Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Friday, 2 April 2010

UOTC numbers fall by more than 50%

What a suprise!

According to the BBC
The number of students joining the Army Officer Training Corps has more than halved since their pay was withdrawn as part of a cost-cutting programme.
A BBC reporter kindly, and often erroneously, explains (my bold):
The army's University Officer Training Corps offers first year students the chance to train alongside the Territorial Army at least one night a week with no obligation to join the forces afterwards.

They were paid a small sum for a weekly drill and up to £60 per day while taking part in military exercises.

But at the end of last year the payments were ended as part of a £54m cost-cutting scheme.

Senior army officials removed all but travel and subsistence costs.

The figures, released by the government in a written Commons answer, showed that in February 2009, 2,946 students took part in the scheme compared with 1,387 in the same month this year. The monthly average for last year was 2,250.
Let's unpick this a bit, and also note the suggestion that around 2,000 UOTC Cadets previously cost the MoD a whopping £54m.

First of all this appears to be the question and answer the BBC refers to, dated 16th Mar 2010 : Column WA362
Asked by Lord Astor of Hever
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many officer cadets serving in the Officers' Training Corps (a) regularly attended training prior to the suspension of their pay, and (b) regularly attend training currently. [HL2596]

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton):
The number of officer cadets serving in the University Officers Training Corps (UOTC) that regularly attended training prior to the temporary suspension of pay was 2,250. This is the average attendance figure for October 2009. The average attendance figure for February 2010 was 1,387.

UOTC attendance patterns are to some degree predictable. For example, many first-year students do not sustain their interest in cadet activities beyond the first term. Second term attendance figures are therefore always lower. Attendance is also usually weak during examination periods.
We'll look at those figures later, but first let's backtrack to, and correct, things mentioned in the BBC article.

"first year students"?
A moment or two on the Army's UOTC information pages will show:-
The basic requirements you must meet to join us are that you must have 2 years of an undergraduate degree left to study, be a full time student in our catchment area, satisfy our medical, fitness, and nationality requirements, and be selected on our selection board (September/October).
alongside the Territorial Army
Even though UOTC is classed as part of the TA for funding, and some TA staff will train UOTC, cadets rarely come into contact with TA proper.
OTC members are classed as Officer Cadets (OCdt) and are "Group B" members of the Territorial Army, paid when on duty. As part of "Group B" they are neither trained nor liable for mobilised (active) service.
UOTC training offers a carefully worked out three year syllabus (Army link).

"up to £60"?
The rates of pay for OCdts varies between £35 and £57 a day depending on time served and qualifications/rank gained.
The maximum amount that could be paid for " ... training over 8 hours and proportional rates are awarded for specific shorter periods" - to those who are suitably qualified. Bear in mind that a weekend exercise covers more than 16 hours.

All these payments were removed, every penny. UOTC cadets have not received any wages since returning to their training in October 2009, and nor have some of their trainers.

"Senior army officials"
Who, in the Army, is expected to make decisions? Would they expect a private, fresh out of initial training, to have the nous to make fairly crucial financial decisions?

The Army was given a budget, an allowance, for the juniors then that budget was reduced. Somebody, or a group of people, had to make drastic cuts yet also try to be able to function as an organisation.

They had to make the least worst cuts - something that no other department has been forced to make, and which no other department has been willing to volunteer, and they did it without shouting from the rooftops too, it's been down to others to state their case in Parliament and on blogs and on internet forums.

The armed forces are not allowed to make ripples. Mrs R understands that no member of any branch of the regular forces is allowed to be an active member of any political party (for obvious reasons) - but this government seems to believe that every soldier and every army officer is a potential Tory voter, and treats the Army with derision and contempt - including the junior volunteers.

Mr Brown has even lied to Chilcot and Parliament when asked about overall military spending, whether this was because he was ashamed of being spendthrift during a war, or whether he was deliberately trying to hide the truth, is something we will never know.

So, yes, UOTC travel and subsistence costs were removed by the Army, the decision was made by Senior Army Officials, but it was made only because MoD funding was taken away from the junior volunteer services at the same time as it was removed from TA. This was a 'least worst' cut they could make.

Funding for TA was, in part, reinstated, but it was not reinstated for UOTC or ACF. The Army merely tried to keep UOTC (and ACF) going, against all the odds. The financial effects are confirmed in this response to a written question/answer 5th January 2010:-
Mr. [Mark] Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what categories of service personnel train at the Officer Training Corps; and which of those categories (a) receive and (b) do not receive payment while undertaking such training. [307272]

Bill Rammell: The categories of service personnel involved in training at the Officer Training Corps are as follows:

Permanent Staff Regular Army staff;
Permanent Staff Group A Territorial Army (TA) staff; and
Territorial Army (TA) Group B Officer Cadets (Students).

Following the temporary in-year savings measures introduced in October 2009, the only categories currently receiving pay are Regular Army personnel, group A TA staff and those group B officer cadets who are TA second lieutenant instructors delivering military leadership development programme levels 1, 2 and 3 training. Bursars are receiving their bursars grants but are unpaid for officer cadet activity.

All remaining officer cadets have temporarily had their pay suspended.
Bear in mind, if you will, that the UOTC 'year' commences in October.

