As 11 o’clock struck on Remembrance Sunday, York fell silent to remember all those who sacrificed their freedom for ours. The streets were bursting with people wanting to equally honour those who had served us, and those who continue to do so. It is always a poignant day for the city which comes together in support of our Armed Forces.
The announcement to close Imphal Barracks in York and Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Strensall sent a shock wave through the city just days before. The Army has not only been part of York’s heritage for the last 1000 years, it is part of our community today and speaks of our security tomorrow.
My predecessor, Sir Hugh Bayley had been given assurances only last year that with the move of the Headquarters of the 1st Division (UK) to York, following the last re-organisation, York’s future as a garrison city was secured.
More worrying, it appears that the list drawn up of military bases to close is not rooted in evidence, and in fact, goes against the ambition of the Armed Forces to build stronger community links. The decision has been made in the bubble of Whitehall by the increasingly out of touch Government, without any dialogue with those on the ground.
This isn’t the first time that Imphal’s future has been on the cards, and I have written to the Defence Secretary to call for an urgent meeting about its future. The closure of the Barracks on Fulford Road, on its own, impacts on 365 civilian staff who will lose good quality jobs in York, 700 Armed Forces families who will be lost to York and it has far reaching implications to the wider community. No impact assessment on the local economy took place prior to the announcement and not surprisingly there have been no announcements to tell us what jobs will replace those lost. While the closure was announced, there is no mention where the Army is to relocate to.
Vital to the Armed Forces is the community in which it is based. The divorce between the two has a negative impact on personnel and their families. If we look at other nations which have undertaken such an experiment, they have had to stop it in their tracks and re-embed the services back into local communities. For the Ministry of Defence, who have some quite serious challenges around recruitment, to ignore those on the ground who have stressed the importance of the community link is negligible.
Despite the evidence of the Government’s own annual survey into issues impacting on morale in the Armed Forces and their families, the strategy announced flies in the face of the evidence they themselves have collated. In fact, one of the biggest issues that the Ministry of Defence is grappling with at the moment is ‘spousal employment’, and while a place like York provides opportunities for partners and children to find work in the city, if relocated to a new ‘super-barracks’ then the job opportunities available are far more scarce.
For York, to close the Barracks will be a massive blow for the whole community which has forged such a strong bond with the Army. Everything says to the Government, that they have got this decision wrong, that the evidence is not on their side and that is why I am prepared to do everything I can to fight for the future of Imphal Barracks. I will do my best, as the Army does for us every day.