Minutes of the All Party Group for Reserve Forces and Cadets Meeting on 13th September 2011
Julian Brazier MP - Chairman
Madeleine Moon MP - Vice-Chairman
Mark Francois MP
Jack Lopresti MP
Oliver Colvile MP
Col (Retd) Hugh Purcell - Honorary Clerk
Martin Coles CEO MSSC
John McCullagh MoD
Commander Gary Bushell RN - CRFCA
Madeleine Moon MP Chaired the meeting
1. The Chairman opened the meeting and asked those present if they were content with the minutes of the previous meeting. All agreed and the minutes were signed off as a true and accurate record. She then introduced Brigadier Plastow and asked him for his update.
2. Brigadier Plastow apologised that Commodore Mansergh (Head of Reserves & Cadets at MoD) was unable to attend. He explained that the Defence Youth Engagement Review (DYER) had yet to reach a conclusion and that he would give the group a quick update.
3. He said that the Services carried out a range of youth engagement activities such as Service-led activities in schools and events in the community, and this included soldiers targeted for personal development with local authorities, the Cadets, and Service children. However, it had been poorly scrutinised in recent years and become a low priority within Defence. The Review had been instigated to look at the requirement and how engagement was organised, in order to avoid getting rid of the wrong thing. Having broken down their thought process on what Defence was trying to do with young people they had arrived at three outcomes:
a. Awareness in order to ensure as many young people as possible had a favourable view of the forces. The rationale was clear, but activity levels were struggling. Having closed websites and got rid of student presentation groups, they were now in danger just as they were trying to make people aware of what they wanted to do, of cuts doing the opposite.
b. Recruitment. This was essential, had a clear rationale, an operational focus and was working well. Money had stopped flowing, but was ready to be turned on again.
c. Development. This needed better focus and was principally about developing fantastic young people, with some attribution to awareness and to recruitment.
4. He had thought it important to seek the views of communities, as there had been over a hundred applications to open cadet units in state schools during the previous 5 years. However, few had opened, which was an indication that this avenue needed more focus. In addition, the Government, after the August riots, was taking greater interest in cadets, as they represented a significant social capability with approximately 140,000 young people engaged. As further youth initiatives were proposed, the National Citizen Service being in the lead, there was much to learn and Defence needed to work more with other youth organisations. 24,000 adult volunteers kept the cadet units going and he was concerned that as the volunteer sector changed because of Big Society, Defence needed to engage. There were good reasons for closer engagement with the youth sector and for forming partnerships in areas such as sharing of locations.
5. Another issue was where and how to influence regional differences. Big Society was encouraging citizens to have more input into the services they received but with differences between what was happening in Scotland, Wales and England. This highlighted the need to influence young people more coherently and four cadet forces operating differently in each region did not help. How the four engaged with local authorities needed more co-ordination, particularly around anything involving schools.
6. There was a danger that support to the cadets would slip unless put on a proper financial footing, so there was a need to demonstrate to Government and the taxpayer that the cadet operation was run cost effectively. A key conclusion was that Defence needed to be clearer about why it did what it did and to link resources to outcomes more closely. Development activity also needed to be more responsive to Government and local requirements, which suggested a need for better internal Defence co-ordination.
7. Expanding on wider youth he said that engagement, recruitment and awareness needed to be more joined up and the Service recruitment organisations were being brought closer together. When making cases for money, each was looking at how it operated and whether they could share resources and this needed to continue. More champions were also needed for awareness and they were looking at a strategy.
8. Regarding developments outside of cadets, they were already doing much with cadets and did not want to get involved in running other youth development activities or find themselves in competition with the National Citizen Service. It would be better to provide soldiers as mentors for the reputable schemes and have more service personnel involved in the National Citizen Service, bringing their skills, knowledge and experience.
