Budget cuts have led to ‘hostile recruiting environment’, claims leaked document
By Christopher Hope, and James Kirkup
10:00PM BST 16 Oct 2013
Controversial plans to restructure the Army are “failing” because cuts to the defence budget are putting off potential new soldiers and making Britain a “hostile recruiting environment”, according to a leaked document.
The memo, which is understood to have had wide distribution within the Ministry of Defence, says that “disappointing” recruitment to the new Army Reserve means that targets for a larger part-time force will not be reached.
The recruitment crisis means the Army faces “increased risk to its structure and operational capability”, according to the document, which has been seen by The Telegraph.
The Coalition is cutting the full-time Army from 102,000 to about 82,000 soldiers. Those cuts are supposed to be offset by a major expansion in the part-term reserve force, which was expected to grow from about 19,000 to 30,000.
The 10-page report, dated Aug 6 and marked “restricted”, claims the Army is currently recruiting barely half the number of new reservists needed to hit that target.
“The Army is currently failing to attract and recruit sufficient Army Reserve personnel. Reserve info numbers in Quarter 1 are disappointing. If this continues the Army will miss its challenging inflow targets both this year and next,” it says.
Only 376 recruits joined the Reserve between April and June, missing a target of 1432. That puts the Army on course to recruit only 50 per cent of the overall 2013-14 target of 6383, it says. The memo warns: “There is also a lack of faith in the reserve proposition in some quarters.”
One of the problems identified is a concern among potential recruits that their mental health could be compromised if they join.
The document has come to light as MPs debate on Thursday cuts in the regular Army that have seen historic regiments facing disbandment.
Written by senior officers, the memo is a Fragmentary Order or “Frago” relating to Operation Fortify, the Army’s attempt to boost recruiting.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, has repeatedly tried to highlight the importance of the Army Reserve in the Coalition’s defence plan, urging employers to be more supportive of reservists. The document concludes that government efforts have had “limited impact on raising the national profile of reservists.
It lists obstacles to recruiting including “redundancy downsizing, drawdown in Afghanistan and a reported (if unproven) increase in Mental Health issues”.
It concludes: “All these make for a hostile recruiting environment.”
The warning appears to justify concerns that were acknowledged by Dr Liam Fox, Mr Hammond’s predecessor as defence secretary, two years ago.
Dr Fox told MPs in the House of Commons that he would not sanction cuts to regular army numbers until reserve numbers had increased.
Dr Fox suggested that, given the leaked report, the Ministry of Defence should slow down the pace of the reforms “to avoid a shortfall” of troop numbers that could reduce the effectiveness of the Army.
He said: “If the ability to recruit reserves does not match the target then clearly the MoD may have to look at the pace of reducing regular numbers to avoid a shortfall.
“A great deal of money was set aside in order to attract the reserve needs and it would be interesting to know how this money has been spent by the Army.”
The Ministry of Defence has already said that it is axing five Army battalions as part of the shake-up including the 2nd Bn, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Veterans wearing caps bearing regimental colours interrupted Mr Hammond’s speech during the Conservative party conference to protest about the cuts.
The motion for the debate urges “the Government to delay the disbandment of regular units until it is established that the Army Reserve plan is viable and cost-effective”.
John Baron, the Conservative MP and a former Fusilier, who is organising the debate, said: “The time has come to reassess, so taxpayers’ money is not wasted.”
He added: “There is no doubt that reservists are cheaper than regular troops, but rising costs bring into question the extent of anticipated cost savings, and raise the prospect of false economies.
“This is before we start talking about capability gaps. Yet, the Government continues to ignore requests in Parliament for a fully costed plan. We should stop the axing of the regular battalions, until we know the reservist plan will work, and at what cost. We also need to question whether the proposals will create unacceptable manpower and capability gaps.”
Separately, Gen Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, rejected the campaigners’ demands regarding regular units, insisting that the cuts were necessary in evidence to MPs.
He told MPs on the defence committee: “Emotionally, I am 100 per cent understanding. Intellectually, I am 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The size of the British Army was unsustainable. This is driven by a resourcing situation.” Sir Nick admitted that the Army’s new recruitment operation, run by Capita, a private company, had “got off to a bit of a wobbly start”.
However, he said he had been assured by Gen Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, that it was due to “an IT blip”.
An MoD spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the Regular Army is becoming smaller but we are committed to delivering a fully integrated strength of 120,000 by 2018.
“Over a year ago we announced changes to the Army’s structure so it is more reflective of the complex global situation. We have always acknowledged that growing the Reserves would be a challenge which is why we are investing £1.8bn in training, support and equipment for the Reserves over the next ten years, as well as running a sustained recruitment campaign aimed at young people to showcase the diverse range of career paths that are available in both the Regular Army and the Army Reserve.”