The Peoples talks to Alex Baxter, Armed Forces Champion for NE Lincolnshire and the man in charge of preparations for Armed Forces Day 2016
You’ve been a councillor for Scartho and Mayor of NE Lincolnshire but for many people you’re best known as a champion of the rights of Armed Forces personnel and for your involvement with the Armed Forces Day event. Do you have a military background?
I served in the navy as an intelligence officer and subsequently moved on to take positions with various global companies in the security equipment business. I spent some time in Rochester, New York as CEO of a company designing computer based training systems for operators of security scanning equipment. In those days security guards were starting to use high tech equipment like CT scanners, which were being applied to aviation and maritime security use for the first time. They were using the same technology as a hospital consultant but while the doctor can take all the time they need and will usually only be concentrating on saving one life at a time the guard at the airport is protecting the lives of perhaps three hundred lives on a plane by scanning people and baggage and will only have on average twenty seconds to do their job, so it was very important that they were trained to a very high standard. There are still companies based in NE Lincolnshire who develop these kinds of technologies and they are recognised as the world’s leading experts at what they do.
You then became involved in the development of the scanner equipment itself?
I left the USA to become President of Smiths Detections’ UK civil business and Director of their UK military business. Our main business was body scanners and screening equipment for hold baggage and for cabin baggage. My head office was in Wiesbaden and I enjoyed every minute I was there. I then set up a global events team because there was a synergy between the production of the equipment and actually doing the screening. People would say to us “Yes, we know we need the equipment but how do we use it, where do we put it, how do we determine the threat level?” and we would go and help them.
Having worked all over the world what made you decide to settle down in Grimsby?
My wife is a Grimbarian and I was very glad to come back here. NE Lincs, Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Immingham are marvellous places. The people are outstanding and although I’ve visited lots of spectacular places if I had to choose one place to live I’d choose here. We have a different kind of warmth. It comes from the way people treat each other. It frustrates me that we focus so much on negative stories when those are such a small part of the whole. We should be promoting the positive elements. Our area is on a high right now. We have great skills and educational facilities and in my year as Mayor I was overwhelmed by the amount of talent we have. You’d have to go a long way to find that combination anywhere else and I think that is why businesses are increasingly being attracted here.
You were very much involved with the implementation of the Armed Forces Community Covenant. What was your role there?
The Community Covenant is a very important thing, very dear to our hearts. It’s a promise that the country will not abandon the veterans who have done a very important job and done it well. They have put their lives on the line and that service deserves recognition. What we did in this area was to develop a set of pathways with respect to access to housing, welfare and health care, much of it based on the principle of no disadvantage. This is the premise that says that a member of the Armed Forces should never be disadvantaged by that status.
These systems can help deal with major issues like health, housing and pensions but they will also look after things like issues with medals. To a civilian medals may just look decorative but they are very important to the people who have won them, particularly in the years after they have left the service and the various agencies can offer help to those who have lost or have not received their medals. This is important because irrespective of your political perspective you have to acknowledge that our forces do an amazing job and because of them we punch well above our weight as a country, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and respect all round the world.
You were councillor for Scartho for four years. What made you decide to go into politics?
I wanted to understand how the political dynamic within the borough worked because that was essential to our work with the Covenant and I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone agreed with the principles of the covenant and it was adopted unanimously and has been upheld by both parties ever since and I think I can say that we have exceeded expectations in delivery.
How did you become involved with Armed Forces Day?
When I came back I met an old friend from who was President of the Royal Air Force Association and I attended Armed Forces Day. Afterwards he asked me if I’d like to get involved with organising it because of my experience with event organisation. So we decided to work with the local authority to see if we could build of the profile of the event in this area.
Where did the idea of bringing the national event to Cleethorpes originate?
Well we had the organisational skills to pull it together but we could never have done it without the support of serving soldiers and veterans and their families. This is one of the few towns where poppies are put on street signs named after fallen service personnel. It’s about not forgetting.
The National Armed Forces Day is the ultimate show in town. The eyes of the world will be on us. Members of the royal family attend because they always support the Armed Forces and this is a day when political divisions evaporate. Because it isn’t about putting soldiers in uniform on the streets to be admired, it’s about gathering together so we can say thank you to them for the service they have done for the nation.
Will the National event be much bigger than previous local Armed Forces Days?
Well Hull has the City of Culture, and that’s supposed to be the best think since sliced bread but I can tell you that the National Armed Forces Day 2016 will be the biggest and best thing that this borough has ever seen. The biggest thing that has happened in town since Queen Victoria opened the Royal Dock in 1854.
In practical terms how do you plan to expand the event? It always seems full on the day already.
This was our third bid for the national event. The first time we bid it was tongue in cheek to a degree.
We were full of enthusiasm but we lacked some experience, but we learned all the time. In particular we learned how to fund the event, because it isn’t government funded and it has to be self sustaining. We’ve had excellent support from local companies, like Dong Energy and the Ramsden’s Group, to name but two. Our job is to balance the books and make sure that everything is done properly to make sure that this is an event that will go down in history as the biggest and best day the borough has ever seen, which I can promise you it will be.
We don’t doubt that at all. Many thanks for giving us your time.
This interview can also be found in The Peoples Issue 40