We have learnt the true scale of the inequalities exposed and widened by this crisis. We have learnt how poorly our government will treat those on the frontline that are working to support and protect us. We also learnt how far behind the government was in its preparation to rise to the challenges the pandemic presented to our country.
But we also learnt some other things. Where the government have let us down, our armed forces stepped up. From Nightingale Hospitals, through to testing and the vaccination rollout, they were there in our hour of need.
But whilst we owe them all a huge debt after overcoming the challenges Covid-19 brought with it, this year has shone a spotlight on the way we think about our armed forces – particularly when it comes to how critical they are to homeland resilience and why we can never take them for granted.
This year has reminded us that, when called upon, our armed forces can execute and deliver the services that are needed effectively and at speed. They have the perfect combination of skills and experience to do so.
Man dies after dog attack at Hillson Drive recreation ground in Fareham - owner is arrested
Fareham dog attack: Shrine set up in memory of man who died - named locally as Wiggy Symes
Heartfelt tributes paid to Wiggy Symes who died after Fareham dog attack
Fareham dog walker and trainer Ian 'Wiggy' Symes thought to be killed by XL American Bully breed dog
Thunderstorms yellow weather warning issued over Waterlooville, Fareham and parts of Hampshire by Met Office with chance of 'heavy rain'
But, despite this, there was no clear plan from government that prepared our country for a crisis we knew would one day would come. Let alone one that would effectively support and bring together our armed forces to deal with such a crisis.
There have been interesting local examples of how this might work, however. In Portsmouth, we saw Royal Navy personnel helping the local vaccination efforts at the St James’ Covid-19 vaccination centre, or at HMNB Portsmouth, where Royal Navy personnel have been manufacturing headbands for facemasks in collaboration with other dockyard agencies.
Our armed forces can do incredible things, but they can do even more when they are supported to really thrive. It begs the question why the government is pushing on with plans to cut our armed forces by 10,000, or why back in February, the National Audit Office reported the blackhole in the 10-year Equipment Plan budget widened from £7bn, to possibly as high as £13bn.
Here in Portsmouth, our city’s history goes hand-in-hand with our naval history.
We understand the importance of our service personnel for our country’s security – both home and abroad.
We also understand why it’s important to support service communities like our own. In this area, the government is big on promises, but short on delivery.
We will look to widen the scope the Armed Forces Bill to also deliver on the promises of the Covenant in areas like employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration; address the shameful scandal of visa fees for Commonwealth veterans; and improve service justice by pushing for rape and serious offences to tried in civilian courts.
We owe a huge debt to our armed forces – from our reservists through to our veterans and their families – and I know the people of Portsmouth will join me in expressing our deep gratitude for what the have done this year.
Now it’s time we repay the favour to them and secure what they deserve.