The Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Dr Susan Atkins has presented her Annual Report for 2011 to the Secretary of State for Defence.
In it, Dr Atkins highlights her concerns that complaints made by Armed Forces personnel are still not being dealt with sufficiently quickly. She is disappointed that for the fourth year running she has had to report that the system is still not efficient, effective or fair. She blames the complexity of the current system which she does not believe is sustainable and has said that it does not seem right that resources, which could be used for operations, are used disproportionately in dealing with complaints.
Last year Dr Atkins called for a fundamental review to simplify the system and make it operate more fairly. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is due to complete such a review in May 2012. She has expressed concern about timing and approach of the review and that it may not lead to the improvements required to make the system work as it should.
Dr Atkins says:
“The men and women of our Armed Forces do difficult jobs in challenging and often dangerous circumstances. They deserve a system that can sort out problems which arise in their Service lives quickly and fairly. They don’t have that currently. They deserve better.
“The key issues are delay and sustainability. Complexity is at the heart of the problem. It is not right that workplace grievances can, and frequently do, take years to resolve. Delays are bad for individuals and undermine the confidence of Service personnel and their families in the system and eventually in the chain of command.”
The MOD has agreed to strengthen the powers of the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) slightly in the interim, which Dr Atkins welcomes but believes will not be sufficient. She has reaffirmed her view that an Armed Forces Ombudsman is the right way forward as the accepted means of oversight and accountability for the public sector in the 21st century.
Dr Atkins continues:
“An Armed Forces Ombudsman would enable the system to be simplified in a way that promotes fairness and sustainability. It would preserve the primacy of the chain of command whilst holding the Services properly to account for the just and fair treatment of Servicemen and Servicewomen in the spirit of the Armed Forces Covenant. It would also make better use of increasingly scarce resources”.
The SCC’s Annual Report contains a number of case studies and pictures to illustrate its work. A number of these illustrate the impact of delay and the failure to resolve matters quickly. On page 35, the report tells the story of a young Serviceperson who had failed a series of professional tests after illness and injury and had been transferred as a result from his chosen specialism to another. His family had approached the SCC for help when attempts to get the matter resolved informally had been unsuccessful. It took two and half years before senior officers on behalf of the Defence Council upheld his complaint and ordered a review of the processes which gave rise to the unfortunate situation. Had the SCC had the powers to intervene to correct the handling of the complaint within the first few months a huge amount of management time and personal stress to the individuals involved may have been saved.
Dr Atkins is available for interview. To set this up please call Karen Dowle at COI News & PR on Tel: 01223 370782
Notes to editors
- The Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces (SCC) was created by the Armed Forces Act 2006 to help combat improper behaviour in the Armed Forces, particularly bullying, harassment and unlawful discrimination. This followed recommendations made by the House of Commons Defence Committee in its Report on Duty of Care 2004-2005 and by Nicholas Blake QC, now Sir Nicholas, in the Deepcut Review – his report into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four young soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut. The SCC role became operational on 1 January 2008.
- Photographs of the Commissioner Dr Susan Atkins are available from COI News & PR.
- The Commissioner currently has no powers to investigate complaints herself. However she is able to refer a complaint to the relevant chain of command and be kept informed of progress and outcome.
- The Commissioner has not been satisfied in any of her three previous Annual Reports that the Service complaints system was working efficiently, effectively or fairly. In response to the House of Commons Defence Committee’s enquiry in 2009, she said she would review the system and the sufficiency of her powers at the end of the first three years. She had set goals for how the system should look if it were working well by the beginning of 2011. She outlined possible models for the SCC role, one of which was an Armed Forces Ombudsman model.
- A copy of the Annual Report is available on the SCC’s website at http://armedforcescomplaints.independent.gov.uk/
- The Executive Summary and overview of recommendations can be found on pages 9-11.
Issued on behalf of the Service Complaints Commissioner by
COI News & PR East
For interviews and more media information please call
Karen Dowle Tel: 01223 370786