Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 91 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2000

COLONEL MIKE TAYLOR, CBE, COLONEL PATRICK ROBINSON AND COMMODORE IAN PEMBERTON

Chairman

  91. Welcome. Would you introduce yourselves?
  (Colonel Taylor) I am Colonel Mike Taylor. I am the newly elected (earlier this year) Chairman of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations, which of course is the new name for TAVRAs. I took over from General Sir Edward Jones on 1 July, having previously been the Chairman of the North West Regional Association. On my right is Colonel Patrick Robinson who chairs the West Midlands Association, and on my left is Commodore Ian Pemberton who chairs the Wessex Association which covers effectively the whole of the south west of the country. Could I, Chairman, beg your indulgence on two things? Could I first of all pass these leaflets to members of the Committee because they are an updating of everything that happens in the RFCAs and they could be useful. Secondly, perhaps I could just make a couple of preliminary points, and I will not be long; I know we are short of time.

  92. Please do.
  (Colonel Taylor) I think it is important to establish that the world is considerably different from our perspective from where it was when we last appeared before your Committee and I would like to make a couple of brief points about that. The first one I have already made in a sense, that I took over from General Sir Edward Jones and that in itself was an interesting change in the way we do our business in the sense—and I hope this does not sound immodest—that I am the first non-three or four star general in living memory to take on this role.

Mr Brazier

  93. Here, here.
  (Colonel Taylor) You need not say that, sir, but thank you. It is primarily about the re-focusing of the way we do our business I think is the point. But more than that. The most important point I want to make about the change is that we collectively are now very much more integrated with the chain of command. One of the things that flowed from the changes that occurred last year was that I am now a member of the Land Command Board and my colleagues are members of their respective divisional boards, which means that on anything that is being dealt with and discussed about reserve matters, with the TA in particular of course in this context, we are very much a part of that process. That brings me to my next point which is that the relationships currently I would say between the Associations and the Chain of Command are as good as they have ever been and we are working much more closely than perhaps was the case shall we say two or three years ago. I would like to record that because I think it is a very important preliminary point for your questioning of us. If I may make one last point generally, and I am sure it cropped up in the earlier discussion, the one thing that is confronting all of us, whether it be the chain of command or the Associations, is that the budgets are incredibly tight. Wherever we look, whatever we do, money is not available. It is very tight budgeting, very tight financial affairs. There is virtually nothing in the system which allows us a lot of latitude to do things that we would perhaps previously have done or would like to do. That is not anybody's fault. It is just the way of the world. Where we are in our current position as an integrated organisation with the chain of command is that budgetary issues are debated in a very open fashion and as a result of the memorandum of understanding which was signed last year there is a considerable degree of transparency with our funding arrangements and I think we are all very positive about all of that, although there are some spin-offs from that: refurbishment, decoration, maintenance of buildings is not happening as it should do, and there are issues floating around about training days for TA soldiers. Those are issues I wanted to put on the table at the front end.

  94. When the old TAVRAs appeared before us when the future of the TA was really gravely at risk, you did express very forcibly, as did your colleagues, many reservations that we have reflected on and frankly shared. We really do hope that with the new name the newly designated organisation will fight its corner as vociferously as its predecessor did because you know, as we know, how difficult it is to survive in a Ministry of Defence whose lack of enthusiasm (I will not go as far as to say antipathy) for what was the former TAVRA is well known. We really do hope that when the time comes, if it has not come already, you will be as diligent in pursuing the interests of the Territorial Army as you always have been.
  (Colonel Taylor) If I may comment, Chairman, and pick up on what you said, and I think my colleagues would want to comment too, because of our integration: my involvement with the Land Command Board, their involvement in the Divisional Boards, it is much less a confrontation issue now because it is actually being in at the start of those debates and discussions and that is a much more potent position to be in than we were previously.
  (Commodore Pemberton) We are the same size fish as we were before but we are in smaller pools and we are sitting alongside the BLBs[2], the brigades and others and we have to work harder.

