THE STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: POLICY FOR
171. As we noted in our introduction, the twentieth
century was dominated by the experiences of total war followed
by that of the Cold War. In 1945 there were nearly 5 million men
and women under arms in the UK. By the time conscription ended,
that had fallen to less than half a million. By the end of the
Cold War the number had fallen again to 300,000.
It is now around 200,000the same level approximately as
during the Napoleonic Wars.
172. In the twenty-first century, the Armed Forces
are much less prominent in our society, and personal experience
of them is much rarer. This profoundly effects the way in which
they have to recruit and retain all-volunteer forces. There are
many other factors at play which will shape the context in which
the Services will have to operate in the future: the pace of technological
change and developments in strategy; the changing nature of the
threats to peace; shifts in the government's foreign policy priorities;
the state of the economy and the employment market; and wider
cultural shifts in society. Many of these issues were explored
in the MoD's recently published paper, The Future Strategic
Context for Defence.
What is certain, however, is that the quality of the people who
serve in the UK's Armed Forces will be fundamental to our success
in maintaining peace and security.
173. As we said at the outset of this report, manning
levels in the Services are not, overall, in a critical state.
But there are areas, and aircrew and the Defence Medical Service
are probably the most striking examples, where there are severe
localised crises. At a more agglomerated level, the Services are
barely advancing towards their long-term establishment targets,
and recruitment is regularly, on a month by month basis, falling
behind outflows. Because of the length of time it takes for a
new recruit to become fully trained and useful, the pressure on
the trained strength of the Services is more acute even
than these headline figures suggest.
174. It is in this context that the MoD's overarching
personnel strategy for the Armed Forces must be evaluated. No-one
should accuse the MoD of complacency in the face of these challenges.
Ministers, senior officials and senior officers are aware of the
magnitude of the task they face in achieving the SDR's targets
for trained strengths. But it may be that they are guilty of a
lack of imagination: particularly in a 'one size fits all' approach
to the three Services, in a balance between full and part-time
personnel and above all in a lack of imagination in harnessing
existing civilian assets. The evidence that we have so far seen
has not convinced us that the right prescription is more of the
175. We have given some pointers to the direction
in which we believe the MoD may have to search for more effective
solutions. But a great question mark hangs over the whole issue,
and it is the usual one of resources. In choosing to seek to be
a force for good, and to use the UK's Armed Forces in pursuit
of that aim, the government has chosen a policy which cannot be
had on the cheap. An example is the recent announcement of Financial
Retention Initiatives for certain categories of aircrew, which
will cost £16.8 million in 2001-02.
176. Spending Review 2000 announced a modest, but
welcome, increase in the defence budget over the new few years.
But it hardly amounts to a major shift in resources. Within the
context of a broadly static budget, the MoD will not be relieved
of the need to make some hard choices about what it can afford
to do, what it can afford not to do, and how it will prioritise
or trade-off the many claims on its resources to achieve the outputs
it is required to deliver.
177. Amongst the many particular initiatives, both
large and small, which are gathered under the Policy for People,
we have found little to criticiseindeed we applaud most
of them. But, as yet, we remain to be convinced that taken as
a whole they are going to solve the problems the Armed Forces
face on the personnel front. Some, we believe, will need more
leadership and energy to be effective. Some, frankly, will need
more money to be effective. In some problem areas there will have
to be a lot more money and a lot more imagination and leadership
applied if particularly severe shortages are to be remedied.
178. We hope our successors in the next Parliament
will return to the examination of these questions early and regularly.
If the evidence suggests that the measures which have been put
in hand are not producing the goods, then they will have to play
a part in ensuring that something more is done. That may involve
the government, Parliament and the taxpayers of the UK confronting
some tough decisions about what it can ask the Armed Forces to
do within the resources they are prepared to make available.
307 Defence Statistics
2000, p 68 Back
p 66 (the population of Great Britain in 1801 was around 14 million) Back
7 February 2001 Back
Deb, 9 February 2001, c 707w Back