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Recruitment Costs

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the latest figures available for the cost of recruiting a soldier, sailor, and airman respectively; and what steps he is taking to reduce recruitment through prestige town centre recruiting offices and to make use of jobcentres for recruiting.

In the financial year 1977–78, 38,237 men and women joined the Services. In this period the total cost of recruitment was approximately £26·16 million and the average cost per recruit £684. Separate figures for the Navy, Army and RAF were £637, £675 and £763 respectively.

As to use of jobcentres, I have nothing to add to my previous answer on this subject to my hon. Friend on 27th June 1978.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that these figures are unacceptably high? Are there not two main factors operating against recruitment? First, there is the terrible apartheid which operates in the Forces between officers and other ranks—[interruption.] Oh, yes. Tory Members do not like it, but it is true. This apartheid operates in terms of pay, pensions and conditions. Does not my hon. Friend agree that the use of prestige town centre offices is highly uneconomic? Does he realise that these prestige offices are usually empty while the potential recruits are at the jobcentre further up the road?

I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that the average cost per recruit is too high. The Department is bending every effort to reduce the cost. As for the prime town centre site argument, it is necessary for the Armed Forces to have an adequate shop window in main centres of population. A review is taking place in the Department to see whether we can maximise the facilities offered by jobcentres and economise to the maximum on the cost effectiveness of the recruiting system.

Is the Minister aware that the best aids to recruitment are neither jobcentres nor recruiting centres but the presence in our midst of large numbers of contented, high-spirited, soldiers, sailors and airmen who are proud of the job they do? That is what brings in the recruits. Is he further aware that he will get better recruits when he pays these men more?

The standards enjoyed by our Armed Forces are a major factor in any recruiting results. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the cream of our society is still queuing up to join Her Majesty's Forces. We have no shortage of applications. Our difficulties lie in the criteria which are applied to that substantial number of British citizens queuing up to join the Forces.

In view of the answer given by my hon. Friend to a Written Question on 16th November, at c. 364, may I ask him to hold an internal inquiry with a view to informing the House why there is such a disparity between those who volunteer to join Her Majesty's Forces and those who are accepted?

The Written Answer referred to by my hon. Friend demonstrates what I have just said. There are substantial numbers of the cream of our society queuing up to join the Forces. I agree that it might be a useful exercise for the Ministry of Defence to conduct a review to discover why a substantial number of people attempting to join the Forces are denied the opportunity.

In dealing with recruitment, may I ask the Minister to pay tribute to the connection between county regiments and the county recruiting areas from which such regiments draw manpower? Will the Minister have words with the Secretary of State to try and ensure that county regiments keep their headquarters—I think particularly of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment—within the counties? Is he aware that it does recruiting no good to have a county regiment in the South-West with its headquarters somewhere in the Midlands?

I agree that the county affiliations of many famous regiments in the Army are important factors, both in the maintenance of morale and the extent of our recruitment. The detailed problems of the regiment to which the hon. Gentleman has referred can best be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army.