Leaders: Troops at risk | Mackintosh heritage

Funds were quickly raised to begin the process of rebuilding the Mackintosh building that will, in time, reopen. Picture: John Devlin
Funds were quickly raised to begin the process of rebuilding the Mackintosh building that will, in time, reopen. Picture: John Devlin
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GOVERNMENT strategy of using reservists to plug the gap in armed forces is way under target

THE way in which politicians of all parties compete to prove their resolute support for Britain’s armed forces can sometimes be an unedifying spectacle. Talk of the commitment and bravery shown by those who serve jars with the reality of funding cuts.

In recent years, troop numbers have fallen dramatically, and we often hear complaints from officers that the equipment provided for those who remain in service is not up to par.

There are, we accept, valid arguments in favour of reducing the number of full-timers across the forces. The threats we face as a nation today are not the same as those we faced in the past. The nature of warfare has changed and so must the way in which we respond to conflict.

But that transformation in the way the military might be expected to act does not remove the need for highly trained professionals.

We may be able to anticipate some necessary action but the very nature of war means that is not always so. We cannot with certainty predict when or if personnel will have to be deployed in large numbers, whether into combat or into peace-keeping or humanitarian roles.

The government’s response to the potential need for troops was to devise a programme of recruitment of an increased number of reservists. The idea was simple enough: the drop in the number of recruits could be compensated for – in times of crisis – by trained part-timers.

But while the idea may have had some appeal, the reality is rather different.

As we report today, recruiting officers are struggling to find enough reservists to make up the numbers lost to cutbacks. A written parliamentary answer has revealed that from January 2014 until March 2015 just 8,370 people were recruited to the reserves in all three services. Following the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 the number of reservists was supposed to reach 35,000 by 2020. Yet we only have 750 reservists more than three years ago, when the expansion was launched, at 30,820.

The number of recruits is only just keeping pace with people departing the reserves. The challenge of making up for the number of full-timers lost has barely begun to be addressed.

The National Audit Office has already warned that the government will not meet its target until 2025, five years later than planned. These latest statistics may cast doubt on even that depressing prediction.

This was always a bold strategy and it risked failure. It would appear that is now happening.

If our armed forces cannot attract enough reservists than this strategy has been proved the wrong one.

The implications of the failure of this plan are not difficult for us to see. Without the required number of reservists then Britain may not be in a position to respond as fully as it might like to conflict or humanitarian missions in the future. And, furthermore, the pressure on existing skilled full-timers can only become greater.

Under-resourced armed forces can only mean a drop in morale, and the exacerbation of the difficulty in recruiting. Despite the evidence that the plan to replace full-timers with reservists is struggling, the government does not appear to have a Plan B.

It will not do for ministers to insist that they are on track, to talk of there being time. Instead, there must be a new debate about how our armed forces are properly resourced, not just with equipment but with personnel.

In times of conflict and during often-dangerous peace-keeping missions, politicians speak of their loyalty to those who serve. They speak for us all when they praise the bravery of men and women who are prepared to make the greatest sacrifice for the sake of others.

But those words will ring increasingly hollow if the reservist strategy continues to falter.

Don’t let Mackintosh heritage crumble

WHEN fire ripped through the Glasgow School of Art last May, the nation reacted with heartfelt dismay.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s wonderful building is, quite rightly, considered a treasure. The pain of the damage caused to it was felt not only by those who used it every day but far and wide, by Scots who see it is a magnificent jewel in our national crown.

But while the damage to the building was devastating, the response was uplifting. Funds were quickly raised to begin the process of rebuilding the Mackintosh building that will, in time, reopen; the heart of the Art School will beat again.

This will be thanks to the dedication of the Art School board, the support of the Scottish Government, and the generosity of Scots. We wonder, though, if the response to the need for funding would have been so prompt had it not been for the truly shocking way in which the damage was wrought. Live pictures of flames licking the sky provoked an understandable reaction. Who could fail to be moved by the sight of such an iconic place on the brink of destruction?

However, the Glasgow School of Art is not the only Mackintosh masterpiece in urgent need of repair. Hill House in Helensburgh has been badly affected by water ingress and the National Trust for Scotland says at least £2.5 million will be required to put things right.

The NTS is now launching a four-year rescue plan, and hopes to attract donations from around the world. This is certainly to be welcomed, but we are bound to ask why things were allowed to come to this pass, after over 40 years of NTS stewardship.

Hill House is a magnificent example of Mackintosh’s architecture, with spectacular interiors that draw visitors from home and abroad.

Why, then, is the NTS only now addressing a “significant threat” to the building, which did not arrive overnight?

Of course, a building of more than 100 years old can be expected to need attention and repair, but shouldn’t this be applied on an ongoing basis?

We hope to see Hill House soon rejuvenated. And we also hope that NTS can get its house in order so that, in future, the building is properly protected.