefit to your Department and the country in keeping the scheme as originally conceived. Indeed, given the challenges that now confront your department, I would argue that the scheme needs to be reinforced rather than undermined.
As you know, The Ministry employs 1800 retired officers of the 3 Armed Services who traditionally have worked from their retirement from the Services - usually at 55 - until their pensionable age of 65. This figure of 1800 represents about 25% of those officers who retire. They do not fill posts that would be performed by Civil Servants; they fill posts that would otherwise be occupied by serving officers - freeing them up to fill the challenging posts that have to be manned at home and abroad. They are cheaper to employ than serving officers as they are on a lower pay scale and they do not attract Service benefits. They add value to the decision making process by complementing the skills of the Civil Service with an understanding of the military system, chain of command and ethos. In the recent Foot and Mouth crisis, their role was crucial.
Against a background of a shortage of personnel in the Armed Forces – which are some 7,000 under strength - and concern about overstretch, these experienced officers are a valuable resource and help deliver additional military capability. However, as from April the terms of service of many of these officers are to be prematurely terminated in breach not just of the Instruction under which they were recruited but, more seriously, of common sense.
If, as is apparently proposed, the length of term under the ROS were reduced from 10 years to 5 years, twice as many would need to be recruited each year for the coming 4 or 5 years. The scheme is currently undermanned, and would become more so if the length of term were halved. A five year offer would be an unattractive alternative to 55 year olds, who might prefer to work for another employer with a longer job offer.
Central to the current dispute is MOD Personnel Instruction 22/96, which included the following paragraph "..RO's will no longer have a general expectation that their service will continue until 65. However, RO's may be extended on an annual basis subject to continued good health, satisfactory performance and the requirement for the post remaining in being." This sits uneasily with public statements made by HMG about removing any discrimination based on age; but officers are now being given notice, despite those three conditions being observed. This is because a change was introduced last year (DCI 99/2001) which set out a new and convoluted process involving the Unions, at the end of which a decision is taken to abolish the posts.
One of the officers I have spoken to has been told to leave on May 2nd - notwithstanding the Mantell study which I believe recommends that this policy should be changed, and the fact that all three conditions under 22/96 are met. Time is fast running out. I gather that barristers at Matrix have been retained to take the case to an Employment tribunal where a significant number of Retired Officers will seek restitution. The available evidence will be disclosed on or around March 11th. You will have your own advice as to the prospects of MOD being successful, but I understand the legal basis for MOD's position is decidedly shaky.
The officers I have spoken to would settle for 22/96, as it was originally intended to be operated. At this late stage, I would urge you to consider reverting to this.
Sir George Young Bt MP
Member of Parliament for North West Hampshire