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Recruitment and Retention

Volume 673: debated on Monday 16 March 2020

I fear that to list all the steps we are taking to recruit and retain armed forces personnel might take longer than you will allow, Mr Speaker. Suffice it to say, however, I can assure the House that this country will continue to have the world-class armed forces that it needs. There are a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and, crucially, retention, and those are kept constantly under review.

Carshalton and Wallington is home to 350 RAF Air Training Corps, and the cadets at the 350 Squadron are incredibly passionate about pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and achieving things that they did not think were possible. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that young people like those in the 350 Squadron see the value of the confidence, skills and experience that a role in the armed forces would provide?

I thank my hon. Friend for being such a champion of the air cadets, particularly in his constituency. All cadets learn many skills, but the cadet forces are not conduits into the armed forces. However, many cadets do go on to enjoy successful careers in the services, and long may that continue. As part of the cadets syllabus, we provide them with an awareness of the various career opportunities in the military and in other industries around defence.

Burnley has a long and proud tradition when it comes to service and recruitment into the armed forces. With that in mind, will the Minister agree to look at the viability of reopening the Burnley recruitment office, which was closed in 2013? That would make a valuable contribution to keeping Burnley’s tradition alive.

Armed forces career offices were reduced to increase efficiency and to reflect the modern society from which we are recruiting. Most recruiting activity occurs online, through chat facilities or through call centres, and it is vital that we maintain strong presences on social media and elsewhere on the internet, but we of course continually review the lay-down of our recruiting offices, and we will look again at the one in Burnley.

The Army Foundation College is located in my constituency. It provides a high-quality route into the Army for younger people, as it focuses on personal development and has a very well-respected education service. Does the Minister agree that the college plays an important role in Army recruitment and will continue to do so?

My hon. Friend is a champion for that fantastic college, and the Army is rightly very proud of it. The college provides an outstanding choice of qualifications and apprenticeships, as well as developing confidence, leadership skills and self-esteem. Whatever their background, young recruits become the Army’s future leaders, on average serving longer and providing more than half of our senior soldiers.

There have been problems with Capita in Army recruitment, so may I ask the Minister whether there are any plans for outsourcing recruitment for the RAF and the Navy?

Local authorities, the Ministry of Justice, the police and the Department of Health and Social Care all have the military mentioned in their contingency plans for tackling covid-19. Is the Minister satisfied that we have sufficient personnel to respond to the plans to tackle the virus here in the UK? If he is not, what plans does he have in place to bring military back from all non-essential operations overseas?

The Ministry of Defence plans for all things, whether it be for flooding or, indeed, for pandemic. We are planning for all eventualities in response to covid-19, and we are content that we have what we need within our resources to meet the likely requirements of the Government.

The proportion of all personnel reporting satisfaction with service life in general was 60% in 2010, but that has fallen to a mere 46% in 2019. Will the Minister set out what plans he has to rectify that, as we simply cannot afford to have more servicemen and women choosing to leave the forces because of a decline in satisfaction?

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point. No matter what the successes in recruiting might be, without good retention performance, they are more than offset. To that end, we have been looking extensively at what we can do to improve retention, including through the excellent report recently written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois).

As a long-term critic in this House of Crapita—sorry, Capita—I very much welcome the Minister’s emphatic answer that there are no plans to outsource royal naval or RAF recruitment. That is a wise decision. Will he bear in mind that, if we are to recruit and retain people in the armed forces, they must know that the Government will have their back if they ever get into trouble? Will the recently announced Bill on veterans protection fully reflect that principle?