WITHDRAWING from British Forces Germany (BFG) – and the resulting reshuffle of units in the UK – will bring many benefits to Service families, including more stability, continuity of education, access to wider family support and better employment opportunities for dependants.
But rebasing will also increase the demand for Service Families Accommodation (SFA) in the UK and there is uncertainty about how the MOD will cater for the needs of 16,000 returning troops.
“Families are used to difficulties obtaining housing and school places so are understandably concerned,” says Catherine Spencer, AFF Chief Executive.
THE ARMY BASING TEAM
Last year eight units relocated and 23 internal moves are planned for 2014. By 2016 nearly 70% of troops will be home from Germany; the remainder by 2020. The majority of units will be concentrated into seven geographic areas and, during 2014/15, will move into existing buildings and quarters.
Relocating so many families is a complex undertaking. The Army Basing Team (ABT) is responsible for delivering the £1.6bn plan successfully.
Working with the chain of command, the Army Infrastructure Team, Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and national/local authorities, ABT has identified units’ needs and analysed issues at each location, providing DIO with the Army requirement – who in turn are developing potential infrastructure solutions.
Col Neill Page, ABT’s Deputy Team Leader, explains: “We have conducted a snapshot data-capture exercise to understand the structure of families affected by rebasing.
“This will help identify housing requirements and provide the NHS and local authorities with planning figures.”
More than half the rebasing budget (about £1bn) is being ploughed into living accommodation. In excess of 400 SFA will be upgraded.
Nearly 200 new SFA are due for delivery in March 2014 with a further 1,700 family homes in the pipeline.
Discussions are underway with DIO about extending the housing notification window so that families can research their new location ahead of their move.
Briefings on key moving and schooling dates have been held in Germany and Aldershot; BFG families will be updated regularly as their relocation approaches.
“Our work has highlighted where we predict SFA shortfall and we’re developing a plan with DIO to provide families’ accommodation to meet rebasing timelines,” Col Page adds.
Parents will be reassured to learn that the Directorate Children & Young People (DCYP) has set up the Education of Service Children Change Programme, which encompasses several schemes related to rebasing and its impact on Service children.
The Assistant Director Children’s Education Advisory Service is leading a project to support pupils returning to the UK – and those affected by an internal unit move – in partnership with the ABT, Department for Education (DfE) and local authorities.
“UK schools where pupils from Army families are expected to attend have been advised. DCYP is in regular discussion with the DfE, to ensure Service children are not disadvantaged,” assures Col Page. “We recognise the importance to parents of securing school places and are aware that timely allocation of SFA is key.”
Unit Welfare Officers have been advised to prioritise families with children at important stages of their education in the removal schedule.
For those remaining in Germany throughout drawdown, significant work is underway to ensure Service Children’s Education (SCE) schools retain high quality teachers until closure, with funding to support small classes.
SCE will liaise with English and Scottish local authorities to ensure school changes are seamless with minimal impact on children’s learning.
The UK schools application process varies according to location; visit the appropriate local authority website for details.
ABT is also working to ensure that existing UK infrastructure can cope with increased demand and that potential issues are resolved early.
It is hoped that relocating families will transition smoothly into civilian services.
Many councils recognise that rebasing offers positive social and economic opportunities.
Fife Council has visited Germany to advise units on the Scottish education system. Wiltshire Council, tasked with accommodating 4,000 returning troops around Salisbury Plain, is planning a similar briefing.
CARE & COMMUNICATION
For many, the dismantling of BFG is an emotional as well as physical upheaval.
“Families are concerned that life [here] is sadly coming to a close,” says Diane Weir, AFF Director Germany. “I was asked recently when AFF would leave this lovely country. When I said we’re intending to remain until the last family leaves, the response was one of relief.”
Catherine adds: “AFF is ready to act on any concerns.”
Meanwhile, ABT will keep the chain of command and families in the loop through quarterly newsletters and information packs.
“We’ll continue to establish and refine the needs of the units, soldiers and their families,” says Col Page. “We know there is a desire for firm answers now – for all concerned – and we are working hard to provide them.”
If you are affected by rebasing, the chain of command and Unit Welfare staff can offer help and advice, as can the following organisations:
- Housing Allocation Service Centre – www.gov.uk/dio/sfa or 0800 169 6322 (overseas 0044 1904 418 000)
- Children’s Education Advisory Service – www.gov.uk/childrens-education-advisory-service
- HIVE Support Officers can provide relevant rebasing and local information for families – www.army.mod.uk/hives
AFF staff are working with a number of organisations on rebasing. Contact our Specialists for further details: