Scottish army recruitment offices to be closed
THE government is to close 14 of Scotland’s 19 army recruitment offices in a move which has raised questions over its commitment to maintaining the size of the armed forces north of the Border.
A written answer to Welsh Labour MP Owen Smith has revealed that the Ministry of Defence plans to shut 83 of its 156 army recruitment offices in a bid to cut costs with Scotland losing the highest proportion with over 70 per cent of its offices closing down.
The MoD cuts mean that only five recruitment offices will remain in Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.
Meanwhile high street recruitment offices in Perth, Dunfermline, Dumfries, Kirkcaldy, Bathgate, Galashiels, Dumbarton, Hamilton, Irvine, Paisley, Stirling, Wick, Elgin and Greenock will close their doors by 26 March this year.
The only English region to see the same amount of closures will be the North West but it will see eight of its offices remain open.
The move follows concerns that the basing review which is expected in the next few weeks will confirm that plans to double the size of the army in Scotland, announced by former defence secretary Liam Fox in 2011, will be ditched.
Last month General Sir Peter Wall told the defence Select Committee that while the size of the army will grow in Scotland it is due to go up by 500 at most to around 3,800 well short of the 6,500 to 7,000 promised by Dr Fox.
Further cuts rumoured
Plans to build a new super barracks in Kirknewton near Edinburgh have also been abandoned according to sources but the MoD has denied rumours that RAF Leuchars, which is supposed to become the home of an army unit, could also close.
Stuart Crawford, former colonel in charge of the Black Watch, said that closing recruitment offices would be a blow to raising army numbers in Scotland.
He said: “If I was a conspiracy theorist I would say this was part of a plan to demilitarise Scotland ahead of the referendum, except I think the people at the MoD think Scotland will vote no to independence.”
He went on: “This is much more about saving money. But unfortunately removing high street recruitment offices will mean that it will become even harder to find Scottish recruits. The army was already struggling.
“The review of the battalions showed that there was a problem which is why the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was effectively disbanded and made into a small ceremonial company. The five battalions were at the time of that review around 500 men short.
“Online forms of recruitment may be another way to do it, but if you get rid of your high street presence you may as well give up.”
The SNP claimed that the disproportionate hit for Scotland was the latest example of the MoD giving Scotland a bad deal.
SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson said : “This news confirms that disproportionate defence cuts are continuing in Scotland. Effectively three-quarters of all army offices in Scotland will be closed by the end of next month.
“Only recently the Ministry of Defence confirmed that military personnel cuts in Scotland have run at three times the rate of the rest of the UK, while a massive defence spend has opened up in Scotland totalling at least £7.4 billion in the last ten years.”
He went on: “These disproportionate cuts come within weeks of the long delayed armed forces basing review, when we expect the UK Government to break its promise to return up to 7,000 troops to Scotland from Germany, station them in new barracks at Kirknewton and open a new training area in the Borders.
“It is clear for all to see that Westminster is making damaging decisions about defence in Scotland. Only after a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum will we have a government that delivers appropriate conventional defence decisions for Scotland”
But defence minister Mark Francis said that the programme of closures was part of a change of strategy in recruiting for the armed forces.
He said: “As part of the Recruit Partnering Project (RPP) the Army, working with its partner Capita Business Services, is changing the way in which it recruits its personnel in the future.
“This will see the introduction of a number of more modern and convenient ways for potential recruits to make contact with the Army, including improved digital access, thereby offering a more flexible service. As a result the number of recruiting offices is being reduced.”
He added: “Over the years the army has continually adjusted the number and location of recruiting offices across the UK to meet the business requirement and the changing demands of the recruiting environment.
“But we continue to recognise that high street offices play a key role in recruiting for the army, particularly in providing face-to-face contact with army personnel, helping to develop critical relationships between the army and prospective candidates and embedding the army in the fabric of society.
“Some 73 recruiting offices will be retained under the RPP and will be known as Army Career Centres. These centres will be situated to ensure that there is a centre within a reasonable travelling distance of over 90 per cent of the target population. They will be manned by a combination of military and civilian staff.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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