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Reserves Recruitment

Volume 580: debated on Monday 12 May 2014

9. What steps he is taking to ensure effective incentives are in place to support recruitment to the reserves. (903951)

We outlined in the 2013 White Paper the improved offer we are making to reservists. We have introduced a paid leave entitlement, occupational health checks and improved medical support, and from April next year reservists will become eligible for the new armed forces pension scheme. To further encourage individuals to join the Army Reserve, a number of new and revitalised schemes offering financial incentives to individuals to join were announced in March.

I am holding a jobs fair in Holmfirth on Friday 20 June, which the Royal Navy and the RAF have confirmed they will be attending. I hope that, as well as recruiting for regular positions, they will be spreading the word about our reserve forces. Does the Minister agree that we all have a big role to play to make sure that employers understand the benefits of employing reservists?

I do agree with that. In order to garner employer support, we have worked with businesses to create the corporate covenant, which is a way for businesses to demonstrate their support for the armed forces community, including reservists. I signed the corporate covenant last June, along with representatives from the main business and trade organisations, including the British Chambers of Commerce, the Business Services Association, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors. More than 100 corporate entities, including Liverpool football club, have now signed the corporate covenant. I must also pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is clearly doing his bit to encourage the reserves, and we all wish him absolute success for the forthcoming jobs fair in his constituency.

May I remind the Minister that reservists and the reserve force have to have local roots? There is no prouder tradition in the Army than the relationship with the county of Yorkshire, but there are severe worries about premises closing and, thus, there not being local meeting places and local roots. These things are being diminished and it is worrying to our forces and reservists in Yorkshire.

As someone who has commanded reservist soldiers, I understand very clearly the importance of local roots and regiments having a basis in their own community. We have said that we will look carefully at the basing announcements that we have made with regard to the reserve. In particular, we will analyse those units that are especially well recruited. If we see units that are recruiting well, we may be prepared to take that into account before final decisions are made.

One of the reasons why many of us opposed the Government’s reservist reforms was the prospect of false economies. Given that the financial incentive to ex-regular reservists has recently been doubled because of poor recruitment and that other costs have increased, will the Minister update the House on the financial cost of this initiative, if not now then in writing subsequently?

It is true that there have been a number of financial incentives designed to encourage ex-regulars to join the reserves, although those incentives generally operate in a way such that those regulars have to commit for a number of years in reserve service and do not necessarily get all of that money up front. It is still highly cost effective to have reserves that can be mobilised for operations. In addition, I was at the Ten Tors Challenge on Saturday on Dartmoor, which was supported by a number of Army Reserve units. I spoke to a number of Army Reserve commanding officers, including Major-General Ranald Munro, the Deputy-Commander Land Forces and the senior reservist in the British Army. They are absolutely confident that we can hit our targets, and so am I.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that having the right bases in the right places is absolutely essential, and can he update me on the progress being made to keep the 6th Battalion The Rifles in Truro?

I am very well aware of the campaign that my hon. Friend has doggedly run in an attempt to maintain a platoon of 6 Rifles in Truro, not least because of the proud heritage of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry—the DCLI. She may take close interest in my earlier answer to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) where I said that those units with a particularly strong recruiting record will find that we take that into account.