Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 576-ii








Evidence heard in Public

Questions 199 - 269


1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Tuesday 8 October 2013

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

Mr Dai Havard

Mr Adam Holloway

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Sir Bob Russell

Ms Gisela Stuart

Derek Twigg

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Brigadier (retd) Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Professor Theo Farrell, Head, Department of War Studies, Kings College London, and Brigadier (retd) Allan Mallinson, historian and defence commentator, gave evidence.

Q199 Chair: As I understand it, I am obliged to say, "Order, order." Welcome to this afternoon’s session, which is about Army 2020. It is helpful to have all of you here to give an external view, compared with that of the Ministry of Defence, about the proposals the armed forces have for Future Army 2020.

We have been told by General Wall that this proposal is a radical one. How radical would you say it is?

By the way, each of you does not have to answer every question. I am afraid we are going to have to get through this first session by about 2.50 pm, because we have conflicts with the Defence Reform Bill Committee, which is also sitting today, and there is a further panel to come. How radical are these proposals?

Brigadier Barry: In my view, they are very radical. They are more radical than the changes being made to the US and French forces. The three armoured infantry brigades are not in themselves radical, but some of the organisations in Force Troops are. The whole concept of the adaptable force partnership and regional alignment is radical, as are the reduction in the number of HQs and building an increased dependence on the reserves. The changes in the past 50 years in the Army have all been evolutionary, but this is a hard yank of the steering wheel and a significant change of direction.

Professor Farrell: I would also say, by comparison to the previous iterations of organisational restructuring, that Future Army Structure, Future Army Structure: Next Steps and the Transformational Army Structure are all just tweaking the organisation-taking a brigade off, adding another one on and changing the name of the brigades. This is the first restructuring that actually does something different, and it takes seriously what the Army has been saying: the need to do upstream engagement and downstream engagement much more seriously. So it restructures the Army to undertake this wider range of tasks. As an outsider, I was incredibly surprised at just how radical the proposal was.

Brigadier Mallinson: Well, it is radical, but it is not radical enough, if you want to go further on that. It is radical in the sense that the Regular Army will no longer be able to do its job-everything that is expected of it-without the reserves. It has never really been in that situation before, except medically. That was never really planned; we drifted into that unhappy position.

But where it is not radical enough, in my view, is that we are trying to cling on to a structure in the reserves that was there for an entirely different purpose. It was correct 100 years ago, when the emphasis was on putting formed units into the field to fight as formed units, whereas, really, the Regular Army needs fleshing out to replace the hollowing out that the reduction in the 20,000 means. That means, really, individual reservists or small groups; not a structure of a TA that was originally planned for the defence of these islands against, initially, a French invasion and then a German invasion, through developments in the 1930s and during the cold war, at maximum effort to go and fight in Germany. In retrospect, that probably would not have been a great success story. That will be my starting point, Chair.

Q200 Chair: Yes, it is certainly very different but, from what Professor Farrell says, not necessarily bad as a result of being very different.

If you were part of a red team saying, "This is all up for questioning and we want to point out where the flaws are in this plan," what would you be saying?

Brigadier Barry: Shall I start? The context, of course, is that the Government are seeking to spend less by having fewer forces that do less, so defence planning assumptions, at the outset of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, were ratcheted down. This is important because the organisation envisages producing less boots on the ground in whichever scenario you envisage. There are some scenarios you can envisage where that does not matter, but for stabilisation, counter-insurgency and operations in difficult and complex terrain-the jungle, for example, and the urban fringe of a jungle-less boots on the ground is going to be a limitation.

It is also clear that the Army’s NBC defence capability has significantly reduced, which in the light of events in Syria may represent a weakness. It is also very dependent on the delivery of the capability by reserves and the modernisation of the helicopter and armoured vehicle fleet. Also, there is a lag between the reduction in the size of the Regular Army and the adoption of the new organisations, both of which are going to be complete in 2015, and the full delivery of the reserves capability in 2018, and also the plans for the modernisation for the armoured vehicle fleet, particularly the Scout programme and the utility vehicle programme that replace armoured vehicles that are essentially obsolete. Those, of course, are not coming in until the end of the decade, if not beyond. So I think that represents some of the major risks.

Professor Farrell: I think there is only one flaw that we can see at present, which is that the whole thing is predicated on the ability to raise 30,000 reserves and then progressively integrate them in a deployable force, starting from individual augmentees to whole units. And while, for instance, the Americans have been able to use reserve forces in this way, in recent history the British have not been able to deploy whole units into the field.

More to the point, as we know they are encountering very significant problems with Operation Fortify-the operation to raise the reserve force. So that’s the flaw: if you cannot raise the size of the reserve force that you require and you cannot get the flexible contracts you need to use them in a certain way, the whole of Army 2020 is crashing.

Brigadier Mallinson: Going on from Professor Farrell’s point, what is the plan B if it is clear in two or three years’ time that we are not going to raise these numbers and yet, at the same time, we are taking the economy measures-sending away experienced troops, disbanding battalions and cutting the ORBAT very significantly?

I would have liked to have seen an overlap period, although I understand why there has not been one. Nevertheless, I think there is room at an early point to suggest that perhaps the rate of attenuation of the Regular forces needs to be slowed down somewhat. I think that getting back capability, once you have laid it off, is a much longer business than people sometimes think. For example, I have heard it said-sadly, I have heard it said by people in uniform-that if we need to raise a couple more infantry battalions, come the day, that won’t be too difficult. Funnily enough, in my view, it takes longer to produce good infantry than almost any other part of the Army. It is an art, not just an industrial skill. It is on the infantry that the burden of most operations falls, so I would like to see some sort of bridging contingency plan.

Going on from my earlier point about trying to retain an old structure-the old TA-the other thing I would say is that I hear the voices that say that the structure would be the basis for regeneration, if necessary, but I am not convinced that the reserves are the right basis to regenerate. We have not had demonstrable success in that area in the past 100 years. I would like to see a much more centralised focus on recruiting, and on training and administering recruits, rather than having your lay-down of a platoon, company and battalion based all over the country. We are finding that a lot of them, at great expense, are in fairly barren areas as far as recruiting is concerned and are administratively difficult, while in other areas they are almost dealing with too many interested parties.

I was talking to the commanding officer of a logistic regiment three weeks ago who explained to me just this problem. He had his lay-down, as given to him. Two of the areas-parts of the industrial north-were, for curious reasons, totally unproductive. There was one centre where unemployment was high and there was no other game in town, and that particular squadron of his was over-recruited and he wasn’t allowed to take on any more. Had he the flexibility to run the operation as a whole, his entire effort would be put on to that productive area. Does it matter where they come from in the end, as long as they are in uniform and accessible?

Chair: We will come on to some of these issues during the course of the next few minutes.

Q201 Mr Havard: You talk about a bridging plan, and then you are talking about sequencing various things such as equipment and the periods of time for things to come together to make the whole for 2020. It seems to me that you are suggesting, therefore, that, in terms of the planning process and the sequencing of the events that come together, there is a vulnerability in making it from now until 2020, and that there are weaknesses in achieving that process. For example, 2018 presumes that you will have completed the reserve recruitment. There are a series of assumptions in the process that gets you to 2020. Can you say something more about that? In 2015, there will be a defence review and a general election-if not before-so there are other things that may well cause a revision of the plan. Is the plan a complete plan, or is it actually a set of aspirations towards a plan, with weaknesses and vulnerabilities before you get there?

Professor Farrell: The plan was very well developed and carefully developed, and it was properly based on operational experience and a very large amount of experimentation. That was all well and fine, but the Army has been enduring a succession of cuts, with more coming, and that is where the problem lies. The next round of cuts, which are bound to come and which will reduce the Regular force further, is the point when you begin to ask, "Is this workable?" The key question is: can you achieve Army 2020 in the context both of a failure to achieve reserve targets and of further reductions to the Regular force?

Q202 Mr Havard: So the weakness is in the application of the plan, not in the plan?

Professor Farrell: Correct.

Q203 Chair: So that is your question. What is your answer to it?

Professor Farrell: Go back to the drawing board.

Q204 Chair: You would go back entirely to the drawing board.

Professor Farrell: Put it this way: unless there is significant progress in terms of the future reserves recruitment and unless the cuts that we can anticipate down the line to the Regular Army are modest-they are probably at the scale of another 15,000 to 20,000-sure, you have to go back and look at this thing much more carefully.

Brigadier Barry: On reserves, I am a glass half full man, because 10 years ago I had the privilege of commanding a brigade in Bosnia that had substantial numbers of US army reserves and national guard, and also Australian and Canadian reserves, and those were much closer, in many ways, to what is now envisaged for the Army reserve than the then model of the TA, although I also had a TA signals squadron and medical squadron. To a certain extent, I have seen the future and know that it can work.

We should not forget that in a country where hundreds of thousands of people volunteered for the Olympics and where there is a thriving voluntary sector, the reserves have a unique selling point that is almost alone among voluntary organisations-they offer pay and a bounty. But the sequencing of the plan, you have identified, and if there is one thing the Army is always pretty good at, it is planning in exhaustive detail. I am conscious that that is going on in Army Headquarters and the General Staff in London.

There are two higher-level risks, however, and one of them is funding. In the short term, it has been agreed that there can be a 1% increase to equipment and support, and also the Government are now implementing the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Of course, in a fixed budget, those have the potential to squeeze out other stuff including, for example, infrastructure, training, barracks and conditions of service.

In the long term, of course, Army equipment programmes have historically often been squeezed out by cost growth in the other two services’ equipment programmes. We are now into a new model of financial management and if there is cost growth in air and maritime programmes or, for that matter, in the future deterrent, it will be interesting to see whether those organisations will have to swallow their smoke and the Army budget will not be raided. But that is a historical risk.

Clearly, as other speakers have alluded to, funding in the next Strategic Defence Review is a factor, but there is an important operational factor: the Army that is being created to go on operations will depend on more timely political decision making to mobilise the reserves and, indeed, to get the adaptable force to be adapting in whichever direction it is required to adapt for the operation. That requires time, so there is a premium on early political decision making. Of course, a decade ago, we had the penalties of the lack of appropriately timely decision making illustrated to us with, for example, the logistic problems for Operation Telic. It is built in now.

Chair: I have to say that you are answering some of the questions we were intending to ask before we ask them.

Q205 Sir Bob Russell: Gentlemen, what happens if the Army fails to recruit those 30,000 reservists?

Brigadier Barry: If you want to meet the operational output, you have two choices: either stretch the elastic band of the Regular Army so they all become much busier and go outside tour intervals and harmony guidelines; or rebuild the capability of the Regular Army, although you would not need to rebuild it by 30,000.

Q206 Sir Bob Russell: At what point does the Ministry of Defence have to tell the Government it is not working and that 30,000 reservists are not being recruited?

Professor Farrell: There are two things here. One is that you go back and really look again at defence planning assumptions. Army 2020 is predicated on the planning assumptions in the SDSR, and that was for a Regular Army of 95,000. We are now at an Army of 82,000 and we may go down to 72,000 or 62,000. So the first thing you do is go back to defence planning assumptions and say, "Okay, these aren’t going to work any more." Of course, the Government will be slow to do this. It is quite likely that the Government will want to be able to maintain, in policy terms, the claim they can achieve certain things for domestic and international political reasons and simply ignore the problem. The other is whether you look again at the harmony guidelines, because the only way you can stretch the Army is by being honest with troops and saying, "We’re going to have to deploy you on a more regular basis and we have to renegotiate that."

Q207 Sir Bob Russell: Are you telling me that Army 2020 is not of a sufficient size to deliver what is intended?

Professor Farrell: In the SDSR? Of course.

Q208 Sir Bob Russell: It is or it is not?

Professor Farrell: It is not. Certainly, if there are any more cuts, it will not be. That is fairly obvious.

Q209 Sir Bob Russell: Gentlemen, have you had any reaction from allies and NATO about what is happening and what may happen if the reservist numbers are not reached?

Brigadier Barry: I spent a week in Washington DC in March, and the experts I talked to, think-tanks and people in the Pentagon were concerned with the overall reduction in capability of the British armed forces. They were not particularly interested in the granular detail. Indeed, with the size of the national guard, the Army reserve, the Marine Corps reserve and the air national guard, they would find it very surprising were the UK not to be able to meet this relatively modest target. I pray in support of the changes that are being made to the reserve that they do take them more in the direction of some of the strengths of the reserves in the US armed forces.

We are talking about a scenario where the Army fails to meet its target for the reserves by a significant margin, which clearly would cause there to be an uncomfortable conversation between the Army and the Government. Does there not need to be a conversation now between the Army and the Defence Secretary and the whole of Government? If Government is to make this work, the whole of Government needs to put its shoulder to the wheel. To his credit, Secretary of State Hammond has been talking about this and doing his best to project the image, but do you see the image from the other Government Departments? Do you see the Transport Secretary encouraging major transport companies to contribute people to the reserves? Do you see the Health Secretary really congratulating the significant contribution that people from the NHS make to reserves? To deliver the whole package as is envisaged requires more than just the Ministry of Defence and the Army.

Q210 Sir Bob Russell: You are calling for joined-up government.

Brigadier Barry: Yes.

Brigadier Mallinson: It is very interesting, if you want to take a historically informed look at this, 100 years ago, when that great man Haldane-a Liberal-was restructuring everything, what really strikes you is the degree to which Ministers across the Government are committed. They get out and into the highways and byways to advance this new organisation that has been set up and to encourage recruiting. Ministers of all persuasions are out there opening new OTCs, and whatever. There is total commitment, and real evidence of belief in this. You read diaries and letters, and they are communicating with each other in a truly interested way. It is not just an initiative of one Department that is being run with.

There are two other things, if I may. I think senior officers are in a difficult position, because they are part of the delivery of this-although going out and finding the reservist recruits is not a military task-but for them to say it is failing is indicative of a failure on their part, it might be thought. What is the incentive to make a noise? That is what would worry me. I see no independent judging criteria that can say whether this thing is working or not. It is going to rely on people standing up and saying so, and that will not be without penalty.

Professor Farrell: May I say, very briefly-

Chair: Very briefly, please.

Professor Farrell: Very briefly, I think most American observers in the think-tank world of policy do not care. They are not really interested in this detail, until it comes to a future operation, when they will want us to deliver capability; and then, when we cannot do it, they will care. Right now, they are not bothered.

Chair: The issue of funding has already been considered a bit. Julian Brazier, do you want to pick that up?

Q211 Mr Brazier: Yes, I want to ask a question on funding, which ties in to some of the things that you have just been saying. Brigadier Barry, in your very interesting submission, you comment that MOD spending on land equipment is at an all-time low. You also made the point earlier that Americans, Canadians and Australians are all already in the kind of profile that we are trying to move towards-although we are only going halfway there, we will end up with a much smaller proportion of volunteer reservists. In all three of those countries, it is recognised that you cannot afford the equipment for a reasonable-sized overall force if you try to do it with a nearly-all professional Army-it is just too expensive. Do you think we should be having a go at trying to move in the same direction as the other English-speaking countries? Or do you think we should simply say that within the current funding envelope we accept that there is not enough money for equipment, and we try to have a bigger regular Army, whatever it costs us? Can we start with your thoughts, and then obviously your colleagues can come in?

Brigadier Barry: The Army’s equipment capability, as planned, is going to modernise important areas, particularly armoured warfare and helicopters, as well as taking into core various urgent operational requirement capabilities that have proved their worth in Afghanistan.

I sense, though, that like many other aspects of the Army it is at its critical mass. It is difficult to envisage further capability being taken away without it being a real hit on capability overall. If there were extra money available, my personal priority would be to accelerate the armoured vehicle modernisation programme, particularly to replace as quickly as possible CVRT and 432 in their reconnaissance and utility roles.

Those other English-speaking armies you describe share many similarities with ours, but there are also important differences. The US army is in some respects culturally very different, so there is a limit to how much you can benchmark from them.

Mr Brazier: But why-

Chair: We have to move on. Does anybody else want to comment on that?

Q212 Derek Twigg: Do you think that what is being proposed, and the whole politics and commentary around changes and cuts, has given a negative message to people out there that the Army and defence are not very important any more, and that what is more important is what it costs?

Professor Farrell: Yes. I entirely agree. It is quite striking. My own view is that it is in part a general under-appreciation of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq is obviously deeply clouded by the politics surrounding it.

Mr Brazier: Sorry, Professor Farrell, could you speak up, please?

Professor Farrell: I’m sorry; I will lean forward.

