Skip to main content

Army Reserve

Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

Being a reservist is a great way to experience adventure with new comrades, develop leadership qualities, learn new skills and get paid up to £3,000 in the first year, while maintaining a civilian life and day job. Funding of nearly £2 million has been delegated to fund regional and unit initiatives, as we believe that it is from the unit level that the greatest impetus for recruiting should come.

On Remembrance Sunday, I had the honour and privilege of meeting the commander of the reserve base in my constituency. He made it clear that capacity was available for new volunteers to come forward. What further steps does my hon. Friend suggest we can take to ensure that people locally can volunteer, should they wish to do so?

The short answer is that we have a very considerable advertising programme and a programme of engagement with employers—from the civil service down to small businesses and the special measures for them that I mentioned. The best advocates of all are serving reservists themselves, who need to go out and talk about the new opportunities. Examples include the platoon from my own constituency which, with a reserve officer commanding it, is going off to serve in Afghanistan from February onwards; the company that has just been to Cyprus; and all the other opportunities that are available in reserve service.

The fantastic 7 Rifles, based at Brock barracks in my constituency, will be encouraged by my hon. Friend’s answer, but could he please outline any specific incentives that employers are being offered to encourage their employees to become reservists? He has talked about the package for small businesses; can he provide a bit more detail, please?

I in fact served in the unit to which my hon. Friend refers when it was 4th Green Jackets. The £500 a month on deployment available to small businesses is over and above the full compensation package available to all employers when soldiers are away on operations. It is estimated that the training experience gained from an average period of mobilisation is worth up to £8,000 for a private, £14,000 for a sergeant and £18,000 for an officer. We have a full employer recognition scheme for supportive employers, and I myself have signed off a number of the dozens of organisations coming through, large and small, that want to be part of this exciting initiative.

I have had the privilege of meeting reservists and potential reserve recruits up and down the country, including in Wales. Many potential recruits are deeply disturbed by the length of time they are having to wait after their initial expression of interest. What is the Minister’s estimate of the number who are dropping out of the reserve recruitment process as a result of the delays that are being experienced by so many people?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there was a very considerable glitch in the pipeline, but we have taken a number of steps to solve it. People can now be enlisted even if their medical documents have not caught up with them, and they can be enlisted pending their security checks once they have done the initial interview. We have also very considerably increased the capacity at the assessment centres so that people are not caught waiting for places. All those changes are making a considerable difference. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer to his final question, but it is quite a number. I hope that that will not be the case in future, however, because the process has now speeded up so much.

Reports by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Defence Select Committee into Army 2020 have all said that Ministers have not done the basic work necessary to bring forward those reforms successfully. Poor planning data have been used, and assumptions have not been properly tested. What is the Minister going to do to put right this shambles?

The outline of the plan came from the original “Future Reserves 2020” review, which was chaired by the current Chief of the Defence Staff. The early blueprint was put together by General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the General Staff. The hon. Gentleman is partly right: there were some mistakes in the early stages relating to the way in which the recruiting pipeline was organised. Since those early glitches, we have made considerable changes—relating to meeting a common standard, for example—and recruits are now coming through in much greater numbers.