UK

Army cuts: Reservists slow to enlist, leaked memo suggests

Army reservists pass out from training course
Image caption The government want 30,000 men and women in the Army Reserve by 2018

The Army Reserve looks set to fall well short of its target for recruiting new members this year, confidential memos seen by the Sunday Times suggest.

In the three months from April to June, only 367 soldiers enlisted - about a quarter of the target.

The government wants to expand the Reserve Force, formerly the Territorial Army, to 30,000 by 2018 to help fill gaps left by cuts to the regular Army.

The Ministry of Defence said personnel numbers were continuing to rise.

According to the Sunday Times, one "restricted" memo stated: "The Army is failing to attract sufficient recruits.

"Although this is a pan-Army issue, the impact is most serious in the Army Reserve... As a stark indicator, 367 recruits were enlisted in Q1 of 2013-2014 against a target of 1,432.

"The prediction against an overall in-year target of 6,383 is that only 50% of this number will be realised."

As part of the coalition government's defence review, the number of regular soldiers is set to fall from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, while reservist numbers are expected to rise from the current 19,000 to 30,000.

The Ministry of Defence has carried out several rounds of redundancies so far, with more to follow.

Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, does not believe increasing the size of the Army Reserve was realistic and accused the government of "hollowing out" the armed forces.

He told BBC News that the government had been "cynical" in deciding soldiers sacked from the regular army would "suddenly and miraculously" decide to join the reserves.

"Well, clearly that hasn't happened and is unlikely to happen," he said.

'Rebalancing the budget'

He also criticised the handling of recruitment since it was outsourced to civilian firm, Capita.

The new focus on Facebook and Twitter campaigns were no substitute for face-to-face meetings with soldiers, he said.

"It's not just like walking into a normal civilian job - it's actually quite daunting.

"It's a different world and I think to have personal contact with people who have or are serving is really the most effective way of recruiting," he said.

He also said the idea of converting the Army Reserve into an American-style national guard could not "happen overnight".

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said it was "early days" in the recruitment process and it had "always been a challenge".

He added that a new offer with better incentives and training for potential recruits and employers had been set this summer, and now the way was clear for a "sustained recruitment campaign over the next 12 to 18 months" to start to build the numbers.

It said £1.8bn would be invested in training, support and equipment for the reserves over the next 10 years.

Last year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he hoped some of those leaving the slimmed-down regular forces would join the reserve.

He said cutting the size of the regular Army was "unfortunately one of the steps we had to take to rebalance the defence budget".

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