I think it has partly got to do with the politics surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously, the politics in Iraq are very troubling. In terms of Afghanistan, the Army has delivered a huge capability-far in excess of the allies. The comparison with Canada and Australia simply does not apply. They are minions in comparison with what the British Army has delivered into Afghanistan, both in terms of command and special forces, but especially land forces.

What we are really asking is, "Do you want to have an Army with the capability to deliver a division-level force at strategic distance?" Because, aside from the United States, Britain is the only western country that could do so. You have to ask questions about whether it is useful, and whether Britain in the future might require that as a capability in its national interest. Army 2020 was, and is at the moment, the only realistic plan to continue to have that capability. Unfortunately, further cuts are going to mean that it may no longer be affordable in its current figuration. In part, I think it is just astounding how this country and the Ministry of Defence are so reluctant to promote what has been achieved in Afghanistan. There seems to be an immense nervousness around it. Instead this is all about cuts, cuts, cuts.

Q213 Derek Twigg: Do you think that, partly because of Iraq but also Afghanistan-we heard what Karzai said in the past 24 hours-we are actually running away from it? You mentioned our division size, which I agree with. You say that the only game in town is obviously Army 2020. Do any of you think that what is proposed is going to safeguard the country’s interests in future?

Brigadier Barry: If I may, I shall return to my opening remark. The Government decided to do less by having less and spending less. There have been events since the SDSR-the war in Libya, the Arab upheavals and the conflict in Syria-and it seems to me that the risk that a very turbulent and rapidly changing world could pose to UK national security has gone up since 2010, rather than gone down. The other thing we have observed at the institute is that for some of the upheaval we have seen in the past two and half years, the rate of change has been much greater. The Arab upheavals happened much faster than the upheavals in eastern Europe in the late ’80s. This is because the world is much more connected. So although the strategic defence security review is very opaque about the DPA in terms of readiness, my understanding is that readiness has been reduced, so we have fewer forces able to react very quickly, whereas world events suggest to me that we actually need forces that can react more quickly than before the SDSR, rather than less.

Professor Farrell: In most of the scenarios that Britain is likely to face in the future where it wants to deploy military force, military force alone will not be the solution. That is abundantly clear. You are going into situations where you are trying to stabilise them, build capacity and-

Q214 Derek Twigg: I think I know that; what am I saying is: what do you think we should have in terms of a military force? What do you think actually stands up and is credible? I understand that there are a whole range of other people in an organisation-

Professor Farrell: If I can finish my point, when we went into Bosnia to do peacekeeping, we sent in forces that were not configured to defend themselves. What Bosnia showed is that even if you go in to do peacekeeping or peace operations where you are building capacity and handing over or stabilising a country, a situation can develop where you have to deploy combined task forces with armoured infantry. What Bosnia showed is that you have to have the ability to send in forces very fast-either pull all your troops out or send in an armoured unit that is able to defend your forces and then stabilise the situation.

This is why 2020 is a clever design. The focus is clearly on defence engagement, but it maintains an armoured infantry core that, if necessary, can go in and defend Britain’s interests or Britain’s troops. That seems entirely logical. Otherwise, the only other solution is: deploy forces for defence engagement, such as peacekeeping, and if the situation goes pear-shaped, you have to pull them out as fast as you can, because you cannot defend them-or you have to call on the Americans or somebody else to do it.

Q215 Derek Twigg: Can I make two quick points? First, Brigadier Barry, you mentioned the issue of reservists, and Americans, Canadians and so on. Isn’t it true that there is a different culture in the US, which we do not have? My second and final question-I do not know who wants to answer this-is: what does this mean for our special forces and our ability to recruit high-calibre people and deliver the sort of operation we want?

Brigadier Barry: There is no doubt that the culture is different in the US, but what is planned will only succeed if the culture in the reserves and the regular forces, and in the wider public sector and society, moves in a direction closer to the US. On special forces, clearly, with armed forces that have fewer people and an Army that is 20% smaller, the recruiting base from which special forces are drawn is going to get smaller.

However, anecdotally, there are many people who have had their share of adrenaline and got their sense of achievement from the combat operations that they have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the event that after 2015 the British Army is not substantially engaged in high-tempo operations, I think there will be extra people putting themselves forward for selection for the special forces, because they will want the excitement and the additional challenge that in many respects they have been getting in the First Rifles or the Second Duke of Lancaster’s over the last decade.

Q216 Mrs Moon: Following on from Derek’s question, are we moving into an era, following the number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Government are looking for reduced casualties and more remote warfare so that we stand back at a further remove, perhaps using ISTAR and cyber-drones to fight our wars rather than boots on the ground?

Professor Farrell: That is a fair question, but I do not think it is the case at all. Until Iraq and Afghanistan, the dominant view in academia was that the west had lost its appetite for war and that we were moving into an era of war from a distance, spectator-sport warfare and so forth. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, western armies-particularly the British and the Americans-have sustained very considerable casualties, but have demonstrated preparedness to continue operations. Of course the Government and the military have every reason to want to reduce casualties, but there seems to be a continued willingness to put troops in harm’s way in the interests of national policy and security. I do not think the evidence supports that at all, actually.

What it does show is that there is massive investment in force protection capabilities: in our case, for instance, the very large programme to acquire Mastiffs, which we are now stuck with, in our equipment programme. There are questions around the extent to which money will be spent to protect troops, but that seems reasonable enough. The only thing that might speak to what you are saying is the Supreme Court ruling that gives families the right to sue the Government for negligence. That could open the door a bit, but not in terms of the military’s appetite or the Government’s.

Brigadier Barry: I slightly take what I think is your proposition that there is a bit of an aversion right now to boots on the ground because that is seen as carrying a risk of messy escalation and indeed a risk of casualties that would be difficult to explain. Of course, the reason is the ever-increasing unpopularity of the Iraq war and the way the Afghanistan war was contaminated with that, which led to extraordinary measures of force protection being implemented that had not been seen in Northern Ireland or the Balkans campaigns. I sense that there is a great risk of that becoming the default setting and part of the cultural landscape not just in the armed forces, but in the Ministry of Defence, the Government and the media.

To me, the interesting example is the recent French operation in Mali, where my understanding is that we had not only very rapid political decision making in Paris, but operations conducted by French ground troops and special forces that were well outside the risk envelope of recent British operations in Afghanistan and the successful role of British forces in Libya. That is part of getting back to contingent operations in a new theatre, rather than routine operations in a mature theatre. It seems to me that military commanders of all three services will need to be empowered to make those hard judgments on risk without having to refer them through long processes to PJHQ in London or the environmental health adviser.

Q217 Mrs Moon: May I take you back to your assessment of the role envisaged for reserves in Army 2020? How will that role affect the Army’s ability to work collaboratively with the other two services?

Brigadier Barry: I don’t think it will reduce it at all. There have been tremendous advances in air-land integration and in air weapons and capabilities that enable precision strikes. I detect a thirst on the part of the Army and the Air Force to keep those skills alive. The embedding of the joint air-land organisation in air command, rather than the Army, is symbolic of that. I do not think the proportion of reserves will make any difference to that. Where I think there is a possible lacuna is that in the past decade the Army has hardly worked with the Royal Navy, and indeed the plugs and enablers that would enable a brigade, division or corps Headquarters to work alongside an Air Force don’t seem to exist at the same level to an Army land force that had a coastal flank that the Navy was operating on.

It is also the case that, compared with the Army and the Air Force, the Royal Navy seems to have underinvested in UAVs and precision firepower to attack land targets, so it strikes me that there is a bit of work to be done, mostly by the Navy in making itself better able to support a land force.

Q218 Mrs Moon: Capita is said to have run out of capacity to recruit the required number of reserve forces and I understand that we are diverting 1,000 troops by sending them out on recruiting duties. How do you feel about that? Is it an appropriate use of 1,000 members of our armed forces?

Professor Farrell: There are two problems with the reserves and Operation Fortify. The first is precisely that, as has been suggested, you are comparing this with countries such as the United States, where there is a completely different culture. The United States is at war and has been for over a decade. People believe that they are going off to war, and that is the culture in the population, so they are prepared to mobilise and to go overseas for long stretches. Their families tolerate that, and it is valued by society. Here in Britain, we do not talk about being at war; we talk about being on campaign, so we must fundamentally change how people view current campaigns and military service. That requires political engagement at the highest level-by the Prime Minister-but as yet we have not seen that. We have not seen the Government throw their weight behind the reserves. That is not for the Army to do; simply it is for the Ministry of Defence, and also No. 10, actually.

The second is just an IT problem: Capita is having an IT problem integrating with the DII, so it is quite a technical thing. In other words, it is partly this technical issue of the integration between Capita’s IT database and the DII defence database. So if the solution is to get 1,000 troops out and they are to spare, sure-why not? This is critical. If it does not work by 2018 or even by 2020, you have got a major problem, so if you could have solved the problem by getting 1,000 troops out, yes, it is a good use of them.

Brigadier Mallinson: If I may say so, the line of that question suggests that reserves and Regulars are still separated by a brick wall, but I think that a lot of the young Regulars I talk to, while very realistic about the limitations of a reservist, are surprisingly open to the idea of integration. They will see that wall as, yes, perhaps a little ditch in the ground, but with plenty of logs lying across it over which you can cross in both directions. I do not see it as anything that would strike any alarm note.

Q219 Mrs Moon: I was not referring to any conflict between the Regulars and the reservists-

Brigadier Mallinson: No, no.

Mrs Moon: It was much more a case of, given the stretch that we have got and the cuts the Army has faced, is the use of 1,000 soldiers in recruitment an appropriate use of those 1,000 personnel when we are cutting personnel?

Brigadier Mallinson: I do not know what the verb "not to stretch" is, but we are not as stretched now-I say we, but I have been out for so long. Let’s face it, there are regiments now that are getting back to the routine of training and discovering the challenge of training generically, rather than as mission-specific. I had an e-mail this morning from a commanding officer who had just finished training on the prairie in Canada, full of enthusiasm, saying, "My goodness, you should see this regiment getting back to just training, rather than training for Afghanistan."

Q220 Chair: That again is a question we were going to ask about: preparing for a war, rather than the war. So thank you; we no longer need to do that and that is very helpful evidence.

What is your view about the partnering of reserve units with Regular units?

Brigadier Barry: I think it is a brilliant idea. I spent five years in the General Staff with responsibility for reserve policy more than a decade ago, and one of my frustrations then was that the handling of reserves suffered by having too little time spent on it by the key top-drawer people in the Army-it was often a province of the staff officers from the bottom drawer. The concept of partnering makes sure that the chain of command has to roll its sleeves up and get involved in helping the reserves and helping them to deliver their capability, so it becomes a main effort for the A-team. It has to be good news.

Q221 Chair: What about the deployment of formed units, or formed sub-units?

Professor Farrell: That would happen. In the Army 2020 design, the assumption is that you have a sliding scale, depending on risk and the complexity of the operation. If it is an enduring operation that requires you actually to deploy whole units into an operation that is very complex, it would happen over time-over a number of six-month cycles. That seems like a reasonable plan. It gives you enough time to gear up a reserve formation for training, to get it into training and then to deploy it.

The experience of the Americans, by the way-they have done this for years in Iraq and Afghanistan-is they will take out whole Regular units and drop a national guard unit in its place. Sometimes they perform better, actually, than the Regular unit, although it depends on how permissive the environment is. If there is a lot of combat, sometimes they do not perform so well. So it is certainly possible to imagine whole units going in, depending on the complexity and how much combat is involved, and Army 2020 allows the time for the Army to prepare a reserve unit for such a tour. It is in the designs. It is a perfectly reasonable, clever design, actually.

Q222 Chair: How realistic is it to deprive a work force or employers in one particular area of an entire formed unit from that area?

Brigadier Barry: Perhaps I could answer that. Is that not what has happened with the provision of field hospitals over the past decade? It has been managed, and it has not brought the NHS or the private health sector to a grinding halt. I have seen this done: 10 years ago, I had not only a TA signal squadron that had been given 18 months’ notice, but a British Army medical squadron that had been mobilised with three months’ notice from a relatively benign stable operation in Bosnia and a Canadian infantry company. Platoons and company-sized units have performed pretty well in a wide variety of roles in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years.

The two key things are, first, that you have the relevant baseline of training and readiness in the unit from which that capability is drawn and, secondly, that it has sufficient warning time and a decent opportunity to do the training, administration and everything else that is necessary. It has been done, however, by other Commonwealth armies, so it should not be a problem in the future, provided that the reserve is comprised of people who have gone into it with their eyes wide open and knowing that this is what is involved. People who cannot make that commitment should perhaps be not in the reserve, but in some other voluntary activity, if that is what they want to contribute to the community.

Chair: I think that we could go on with this evidence session for at least another hour without any difficult on our part or, from the looks of things, on yours. I am sorry that we have to draw it to an end now, but we have other witnesses that we have to see. We are most grateful to you. Many thanks.

Examination of Witnesses

Lieutenant General (retd) Robin Brims CB CBE DSO DL, Chair, Future Reserves 2020 External Scrutiny Group, Major General (retd) Simon Lalor CB TD, member, Future Reserves 2020 External Scrutiny Group, Air Vice-Marshal (retd) Paul Luker CB OBE AFC DL, Chief Executive, Future Reserves 2020 External Scrutiny Group, Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, and Alexander Ehmann, Head of Government, Parliamentary and Regulatory Affairs, Institute of Directors, gave evidence.

Q223 Chair: I have just been admonished for being headmasterly, but we still have a lot to get through. We are starting this second session a bit earlier, so you have been rather bounced. Welcome to this session on Future Army 2020. This panel is to discuss the reserves element, which is obviously a huge factor. I will not ask you each to introduce yourselves, because we have to finish this within an hour to allow those members of the Committee who are also members of the Defence Reform Bill Committee to get to that meeting. May I begin by saying that General Wall has told us that the plans for Future Army 2020 are radical? How radical would you say they were? For those of you who were not here for the beginning of the previous session, I should say that you do not each have to answer every question, which will no doubt be a relief to you.

Lieutenant General Brims: I would agree that they are radical, because the world has changed and the way in which we prepare our forces has had to change with that. It is about how we structure the Army. At one level, you have gone back as a result of the independent commission to a balance between Regulars and reserves that was hitherto more normal than it became in the last 10 to 15 years. There are other aspects of it, which you touched on in the last session. The pairing of units has not happened before. The vast majority of armed forces will be based in this country, rather than overseas. Many different changes are taking place at the same time, and the reserve component and the move towards a whole force are big changes.

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I concur with everything that Robin says, but, in saying that it is radical, I would add that some aspects are a continuation of what we have seen as common and best practice in the past 10 or 20 years, and even more decades than that. One needs to register that, for example, reliance on the reserves goes in and out of vogue, but the one thing that has been clear to me in the last 50 years is that the Army has always relied on them to some extent. The thing that makes this radical is a proper recognition of them and the ability to draw on them in a way that is more pragmatic than might always have been the case in the past.

Major General Lalor: I think I am in the Air Vice-Marshal’s camp. I do not think that what we are asking of the reserves is necessarily radical. I think that the commitment that the Army has made is radical. There have been many reviews in which we have talked about integration and more useable reserves, and that has not been translated into fundamental change. That commitment to whole-force manning is radical, but what we are asking our reservists to do-and all the components thereof, including employers-is not necessarily that radical if you look at what we have been doing since the Balkans, and indeed even before that with the commitment to the cold war.

Q224 Chair: And from a business point of view, Mr Cherry and Mr Ehmann, do you see it as radical? Do you see it as a major change, or have you not seen sufficient evidence of that yet?

Mike Cherry: I do not personally feel that it is radical in terms of employers supporting their reserves. I think it needs to be recognised that they need adequate training, adequate kit and everything else to make this work. In that respect, we have gone through these feast and famine cycles over time with the reserve forces, and there needs to be a strong recognition that the support has to be there, and the right kit and everything else has to be in place to make this happen.

I think society has changed as well. We highlighted this in our submission. Society generally these days has lost contact. The MOD has been working in its own silos, and we need to make that connection work properly if we are to get this underpinned by society at large and to get most employers to support it as the MOD would wish.

Q225 Chair: Would the IOD approve of that?

Alexander Ehmann: I have a slightly different take; I would say they are radical. The expectations are pretty radical on employers and on workplaces generally. On the positive side, that radicalism is well intentioned. I can see the objectives, but-perhaps we will get on to this later-I do think in some cases there are elements of poorly evidenced reasons for some of the actions that have been taken. There are instances in the proposals put forward that seek to deliver greater levels of employer participation in the efforts to garner more reservists, but in some cases the energies are being allocated to the wrong areas.

Q226 Chair: We will come on to that, but if we do not, could you insist somehow that we do?

Alexander Ehmann: Yes.

Q227 Chair: If you were being critical of these plans, which I will not require you to be, would you say that they have been fully and properly tested?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I don’t think they have been fully and properly tested, other than on paper. The proposition that was set out at the start, which the commission produced, looks as though it is entirely achievable on paper, but there are elements within it that still need to be tested more thoroughly than they currently are. The real implementation of the plan is relatively young, but it has happened quickly. Whereas the commission recommended a phased approach to the introduction of this change, from our perspective those phases have been blurred into a single entity. That has prevented some proper experimentation and development in areas where there has been an urgency to press on. As a result, we are already seeing practical problems, but, from our perspective, there is no lack of commitment from the senior levels of both the political and military leadership to make it work. If you were to focus on one thing-I am sure you will-namely the achievement of recruiting at the moment, you can see that there are elements of that that are not fully tested and urgently need addressing.

Q228 Chair: Each of the three of you military men is on the external scrutiny group, so when you say "from our perspective", is that from the point of view of that group?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: It is. We had about six months over the course of the last year in which we looked at this, and such problems were hinted at but had not yet manifested themselves. In the course of this year, they are becoming more obvious.

Q229 Chair: As you suggested, we will be coming on to recruiting.

If you were in a red-team mode and looking for successes and flaws in this plan, what would you say they were?

Major General Lalor: The only concern, as Paul Luker has said, is that-I do not have a problem with the substance of the plan, the Commission’s report or its translation into the plan. The timeline is the key issue. With the experience of a reservist, I do worry that not enough consideration was taken in the SDSR of where the Territorial Army was. The Commission referred to the TA having been in decline. Indeed, our report said that the decline was due to policy and management. What concerns me is that everything is eminently deliverable, but I worry about the time scales, because it was not factored in that it would take considerable time, effort and resources, which are being applied, to get the TA back to the steady state that it enjoyed before resources, for justifiable reasons, were taken away for the greater importance of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Q230 Mr Havard: Are you therefore concerned that a push to make the numbers might sacrifice the quality?

Major General Lalor: That is always a danger when you are putting people through the sausage machine-whether it be Regular or TA. That is not really what I am concerned about, but I am concerned about the command and control of TA units. As a result of this decline, particularly in those combat service support units, which really were not needed for Afghanistan, there has been a considerable reduction in the capability of the officer corps and the senior NCOs, because there was no purpose to serving in those regiments. That takes a long time to recover from. After recruiting, you get lots of phase 2 trained soldiers, but to get those senior NCOs and those good TA commanders back up to that level, you are definitely talking about 2020 as opposed to 2015.

Mr Havard: I agree.

Lieutenant General Brims: In view of the time scale challenge, we said in our report that there was a need to be more metric, so that you could measure how the build-up was going. If you have some way points, you can take mitigating action to get things to a better end. I have no doubt that this is an achievable plan. The question is whether it is achievable in the time scale given.

If I was on the red team, the other piece would be that a certain amount of the re-organisation that has been done has involved some re-rolling, usually of sub-units. There is a danger that people may not step up to be re-rolled and choose to leave. That could be a problem, and it is something that should be looked at.

The other half of your question was about the positives. There are positives, the foremost of which is that there is now a proposition to make this an attractive proposition for the reservist and, I hope, for his or her employer in turn. The other big positive as part of that proposition is the whole force. That changes things very significantly. A wholly integrated force will itself take time to change because some of the things that go in with that are to do with cultural change, and cultural change takes time.

Q231 Chair: Air Vice-Marshal Luker, do you want to add to that?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I would reinforce the point about the cultural change, because the challenge will be different at different levels within the services. Essentially, you are talking about growing out of the minds of reasonably well established senior NCOs and middle-ranking officers the idea that there is a division between the two. They have to work in unison in a way that has not been the fashion over the past couple of decades.

Q232 Derek Twigg: Some of the contributors on the Army Rumour Service forum have expressed scepticism within the Army about whether this can be achieved. How committed do you think senior officers are to achieving this?

Lieutenant General Brims: We have been briefed by the senior officers of the Army and there is no question: they are committed to this. This plan has got to work. They are committed to it, I have no doubt. That message is going to take time to percolate down to the more junior ranks. We have certainly seen, in our official capacity and for most of us in unofficial capacities, and we have heard doubtful remarks made in the more junior end of the Army. Equally, sometimes they do not necessarily know what the plan is themselves-the bigger picture.

I frequently find myself talking to young officers who have returned from Afghanistan unaware that reservists have been deployed with them in their unit. There is a positive and negative in that, because if they are unaware, clearly the reservist performed perfectly satisfactorily. But the fact that they were not aware is the negative side. That is part of the cultural change. That is the reservist view.

Major General Lalor: It is quite difficult, because I have a lot of sympathy for those soldiers. They are not interested in the plan; they are looking forward to a change in their circumstance in their TA centre, sub-unit or regiment. One of the problems is that-I will go back again to my example of a CSS unit-you did not have a role before SDSR and you actually still do not have a role. Three years later, we still do not have new operational roles to give a sense of purpose so that we can deliver the proposition. If you are a soldier on the proverbial gun park, you are still waiting. Great words from great men are tremendous and, for the record, I would like to say that we were very impressed with CLF’s plan, DG reform’s work. It is a very credible plan, but of course the issue is the delivery of that plan and the effect that the proposition will have on our soldiers’ lives.

Q233 Derek Twigg: Can I ask one final question? In recent years, there have been major changes in the way people are employed. Zero-hours contracts, temporary contracts, agency work, people having two or three part-time jobs-there has been a significant change over the past five years or so. Do you see any way in which that might hinder the recruitment of people into the reservists? In the past we had very large companies that were able to work much more closely with the TA. We have had SMEs taking the greatest part of the employment market for quite some time now. Do you think that the way people are employed has implications for recruitment?

Major General Lalor: Personally, on balance, I think that it is a positive rather than a negative, although I accept that you could argue either way. One message that I have always got-

Q234 Derek Twigg: Sorry, how is it a positive?

Major General Lalor: It is positive because there is a lot more flexibility in people’s time. If you look at the TA, at least 50% is judged to be self-employed, unemployed or in further education. Even those who are in employment are looking to change job quite frequently, much more so than in my generation. They are not beating themselves up that they are looking for employment continuity. In that respect, they have a lot more flexibility. Is one of their part-time careers their military service? Are they going to volunteer for mobilisation? Are they going to volunteer for full-time reserve service? They are working that within the portfolio of modern employment that you describe.

Alexander Ehmann: I would add one thing to that. I agree with everything the Major General said, and I think there are greater opportunities for flexibility. However, if you are working two or three jobs, you probably have two or three employers. That means that there are more employers now who, in the instance of one individual, are effectively employers of reservists, or will be employers of reservists. That does mean that the ramifications of the policy as set out here will be greater than they have been in the past.

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: May I add to that? I think that is absolutely right, but I also think that one of the things that is yet to work its way through, which I certainly saw hinted at if not promised in the White Paper, is the obligation of the service to employers to make deployment opportunities more flexible to accommodate the individual, the employer and the requirements of defence.

Chair: We will come on to that later in this session.

Q235 Mrs Moon: Will the £5,000 bounty be successful in encouraging ex-regulars to re-engage as reservists?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I don’t know that the £5,000 bounty in its own right will, but there is some evidence already that ex-Regulars are moving across into the reserve. The numbers are relatively small-typically half a dozen a month at the moment-but it will certainly alert people to the possibility of doing it in a way that a basic advertising campaign would not. I also suspect that it will very much depend on what type of regular we are looking for to move across. The £5,000 is hugely attractive to some; it probably will not make an enormous difference to others, depending on what second career they are moving into.

Q236 Mrs Moon: Capita is said to have run into difficulties in recruiting reserves, and 1,000 soldiers have been redeployed to take on recruiting roles. Do you see that as an appropriate use of our soldiers?

Lieutenant General Brims: From our point of view, we were charged with reporting on the plan to expand the reserve, so I can’t really answer that question because it outside our remit. But we are fully aware that there is a problem with recruiting at the moment. In the report that we produced in the summer, we deliberately didn’t go into the numbers-that is something we will be looking at in the second half of this year-because the baseline was still being sorted out and the plans were being created.

I don’t know about the problem with the partnership between the Army and Capita for recruiting, but clearly it is there. I am not aware of any evidence that people don’t want to join. That is a separate thing. We have anecdotal evidence throughout our RFCA structure that there are people who want to join the reserves but have difficulty getting through the mechanical processes for doing so. I am pleased to see that somebody is taking action to mitigate the problem, and I hope that, if the numbers aren’t there in the short term, there is a mitigation plan to make the greater numbers that will need to be there at a later stage, with the knock-on effects in the plan.

Q237 Chair: Mr Cherry, my intuition tells me that Mrs Moon is about to ask you a question directly in any event, but would you like to answer that question as well?

Mike Cherry: I am not aware of the issues that Capita may or may not have, but the FSB has always held the view that the Government need to recognise the contribution that small businesses do make and could make if they reached out to them far better and did not just use providers to deliver what they think are the numbers they require.

Q238 Mrs Moon: We are told that there are purely technical problems with this shortfall; that is the evidence we have been hearing across the board. What is your view about why there is a shortfall, and what can we do about it?

Mike Cherry: I think, as clearly came out in the discussions we had with the MOD, the MOD has for far too long been working in a silo mentality. It has not reached out to employers. I think that is a fundamental sea change that has been recognised. We have yet to see it implemented and put into practice.

Q239 Mrs Moon: In what way? Can you expand on that?

Mike Cherry: Business organisations can help support the Government by informing our members, but collectively we probably only represent around 500,000 members out of the 4 million-plus that are supposedly out there. You have to take that fact into account. Whether it is the IOD, the FSB or the other business organisations, we can but inform our members. We can but get the information in front of them. But we are only touching the surface, quite frankly. Government has a duty, I feel, to communicate far more effectively on a lot of policies, not just on this.

Q240 Chair: We heard from Professor Farrell just before your evidence session that there was a role for all Government Departments, particularly for No 10. Brigadier Barry said the same thing. Do you agree with that? Do you think that there is not enough shouting about the national importance of this plan?

Mike Cherry: We highlighted the fact again in our submission that there needs to be public recognition of those reservists and particularly of those employers who were supportive of this plan. We have the initiative that is in place now. But there has been no communication publicly about that as far as I am aware. The Government has to step up to the mark on this.

Alexander Ehmann: If I might add something on this. It was quite a few years back now, but we researched among our members their relative views on the different types of outside work activity of their employees. Reservist service was held in the highest esteem of all of those types of activities. It was something I am sure we will get on to. But I think this is tied into your question. One of the assumptions that is unfortunately made in the proposals here is that significant obstacles are placed by both employers and employees in partaking of reservist service. Certainly on the employers’ side, I see no reason why employers are not supportive in wanting to assist as pre-proposals stood. So one of the key things I would emphasise is that this is about facilitating demand. That requires a great deal of noise to revivify the need to recruit individuals into reservists roles, rather than necessarily assuming there are some significant policy or procedural hurdles that stop that taking place.

Q241 Chair: So not enough noise.

Alexander Ehmann: Yes.

Q242 Mr Holloway: This is a question for Mr Ehmann and Mr Cherry. I know a young person with a first-class degree and five years of extraordinary working life thus far who was trying to get a job with one of the big headhunting firms. They got to the final chat with the partner figure and was asked what they did in their spare time. This person replied that they were joining the TA and the offer was not forthcoming. They are absolutely convinced that it was at that moment that the interest disappeared. How can you make it more attractive to grown-up employers like that to take people who are going to be in the TA but who will inevitably take a lot of time off if they are going to do what the Government are after?

Alexander Ehmann: That is a good question. First off, I would be very interested in that person’s details. I am sure that some of our members would be very keen to have that person work for them.

Chair: I suspect you will be getting an e-mail about this.

Alexander Ehmann: I am happy with that. One of the things that I would say is that I hear your example but I cannot help but feel that the examples I have heard of this type of activity still remain anecdotal. The vast majority of the evidence I hear is that employers frankly hear that type of contribution being made outside work, outside studies, and are very enthusiastic. I can say this-again slightly anecdotally-I was a reservist myself for five years and with the engagement I have always had with employers, I have never had any problem with employers and being honest about my reservist activity. I would make one point here too, which is important. It may not come up later. There remains a more significant problem: the willingness, rightly or wrongly, of many individuals to say to potential or present employers anything about their reservist activity is a major issue. In terms of delivering the proposals set out here, I would argue that one of the problems is employers knowing who among their work force are reservists.

Q243 Mr Holloway: Can I ask about this from the other end of the spectrum-the small business, perhaps owned by the proprietor, with five or 10 employees? How do the Government make it more attractive to the sort of members that you have many of to take people who will then be dragged off and cost them money?

Mike Cherry: I’m sure this will come out in the support package that is available from the Government when we come on to that later, but I think it is important to make you aware, if you have not already got this, that a lot of the evidence, as Alex says, is anecdotal. We tasked the MOD to come back at us on this one, because we had not heard it as an organisation. Indeed, nearly 90% of our members in our questionnaire said that they wanted to be told whether the individual was a reservist, so that they could give adequate support.

Q244 Chair: Your organisation is the Federation of Small Businesses.

Mike Cherry: Indeed.

Q245 Mr Havard: There is this whole area where someone might have two or three employers, and there was the question earlier about people’s understanding of that and whether they make it available to the employers they have already got, so training of employers and support to employers in understanding is going to be in greater need than it has ever been before, presumably. What is your attitude towards the proposal that is being made for that training for employers? One reservist might have two or three employers that need to understand and to support that individual in terms of right to return or whatever.

Mike Cherry: I wasn’t aware that training was being given to employers to support-

Q246 Mr Havard: Well, do you think that training should be given to employers?

Mike Cherry: No, I don’t, basically. I think what the Government has to do, as we said a moment ago, is to communicate what it wants far more effectively than it is doing and get employers behind it.

Q247 Mr Havard: So the business Department and possibly people such as ACAS and others should not necessarily have advice and guidance for employers about how to proceed.

Mike Cherry: I think you’ve already got the advice and guidance, certainly on the support that SaBRE offers to employers. I think that creating far more awareness of SaBRE actually being in existence, as well as of what it can offer in support, would go a long way to help to overcome that problem.

Alexander Ehmann: If I may say so, being very candid about this, I feel that much of what has been proposed here does make the environment more complicated for employers. The ideas that we may get on to later of domestic mobilisation requirements and so on do, I think, present challenges that are unwelcome, but as things stood, I agree with Mike. I think that the vast majority of our members would not feel the need for training, but simply for an understanding ear in respect of how policy is developed, in terms of assisting their wholesale and supportive endeavour to employ reservists where they can.

Chair: We will be coming on to these issues in just a moment, with Gisela Stuart particularly asking that question.

Q248 Sir Bob Russell: Gentlemen, do you not accept that the dialogue is two-way and therefore employers should be encouraged by organisations such as yourself? With regard to those who join the reserve-we do need more to join if the strategy is to work-employers should be advised of the benefits, the advantages, the skills, the training and the work ethic that members of Her Majesty’s armed forces have brought upon themselves and can bring back into the workplace when they are back as civilians.

Mike Cherry: I think we are very supportive of making our members aware of some of the advantages, but I am equally sure that they are very much aware of that themselves. I think what we need to be doing is making sure that, as I say, the Government gets behind this and communicates it properly to employers-what is available and what support is there in particular. That isn’t necessarily always financial support.

Q249 Sir Bob Russell: But it is a two-way dialogue. Would you agree?

Mike Cherry: I think it is a two-way dialogue to a certain extent, but you cannot expect organisations to force their members to do something if they do not wish to do that. You can only inform them of what is available to them.

Q250 Sir Bob Russell: And encourage them?

Alexander Ehmann: I think that is a challenging proposition. I am not saying it is not worth pushing on the area. As I said, many of our members are supportive; the vast majority are supportive of people’s reservist activities outside the workplace. But I think to ask employers to become active promoters of that type of activity runs quite significant risks of causing friction within the workplace. I do not think they can advocate. I think they can say, "We provide a platform for you to do this as well as other types of activities if you so wish," but, unless it is compatible with your business, your own personal ethos, the work environment and the employees you have, to become an active, strident, ardent advocate of reservist service is a pretty significant ask.

