Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



Mr Brazier

  100. That brings me straight on to my question. Our eagle-eyed Clerk has winkled out problems in the figures for unit level man training days, so we will not get lost in the statistical side of it, but if I put the general question to you, you have made the point about lack of structure from the point of view of providing officer careers within infantry battalions and to a lesser extent I think the same problem in the yeomanry. The other side of that issue is, do you think there is a problem with being able to provide interesting training even for those who have got jobs? Can a company commander really train as a company commander if there is no battalion headquarters for him to answer to?
  (Colonel Robinson) To a degree, yes, but if you remember the previous structure, the companies tended to operate independently and the company commander tended to do his own thing. The problem is, we have now drawn down those companies to much smaller operations and it is the wherewithal for that company to operate independently that is missing because he has not got the cooks and bottle washers that he had to be able to be an independent company. He has not been set up to do that. All you have really got is a sort of mini cadre if you like which will never get that company out as an operational unit. It is only really training individual reservists. That is my concern. When the Chairman asks if we can mobilise as formed units, they have not been put on the ground as such and training of course is just as difficult because of that.

  101. Or even as sub-units. You are saying that the problem is really at company level as well as battalion level. It is a sad reflection—I should not have to say this, Chairman, but as a Committee we met in Bosnia a number of people who had quite a number of TA officers and soldiers come out and they were all extremely positive. Contact with an infantry unit that had come back from Kosovo was much less positive about the infanteers that it had sent to it. The difference is already noticeable within a couple of years with the new structure.
  (Colonel Robinson) One of the things we had the great benefit of before was the integrated cap badge which we have slightly lost now. It worked extremely well before because the commanding officers and regimental sergeant majors at that level were working across each other. Now that has all disappeared because of the regimental cap badge moving.

  Mr Brazier: I have I think the only unit left in the country that still has the cap badge and we can even wear the cap badge link. They are really finding these problems of lack of battalion and company structure. Thank you for your comments.

Mr Cohen

  102. On recruitment, how is recruitment to the reserve forces going?
  (Colonel Taylor) In general terms over the last 12 months for which statistics are available there has been an increase in the inflow and a decrease in the outflow in general terms. That disguises some specific problems which we should not lose sight of. There are two specific areas that we need to flag up and I think you are aware of them. There is a particular problem around officer recruitment. It is worth saying however that that is not a new problem. Most of us have been involved with the TA for years and have dealt with it on and off over those years but it is hitting us again at the moment. It is a particular problem. There is a whole issue around medical recruiting which remains a major pain but if you take the overall figures and look at the overall pattern, essentially it is holding up very well.

  103. What sort of targeting is there specifically for those two problem areas?
  (Colonel Taylor) For the medical one you have probably already heard that there is an awful lot going on in terms of liaison at the top level. We have been pushing quite hard and we were very pleased that to some degree our pushing worked (we think). We are taking some credit for it anyhow, in getting, for example, Dr. Lewis Moonie talking to Lord Hunt so that there was a ministerial contact at the top level between the two departments to make sure these issues are being properly addressed. There is a whole range of other things you have heard from Richard Holmes and others about all the various things that are going on. The thing that is at the root of the medical recruiting problem of course is the point that Richard Holmes mentioned earlier, which is that as a result of SDR the TA was given vastly enhanced establishments to fill which were a significant increase over what had been in place before, so there was a requirement actually to do quite a lot of very dramatic recruiting in order to fill that new enhanced establishment coupled with the fact that we are fishing in the same pond as the NHS, having the same difficulties as the NHS. It is not just the TA, it is the whole AMS, the whole DMS, everybody is having the same difficulty, of finding sufficient medics to fulfil all those roles. But there has been an experiment going on in the West Midlands to try and find other ways, more radical ways, of liaising with the local NHS people to try and enhance the numbers who are coming in. There are other activities going on. I picked up a reference earlier on to the new TA Brigadier. His name is Ian Robertson. He has recently taken over. Ian is a classic example of somebody who is radically changing the way people can help solve these problems rather than by conventional means. The difficulty we have all been struggling with is trying to solve an unconventional problem with conventional means. You have got to find other ways of doing it. Straightforward recruiting of medics will not necessarily meet those establishment figures. There have been a whole lot of interesting and new ways of doing it, and the new TA Brigadier for the medics is actually the ideal person to be doing just that.

