In June 2013, the Government decided that it would draw down employment of its Locally Employed Staff in Afghanistan by the end of 2017 and put policies in place to support those affected. I am responsible for overseeing and assuring the delivery of these policies on behalf of the interested Government Departments.
In terms of the implementation of these policies, the Ministry of Defence will have made the last of its local staff redundant by the end of the year, allowing them to access one of the three generous packages under our Ex-Gratia Redundancy scheme: these comprise financial support for 18 months, training and financial support for five years, or, for those in eligible roles, relocation to the UK.
So far, over 800 former staff have benefitted from one of our redundancy options. Under the training offer some of our local staff are studying to be doctors or lawyers, completing their high school education, or improving their English language skills. In some cases, former staff members have chosen to gift their training to a family member, which has in many cases provided wives and daughters with the opportunity for further education or upskilling. These individuals will be better placed to play their part in working for a brighter future for their country.
The scheme has relocated more than 385 former staff and their families to the UK, and we expect around another 60 families to relocate over the next year or so. Of the 385, 12 individuals received Ex-Gratia compensation payments for injuries they sustained whilst working with UK forces. These were paid before they had decided to relocate to the UK and, some months ago, we initiated work to review the payments to adjust them for the different economic conditions of life in the UK. These were extremely brave people who worked alongside our soldiers on patrol, and who in some cases suffered profoundly life-changing injuries as a result of improvised explosive devices or small arms fire. The UK Government recognises that it has a special debt of gratitude to these individuals and we aim to complete this review by the spring of next year, giving priority to the more severely disabled cases.
Additionally, our Intimidation Policy continues to support all former staff who experience intimidation within Afghanistan as a result of their employment with the UK. This policy is delivered by an expert team based in Kabul, including a member of either the Home Office Constabulary or MOD Police to investigate the claims. This dedicated team has now assisted over 400 staff by providing bespoke security advice and, in over 30 cases, funding relocations to safe areas within Afghanistan. The level of intimidation faced has not so far been such that an individual has had to be relocated to the UK in order to ensure their safety. However, the changing security position in Afghanistan is kept under careful review.
The Government remains confident that the UK’s arrangements for addressing intimidation concerns meet our commitment to protect our former locally employed staff and we have taken a number of steps to assure these arrangements. Notably, I chair a cross-Government Locally Employed Civilian Assurance Committee. This plays a valuable role in scrutinising the application of the Intimidation Policy and ensuring that it is effectively administered and that Afghan staff who feel threatened due to their employment by the UK are properly supported. Members include peers from the House of Lords, a suitably experienced Police detective, and a former local staff member who provides invaluable insight and advice.
More recently, we have also welcomed the former Chief of Defence Staff, Lord Stirrup, and the Bishop of Colchester into our ranks. The Committee has met five times, most recently looking at the line between what justifies relocation within Afghanistan and to the UK, and at whether our Intimidation Investigation Unit makes a reasonable assessment of the danger to an individual when the intimidation concern is first raised with the Unit. The 14 cases that have been reviewed by the Committee to date demonstrate that the intimidation policy was effectively applied on these occasions. We recognise that this is a relatively small sample and will continue to review cases until we are confident that we have reasonable evidence that the policy is being properly applied. The Department has accepted a number of areas where arrangements need to be fine-tuned and has taken action accordingly. The Committee has also kept under review the security situation in Afghanistan as it relates to the risk of intimidation and the viability of mitigation measures. No issues have so far been raised in this respect.
As an additional layer of assurance, a barrister from outside the Department, and more recently a member of the Government Legal Service, have continued to conduct regular reviews of at least 20% of closed intimidation cases to ensure that the decisions are robust. The most recent review took place in November this year and concluded that the decisions taken by the investigation unit are fair and appropriate.
It is the Government’s belief that our Ex-Gratia Redundancy Scheme and Intimidation Policy remain fit for purpose and properly meet our responsibilities to men and women who played such an important part in our efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan.