Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Welcome. I am not certain, Brigadier Holmes, is it the first time you have appeared in uniform before us?
  (Brigadier Holmes) It is, indeed, Chairman. I have made many moths homeless.

  2. And this might be your last appearance before us, I understand?
  (Brigadier Holmes) I think it will be my last appearance in this capacity in uniform. I retire on Friday.

  3. Thank you very much for your contributions over the years. I think it is also the first time that anyone has appeared before us in a kilt, Brigadier Durcan. So a number of firsts have been made today. Welcome Brigadiers and Ms Seammen, again, and Air Vice-Marshal. You will know that we have taken a long interest in the concept of Reserves and Reinforcements—the Territorial Army—and it is no secret that we have not been all square with the Ministry of Defence over the years on this issue. We did promise, or threaten, after the SDR, that we would pursue the subject on a fairly regular basis. This is the latest opportunity we have taken to canter around the field. Please feel no obligation for everybody to answer. Work out amongst yourselves who you think would be the most appropriate. We are looking at some statistics given by Baroness Symons. She told the House of Lords on 27 October that the latest figures of the strength of the TA was 40,667, a figure apparently confirmed by the Minister for the Armed Forces, although an oral answer on 3rd July gave the figure as 43,334. Could you give us some indication as to which figure you are working on in terms of the strength of the Territorial Army, because there is almost 3,500 difference?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Can I suggest how we might break this session down? I will deal with issues which are central and affect me as a Tri-Service Reserves Policy Director, and then there will be Single Service issues which my learned friends will deal with. This is actually a squarely Territorial Army issue, so lies in Land Command's court.
  (Brigadier Durcan) The devil lies in the IT system I suspect. The figure we are working on is 40,667, which is just below the overall threshold of 41,200, as you know. We have been pressing the chain of command to bring themselves down to their established and funded strengths, and, therefore, it comes as no surprise to see us, at this stage, approaching the kind of figure, bearing in mind that there are some arms in the Services, some hat-badges, that remain under strength. We would expect the figure to be slightly below the correctly funded figure.

Mr Viggers

  4. Is the structure and size of the TA now what you intended at the time of the SDR?
  (Brigadier Durcan) Yes.

  5. Are you confident that the TA is the right size and shape for its tasks for the foreseeable future and its present structure will be durable?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The structure is the right size. Regrettably there are deficits in some key hat-badges which we are striving to address, manpower deficits.

  6. Can I ask specifically about officer recruitment? Are you recruiting as many officers as you used to?
  (Brigadier Durcan) No. That is one of the areas that causes us some concern.

  7. I understand that there are four courses at Sandhurst per year with a capacity of 90 to 100 candidates and the last three courses, I am told, you had 35, 19, and 51 respectively rather than 90 to 100. Can you comment on that?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I cannot because I do not know the background to those figures. Young officer recruiting is a source of concern. It is an area that we are putting effort in to redress.

  8. The figures I have been given indicate that it was something under half of the number that you wish to have?
  (Brigadier Durcan) We are working, in my branch, on the basis that we are recruiting 60 per cent of our requirement. I would comment that while this is a concern, it is not necessarily a cause for alarm at this stage, because following any period of draw-down and amalgamation there tends to be a hiatus in recruiting and a temporary drop in confidence, and that, I think, we are correcting. Certainly, we are not complacent about it and it is an area that we are addressing.
  (Brigadier Holmes) If I can make a broader point about this. Andrew's point about the impact of restructuring on confidence is a very good one. If we look more broadly at things that have happened in the past, when the Royal Navy Reserve, for example, lost its mine sweepers as part of a perfectly proper restructuring, it did affect people's confidence. This is happening at a time when the pressures on all sorts of people who have traditionally officered our Reserves are growing. So the number of volunteers out there who are going to be Reserve officers, magistrates or what they will, that pool is under pressure from a variety of other ladles that are being dipped into it at the very moment when, because of restructuring, there is a lack of confidence. That is something we are getting a grip on across the board, but inevitably, in the short-term, it will cause difficulties, and I think that is why the figures are lower than we wish them to be.

  9. Switching to the Royal Naval Reserve, do you have a number for the trained strength requirement for the Royal Naval Reserve?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Yes, I do. The establishment of it is 3,850, and its strength as of 1st November is 3,078.

  10. That is total strength?
  (Brigadier Holmes) That is total strength.

  11. It takes three to five years to train a man through to being on the trained strength list. Do you have a number for the number of trained strength in the Royal Naval Reserve?
  (Brigadier Holmes) I do not have a number immediately accessible. It maybe that one of my learned friends behind me can produce it quite quickly. If that is not the case, we can let your clerk know very quickly indeed.

  Chairman: Just drop us a note.

Mr Viggers

  12. I appreciate that the target strength is 3,850 and you have something over 3,000 in uniform, but the numbers that I have been given are that the training strength requirement is 3,295 and that the actual bearing is some 2,000, which is disturbing if it takes three to five years to train someone through. Will you please let us have a letter on that?
  (Brigadier Holmes) I will.


  13. You mentioned a number of deficits. Can you give us some indication of where you feel there are deficits and how they are being addressed?
  (Brigadier Durcan) There are a number of areas that traditionally find it difficult to recruit, but the ones that we are most concerned about, unsurprisingly, are medical and signals. The medical deficit is quite substantial, but it must be borne in mind that the medical establishments and the liability have increased as a result of SDR and recruiting to that establishment is inevitably going to take some time. To give you an indication, Royal Signals are manned globally to 89 per cent of establishment, but some key trades within that corps are very difficult to man. This is true of the regular Army as well. They are very highly sought after and poachable people. The medical establishment overall is at 73 per cent of its posted strength, but this also disguises quite worrying deficiencies in medical specialists. So these are areas that we are focusing on.

  14. If we were three hours to mobilisation or three hours from invading Kosovo, maybe we would have had substantial difficulties in meeting the medical treatment of any personnel who were injured. We will come back to that a little later. Are you satisfied that you have the resources and wherewithal in the Ministry of Defence to seriously deal with these deficits, or is it, as you say, just an inevitable consequence of the transition from one system to another?
  (Brigadier Durcan) To give you an indication of one of the steps we have taken, we have committed, last year, £500,000 to a medical- specific recruiting campaign, we are doing the same this year, and we anticipate having to do the same probably for the next three years. This is bearing fruit. I have figures, which you may wish to read later, that show an encouraging upturn in nurses, doctors and specialists, but it is a long slog.

Mr Viggers

  15. The encouraging figures, no doubt, will be in recruitment rather than in retention?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The figures that I can show you show a net increase of 17 per cent in nurses over the last 12 months. There are a number of other steps being taken at the MoD level which are helping us take a far more coherent approach to this problem.
  (Ms Seammen) The overall increase in the Army Medical Services since the last recruiting campaign was 203, which is an overall 5 per cent increase in strength, and there are a futher 549 potential recruits in the pipeline as a result of that recruiting campaign. As Andrew says, that will not be the only one. That will be a continuing campaign.

  Chairman: We will probably, at some stage in the future, be returning to Defence Medical Services because we have commented on what has been happening over the last seven or eight years on this.

Mr Hancock

  16. I would be interested to know, Brigadier, what lessons the MoD has learnt through the restructuring process. What did you encounter in the way of resistance to the plan? Obviously you had Parliamentary resistance which went on for a prolonged period, and a lot of local resistance from attachments to particular units, but what were the main concerns you had and what were the lessons?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I can say, from the benefit of personal experience, that the resistance that was encountered in the TA was nothing compared to the resistance that regular Army infantry regiments met on the prospect of their amalgamations in 1991. In my regiment's case that battle still goes on, even though it has finished. As far as the TA is concerned, I think it is a remarkable reflection of the resilience of the TA that such concerns as there were, and such resistance as there might have been, was very localised, isolated, and reassurance was accepted very quickly. Inevitably, the resistance is not so much for the global thing, but to the hat badge issue. Certainly, I think there is considerable angst in the yeomanry and infantry, unsurprisingly, about the potential losses of famous cap badges, and that is an area that requires to be handled more sensitively.

  17. What about the problem of units closing or being moved and the loss of personnel because of those moves?
  (Brigadier Durcan) Well, in fact, there was the experience that I had and subsequently the examination of a complex set of figures suggested that the TA, unlike their regular counterparts, are very adept at re-badging and reorganising into different locations. Inevitably, where there were closures we encouraged and facilitated as best as possible people to relocate to nearby TA centres, but inevitably there was a degree of loss. It cannot be helped.

  18. Have you experienced any unexpected outcomes arising out of the restructuring? Have there been any benefits that you did not foresee?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I think the unexpected outcome is that it happened so relatively painlessly and on time. I think that is very much a reflection of the character of the people in the TA. I expected, personally, there to be rather more difficulties, but there was not.

  19. You spelt that out to your bosses in the MoD. Is that not a reason to do it even further on another occasion shortly?
  (Ms Seammen) There is no intention to do anything of the sort.

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