  104. What about the officer recruiting? Surely there are a lot of would-be captains of industry who would be ideal for that?
  (Colonel Taylor) Absolutely.
  (Colonel Robinson) Our worry about the officer bit is the time it takes to get through. It can be two and a half years from flash to bang to get them trained and commissioned. There is quite a strong feeling now that we should be re-looking at the fast track system that we tried a few years ago. I believe that has now been taken up and is being run, not that it is really anything to do with us, but we are well aware that it is taking far too long to get a young officer through and we think it is putting off the applicants.
  (Colonel Taylor) I think it is worth saying, if we can be less khaki-specific for a moment, that we should talk to the Commodore about RNR.
  (Commodore Pemberton) Just before I get to that I will follow up as far as the Army junior officer recruiting is concerned. The sort of constituency you are after, if I can use that word here, is one that is used to the internet, to instant button-pressing results. Frankly, if you put them into a two-year plan and they get absolutely nowhere and they are left in certain stages for long periods, you will lose them. It has to be re-focused to address that sort of person. As far as the naval recruiting is concerned, you will recollect—it is a number of years ago now—that there was a major cutback and they allowed the numbers borne to crash way below the new establishment without continuing to recruit. Over the years they have gradually been pulling back and they are now well in excess of 3,000 borne. They are roughly on target for recruiting this year. The new establishment post SDR was about 3,850 in round terms, of which 3,300 should be trained strength. It is anticipated that we will hit that in, I think I am right in saying, 2005, but it is a gradual increase allowing for loss of people on the way. The slight fall against the target they had for this year is due to it taking slightly longer to set up satellite units which was to be the main driving force in getting recruits in this year, putting recruits within, say, 40 miles of the main trading establishments but within good recruiting areas.

Mr Brazier

  105. Would you say that again?
  (Commodore Pemberton) Satellite units.

  106. What does that mean?
  (Commodore Pemberton) It is a mini unit which will be staffed by people already in the RNR who live within that area, so you take an area, Dundee for instance, where there used to be a very flourishing RNR unit, I have to say. They have set up a satellite unit to recruit for the recent RNR for the unit, which is now in Rosyth. They do their basic training at the Satellite unit and certain other forms of training, and then for the major part of their training they will travel or be brought in in minibuses to the nearest unit in Rosyth.

  107. Will they have their own satellite building?
  (Commodore Pemberton) They are being housed in TA centres in the main.
  (Commodore Pemberton) There is no money for that, remember.
  (Colonel Robinson) Arrangements are being made to bring them in. It is on a low cost budget arrangement but it is proving extremely successful. On medical recruits, incidentally, they set up a satellite unit in Oxford to recruit student nurses directly for the nearest unit based at Northwood, HMS Wildfire, and this is proving extremely successful. In this case they are co-located with the University Royal Navy Unit.

Mr Cohen

  108. The TA held a recruitment drive at Chelsea Barracks on 29 October.[3] What was the result of that? Did it attract any recruits?

  (Colonel Taylor) It did.

  109. It was not on the TA web site. Was that an error?
  (Colonel Taylor) Can I answer your first question? It was successful but not as successful as the previous year. The reason we think it was not as successful as the previous year—the numbers were approximately half—was that because, if you have been down that neck of the woods recently you will notice that as a consequence of SDR the Duke of York's is now a building site and you cannot access it from the normal entry point which is King's Road and you have to find your way around the back streets to find your way in. That seems to have had an impact on it. None the less it was a good result, just not as good as the previous year.


