Minutes of the All Party Group for Reserve Forces meeting 15 October 2008
Lieutenant General Nick Parker, Commander Regional Forces, Inspector General Reserves (Army) and Brigadier Greg Smith, Dir. TA.
Julian Brazier MP (Chairing)
Rt Hon Bruce George MP
Tony Baldry TD MP
Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Mark Lancaster TD MP
Lord De Mauley TD
James Grey MP
Linda Gilroy MP
Laura Moffatt MP
Bob Russell MP
Desmond Swayne TD MP
Sir Peter Viggers MP
Sir Neil Thorne, Chairman Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme
Frank Cook MP
Julian Lewis MP
Gerald Howarth MP
Julian Radcliffe, Clerk
Richard Dixon, Deputy Clerk
Mr Gavin Davis, Land Forces Secretariat (Ops 1)
Major Kingsley Donaldson, MA to CRF
Julian Brazier welcomed the General and Brigadier Greg Smith to the meeting of the All Party Group on Reserve Forces.
The General opened his presentation outlining where reservists are currently mobilised on operations throughout the world. Although the headline figure was 1200 reservists on operations, there are another 200 or so TA personnel serving on Full Time Reserve Service within the Regular Army, though the majority of those are serving in non-operational posts.
These had many roles although most of the effort was now switching from operations in Iraq to Afghanistan. Op TOSCA was being carried out by Territorials in blue berets operating along the green line in Cyprus.
Territorials were supporting enduring operations and where the Army needed specialists that were only available in the Territorial Army. There were also manning issues, which meant Territorials were needed to fill slots in regular formations. He also stated that it was critical for the Territorial Army to deploy on alongside their regular counterparts operations. However he did realise that there are on going issues regarding employer support. He also said that it was important that reserves bind together in a single army delivering a one-army output.
Territorials were being deployed in the following ways - as unit deployments as in the case of 32 Sig Regt (V) on Op TOSCA, formed sub-units, sometimes including regulars, to do such tasks as force protection, cohorts and individual reinforcements.
He admitted that the mobilisation process for the reserves was still not as good as it could be, though progress has been made. There needed to be better coordination. It was important to get deployment right. This was appreciated and was vital.
The General pointed out that the Reserves were an insurance policy for any contingency arising. The army was in the process of transforming and the reserves must be allowed to develop as well. Some elements of the Reserves had become dated and needed a role more relevant to current operations.
The General outlined the delicate ‘ecosystem’ in the Army starting with cadets, then regular and reserve service followed by veterans. All this helped recruit regulars and Territorials. It provided an interface with families, employers, health trusts and society in general. In order to allow this to happen the Reserves need to have a spread and range across society as a whole.
TA 100 had raised the profile and opened it to a wider part of society. He cited the ‘uniform to work day’ as an example of a successful element of this and that he hoped that it would be repeated again.
Although there were challenges the General viewed them more as opportunities. He planned to implement the Reserve Review in an efficient way. There were still areas that would need decisions, but he was determined to seize the opportunity that was being offered.
Recruiting and retaining Territorials was a big issue at present, but he felt the risks might be overstated, although he admitted that the current recruiting figures were not as good as he would like. As far as officer recruitment was concerned he knew that with good roles and good leadership recruitment would improve. The wide spectrum of officer manning from excellent to very poor illustrated this.
He said that there were no strategic levers that he could pull to solve this, but he looked to a range of improvements in detailed measures and the local level to provide the good leadership.
Soldier recruitment needed to improve as well as retention and he also felt that it should not take so long to train the basic recruits. Initiatives such as regional Recruit Training Centres would help to reduce the numbers of those recruits who do not fully complete training.
Focusing on the future he outlined the four key elements as, first - relevance. He knew that some units didn’t feel that they had a proper role to play. This needs to change. Secondly, the reserves had to be usable and he cited the role of the Civil Contingency Reserve Force (CCRF) as being available for UK operations such as flooding.
Thirdly - sustainability, the General offered a personal view of the importance of the sub-unit in the TA structure, and that we had allowed the critical mass of the sub-unit to fall too low. There was only a need to train individuals to a peak level before mobilisation. It was not necessary that they were kept at this level all the time. Junior officers and sub-unit commanders were not getting enough time to command their soldiers on exercise and there was not enough training at unit level to provide satisfaction for the leadership element in units.
Fourthly, it was important to make the terms and conditions of service more relevant to the roles and method of mobilisation and more user friendly to the Reservist.
The General concluded by re-stating that the TA had its own distinct identity but was delivering a one-Army output. In summary:
The reserves were to continue to be used to support enduring operations
Aggressive recruitment was needed at local level.
TA 100 had been a great success in raising the profile.
The Reserve Review was the vehicle to make the TA more effective.
Desmond Swayne – opened the question and answer session by commenting that this had been the best briefing that the All Party Group had received on the Reserve Force (all concurred). His question concerned officer recruitment. Whilst there was real talent in the community, it took too long to train potential officers. Could this not be shortened?
Julian Brazier commented that it was also very difficult to recruit the right calibre of officer.
General - Agreed that it took a long time and we needed to reduce the amount of training, but that there needed to be a balance. He felt that it was not being sold effectively at the local level. He was also looking at achieving some officer training modules at university and both Exeter and Aberdeen universities were looking into this.
Ideally he would like officers to go through the machine including Sandhurst in under a year in a similar fashion to the fast track system. It was important to attract the right people. This streamlining could include a reduction in specialist training such as Chemical, Bacterial, Radiological and Nuclear, (CBRN), which could be completed after an officer has commissioned and joined his unit.
Laura Moffatt - On overall recruiting it was important to have interesting, varied and challenging training. Recruitment is about achieving the ‘buzz’ factor and welcoming new recruits into the unit. Do we have best practice and what is done to ensure that this is countrywide?
General - Whilst we have a chain of command to ensure that good ideas are adopted by units, he knew that this was not always the case. He thought that it was best to have a general military training requirement but not to be too specific. There was time to build up the higher level of training required before Territorials were deployed on operations. Units that ran good training packages would maintain their cohesion as units.
Brigadier Smith - Some units have a real ‘buzz’ feel to them, often a combination of good role and good location. These units are appealing to potential recruits. However recruits were scarce and difficult to get into what appear from the outside as quirky, old-fashioned ‘Edwardian’ Training Centres with an ill understood role.
He went on to say that Training Centres ought to be 21st century centres of excellence and that they were taking steps to achieve that, however the Estate still needed much work to be carried out.
James Grey - commented that recruitment was easier in times of economic downturn. He questioned the effectiveness of the Civil Contingency Reaction Force (CCRF) saying that it didn’t work, there was little extra training carried out which made the concept unworkable. He also raised the question of the lack of training for defence of the home base that until 1994 had been carried out by Home Service Units.
General - Accepted that the economic downturn could be good for recruiting and very much hoped that they could also raise the quality of the inflow of recruits, both Regular and Territorial.
In answer to the second question he said that as far as the home base was concerned, Commanders would use what forces were available in an emergency. He also said that sub units needed to be bigger to be effective.
Julian Brazier commented that the critical mass of units on the ground was indeed crucial.
Brigadier Smith pointed out that the Territorial Army wanted to carry out both operations overseas and provide forces for home defence and other duties. The CCRF have created a very limited Headquarters capability to link in with the Emergency Services, but the main focus was on providing manpower and some resources if needed in an emergency.
Sir Peter Viggers - asked what plans are there to expand the TA in the light of a national emergency.
The General replied that he was making the existing orbat of the Army effective to sustain direct operations today but he recognised that the TA needed a structure of command and control that in times of national emergency could be built upon to create a larger contingent capability.
Bob Russell commented that 10% of the Army was not British, but that the Regular Army could not recruit non-British citizens. What percentage of non-whites is recruited to the TA?
The General replied that he did not have those figures to hand, but could find out. Much would depend on where the unit is located. He cited a couple of examples. He stated that more work was needed to be carried out in this area.
Julian Brazier commented that the TA was doing better in this area than the regular army and such figures as could be found were in last year’s report.
Sir Neil Thorne asked how much leave is included on operational deployments.
The General replied that there were opportunities for the soldiers get leave before, during (R&R) and after recovery from deployment. However, he recognised that this wasn’t the case in all circumstances, and in there were times when some soldiers experienced difficulties on mobilisation that had meant the timing and location of their had made it harder to take leave ahead of deployment.
Sir Neil Thorne commented there was a need to use rank and uniform in public and this also applied to the cadet forces. Would it be possible to obtain free transport for cadets in uniform?
General - Agreed that this was desirable and felt that leadership in such matters is critical. Many felt uncomfortable going to work in uniform on public transport. Serving officers in the MOD went to work in uniform on Wednesdays. The General reiterated his intention to make ‘Day in Uniform at Work’ an annual event. Increasing numbers of Cadets across the country did travel in uniform, but not all.
Jeffery Donaldson commented that the units could do better with recruitment if based in their traditional recruiting areas. He cited the Royal Irish being posted in England and Scotland thus having complete disconnection with their traditional territorial base. It just didn’t make sense.
The General replying to Jeffery Donaldson said that it was a difficult situation and that some units still have a very strong regional link; however, those that do not, for example the Parachute Regiment – still did well. There needs to be more work done on the pairing of Regular and Territorial units to link with regional identity.
Lord De Mauley - Expressed concern about the review and the timing of announcements. There were great expectations of expansion of the Territorial Army.
With regards to the Reserve Review he said that he hoped to design an implementation plan by Christmas. This was absolutely critical to the TA model. He also hoped that the Review would make the Territorial Army ‘offer’ more attractive, with a more flexible Terms and Conditions of Service (TACOS), a more robust local structure (the sub-unit), a relevant role and sufficient training opportunities, housed in an estate fit for purpose.
Julian Brazier thanked the General and Brigadier Greg Smith for a most interesting and informative presentation, commenting that it was the best the APG on Reserve Forces had received.
Deputy clerk to the APG on Reserve Forces