The Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has today announced a range of new measures to address inappropriate behaviour in the armed forces.
Steps to be taken include instilling a shift in culture, led by those responsible for managing day-to-day discipline, as well as overhauling the complaints system, so the most serious allegations are investigated quickly and if appropriate, outside the chain of command.
New training and reporting to track culture change will also be implemented.
Today’s announcement follows the publication of a review into inappropriate behaviour in the armed forces, conducted by Air Marshal Michael Wigston.
The review, which was commissioned in April following several allegations of inappropriate behaviour, was designed to analyse the culture of the armed forces and make recommendations on further action to improve practices.
The report found that while good behaviour was the norm and service personnel could ‘for the large part be trusted to behave appropriately’, the report states that there is still ‘an unacceptable level of inappropriate behaviour in the military’.
One of the key recommendations in the report will be the creation of a new ”Defence Authority”, which will provide centralised oversight on how the proposals are delivered and share best practice across defence.
It has a role in investigating allegations such as sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said:
‘This change to the service complaints system is to ensure the most serious allegations are dealt with quickly, and personnel have the confidence they need to come forward.
‘This approach is based on similar systems which have proved successful in the Canadian, Australian and US armed forces, and will include stepped-up resources dedicated to this effort.
The new systems will also offer new routes to anonymously report inappropriate behaviour through the creation of a new hotline, a phone-based app and website forms.
The Defence Authority will also be the central point for defence for the coordination of policy relating to inappropriate behaviour, as well as sharing best practice across defence.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:
‘Whether it is crude comments, discriminatory treatment, or even offences of a sexual nature, inappropriate behaviour has no place in society, let alone in our armed forces.
‘This report sends a clear message, and I am committed to ensuring its recommendations are delivered in full.
‘In addition to the report, I want to ensure non-commissioned officers are able to address poor behaviour when they see it.
‘They are the moral compass of the Armed Forces.
The ‘report’s 36 recommendations are mainly aimed at preventing instances of inappropriate behaviour occurring, identifying leadership as a critical element to change the culture across defence and make sure that everyone plays their part.
A spokesperson for the MOD said: ‘To address this, today the MOD has committed to embed a new culture and set of standards across the services.
‘This will include setting new performance standards, so military and civilian leadership are held accountable for the culture they set, mandated diversity and inclusion training and a new harassment survey, to be conducted in 2021, that will track data on the culture change across defence’.
Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter said:
‘Any incident of unacceptable behaviour threatens our reputation, undermines the team and erodes our professionalism.
‘Such incidents will ultimately hamper the efforts of those risking their lives in the service of the nation and will undoubtedly be used by those who seek to undermine our national values and cohesion.
‘We each have a moral obligation to protect those in our care and a responsibility to challenge unacceptable behaviour – we now need to ensure everyone feels empowered to do so’.
As a demonstration of how seriously the military and the MOD are taking the issue, the Chief of Defence Staff and Permanent Secretary have written to all senior commanders to update them on the review and stress the importance of implementing its findings, particularly the importance of leadership in setting the conditions for good culture behaviour across defence.
The respective heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force are also writing to all staff on the outcome of the review.
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, author of the report and incoming Chief of the Air Staff, said:
‘The vast majority of people in the UK Armed Forces serve with courage, determination and professionalism; they are a great credit to our nation.
‘In stark contrast, my report found an unacceptable and persistent level of inappropriate behaviour in the UK Armed Forces.
‘This behaviour harms people, damages our reputation and almost certainly impacts our ability to attract and retain the talent we need.
‘By implementing the ‘report’s recommendations, I am confident we can address the challenge of inappropriate behaviour in our Armed Forces.
‘It requires a determined effort to change the culture, driven persistently from the top and at every level of leadership below that.
‘Everyone has a part to play, and ‘it’s not optional’.
The Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chiefs of Staff Warrant Officer Glenn Haughton said:
‘Our reputation as the best-armed forces in the world is hard-won and unacceptable behaviour erodes the ‘public’s confidence in us.
‘Personnel at all levels need to play their part in ensuring that our values and standards are followed, creating an opening and welcoming culture to everyone who serves’.