9. He said the four separate cadet structures were not operating cost effectively. For example, the ACF would benefit from being commanded centrally, but as the RFCA owned the support personnel, the Army/RFCA relationship needed examining. They had looked at two models; one made the cadet forces more independent, similar to the sea cadet model; the other made them more joint, not as a one service, but for example with joint administration. One problem, however, was the models were bi-polar, with one receiving approximately 45% of its funding from non-public money, the other being entirely State funded. So trying to bring them together would be almost impossible. In addition, the Services had no desire to make wholesale or sudden changes, particularly with volunteer commitment so fragile. They were therefore trying to arrive at a scheme that would draw the four closer together, enabling better presentation and promotion, better responses to national and local regional initiatives, more cost effective operating, and to make life better for the adult volunteers. They were proposing a measured approach, retaining three separate Service-sponsored cadet services. However, the Army needed a more focussed structure with one leader; the MoD would then only have to deal with three leaders. The MoD would form an implementation team to encourage and direct the organisations to work more closely together. They had looked at a single cadet MIS system and tightening up the customer supplier relationship between the cadet forces and those that supported them. This could then be market tested to ensure it was efficient and would apply to the RFCAs. A single skills and benefit framework was needed that would properly match qualifications across the board and truly promote the cadet experience. Qualifications and benefits properly recognised by society and single terms of service for volunteers was also needed, accepting that the sea cadets were different and paid nothing. The aim was to begin implementing these ideas in the first year and see where it took them.
10. The final element to getting the cadet forces right was to ensure better representation in the regions. He was working on the idea of a third party in a region that would be responsible for leading the development of cadet forces; for example writing business cases for closing and opening cadet units and dealing with schools and local authorities. This did not involve command, but coming up with business cases that the implementation team could put to the three cadet forces. This development role would get the brains working in the regions without cutting across the chains of command and would suit the RFCAs, who were already operating in this space on behalf of the Army. It would not take much for them to understand the sea and air cadets better.
11. In conclusion, Defence had a capability for developing young people, particularly in its cadet forces, that needed optimising. There was internal work required to improve cadet presentation and representation, responsiveness to local needs and cost effectiveness. The Review had detected a demand for increased representation in state schools and there were a number of ways to do this. Defence as well as cadet activity could contribute to improving the nation’s youth by using service personnel as mentors, which needed pushing. Finally, MoD needed an implementation team to deliver all of this over a three-year timescale.
12. The Chair thanked Brigadier Plastow for rattling through his update before opening the meeting up to questions.
13. Question 1 – Lord Selsdon asked how much more money was needed to do everything he had mentioned.
Brigadier Plastow thought it would depend on what they identified when they started to work more closely with the cadet forces. If more cadets were wanted, it would need more funds, particularly to establish new school contingents, as a school cadet force cost around £100k per year. More Training Safety Advisors and other professional military advisors would be needed too, so it was not just about money
14. Lord Selsdon suggested that Brigadier Plastow should present to his next defence group meeting, adding that the Youth Parliament was highly effective and maybe the cadet forces could debate the defence of the realm next year.
15. Brigadier Plastow thought this would provide an excellent opportunity to show off the cadets and an invitation through the MoD would be welcomed. However, he cautioned against linking cadets too closely to Defence, as it was youth development they were selling.
16. Question 2 – Mark Francois MP asked that as they were thinking of expanding through the state school sector, could he say more about how they would go about it and the challenges they would encounter.
Brigadier Plastow replied that this expansion was dependent on the state school sector and DoE wanting cadets and for a reasonable period. The adult volunteer element would need to come from the school so the Governors would need to support it too. The cadets needed to explain themselves better to schools. There were other routes, such as scrutinising CCFs and moving funding around, but this needed to be done carefully and over time. There were partnerships and he commented that Colonel Purcell had been instrumental in promoting several partnerships between Cadets and State Schools. Another option was expanding the community cadet forces, but none of this was without challenge, the biggest being access to start up funding with enough to sustain it all.
17. Question 3 – Lord West asked that if a school cadet force cost about £100k per year, what was the equivalent cost of a community cadet unit.
