Our service personnel do extraordinarily difficult jobs. They live with the knowledge that they could be deployed into what are, quite literally, life and death situations. What they don’t need is for their lives to be made more difficult by MoD failings.
It was reported by the BBC at the weekend that in 2016 the number of complaints about army accommodation in Scotland increased by a staggering 500 per cent on the previous year.
So what’s going on?
The surge in complaints came the same year as the introduction of a new charging system in 2016, which saw 81 per cent of service families paying more rent. And the performance of CarillionAmey – who were contracted by the Tory government to provide repairs and maintenance for Service Family Accommodation – has been widely criticised.
A House of Commons committee warned that the Ministry of Defence was “underestimating the effect of poor and unsuitable accommodation on morale and on attitudes to remaining in the armed services”.
The Tories have slashed Scotland’s defence footprint, taken service personnel numbers to historic lows and are proposing to close army bases across the country, including Redford infantry and Redford cavalry barracks in my constituency – all while the cost of Trident renewal spirals out of control.
The Tories cannot be allowed to run our forces into the ground. Service personnel deserve better than botched repairs and poor workmanship in their homes and the MoD needs to consider these failures very carefully and make sure that these mistakes are not repeated.
Meanwhile, this week in Edinburgh, thousands of people will continue to enjoy the Edinburgh International Festival, but – much more pressing for parents and children – the new school term begins. Many children will be preparing for their first day in primary, while others will be making the exciting leap from primary to secondary. And thousands of these pupils will be returning to newly built and refurbished schools as part of the SNP’s Schools for the Future programme.
Thanks to an SNP Government initiative in 2015, all primary 1-3 pupils are eligible for free school meals, and a recent report has shown that a quarter of a million Scottish children will be eligible this year. Guaranteeing our youngest pupils a healthy meal during the school day helps them to learn, and it can be a huge financial help to families who can save around £380 a year.
This is just one of the steps the SNP is taking to tackle child poverty and to help household incomes, and is an essential part of our central ambition to drive up standards in Scottish schools.
I wish teachers and pupils alike the best of luck for the year ahead.
Gordon MacDonald is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands