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Parliamentary Report w/c 09th June

Published: 17/06/2014

The Defence Police Federation hosted its annual conference this week, which was attended by the Minister for Defence Personnel, Veterans and Welfare, Anna Soubry MP, and Baroness Angela Harris. National Chairman Eamon Keating used a keynote speech to highlight the importance of the Ministry of Defence Police ahead of the Defence Review in 2015. The speech was the subject of an article in The Guardian.

The BBC reports that police have arrested two anti-nuclear protestors at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Burghfield, Berkshire. They were part of a group of 29 from Action AWE who had blocked all access to the site by chaining themselves to each other and to cars. The protestors said they were opposed to an expected renewal of the UK Trident nuclear weapons programme. Action AWE said it was “calling on all Parliamentary candidates to commit themselves to voting against Trident renewal, scrapping nuclear arms and supporting an international treaty to ban all nuclear weapons”. The group elaborated: "These bases can be used for disarmament purposes. We don't want these people to lose their jobs."

The BBC says that the MDP arrived with angle grinders to saw through the chain and clear the roads to allow staff to pass. AWE said that it recognised the democratic right of people to lawfully protest and said it would continue to work with both the MDP and local police forces to ensure the safety and security of the Burghfield site.

Contents

·      NAO report issues strong criticism of Army Reserve recruitment progress

·      Answers to written questions

·      Plan for expanding Army Reserve placed on government watch list

·      Former First Sea Lord says cuts to Royal Navy are a “national disgrace”

·      General Sir Peter Wall says most of retrenchment in Army numbers “is behind us”

NAO report issues strong criticism of Army Reserve recruitment progress

This week, the National Audit Office published a report which scrutinised the development of the Army 2020 plan and the progress the Army has made in implementing it. The report has been very critical of the Army recruitment process, criticising both the forecasts drawn up by senior command and the inherent flaws in the recruitment systems.

The NAO said the MOD did not event examine whether an increase in the trained strength of the Army Reserve to 30,000 was feasible, or whether it would be feasible within the necessary timescale. Furthermore the NAO said the Department’s recruitment targets for reserves are not underpinned by robust planning data. As a result the NAO highlights that recruitment of reserve soldiers has not increased since April 2012.

In addition to this, the NAO highlights that the recruitment of reserve and regular soldiers is behind the requirement set by the Army for 2013-14. The NAO says that for 2013-14, 6,366 regular Army recruits entered training against a target of 9,715, an in-year shortfall of 34%. For the Army Reserve, the Army set Capita a requirement to recruit 6,000 reserves to staff the new Army structure by the end of March 2014, but Capita only managed to recruit 1,975 new and re-joining reserves, a shortfall of 67%.

A large proportion of the criticism for the failures in recruitment and the Army’s partnership with Capita has been on the failure to establish the ICT infrastructure critical to the success of recruitment drive. The NAO says that the failure of the Army to enable the establishment of new recruitment software has impacted on recruitment activities and increased costs, with the software, due to be launched in March 2013, now not expecting to be in place until summer 2015, causing delays in recruitment and incurring costs of £1 million per month.

In addition to its criticism of the recruitment process, the NAO criticised the Army’s forecasts of cost reductions and warned that the financial and operational benefits of Army 2020 are heavily dependent on other changes within the Army. It said that a reduction in manpower would not alone deliver financial savings required and highlighted that greater reliance on reserves may cause increased costs for HM Treasury for mobilisation. It also highlighted that the implementation of the new Army basing programme, together with the return of UK troops from Germany mean that the Army 2020 programme cannot fully control the mitigation of risk. 

The NAO concluded that the MOD should reassess its targets for recruiting reserves. It said that the Army should seek to better understand the factors that are affecting recruitment performance and how they can be addressed. It recommended that the Army assess both the impact of incentives on recruitment rates and the effectiveness of Capita’s regime in hosting the new recruitment application.

The NAO also concluded that the MOD and the Army need to assess the ongoing value of Army 2020 and look at the savings in other change programmes, instead of narrowly focusing on the Army 2020 plan. It recommends that the Army develop contingency plans if the recruitment of regulars and reserves does not improve and says that the Army may need to take mitigating actions to ensure it can deliver its objectives according to the Army 2020 plan.

It is also worth noting that the NAO was forced to delay the release of the report by 24 hours because the MOD was unhappy with its findings. The Times says this is “a sign of the sensitivity surrounding the issue”. However, MOD sources have already hit back at the reports by saying that it fails to reflect the pick-up in recruitment at the beginning of 2014, and could be considered “six months out of date”.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that a plan to increase army reservists has been placed on a government watch list of troubled projects. In a move which is likely to be influenced by the NAO’s findings, John Manzoni, Head of the Major Projects Authority, has written to Chief Secretary of the Treasury Danny Alexander, and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, identifying the Future Reserves 2020 programme as a project that needs to be kept under close scrutiny. The FT says that defence officials believe the main reason the project is on the list is because of the reliance on outsourcing company Capita.

Answers to written questions

Independent MP for Falkirk Eric Joyce asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many members of the UK Armed Forces would lose their jobs as a result of Scottish independence.

Defence Minister Mark Francois said the UK Government is not planning for Scottish independence and neither is the MOD. He said existing members of the UK Armed Forces would still be part of the UK Armed Forces and, as far as the UK Government is concerned, would be able to continue to serve in them, subject to the usual requirements of service.

Former First Sea Lord says cuts to Royal Navy are a “national disgrace”

The Daily Telegraph reports that former First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead, has said that cuts to the Royal Navy’s fleet have gone too far and are a “national disgrace”. Lord West, a Labour peer, said the UK had been left with too few ships to escort naval convoys and warned that vital supply ships, such as liquefied natural gas carriers which sail from Qatar, were unprotected. Lord West also warned that the possibility of Scottish independence poses the greatest security and defence threat to the UK. He said that Scottish independence would diminish the UK’s ability to defend itself but said he did not blame anyone for the situation potentially emerging.

The MOD has dismissed Lord West’s warnings and said that the Royal Navy was still a powerful force, highlighting the recent role the Navy has played in the international search for MH370 and the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.

General Sir Peter Wall says most of retrenchment in Army numbers “is behind us”

In the article for the Daily Telegraph, the Head of the British Army, General Sir Peter Wall, has said that most of the retrenchment in Army numbers is “behind us” and that the Army should not face further cutbacks and restructuring after the next election. The Daily Telegraph highlights that his comments come as ministers prepare to begin a new Defence Review and Spending Round next year that defence chiefs fear will herald deeper cuts.

Sir Peter admitted the Army has faced difficulty recruiting during sweeping Coalition defence cuts. His intervention follows lobbying by the United States for NATO governments to prop up their defence spending in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. He said that it was integral that the UK remained committed to the two per cent national GDP target of spending for NATO members.

In discussion of the Army’s future, Sir Peter said that recruiting new soldiers has been especially challenging while the Army has been forced to cut jobs. He said that the recruiting message was being diluted by “the sense of change” and that the Army faced increased competition for the brightest and best in a recovering employment market. In attempt to draw a line against further cuts he says most of the change is “now behind us” and was confident the Army’s new structure “will endure”.

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