Q251 Sir Bob Russell: Well, widen it to the voluntary sector in general, then.

Alexander Ehmann: That is an even more significant ask because you are asking employers to have to commit to a whole range of activities.

Sir Bob Russell: I am just making an observation. I think employers have to accept that there is more to life than the workplace and their work force contribute to more than life in the workplace.

Chair: The point has been made.

Lieutenant General Brims: One of the things that we majored on in our report was the need for a narrative as to what the Government’s plan is. We have seen that narrative on the day that the White Paper was announced, within the White Paper and within the announcements of the Army on its pairing and basing. Pull those together and there is the start of a narrative. That is beginning to seep out. It has to get to today’s reservist, today’s regular, tomorrow’s reservist, tomorrow’s regular, employers and commentators.

I heard it for the first time last week in County Durham, when the Army engagement team gave a presentation and there were about 100 employers present, plus people from schools, academies and the universities. It was really good. It involved local Army reserve soldiers of a range of different ranks, playing their part and engaging. It was a presentation followed by a two-way discussion, and it was first class. In my view, that was the start of it seeping out. We need to get much more.

Q252 Chair: More noise?

Lieutenant General Brims: More noise, and it needs to be communicated. An awful lot of people I have talked to make an off-the-cuff remark about the plan, and then you explain the plan to them and they say, "Ah, now I understand what the plan is I think it might be able to work." They are arguing against something that isn’t the plan.

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I am largely in support of a couple of the things that the employers’ representatives have said. My point is that is perfectly possible to find examples of really good corporate social responsibility policies in supportive companies that absolutely favour reservists, beyond what we would have expected them to do. So there are a lot of good examples out there. Where they do tend to go further is where there is a mutual defence interest. But there are other practical ways in which we can also demonstrate benefit, and have done. A decade ago we used to run a fairly extensive programme of real exercises to take employers and junior managers out to watch their own reservists work. That has fallen into decline in recent years, but it is the sort of thing that contributes to the noise that educates.

Q253 Penny Mordaunt: We often talk a lot about the private sector, but anecdotally I have picked up a lot of concern from public sector employers, in particular with regard to teachers: it always seems to be a recurring theme that people in that profession can’t get the time off because of the pressures that the public sector is under. Have you encountered anything like that? Do you want to make any comments about public sector employers?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: There have been examples-and I think there will continue to be examples until the sort of thing we have just been talking about becomes more evident-where what happens in Whitehall is presumed then to percolate all the way through local government as well, and it doesn’t. It is not just at that level. It isn’t sufficient to have, for example, a dialogue with the national health service; it is absolutely essential to have a dialogue with local trusts as well, to make sure that the policy that is being discussed in Whitehall is the one being executed down on the ground. It is probably not the right place to say this, but of course we have to work with three devolved Administrations as well, and again, what Whitehall says does not necessarily carry in all regards. So there is still quite a lot of work to do there. However, I don’t think that is institutional resistance; I think it is just the passage of information that largely gets in the way.

Q254 Mr Brazier: I was going to ask you a question about the scrutiny group itself, but first, as Madeleine has had to go, can we just come very quickly back to the Capita contract and current enlistment thing? I am surprised we went over that so quickly. One unit has told me that every single applicant they have had since the new system came in has disappeared into the system without trace. General Lalor, you are a former senior head of the reserves. What are you hearing anecdotally about it?

Major General Lalor: Well, not good, that’s for sure-in fact, the opposite of that. To put it in context, because I think it is important to do so, my understanding of the Capita contract is that the TA, the reserves, was never part of the original scope of works; that presumably the scope of works was written a long time before FR2020 was conceived, so the whole concept of them recruiting for the reserves was an add-on. This is not ideal in any situation.

I suspect Capita, or indeed any of the other bidders, really did not have the sort of detail they needed-technical specialist detail-of what were the challenges to recruiting to the reserves. Fundamentally, in the Territorial Army, you recruit locally. Your sales force is your soldier. He goes out there and sells the experience of being in that TA sub-unit or major unit; so the concept of centralising all the effort-particularly if it is going to be exclusively an IT-based system-

Sir Bob Russell: Was mad.

Major General Lalor: Was questionable. Of course, going back to Mrs Moon’s question, the application of manual labour to correct that flaw was a sensible command decision made by CLF, presumably-he has given evidence before-because he knew it was not working. I do not think that is a criticism of Capita, because I don’t know what the scope of works were, and I don’t know what the expectations are-what the MOD had to deliver from an IT systems point of view. This is not a criticism of Capita; but what I do know is you can create a jolly good policy and marketing environment with campaigns and with a Government narrative, but at the end of the day, your recruiting, the vast majority of it, is done by your motivated Territorial Army soldiers, supported by their local RFCAs and the like.

Q255 Mr Brazier: And it would help, presumably, if the recruiting offices, with their precious terminals, were open on Saturdays and not Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

Major General Lalor: The whole of the anecdotal evidence is that the IT system is not working; so if you are recruiter, from whatever yeomanry regiment, and you bring in, or one of your soldiers brings in, a very enthusiastic young man or woman, you then completely lose that person, because that person is then making an input on a computer, and the unit has no ability to track it and mother that person. Certainly, when I was the Commanding Officer, or the unit recruiting officer, I would do everything possible to massage that person’s flow through the system, and, until they were in my unit in uniform, the job was not done. They cannot do that under the current system. That is of course, as I say again, why CLF is trying to override that with manual resources, to try and get that effort working.

Q256 Mr Brazier: Thank you. A depressing thought. The group itself: could you tell us what the powers are-the external scrutiny group? Can you tell us a tiny bit about the background?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: The basis of our work so far was largely last year and the last half of last year. In terms of the sorts of interest you may have, the first thing is to make the point that we are not an executive group; we have no authority other than the authority to report.

Our report was submitted under Lieutenant General Brims’s signature, and was received, and we had a response to it. The question really is something that would be most answered in the course of this here, I think, when we see how people respond to the observations and recommendations that we have made. At the moment, in certain areas, it is difficult to see that they are being carried through. I think what is important, within all this-and I think we share the view-is that in order to be effective and to be listened to, it has to remain independent. That is the added governance strength that I think we provide.

As you know, there are levels of governance that were recommended and were introduced. As far as we can see, the internal governance through the programme board-I was at a programme board meeting yesterday-is gripping its problems. I still think it is important that there should be some form of external oversight that allows a genuine independent view on how this is being progressed.

Lieutenant General Brims: In our report, we have trailed those areas that we are going to look at in this next round.

Q257 Mr Brazier: A very quick supplementary. The commission report was quite clear that this should be a permanent arrangement. Were you surprised to hear-was it the first you had heard of it-the White Paper suddenly announce that you only have a lifetime of up to 2018, while this process is going on?

Lieutenant General Brims: Our terms of reference actually say until 2018 or when FR20 is completed.

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: Can I add to that? I think while everyone at the moment is rightly focused on delivering things like numbers, and 2018/2020 becomes the target, it is clear why they would see 2018 as being the life of this group. Actually, the other thing that will emerge, I am certain, over time is that the circumstances that surround a reservist will still remain different from those surrounding a regular when it comes to their life support mechanisms. It will be quite important to make sure that those are not just lost in the noise of integration, and that recognition remains different.

Chair: Getting back to the issue of the offer to employers, I call Gisela Stuart.

Q258 Ms Stuart: Thank you-I had just enough time to open the page. It was interesting that you talked about developing a narrative, and that the recruitment is going to be very local. The White Paper suggests some incentives to make it worthwhile for the employer to take part, including financial incentives. It recognises that you require more notice as to what the deployment is. Do you think the package that they have put together is sufficient, or is there more that could be offered to make it attractive to employers?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: I relate it to one of my earlier answers, which was that there was little time and little opportunity to test a lot of this or to have any experimentation. Although the White Paper proposes measures that are a good start and I am certain that a good many of them will and should endure, over the life of Future Reserve 2020 we have got to keep open minds about being able to adapt, change and increase if we have to. I do not think there is any evidence yet to suggest that they are not the right ways to be going at the outset.

Alexander Ehmann: From an employer’s point of view-from the point of view of the members of the Institute of Directors-the reason why some are not enthusiastic about reservist service, or are not offering or acting aggressively in this area, does not relate to money. It seems strange for me, on behalf of our members, to turn down the very kind and generous offer of an additional financial incentive, but I do think it is the wrong incentive.

