FRESH doubts have been cast over the Ministry of Defence’s efforts to replace regulars in the armed forces with a new beefed-up reserve force due to the slow pace of recruitment.
Statistics released last week by defence minister Julian Brazier revealed that between January 2014 and March this year 8,370 men and women joined the reserve forces.
‘Real defence resources have seen cuts, cuts and more cuts’
Of these, 930 joined in Scotland, while in the UK as a whole 1,180 signed up to the Royal Navy Reserve, 6,270 to the Territorial Army and 920 to the RAF Reserves.
However, further MoD figures show that recruitment is struggling to keep up with people leaving the reserves, with the total number of reservists only standing at 750 more than in April 2012 when the major expansion was first launched, rising from 30,070 to 30,820.
The UK government has set a target of reaching 35,000 by 2020, which earlier this year the National Audit Office warned would not be reached until 2025.
In addition, a report by the Military Aviation Authority has raised concerns over safety, because regulars with specialist skills are being lost and not replaced by suitably qualified reservists.
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara described the latest figures as “shocking” and said they “underline that the Strategic Defence and Security Review [in 2010] was just a cost-cutting exercise”.
He went on: “Once again UK government cuts to conventional forces have been exposed. The fact is that real defence resources, particularly in Scotland, have seen cuts, cuts and more cuts from successive Westminster governments – who are all the while still determined to spend £100 billion on renewing Trident nuclear weapons to be dumped on the Clyde, which add nothing to our defence.”
However, a spokeswoman for the MoD insisted the department is back on track with recruitment to the reserves after the numbers fell to 28,150 in April last year. She said in the 12 months to April 2015 there has been a net increase of 2,670, with 6,810 arrivals and 4,140 departures, after a massive advertising campaign.
She also said that the reserves’ “trained strength”, which means recruits who are ready for active duty, has increased by 710 since 1 January 2015, an increase of 3 per cent, and by 1,270 since 1 April 2014, an increase of 5.4 per cent.
She said: “We knew that changes to our reserve forces would not happen overnight, but two years into our five-year plan we are turning a corner and making real progress.
“All three services have exceeded their annual trained strength targets, and we are proud that we have seen a 115 per cent increase to new entrant enlistments in the Army Reserve over the past year.
“Growing our reserve forces remains challenging but achievable, thanks to the bold action we have taken to improve recruitment and retention.”
The row comes as the MoD prepares to hold another strategic defence and security review which will look at all aspects of the military apart from renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent, which the Tories have committed to.
The review will put pressure on the government to reverse its decision on replacing regulars with reserves as the UK faces threats in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Other pressures on the government in the review include a recommendation from the defence committee in the last parliament which set out a top priority of providing maritime surveillance aircraft after the replacement Nimrods, which were to be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, were scrapped in the 2010 review.
Another controversial area was outlined by defence secretary Michael Fallon, who made it clear that the next review will look at a sell-off of MoD properties. This has reopened concerns over the future of bases including Leuchars in Fife, Kinloss in Moray, Redford in Edinburgh and Fort George near Inverness.
History of TA
The Army Reserve (previously known as the Territorial Army and the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve) is the active-duty volunteer reserve force and integrated element of the British Army.
The Army Reserve was created as the Territorial Force in 1908 by the Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane.
Its original purpose was home defence, although the establishment of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve in 1967 involved a restructuring and revised doctrine leading to the provision of routine support for the regular army overseas.
Reservists in the past also served as constables or bailiffs, even holding positions of civic duty as overseer of their parish.