Government ‘letting troops down’

Conservative leader David Cameron has accused the Government of “breaking the military covenant” as he launched a Commission to draw up proposals to improve support for Britain’s armed forces.

Mr Cameron said ministers were letting troops down on equipment, healthcare, family support and accommodation and promised a defence review to ensure that a future Tory government would match the demands it made on the military with the resources it provided them.

But he declined to say whether he would match the Government’s pledge of £7.7bn additional defence funding by 2011 in last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Labour accused the Tory leader of “damaging troop morale” by claiming the covenant between the armed forces and the Government was broken.

Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth said he was “behind the curve”, as the Government had already launched a Command Paper designed to improve support for troops, families and veterans.

Mr Cameron was joined at the London launch of the new Commission by Falklands hero Simon Weston, who will sit on the panel, and author Freddie Forsyth, who will chair it. Both stressed that their report, due in September, will be independent and non-party political.

The Tory leader said: “I believe the military covenant is well and truly broken, and I am determined that the Conservative Party will fix it.

“This Commission will look at how the Government and society can better fulfil our obligations under the military covenant. It will look at all the issues that affect our Armed Forces, from training and recuperation to the welfare of their families and their wider relationship with society.”

Mr Cameron, who will not be bound by the Commission’s recommendations, accused the Government of cutting defence spending to its lowest level since the 1930s, leaving the armed forces 5,500 under strength. Troops were forced to go into action without necessary equipment like night-vision goggles, while the Ministry of Defence spent £2 billion refurbishing its Whitehall HQ, he said.

He highlighted frontline troops’ complaints about limited phone and email contact with their families, as well as the policy of counting leave from the day they depart their posts, rather than the day they arrive home in the UK.