Brigadier Plastow replied that a school cadet cost about £600 and a community cadet started at around £8/900. Although more expensive, they were not equivalent, as the latter used public money to do more than was done in a school. In some cases, air cadets could cost up to £1300 and the army cadets up to £1700.
Lord West then asked about expansion and in which direction he would ideally like to go.
Brigadier Plastow replied that he was unsure as it depended on the demand, money and capacity; all difficult dynamics.
Lord West said that as this was also about community engagement and for some time the MoD had not been using the RFCAs well, he was delighted that they now intended to use them more. He thought the MoD should look at how other organisations provided support, for example the scouts, and that the ratio of 1 to 5 for permanent staff was too high and needed to be challenged.
Brigadier Plastow thought that cadet forces could learn something from the way the scouts were organised. Permanent staff support for the cadets was about 1 to 100/150, whereas for the scouts it was1 for every 2,000. This high ratio was a reason to challenge the permanent staff figure for them to be sure that the number really was needed and being used cost effectively.
18. Jack Lopresti MP asked about the dynamic between state schools and cadet forces and whether he had received positive feedback.
19. Brigadier Plastow said that the MoD could not open new cadet units in schools without new money. Because there was no new money, people had instead tried to establish new contingents in schools, which did not need an expensive cadet hut. Another solution was to link schools with community cadet forces, but the latter worked in the evening, whereas to fit the curriculum the former worked during the day.
20. Oliver Colville MP said it was important to involve parents, as they would encourage their children to attend and he asked how such a community engagement programme would work.
Brigadier Plastow replying to the parental point said that the air cadets already involved parents in their civilian committees and the sea cadets had civilians responsible for the upkeep of their buildings. The army did not and needed to consider this.
21. Julian Brazier MP commenting on the many positive points asked whether more could be done to influence getting into state schools. He believed that formal recognition of skills was vital to getting more money. He was concerned about the sea cadets and if trying to bring them all together it should be the 3 not 4.
Brigadier Plastow said that they were not aiming to create some sort of dual set up, but as the sea cadets received MoD money there was no reason why they should not sit around the table to discuss matters such as how to deliver transport more efficiently. They were not forcing anything together, but trying to make sure that where appropriate they thought about cost effectiveness and working together.
22. Julian Brazier MP felt reassured on this point. His second point, looking at the army cadets, air cadets and the CCFs, was that he had identified an important role for the RFCAs, but the idea of them providing commanders, possibly a national commander or a regional commander – were they going to be paid?
Brigadier Plastow replied that the Air Cadets had an Air Commodore who was part of the RAF with a headquarters that could effect things, make efficiencies and come up with good ideas. The Army was currently too immersed in its structure to do this, but it was looking at whether it could adopt similar arrangements, run either by the RFCA or the Army. If they were to do this, it would produce dynamism around the whole operation. Each organisation needed only one person to run it, who looked upwards, downwards and sideways, and across to the other organisations to see how they were run. One problem was that the cadets were only a small element within Army Support Command. There was a general at the top who had large responsibilities, one of which was cadets. There was a brigadier at regional level, also with a many responsibilities, one of which was cadets. However, there was no one looking from top to bottom and vice versa.
23. Julian Brazier MP said let the RFCAs do it, as they are more efficient than either Land or the other two Services.
Brigadier Plastow said that having the RFCAs take on the running of the army cadets was an option, but the Army did not want to run with this yet. Currently they had a Colonel Cadets who was a Staff Officer.
24. Julian Brazier MP turned to development and the importance of reaching into other pockets such as private money. His local unit had raised £20k from the private sector. There was other Government money that the RFCAs were adept at going after and for an organisation in the Centre to be as adept would generate a big overhead.
Brigadier Plastow said that an RFCA role in development would require them to write a plan to present to the tri-Service implementation group. They would be the interface in each region, engaging with local authorities and allowing the cadet forces to continue running themselves. While the sea cadets could carry on with what they are already did, somebody would also be looking at it all on a regional basis.
