Take arms firms out of the Big Bang Fair

Letter signed by over 100, including ForcesWatch

As engineers, health professionals, educationists and others who believe in the power of science and engineering as a force for good, we are writing to condemn the continued sponsorship of today’s Big Bang Fair by BAE Systems and other arms companies such as Thales, Selex ES, Doosan, Rolls-Royce and Airbus. It might seem like a joke: the UK’s largest youth science and engineering education event, named the Big Bang Fair, is sponsored by companies who make very big bangs indeed. Except the arms trade isn’t funny. All of these companies have a track record of supplying countries with appalling human rights records. Doosan is involved in cluster bomb manufacture.

The casual and unquestioned way these companies are allowed public relations space at educational events reflects a serious problem at the heart of modern British science. We need programmes which offer young people unbiased spaces to learn about science and engineering as it is currently constituted – including environmental and human rights concerns – and what it could look like.

If the government is serious in its support of science and engineering – not just a few choice companies associated with them – it must invest more fully in education so the Big Bang Fair 2015 need not be reliant on sponsorship which so narrows its scope.… Read more

FUTURE ARMY 2020: Defence Committee increases pressure to MoD to raise enlistment age to 18

The Defence Select Committee has increased the pressure on the MoD to stop enlisting minors, in a report published today.

The report, which follows a major inquiry into the MoD’s Future Army 2020 plan, called on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”.

The Future Army 2020 report highlighted evidence presented by campaign groups Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch that raising the enlistment age to 18 would save around £94 million per year on training costs and increase the Army’s operational effectiveness.

The Committee’s challenge over enlistment age comes just a few months after church groups across the UK, including the Church of Scotland and the Bishops of the Church in Wales, wrote to the Minister for the Armed Forces calling for the enlistment age to be raised to 18. Recent research has shown that those who enlist below this age are at higher risk of injury in training, suicide, bullying, sexual harassment, mental illness, alcoholism, long-term unemployment, and violent offending than recruits who enlist as adults.

Following the Defence Committee’s previous challenge over the recruitment of minors in its report on the Education of Service Personnel last year, the MoD instructed the Army to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the policy.… Read more

Disaster militarism

The country’s military institutions must not be seen as deserving of special consideration. Once the ethos of public service has been smashed and discredited by neoliberal restructuring, the danger is that it will take more than an army to bring it back. By Vron Ware.

For some time now, Up in Arms has been drawing attention to the process of militarisation taking place in the UK. This has meant tracking the changing profile of the armed forces in civil society, ears pricked for anything that suggests that military norms and values are inherently superior and therefore worthy of unquestioning support. It can be hard to distinguish the long term shifts from the immediate gear changes, and to know how seriously to take some of the ‘information’ that makes it into the public domain – particularly if it emanates from unnamed ‘senior’ officials in defence departments or cranky media pundits with an interest in military welfare.

Take the use of soldiers in Britain’s recent flood disasters. Following their successful deployment as security guards for the London Olympics, the MoD could be more confident that the public would accept their role as a reserve body of odd-job men who by their physical strength and numbers alone could be put to work in a civil emergency.… Read more

Rape and sexual assaults in the military need more than ‘kangaroo court’ justice

Informal and unaccountable ‘in-house’ procedures mean hundreds of allegations go unquestioned

The foreign secretary, William Hague, has called for an end to the use of sexual violence in war as part of the fine and timely crusade he has taken up alongside movie star Angelina Jolie. An inquest into the death of corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, a military policewoman who killed herself in 2011 after claiming she was raped by army colleagues, has fixed a spotlight on the issue of sexual violence within the British military. Today the coroner found Ellement killed herself in part due to bullying in the army and the effects of alleged rape. It has also emerged that of 200 allegations of rape and sexual assault between 2011 and 2013 in the military, there have only been 27 convictions.

To begin to understand the British military on any level it is best to start with a round of myth busting. Let us dispense with the idea that the British military is in a meaningful sense a slightly quaint but essentially harmonious family. Healthy families do not regularly inflict acts of sexual violence upon each other, and in the British forces rapes and sexual assaults seem to have become something of a banality.

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Gove’s Troops To Teachers ‘A Costly Flop’

Michael Gove’s scheme to train ex-squaddies as teachers was labelled an “expensive flop” yesterday after it was revealed the Tory Education Secretary mustered just 132 recruits.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal 322 former soldiers applied for teacher training between March 2011 and April 2013

Despite just 132 being accepted, Mr Gove has now thrown £10 million in public funds at a new two-year Troops to Teachers scheme.

If the latest scheme enlists the same low numbers, the maximum cost of getting each new recruit ready for the classroom could be a stunning £75,000.

A Department for Education spokeswoman insisted yesterday that the £10 million is the maximum available for the programme over the next two years.

But National Union of Teachers North England regional secretary Mike McDonald is among campaigners to have raised concerns over Mr Gove’s latest “vanity project.”

He told the Star: “He’s very austere when it comes to things like teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions but when it comes to his pet projects such as this, free schools and academies it seems money is no object.

“It’s just one waste after another.

“I’m not against the training of troops to be teachers but to spend this amount of money on it and for it to yield such a poor result is quite appalling, particularly with all the cuts affecting public services.”

And Mr McDonald said schools across England were crying out for extra cash.… Read more

Bullying in armed forces on rise, MoD figures reveal

Call for urgent overhaul of military justice as MP highlights plight of servicewomen alleging sexual offences

Shocking official figures reveal a surge in the incidence of bullying in the armed forces, with one in 10 military personnel claiming to have been the victim of “discrimination, harassment or bullying in a service environment” during the past year.

The figures, contained in the latest Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, were described by defence minister Anna Soubry as serious, while a senior figure on the defence select committee said the bullying they revealed was very worrying.

The revelation came as a senior MP called for an urgent overhaul into the way the armed forces deal with sexual assaults and rape complaints. Madeleine Moon, a Labour MP and longstanding member of the defence select committee, said a new independent armed forces ombudsman was needed to properly investigate such complaints. Installing an ombudsman, Moon said, would allow service personnel to resolve grievances outside the chain of command and give them increased confidence to speak out.

The attitudes survey is the MoD’s principal means of monitoring morale within the services. The number of complaints relating to discrimination, harassment or bullying in 2013 was up by two percentage points – a rise of a quarter – on 2012.

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