HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc74-5W
Mr. Kevin Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the outcome of the comprehensive review of aircrew retention. [23809]

Mr. Ingram

The Ministry of Defence has conducted a Comprehensive Review of Aircrew Retention this summer. We sought to identify why we have a shortfall in this highly trained group of personnel and how that shortfall might best be addressed. A study team including representatives from the three Services, HM Treasury and external consultancy have reviewed aircrew requirements and have looked at employment patterns, career structures, training systems and remuneration as well as the recruitment and financial policies of the commercial sector.

The Working Group collated the views of over 1,000 aircrew (probably the largest such survey the armed forces has undertaken) as well as those of managers. They examined and identified why people leave service life, as well as the attraction of the commercial sector.

The main cause of the shortage of aircrew was a failure of the training system to deliver against challenging targets. That has already been addressed, but it will take time to deliver. We intend, therefore, further to improve the retention of our current aircrew.

The Working Group identified a series of issues impacting on retention. Many of the quality of life issues emerging from the Review of Aircrew Retention were already being tackled. For example, the very significant programmes introduced to spend an additional £1 billion over the next 10 years on modernising single living accommodation and to spend £650 million by November 2005 on upgrading married quarters. We recognise that accommodation problems spread beyond housing and action is needed to address sub-standard working and technical accommodation as well. Senior service officers have also set in hand work to address a number of key concerns raised by aircrew—for example on operational tempo, career management, frequency of moves, and more. The impact of resolving these concerns will also be of benefit to personnel beyond the aircrew community. Some of the issues raised by aircrew are misperceptions, and to address this better communication is being developed across the services.

There are some remuneration aspects arising from the review and, as is usual, we have made proposals to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB). The outcome will be reported to the House in due course—probably early February.

We are monitoring closely developments in the commercial sector. But, even if the pull to the private sector decreases as a result of a contraction in the civil sector, we still have a responsibility to deal with the natural factors which cause personnel to leave, and which are preventing us reaching aircrew manning balance.