May 18 2013 Latest news:
by DAVID FREEZER
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Armed forces members and their families were delivered some positive news in the budget but the news is being welcomed with caution.
An extra £100m of improvements to armed forces accommodation was announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, funded by £2.4bn in savings from ending combat operations in Afghanistan.
It was also announced that council tax relief was being doubled to provide 100pc coverage for families of servicemen and women who are deployed overseas.
Jan Bamber, Norfolk manager for the Royal British Legion, said: “The council tax relief being doubled is great news and the £100m to improve accommodation is initially a big step in the right direction.
As part of our work we are seeing lots of armed forces families who are struggling with housing problems and debt problems.
“So this will bring some hope, however, it is always important to balance the facts and whilst our serving personnel will benefit from this, people we are now seeing as part of our welfare work who are at risk of losing their jobs will not.
“But it’s a big step in the right direction and it’s nice to see the government putting their money where their mouth is.”
Mr Osborne said in his speech that the money saved from UK forces ceasing combat operation by the end of 2014 - which is funded by the government’s special reserve, rather than the defence budget - is expected to amount to £2.4bn over the remainder of the current Parliament.
Mr Osborne said: “Let me be clear today, the full cost of operations will continue to be met from the reserve - and our brave armed forces will get the equipment they need to complete the job.
“But I can ensure that some of the benefit of the lower cost is felt by those who fight so hard and give so much for our nation’s security.
“We will fund an extra £100m of improvements in the accommodation of our armed forces and their families.
“I will also double the families welfare grant which is used to provide additional support to the families left behind when people deploy.
“We’ve already doubled the operational allowance. Today, I am doubling the rate of Council Tax Relief.
“The thousands serving our country in operations overseas will receive 100pc Relief on an average.”
South Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who was one of the influential figures in helping to save RAF Marham last year, welcomed the news, saying: “It is right that we recognise the work done by our service personnel who often have long tours overseas.
“I know that the men and women at RAF Marham will be pleased by the doubling of the council tax relief.”
A spokesman for the Army Families Federation issued a note of caution however, saying: “We welcome the increase to the welfare package and the £100m for housing is obviously very welcome but, as ever, the devil will be in the detail.
“Last year an £140m spending pause was put in place and, with the council tax relief as well, we will have to see how these things actually play out.”
But Alison Burgess, of Bury St Edmunds, founder of the Viking Family Support Group, welcomed the announcements, saying: “That’s really good news. I think it shows there is support there for the armed forces.
“This has been a huge issue, particularly when servicemen and women are away for a long time, for their family to have a comfortable home is paramount.
“It’s really welcome news because a lot of people have been campaigning for better housing, so they’re moving in the right direction.”
Ms Bamber, from the Royal British Legion, added that just recently she has seen that the money for improved accommodtion is very much needed here in Norfolk.
She said: “Only today one of our workers has been at RAF Marham and seen a family with four children, from newborn upwards, and it was certainly very cramped.
“And the community hall as well, that’s in need of some repair work, although I think there is some being carried out.
“So it is needed and this will be welcomed as a step in the right direction at Marham.”
Nearly 3,000 people have supported a Facebook campaign demanding safety improvements on the A47 near Dereham set up after the latest fatal crash.
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