Freshers' Fairs are at the end of September/beginning of October, selection is at least a couple of weeks later. The cuts were announced at the end of October - after selection, so new recruits may well have thought they'd been duped, tricked into applying for what they thought was a good 'job' only to find it offered no wage for at least six months.

It would appear that the timing was carefully chosen, to have maximum impact and to demoralise new recruits who would find it almost impossible to attend UOTC meetings - because they couldn't afford to get to the training centre, but it hasn't worked, because some of them have been so enthusiastic that they've gone without other things (e.g. food) in order to be able to get to their training.

These are, you must remember, young people who are away from home for the first time in their lives, who have to fend for themselves and make their own choices and decisions. Most first year university students are 18 years old - and this is how government treats them. Compare this with how the feckless and fecund are showered with money.

Fair play to Mark Lancaster, he's been plugging away with similar questions again, and again, and so have other MPs, but they don't get a straight answer to a question. All they get are more fudged numbers trying to make things look good, on the surface, whilst their empty words are kept as a permanent record of broken promises, written down in Hansard for all to see, and cross-reference.

Here's another example dated 22 March 2010. (A mere seven days after the Lords answer quoted above, which gave the February 2010 figure of 1,387 UOTC Cadets)
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had on (a) the funding and (b) the participation of students in officer training corps units at universities; and if he will make a statement. [322613]

Mr. Kevan Jones: The Government fully recognise the value of the University Royal Naval Units, The Officer Training Corps, The University Air Squadrons and the Defence Training Undergraduate Scheme. They allow individuals to develop skills that are extremely valuable in a future career either within the armed forces or without.

Each of the services is looking at how best to support the University Training Units; until those decisions are finalised I cannot speculate about future funding levels.

No University Training Units have closed as a result of changes to funding during this financial year. Despite some reduction in attendance by Officer Cadets at University Officer Training Corps they remain oversubscribed against their establishment. The average actual strength in 2009 was around 3,500. This is against an establishment figure of 2,946.
The Defence Undergraduate Training Scheme, for example, is a completely different thing, and 'actual strength' includes the funded URNU and ACF alongside UOTC.

Note Kevan Jones' very careful use of language, suggesting there are too many enthusiastic undergraduates and too many UOTC centres, more than they want - so a little hint that funding can be further reduced? After all, UOTC has carried on without any money, so they don't really need it.

Kevan Jones' staff knew the exact numbers, and he should have to explain why he quoted figures from 2009, not 2010.

The numbers he should have quoted are written down - it's something the Army does particularly well, and it's a good habit because it means they don't lose anybody in a dangerous place and then have to waste time trying to find them again.

Also, Bill Rammell quoted figures in a written answer in January 2010 when he also said, as earlier quoted :
A number of UOTC commanders have reported reduced attendance since the suspension of cadet pay.
It's hardly surprising is it?

People doing voluntary work tend to get paid expenses, and their 'work' is protected by laws and rules, these rules apply to students who carry out voluntary work - nobody is exempt.

It's hard to imagine that anybody truly expects even the most decent and reliable undergraduate - who, if English, is already burdened with huge compulsory debts to pay for hefty tuition fees and accommodation/subsistence - to pay (out of their overdraft) for being a member of a voluntary group, to fund their own travel to a designated meeting place that could be 50+ miles from their own University, and to give up evenings and weekends also for free?

Bill Rammell thinks they should, because he also said, in January 2010
Our intention is to restore cadet pay in the next financial year and we hope that the majority of officer cadets will be able to ride out this temporary difficulty.
What other sector of the population has quietly, and without a fuss, tried to "ride out this temporary difficulty"? Certainly not MPs, whose generous expense allowances would more than adequately cover the costs of UOTC. Certainly not the wannbe-striking rail workers and certainly not Unite members of BA.

Looking aside, briefly, at ACF, which tends to draw from the poorer sections of the community. Many of these young people would, at university, aim to join the more senior voluntary group - UOTC. This suggests that all UOTC members are not from wealthy families.

The UOTC (and ACF) appear to be being treated as a very special case by this government, and seems to be being deliberately starved of cash.

We're already into the next financial year but there's been no announcement regarding reinstating of UOTC funding - just the BBC article that hints at how well-off UOTC cadets used to be, and how few of them there are now.

It's a pity that the BBC is so often used to soften up the public before an unpleasant government announcement.

Despite the government's best efforts, and despite the government continuing to fund both the URNU (Navy) and UAC (Air Force), over 1,300 young men and women continued with their UOTC training.

These young people should be applauded, because they are both dedicated and determined to succeed - against all odds.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Excellent work, Mrs R. While I am an outright pacifist, rules are rules and lies are lies and this whole thing stinks.

Marcellus said...

Good post, Mrs Rigby.

An ongoing campaign against the Army, to deliberately weaken it.

The Army is intensely patriotic, so it is seen as politically dangerous to them.

Mrs Rigby said...

Thanks Mark, I don't think I could ever voluntarily join a fighting force, but have great admiration for those who do.

Marcellus - it does seem to be deliberate, and vindictive too. Hopefully things will change if Labour loses the election.