  95. A lot of piranhas around, I must say.
  (Commodore Pemberton) We have good eyesight.

  96. Phase 2 of the TA restructuring has now been completed. In your judgement, has the TA become "more relevant, more useable and better integrated with the rest of the UK's forces"?
  (Colonel Taylor) I will kick off and then ask my two colleagues to comment. I think the answer to that has to be in general terms yes, but—and the "but" of course is a range of factors, not least that the footprint of the TA across the country is very much more scattered than it was previously, so to that extent the integration is bound to be damaged. The evidence, as you have already heard from our colleagues who were before you before, tells you that there is a fairly effective mobilisation process available to work with and therefore to that extent our TA units around the country are playing their part. I will ask my two colleagues from their regional perspective to comment.
  (Commodore Pemberton) To the extent, Chairman, that there are many members of the TA serving with the Army specifically in the Balkans, I think is an illustration that they are relevant and they are being used. It is early days still to see how we can maintain the training levels, as was indicated I think in the earlier part of the previous speakers. The nature of the training that TA soldiers now get is changed, it is brought down to a smaller unit level, and that is relevant to the work that they are going to do. How this goes on—it is early days. The jury is still out.
  (Colonel Robinson) I would say that we are not there yet, Chairman, in that quite a lot of work is still to be done, particularly on rehousing. We have some units that have been re-rolled and in theory rehoused but the housing is not going to be financed for another three years in some cases. In your and my area, Chairman, we have a field squadron that cannot get through its gates because the budget is not there for it yet and will not be for quite a long time. This does not help. Restructuring should really have happened straightaway so that we could go into it with a bang, but of course it was not financed properly.
  (Colonel Taylor) I think we need to remind you, Chairman, that when SDR was announced there were phrases being bandied around about the TA being fully resourced for its new role and its new activities. We have to say from our experience that in certain areas that has not proven to be the case and there are shortfalls around which are going to make it quite difficult to produce the final things that we are looking for.

  97. Perhaps you could drop us a note telling us where you believe the shortfalls are, and anything else you think would be relevant. To what extent were your views and concerns taken into account during the process of restructuring the TA?
  (Colonel Taylor) Our view is that we could not have been more fully involved than we were. Right from day one we found ourselves able to play a significant part. You may yourself recall that we even were proactive in that sense in that we ran our own RUSI seminar to put some points on the table before the policies were really being finalised. Throughout the process, both nationally from the Council perspective and regionally from the Associations' perspective, there was a proper consultative process in place. I do not think any of us would have anything to say other than that it was highly involving, it was totally a consultative process we played a part in, we were involved in all the detailed planning assumptions and all the planning processes.
  (Colonel Robinson) I would go along with that. I do not think we got our point over as well as we might have at times and I think that some of the restructuring is going to have to be revisited because I still do not think it is right.

Mr Brazier

  98. Could you give some examples of that because it would be very helpful to the Committee?
  (Colonel Robinson) I think the way the infantry was re-hashed was actually not very clever and that is going to hit us further down the line. We have not yet got the right structure in the infantry battalion. I was listening earlier to the comments of the previous speakers. We have put together what are called battalions but, if we remember, they were actually training organisations. You then asked our previous speakers if they could be mobilised. They were never invented to be mobilised, nor were they invented to be any more than training operations. The fact that they are finding it extremely difficult to train and to man as infantry battalions is a major problem. That is going to have to be revisited and re-sorted because there is no proper career structure for the officers or the senior NCOs and the result is that they say, "What is the point?".

Chairman

  99. What really irritated me was that in my own area they closed down the TA centre which had been recruiting in the town for a couple of centuries, and then all we had in the merger was keeping the band and the dog (who died) and some of the headquarters, so you had all these guys from my area who did not want to go to Wolverhampton or Tamworth, and I just wondered whether you had any statistics on how many of the guys and women who were reorganised just threw the towel in and disappeared from the Territorial Army.
  (Colonel Taylor) Those figures are available obviously because we have information about what happened to units. I think I need to make a point. The question we were asked was were we fully consulted. The answer was yes. Were the things we wanted to see delivered? The answer obviously is, "Not necessarily so", because our views were sometimes opposed to the outcomes that occurred. Patrick has already made the point about the infantry and that has probably been the most stark case, with the infantry now very scattered, and clearly we have presented some very powerful arguments, and so did other people, and we were not always able to win those arguments. We were consulted and I want that point to be really clearly understood. It was not lack of consultation. It was simply that in the circumstances those things that we were aspiring to and wanted we did not always succeed in achieving.


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