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Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

As our presence in Afghanistan reduces, our requirement for the support of local staff is also reducing. The Government recognise the contribution and commitment of all local staff. They have played a vital role in contributing to our shared goal—a more secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. Without them, the UK’s contribution to the international mission would not have been possible. We pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those who have been injured while working with us.

The future of Afghanistan lies in the hearts and minds of such people, who have done so much to move their country forward. Having invested so much already, the Government want to encourage local staff to stay in Afghanistan and to use their skills and knowledge to make it stronger, better able to meet the challenges ahead and to seize the opportunities.

For this reason, we have decided to implement a generous package of training and financial support for our locally engaged staff in Afghanistan. It will provide local staff with up to five years of training or education in Afghanistan in a subject of their own choosing and a living stipend for the full period of training based on their final salary. Staff who prefer not to take up the training package will be offered a second option—a financial severance payment which represents 18 months’ salary. This will be paid in monthly instalments. These options aim to encourage local staff to develop valuable skills and knowledge in Afghanistan so they can go on contributing to a brighter future for themselves, their families and their country.

The Government acknowledge that some local staff, such as interpreters, have worked in particularly dangerous and challenging roles in Helmand. In recognition of this unique and exceptional service to the United Kingdom, these local staff and their immediate families will be offered a third option—resettlement in the UK. In order to help them adjust to life in the UK, they will be offered initial assistance and accommodation including access to benefits, as well as support in seeking employment.

To be eligible for resettlement in the UK, local staff must have routinely worked in dangerous and challenging roles in Helmand outside protected bases. Seriously injured staff, who might have qualified had their employment not been terminated due to injuries sustained in combat, are also included. Local staff who were contracted by the UK, but who mostly worked for Danish or Estonian forces and who meet the criteria above, are also eligible. This approach has been agreed with the Danish and Estonian Governments.

We have always been clear in our desire to recognise the efforts of local staff, and have balanced this against a range of other factors. These include the cost of any scheme, and the potential impact on the UK and on Afghanistan of resettling large numbers of people. In line with previous similar policies, qualification for this redundancy scheme is limited to those local staff who were in post working directly for HMG on 19 December 2012, when the Prime Minister announced the drawdown of UK forces, and who have served more than 12 months when they are made redundant. Those whose employment ended before this date, and those whose employment was ended voluntarily or for disciplinary reasons will not be eligible. In total, we estimate that around 1,200 local staff will qualify for a redundancy package. Of these, we estimate that up to 600 will be eligible for resettlement, although they may choose to stay in Afghanistan to help build its future, supported by the training and financial packages.

Further details of the practical arrangements for applying for and implementing the redundancy scheme will be announced in due course.

Separately from the redundancy package, we recognise our obligations to any local staff who face real threats to their safety or that of their immediate family as a result of their service to the UK. Our existing intimidation policy will remain in place for all local staff, regardless of their date and duration of employment. This ensures that local staff who face real threats to their own and their families’ safety, now and in the future, are supported. The policy offers relocation within Afghanistan and, in the most extreme cases, the possibility of resettlement in the UK. We are currently reviewing the policy to ensure it continues to provide a fair and robust system of assessing threats to, and ensuring the protection of, our local staff.

The UK is strongly committed to the future of Afghanistan and will maintain a long-term relationship based around trade, diplomacy, development assistance, financial contribution to the Afghanistan national security forces and military training. Our future work in Afghanistan will continue to benefit from the talent and dedication of local staff, and we will never forget this.