If you were to go down the financial incentive route, I have always felt-this is not dog-in-the-manger stuff-that reservists derive two separate incomes, one as a reservist and one in their employment, so they are already benefiting at a much higher level than their employer is from that relationship. It struck me that some kind of basis around sharing the bounty that they receive annually with their employer would entrench a bit more of a relationship between employer, and employee and reservist that at present does not exist. Rather than a Government handout, as it were, much more of a direct relationship with the reservist activity strikes me as a more positive endeavour.

Q259 Ms Stuart: Do you have a specific view on the national relationship management scheme-Relate for reservists and employers? Is that something that registered?

Alexander Ehmann: Not particularly, it has to be said. I have engaged, over the years. In a previous job, I did public relations work for the British Army for recruitment purposes. I have to say that the organisations that existed-the RFCAs and SaBRE-strike me as perfectly reasonable vehicles for delivering most of what is necessary in terms of employer and military engagement. Perhaps resources have been the most predominant issue there, rather than necessarily creating some new function.

Q260 Ms Stuart: One small supplementary on that idea, and then I am sure that Mike Cherry will have something to say. If I were to suggest that as part of their annual report your members report on how many reservists have gone on the staff roll, is that something that you think-

Alexander Ehmann: I think that would be an unnecessary and unwelcome burden.

Mike Cherry: I think we take a slightly different and more pragmatic viewpoint. I think we said at the time that the £500 a month was probably more than we would have expected. It is the support that the business needs to find and recruit a replacement that is pretty critical to our members, particularly the smallest micro-businesses.

One thing does need to happen, and I will move on to this. Part of the parcel that is offered to employers is the benefits that the reservist brings back into civilian employment as a result of the service they undertake. We have to make absolutely certain that whatever accreditation is given to skills in the military is well understood and equal to what is needed in civilian employment. I think that is not the case at this moment in time, but it has to happen if you are to have that general overall package. That is fundamental to how we see things helping and benefiting small businesses going forwards.

Moving on from that, there is also, as you will have seen from our submission, the idea of a general pool or, certainly, a proper and effective matching service between those who are coming out of the regular forces looking for civilian employment and vacancies with civilian employers. There are areas around that that could be developed going forwards in a far better way than they are at the moment.

Q261 Ms Stuart: Would that have to be organised regionally, or could you organise it nationally, given what we said earlier?

Mike Cherry: I should have thought that that would be perfectly possible through a national portal. If the IT infrastructure is there and it works effectively, there is no reason why it should not be possible. Again, it comes back to people knowing where to go and the Government actually communicating that these things are there. The Business Link part of is not well used, and I would suggest there is a communication problem on the Government side. That goes along with what I said a few minutes ago about far more effective communication. It is, to some extent, a two-way thing, but employers cannot do it all.

Q262 Mr Holloway: In support of Mr Cherry’s point, let me add that anybody over the age of 45 will have had a parent in the armed forces, so they would have some understanding of the qualities you were talking about, but anybody under 45 would not. That equally applies to the people who are trying to recruit.

Mike Cherry: It is also important to make a further point. We heard earlier from the general about the Army’s awareness events, but 90% of our members, when we surveyed them, said they had never heard of these, so there is a huge communication issue there. The Army is not reaching out to the smallest businesses.

Alexander Ehmann: Can I add one quick point in response to Mr Holloway, which is important? One thing we have not fully grasped in terms of recruitment-this extends somewhat beyond the IOD’s direct concerns-is the need for a much more far-reaching recruitment campaign that uses a whole range of tools. It is quite interesting that the American army uses computer games as a basis for trying to sell some of this to people. I can understand how there may be some dimensions of discussion to that particular development.

But there is a case for reaching out beyond-this was certainly my experience-using case studies in the local press to demonstrate value. Although that is valuable, it feels slightly tired, and there needs to be a much more integrated, new, media-rich attempt to attract our young people to these services.

Chair: We have five more minutes. Penny Mordaunt.

Q263 Penny Mordaunt: I have a couple of questions. The first is about the additional training requirement. Do you have any concerns about the 40 days? Is it achievable, or do obstacles remain?

Mike Cherry: I personally do not see that there is an issue, unless you are an employer running a 24/7 operation over the weekends. I cannot see going from 35 to 40, when it is mainly weekend or evening training, as a significant issue, unless you are having to travel much further to your training bases than you have in the past.

Major General Lalor: I would say that it is not significant; the five days is not material. Forty days translates to roughly 10 weekends a year, evenings and your two-week FTX. When I was a commanding officer we were doing 50, 60 days, and no one blinked. It is significant only because it is shown as an increase, but it is not an increase from an already demanding level; 35 training days a year is a very moderate demand. The increase is not significant.

Lieutenant General Brims: There is the other side of the coin, which is whether that is enough to deliver the type of readiness that is needed. That is from the employer, but from the military point of view-the user point of view-is it enough? Then, of course, you have to take into account that in the mobilisation phase there will be more and more training.

Ten years ago, I deployed a force into Iraq of which 20% was made up of reservists. We’d had no top-up training, and they were okay. So it is not as dramatic as is sometimes said. We should not plan to do it quite like that, but there is an awful lot that you can do from a baseline that might not have been brought to full readiness. Indeed, the regulars have not, either.

Q264 Penny Mordaunt: Just to clarify, do you have any remaining concerns-perhaps not about the number of days but about what that training constitutes?

Lieutenant General Brims: I don’t think I have a concern about the number of days for either the individual or the relationship with their employer, because actually those 40 or 45 days take place, as it were, in the individual’s private time. Whether it is sufficient to train all the different capabilities is an area we will be testing, to answer an earlier question. It is an eight-year programme.

Q265 Penny Mordaunt: Does that include the frequency of training opportunities, too?

Lieutenant General Brims: Yes.

Q266 Penny Mordaunt: My other question-this has already largely been touched on-is on how this is going to work alongside and integrate with the regulars. We spoke earlier about some of the cultural challenges, particularly among lower ranks. Do you have any other remaining concerns about that whole course integration?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: Some urgent work is needed on what pairing and partnering really means. I think it would be quite easy to overface a regular unit if it felt it was taking on all of the administration and support roles that have traditionally rested with the reserve unit. Indeed, I do not think it would be healthy to move those responsibilities, because there is part of bringing on the reservist CO, as a CO who can command in his own right, that remains important.

There is still a responsibility matrix that needs to flow out of it. I also think there is a temptation for regular soldiers or regular servicemen-there are two here-to claw everything to themselves, because they think that is the only way that problems can be resolved. Actually, a responsibility matrix that spreads all of those things to the most appropriate bodies is needed out of this, too. I hope this does not sound like self-publicity, but organisations such as the RFCAs and other support groups can take some of that burden off regular and reservist units, too.

We should be looking to things such as the covenants to provide levels of support in that as well. Going right back to an earlier point, we need to make sure that the noise touches a number of other areas, rather than the usual suspects on which we have tended to concentrate in the course of the day.

Chair: This is the very final question.

Q267 Sir Bob Russell: The footprint of Army bases in the UK has decreased significantly over the years, so what are your thoughts on how the reorganisation of Army basing might affect the recruitment of reserves?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: The challenge in selecting any reserve centre is in making sure that it is in the right place. One of the disappointments over the years is that there hasn’t been flexibility on what reserve centres you kept, developed or disposed of. The RFCAs have been very involved in that and have been looking for greater flexibility. It is stating the obvious, but they need to be in the right place so that they can recruit. So it is critical that the DIO allows that flexibility so that we are not having TA centres in the wrong place, which will founder whatever effort we might make in good management or recruiting.

Q268 Sir Bob Russell: This is the last question: how much does distance act as a deterrent to a potential recruit to the Army Reserve?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: Less than it used to, but it still is a factor. If I can just add to Simon’s last response, it is not just the availability of TA centres or reserve centres that is important in all of this; it is also access to training areas in reasonable travel time. If we end up with larger, more centralised training bases, it inevitably leads to more transit time, which will be a major disincentive to retention.

Q269 Sir Bob Russell: So it is best to leave a lot of flexibility in this?

Air Vice-Marshal Luker: There has to be the right balance.

Chair: It is 3.50, and I said we would stop at 3.50. Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for your impeccable discipline and your interesting and helpful answers in this evidence session. I am most grateful.

Prepared 25th October 2013