  110. How many people signed up?
  (Colonel Taylor) I am not sure I can give you that figure; it is too early because it was only about two weeks ago. There were about 570 real enquiries, which is not bad. I have got the figures somewhere. I just have not got them here.

  111. Later?
  (Colonel Taylor) They exist, certainly, because I have seen them. To get back to your point on the TA web site, there are of course innumerable web sites of various kinds, and indeed the Greater London Association has its own web site and it was on that. There have been exercises to make sure it is publicised through those.

Dr Lewis

  112. Is there anything more you would like to say about your recruitment strategy for attracting more potential officers? You have touched on this in answer to Mr Cohen earlier on.
  (Colonel Taylor) The main point is that we should not let it be thought that the TA has ceased to be an interesting opportunity for young people to join because it does remain still something of that order, and the whole recruiting campaign was to focus on that and continue to do that. The point that Colonel Robinson has raised is probably the most significant. We have to persuade the chain of command to introduce again a more timely process for getting these youngsters in to commissioning because it is too long and it is too slow.
  (Colonel Robinson) I would only add that the career path for a TA officer beyond his first job, say, of platoon commander or troop commander, needs to be identified just to keep him there. Otherwise he is never ever going to aspire to be a company commander. It is my worry, and I am sure that Julian Brazier is on to this as well, is that we are not going to have company commanders in the future unless they have been plucked out of the regular Army because they are just not going to be home grown.
  (Commodore Pemberton) I would say that one other area which does need addressing is keeping our tentacles on graduates from the OTCs. I am looking at the OTCs in my part of the world and we really do not keep enough of them, albeit they may move anywhere in the country, but not enough of them come back into the TA.
  (Colonel Taylor) There is an ancillary point and that is that not enough of the OTCs in some of our opinions are commanded by Territorials and therefore the purpose of quite a lot of OTC activity remains very much outward focusing, which is perfectly acceptable, of course, and perfectly right, but it does need that TA input at the top to redirect the youngsters to think in those terms.

  113. Do you think recruitment would be more attractive through a reinstatement of the direct entry route?
  (Colonel Taylor) That is the fast track that Colonel Robinson has already referred to because that is not a phrase we would use in the TA. I think that is fast track. I think we have already answered and the answer remains a very positive yes.

  114. Is the decline in the number of commanding officer posts held by Territorials a result of MoD policy or just a lack of suitable people coming forward?
  (Colonel Taylor) I explored this one very recently. I want to put on record that there has been no change of policy. I can confirm that because I have checked it this very morning. There is no change of policy in the system. It is still the policy that the most suitable candidate should be considered for command and any Territorial with the appropriate qualifications will be considered. What has happened, and I will turn to Colonel Robinson in a moment because I know he wants to say something, is happenstance. As a consequence of the amalgamations, particularly in the infantry, post SDR, there has been an obvious reduction in the number of appointments and therefore to some degree there has been a reduction in the number of Territorial appointments. One or two other arms have shown happenstance at work in the sense that, if I can be parochial as a gunner, at this particular moment in time, today, there is not a single gunner regiment with a TA CO. Only three months ago there were four TA COs. It is simply the cycle working its way through the system and I do not think at the moment we should be reading any more into it than that. I do have an assurance that there has been absolutely no change of policy and that is going to be declared again shortly to establish that point.
  (Colonel Robinson) It is extremely difficult for a TA officer to take on the role of course and that should be remembered. In the Bible you are told that you cannot work for two masters, and if you have got a proper civilian job, unless you actually run it yourself it is quite difficult to get someone to agree that you can take all this time off to run a TA organisation. I speak as one who did actually become a TA CO. I was the only one who ever commanded my battalion as a TA officer in the 25 years in which it existed, mainly for that reason. There were suitable people who were recommended and had their CO with all the right ticks in the boxes but when they were asked if they could do it they said, "No, I honestly cannot give it the time". That is an important factor. The other thing, as Colonel Taylor has just said, is that the pool is smaller and we are going to experience the problem getting worse simply because there are not the officers in the organisation that there were.
  (Commodore Pemberton) I would go along with that last one. In fact, in my area, most of the major units still have got TA Commanding Officers but not the infantry and that is the key. With the enormous area that we cover, going over seven counties, it is going to be a very exceptional man who is going to be able to do that and hold down a job outside. The other thing is that the career he will have had up to the stage where he might be considered will not be as complete and produce the sort of individual that previously we would look for to command the battalion.