25. Julian Brazier MP stated that if the RFCAs were to be in charge there would be a smaller overhead.
Brigadier Plastow replied that they were already in charge, but only of support to the army cadets, not the air or the sea cadets. He wanted RFCAs to concentrate on looking at the whole region, not just on running the army cadets.
26. Madeleine Moon MP commented that it all appeared too male orientated and there was an opportunity for cadet forces to engage and bring in girls and address a gap that was not being filled. To increase youth organisations in Wales, one needed access to government financial support, which goes through the devolved administration.
27. Brigadier Plastow was reassuring on both points. The cadets did engage girls, the figures varying between forces, but he thought it was about 30 - 40%. The RFCAs, who were not just in England, were ideally placed to connect with the devolved assemblies and to help design what happened in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
28. Madeleine Moon MP said there were wider engagement issues and to beware of going native. If orientation was purely towards the regional assembly, they needed to be careful not to end up with a skewed organisation. They had to look at ways of opening up the cadet forces and inviting communities in to see what they did, as often recruits were brothers, sisters and cousins and not from a wider pool. When she had visited schools and talked about cadets, she had often received blank looks. There was therefore a need for the cadet forces to offer open days. Maybe an approach to the headmaster asking to give a lunchtime presentation would help as well as ensuring that qualified people were there to talk to the girls and boys.
Brigadier Plastow agreed and thought it was not happening because the three cadet forces were doing their own thing, something the RFCAs were also ideally placed to sort out.
29. Madeleine Moon MP invited Colonel Purcell to speak.
30. Colonel Purcell said that he had noted that much interest was being expressed in academies and that he would not be surprised if most schools were either academies or free schools by the end of this Parliament. He wondered, therefore, whether it was possible to write the protocols for setting up an academy that would require the trustees to consider having a uniformed youth organisation. There was renewed interest in uniformed youth driven partly by what had happened during the August riots. For example, some youth organisations had taken part in clean up operations and the provision of reassurance, their involvement driven by 'localism' under the Youth United banner. In the case of YOU London, this had got people thinking. Another successful model to consider was ‘London Challenge’, the pairing of private and state schools, where there were good examples outside London too.
31. Malcolm Selsdon said that when he had been involved in building schools and academies, briefs had come in on what facilities schools and academies could provide that could help communities. He thought this was a good point and should become mandatory.
Colonel Purcell said that it was essential that school contingents were ‘open’ in order to serve the local community, an important part of social mixing. Some experts had advised that to get going a school might need to start with a closed detachment, but the aim must be to make it open.
32. Madeleine Moon MP invited Martin Coles to talk.
33. Martin Coles said that there were huge challenges and a danger of starting with an assumption that what existed was broken and needed fixing, which was not the case. One needed to be careful not to come up with new ways of doing things just for the sake of it. The sea cadets had started as a charity, not with the MoD, whereas the ACF had started within the army and was never expected to be self-funding. One would have to increase the public purse money from £11m to £28m to put the sea cadets on the same basis as the army cadets, so there was a big difference in terms of what was there to start with. He was also concerned about a model that might devolve decision making from the national organisation to some other organisation when it came to opening, closing or developing a unit. Regarding CCFs, one needed to be careful, as one was dealing with an apple, a pear and a banana, with each delivering different things. Those joining the sea or army cadets did so in order to get an experience with similarities to the navy or the army and he was worried about bringing them too close together. CCFs did not fit in with the other three organisations and should either be broken up and put into the other three, or a separate body created to deal with schools. He was also concerned at the presumption that CCFs had to be all three and not just army, or air or sea cadets or a combination of two. On the point of cost effectiveness, if one ring-fenced the budget of each individual cadet organisation one could make the organisation deliver the efficiency, by getting them to talk to the others to see how they could do things together. One did not need to force them together, just keep each one focussed on what it delivered.
34. Madeleine Moon MP thanked Brigadier Plastow for giving up his time and for his support.
Col (Retd.) Hugh Purcell OBE DL, Honorary Clerk to the APGRF&C.