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Trust in the RAF chief and his leadership team is at an all-time low, research shows


Confidence in the Royal Air Force chief and his leadership team has halved to an all-time low over the past two years and pilots have been at least happy since measurements began, a study has found.

The dismal figures, released on Thursday, will come as a blow to Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, who will step down as Chief of the Air Staff on Friday in a ceremony at Officers Training College in Cranwell, Lincolnshire – his career was celebrated with a flypast and band.

But his time in charge will probably be best remembered for a well-intentioned but disastrous recruiting drive to improve diversity that ultimately unfairly disadvantaged white men.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston will step down as Chief of the Air Staff on Friday

Sky News this week revealed how applicants were fired “useless white male pilots” – as pressure mounted to attract women and ethnic minorities – and that the RAF was required to pay £5,000 each to 31 white men affected by the policy.

It only stopped when, as first revealed by Sky News last August, the then head of recruiting resigned in protest on what she considered an “unlawful order” to discriminate against white males.

The Ministry of Defense’s ongoing attitude survey of military personnel in the three armed forces – a key measure of morale – found that only 18% of pilots had confidence in the RAF’s senior leadership in 2023, a sharp drop from 36% in 2021.

Barely a quarter (26%) of those surveyed felt the senior leadership team – led by Air Chief Marshal Wigston – were happy to listen to feedback, while a meager 15% thought their top bosses understood the impact of changes in the RAF on staff.

While the attitude towards RAF senior leaders rose in 2021, they have fallen significantly over the past two years to their lowest reported levels,” the survey said.

This question has been asked annually since 2015.

“As a result of these declines, RAF personnel are now the least positive of their senior leaders compared to the other services.”

Overall satisfaction with life in the RAF fell nine percentage points to 37% from a year ago – the lowest level since the question was first asked in 2007.

RAF personnel feel less proud (71%), less engaged (57%) and less valued (26%), according to the findings.

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RAF chief admits mistakes

Lifetime satisfaction and wages are declining

While much criticism has been leveled at Air Chief Marshal Wigston for the negative impact of his diversity drive on white men, the survey also found that the percentage of staff who agreed that their leaders are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace fell by 15 percent. points to 57% since 2022.

The data was collected from more than 9,000 RAF, Army and Royal Navy personnel between September 2022 and February this year.

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Across all three services, lifetime satisfaction has dropped eight percentage points since 2021 to 42%.

One factor was concern over pay amid the rising cost of living and high inflation.

The survey found that satisfaction with basic pay had returned to its lowest recorded level of 31% after falling significantly over the past two years.

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Problems with the service residences – which house more than three-quarters of all military personnel during the workweek – were another barrier to satisfaction.

When asked about their opinion on the quality of the maintenance or repair work done on their home, only 19% of respondents said they were satisfied.

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