Mr Brazier

  115. Before coming on to Cadets, can I make two quick observations on what we have just heard? The first is that there is good evidence fed to me from sources I respect—you have mentioned the new divisional arrangements and there are also the brigade arrangements too so we have TA officers at all levels—there are a number of officers within the system in parts of the Army who are actively trying to block TA COs being appointed. It is a very odd thing in statistics that for all these years the Sappers and Signals have always managed to run half TA COs, yet here we have a situation where 22 infantry and other regiments put together have one TA CO. The other quick observation, just to pick up the point you made about OTCs, in Australia, which has been, until recently, even more strapped for money than us, all but four of the TA CO appointments, including all the university regiments, are always held by reserves except in the direst of periods. They have much better levels of officer and soldier retention than we do here. I just put that on the record. I would like to ask about Cadets. I have just been privileged to visit my own local Army Cadet Force—and at other times I have visited my Naval and Air Force ones, all three in excellent shape—do we have figures for the proportion of cadets going on to join the regulars or reserves, or perhaps the other way round, the proportion of reservists and regulars who join who have a background in the Cadet Forces?
  (Colonel Taylor) Those figures do exist. I cannot quote them at the moment but they are available and they can be provided.

  116. Can we have a letter?
  (Colonel Taylor) Absolutely, no problem.

  117. Because they do play an important role.
  (Colonel Taylor) Yes, it is well-known.
  (Commodore Pemberton) Wearing the dark blue hat, 20 per cent of those going through HMS Raleigh, which is the basic training for ratings in the Navy, have been through Cadet service in some form or other. We do pinch a few from the other Cadet forces, I understand.

  118. Do you manage to attract many young women and young people from ethnic backgrounds into the Cadets? Have you looked—well, we all know the answer to that is yes—have you considered from your angle what the barriers may be to such cadets, female cadets and cadets from ethnic minorities, going on to join the regular forces?
  (Colonel Taylor) We will try to unpack all those questions, if you will forgive me. The first point is that there is considerable evidence—I have not got the figures with me but they do exist—that young girls are joining the Cadet forces in considerable numbers. Indeed at one point there was, if the ladies will forgive my comment, slight concern it was getting out of balance, that there were rather more joining than was expected and that was causing some concern. But those figures are available and can be provided. I think the ethnic minority issue is a much more complex one and it is not just for the Cadets, it is an issue for the reserve forces generally. Two points, if I may. Last year, actually 3.4 per cent of our recruits into the TA were from the ethnic minorities, which is higher than the target figure we were asked to meet.

  119. Of people joining the TA?
  (Colonel Taylor) I am talking TA, not Cadets at the moment. The point is that with the reduction in some of the TA presence in the great conurbations, clearly that is going to have a huge impact on the recruiting of people from the local community, and that of course means—for example, in Patrick's patch, Birmingham—when you remove TA centres from those centres, you will have an impact. The Cadets remain in place and if you go around the country you will find there are significant numbers of the ethnic communities joining the Cadets. Those figures I am not sure we can readily provide but we will try. We can certainly do it for the TA but I am not so sure about the Cadets.

  Mr Brazier: Thank you very much.

3   It was held at the Duke of Yorks Headquarters, see p 31 Back

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