07/10/2012 14:50 BST

Philip Hammond Unveils 'New Deal' For Forces Reservists

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has unveiled a "new deal" for forces reservists as he encouraged large firms to follow the example of Whitehall and offer extra paid leave for those who serve part-time to go on training camps.

Mr Hammond announced that reservists in central government departments will be guaranteed a minimum of 10 days special paid leave from December to attend the mandatory annual period of continuous training.

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, Mr Hammond also announced a £5 million boost for the Headley Court rehabilitation centre for wounded personnel in Surrey and a discount scheme for troops and veterans.

The extra funding available to schools who have pupils with parents in the military will increase from £250 to £300 per child, the conference heard.

Under plans to cut the numbers in the Armed Forces, the reserves will be expected to play a greater role.

Mr Hammond said: "In the new model, reserves will be more important than ever before - a vital part of our forces.

"We will increase the Army Reserve to a trained strength of 30,000 and integrate them fully, pairing regular and reserve battalions to create a total land force of 120,000."

He added: "Too often in the past, the reserves have been the forgotten part of our Armed Forces, despite thousands of them having fought in Afghanistan and many of them having made the ultimate sacrifice.

"No longer. I want to offer a new deal to reservists: make the commitment, turn up regularly to train and be prepared to deploy and in return, we promise to equip you, we promise to train you and we promise to fund you.

"That is a bargain that has been broken on both sides in the past and which has to be kept by both sides in the future."

Announcing the 10 days' additional paid leave for civil servants who are members of the reserves, Mr Hammond said: "Success will depend on the commitment of employers and Government is one of the biggest."

Mr Hammond called for other public sector employers to follow suit, as well as urging businesses to follow Whitehall's lead.

"Let's ask Britain's biggest companies to join with us, to demonstrate that they, too, are reserve-friendly employers.

"Let's build a society where being in the reserves, and employing reservists, are both worn proudly as badges of honour."

Setting out the other announcements, the Defence Secretary told activists in Birmingham: "One of my most humbling experiences in this job was my first visit to Headley Court, seeing the discipline and determination with which servicemen and women face and overcome terrible, life-changing combat injuries."

The extra £5 million will continue "the improvement of the facilities on which our injured service personnel rely".

Announcing the new discount scheme he said: "Increasingly, businesses are telling us that they, too, want to show their appreciation of our troops."

The new "defence privilege card", which will cost members £5, was a way for firms to thank troops and veterans "with substantial discounts on high street brands and leading service providers".

Firms including Vodafone, KFC, Vision Express, Austin Reed and Vue Cinemas have signed up to the scheme.

Mr Hammond added: "It's not just the private sector, other Government Departments too want to show their support.

"George Osborne plans to hand £35 million of fines levied on banks to service charities instead of following Labour's lead and handing them straight back to the financial sector.

"Michael Gove has agreed to increase the Service Pupil Premium from £250 to £300 per pupil and to extend it to include all pupils whose parents have died in service since 2005 and in future, the premium will be paid for up to six years after parents leave the Forces."

The Defence Secretary said troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in "significant" numbers next year ahead of the end of combat operations in 2014.

He said: "To those who say 'get out of Afghanistan', I reply: that is exactly what we are doing.

"We will bring home another 500 of our troops by Christmas and we expect to make further, significant, reductions next year, with combat operations ending in December 2014.

"But we are not going to cut and run. We will not betray the sacrifice and the progress made by British troops, by abandoning it.

"We will come out with the mission completed and British heads held high."

Mr Hammond pleased Tory eurosceptics by ruling out ever allowing British troops to become part of a joint army with continental allies.

The Defence Secretary said: "To those pushing the idea of a European army I have a clear message: Britain will never be part of it."

He also poked fun at the Conservatives' coalition partners over their opposition to the replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent, with a jibe aimed at Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Mr Hammond said: "Unseen beneath the oceans, our nuclear deterrent submarines will continue to patrol while we build a new fleet to replace them in the late 2020s. We will do that because in an uncertain and threatening world, this party will never take risks with the deterrent that guarantees our nation's freedom.

"Our coalition partners do not share our commitment to Trident; they are looking for a cheaper fix.

"I have heard a rumour about where their thinking is going and I have to say to them that simply threatening to launch Vince Cable at our enemies is not going to be the solution. He may be cheap, but a deterrent has to be effective as well."