31 March 2006
Full report: Ministry of Defence: Reserve Forces
Reserve Forces have provided a vital contribution to recent military operations, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today reported to Parliament. As part of the biggest mobilisation since the 1956 Suez Crisis, over 12,000 Reserves have so far served in Iraq. The Ministry of Defence has successfully developed a culture where Volunteer Reservists expect and want to serve on operations. The Department has done much to improve its management of Reservists, and the support given to them and to their families, but there is more to do.
Reservists have been used at unprecedented levels in recent years: they made up 12 per cent of UK forces in the war fighting phases in Iraq. The NAO carried out an extensive survey of Volunteer Reservists and most said that their main reasons for joining were to learn new skills, to make a contribution to the defence of the UK, and as a change from their civilian jobs. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of Reservists joining in the last year said that a desire to serve on operations was important in their decision.
As has been the case for many years, all of the Volunteer Reserve Forces are below strength, with the highest manning levels in the Territorial Army at 81 per cent of the requirement as at December 2005. Whilst overall manning has steadily declined, the Department has recently been successful in increasing the number of new recruits, and there have been early signs that manning levels have stabilised. Turnover is consistently high, which has a knock-on effect on the number of personnel trained and available for deployment.
In the NAO’s survey, 16 per cent said that they plan to leave in the next year. Of these, around half stated that personal or family pressures had played an important part in their decision. However, of those planning to leave nearly half said that it was no longer enjoyable, around 40 per cent said that they had received inadequate support and around a quarter said that they had received inadequate training. The Department recognises these issues and is working to address them.
There are challenges in providing training for Reservists, caused by problems with scheduling, resource constraints and the lower priority their training is given. Whilst plans to increase integration with Regular units may bring improvements, the Department will need to continue to address these problems.
The Department has recently extended the period of notice that Reservists receive prior to deployment and has enhanced the arrangements for remunerating them when on deployment. The Department needs to support Reservists injured on operations in rejoining their civilian lives and careers as quickly as possible; the Department recognises its duty to support injured Reservists and has recently undertaken to offer injured Reservists improved access to diagnosis and treatment on return from deployment. The Department needs to build on improvements to the support given to the families of Reservists during operations.
Reserve Forces complement the military capability provided by the Regular Armed Forces but could not replace it. The Department spent £440 million on the Reserves in 2004-05 although this does not represent the full costs. On the basis of the NAO’s analysis of costs and its work to draw together information on capability, the evidence indicates that Reserve Forces provide good value for money. The Department needs to build on the NAO’s analyses to improve its understanding of the costs and capability of Reserve Forces.
Array, 31 March 2006