Minutes of the All Party Group for Reserve Forces meeting 28th April 2009.
The Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, Minister of State (Armed Forces) and Commodore Alistair Halliday RN, Col George Butler, Asst Director (Strategic Development), DRFC
Julian Brazier MP (Chairing)
Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP
Rt Hon Bruce George MP
Gerald Howarth MP
Hon Bernard Jenkin MP
Mark Lancaster MP
Dr Julian Lewis MP
Lord De Mauley
Dr Andrew Murrison MP
Dari Taylor MP
Sir Peter Viggers MP
Frank Cook MP
Major General Simon Lalor (ACDS Reserves and Cadets)
Julian Brazier welcomed the Minister, Commodore Alistair Halliday and other guests to the All Party Group on Reserve Forces to address the Group following the statement in the House that afternoon. Copies of both the statement and the Report were made available to those attending and the more detailed report with the Review Teams’ findings was available in the Library.
The Minister opened by saying how pleased he was to be able to address the APG on reserve Forces and thanked them for their contribution. He regretted that Major General Simon Lalor had been unable to attend owing to the late change of dates. Major General Nick Cottam, leading the Review team had already left the Army and was therefore also unable to attend.
Of the seven Strategic Recommendations in the Review (page23), he was pleased to say that he accepted all seven. He was also able to accept immediately about of the 89 detailed recommendations. The other half needed further investigation as there were resource implications and there had been some objections by the MOD.
However overall the Review provided a framework for the Reserves’ case.
Commodore Alistair Halliday gave extra detail on the Review. He elaborated on the Strategic Recommendations pointing out that Recommendation 1 was the key.
Recommendation 1: in the future the Reserve is likely to be needed for augmentation as much as for maximum effort, and be used more effectively to connect with the nation.
Reserve Review (page 23)
Strategic Recommendation 5 that the Volunteer estate should be modernised and (strategically) rationalised to improve its strategic management and design its 21st century footprint would entail much extra work - probably running into years.
He also drew the members’ attention to the Proposition on page 20 that stated that “Defence will offer the challenge and reward which attracts people to volunteer, and undertakes to train and support them throughout their Service, including when mobilised and recuperating.” This was most important, hence Recommendations 6 & 7.
Following the approval to implicate the findings, this would be coordinated by the centre at a strategic level. The Review implication programme would have wide stakeholder engagement and would be implemented in three phases.
Phase One – a one-year timetable.
Phase Two - A medium term timetable.
Phase Three – Longer term, 10 years.
All phases would need costing and prioritising.
The outcome of the review would mean that the Reserves would be better understood, have the support of the MOD, a 21st century estate, modern terms and conditions of service and better training.
Andrew Murrison queried the timetable for implementation asking why it was taking so long to sort out the estate when the problem had been known about for so long.
The Minister replied that this was a strategic review, but was a comprehensive one. There needed to be much more work and that there were cost implications.
Commodore Halliday added that it was a very complex situation and it was essential to get the answer right. There was a lot more work to be carried out and this would take some time. It was important to get the estate coherent with the longer-term requirement. A separate team was being set up to study this aspect.
Lord De Mauley said that the Command and Control (Recommendation 4) needed clarification. He also asked about the estate and the question of maintaining a footprint versus having the Training centres in large areas of population.
Commodore Halliday replied saying that it was important to maintain the footprint.
Dari Taylor said she was pleased with the statement, but needed to study the Review in relation to both the Reserves and Cadets. She was concerned about resources for the delivery of better training and asked how the Review would improve that.
The Minister said that we needed a system professionally supporting the Reservist and need to exploit the Reserve capability more.
Commodore Halliday said that in some areas the training was good, but in some areas it needed improvement. He hoped that this would change with a much more uniform standard of training throughout.
James Arbuthnot commented on the number of detailed recommendations and asked if it was right that the strength was 30,000.
Commodore Halliday said that the establishment of reservists was 43,000 and that the actual strength was 33,000. The shortfall mainly occurring in the Territorial Army.
James Arbuthnot Why so short?
Commodore Halliday replied that the Review had been set up to improve retention
Mark Lancaster asked what was the actual number Fit For Role (FFR), in other words the number ready for mobilisation? Many of the nominal number were recruits and non-attenders.
Commodore Halliday replied that at any one time a third of the actual strength was recruits. We needed to increase the percentage that was ready to be mobilised.
Julian Brazier commented that for other ranks the problem was one of retention and not recruiting.
Lord Freeman pointed out the RFCA's responsibilities and asked what was the timetable for engagement with them on matters such as the footprint?
Commodore Halliday commented that the RFCAs come out well in the review as providing an important part of the Reserve’s delivery, but that they needed firmer direction.
Lord Attlee said that the biggest problem faced by the Reserves, especially the Territorial Army was the recruitment and training of officers. Many units had been commissioning their senior NCOs and Warrant Officers who, while admirable in their way, were not a substitute for the get up and go of young subalterns. He asked how we could do more to recruit young direct entry officer?
The Minister said that there was no easy solution; made even more difficult by the work problems so many of them faced these days.
Commodore Halliday said that they had high hopes that those attending university would take the opportunity to join during their gap year. This was an attractive option providing an interesting and challenging time with financial reward. At the same time they were looking to remove the barriers between the career structures of civilians and the military making it easier to switch between the two.
Peter Viggers asked about the future of formed TA units being mobilised.
The Minister pointed to OP TOSCA as evidence of formed units on operations.
Commodore Halliday. This was a key area and was currently being looked at by HQ Land Forces. However he pointed out that there would always be a need for the special niche skills provided by individual reservists.
Julian Lewis said that the report was very clear and well drafted, congratulating those concerned. He asked whether we could expect the same number of Training Centres at the end of the process as we have currently (341)? Can we expect much the same configuration or would there be a noticeably reduction? This had huge implications on visibility.
He also asked if there was any thought to give the RNR sea time on fast patrol boats?
The Minister said it was not possible to say what the estate would look like, but that it would be the best possible estate in the best possible places.
Commodore Halliday said that the Review wants more seamen in the RNR and would like to increase the numbers. The question of sea time in Fast patrol boats, most of which are with University Royal Naval Units (URNUs) would need to be looked at.
Lord Brookborough commented that the Proposition has less effect on recruiting. There was a critical lack of operational command for Reserve Officers. However it was otherwise a good report and he was pleased that it had been accepted by the Government. However it did need funding to be effective. It was taking too long to get Reservists trained. Reservists were not always integrated to do the job on operations.
The Minister stated that there is financial challenge and that we had to spend money as best we can.
Bernard Jenkin asked when the numbers of reservists will plateau out and when will the deterioration stop? He also asked about the difficulty of deploying the TA in Civil emergency – for instance, local flooding. How can we make this easier?
The Minister said that no decision had been taken but that there was some validity in calling out reservists under such circumstances.
Some discussion followed.
Gerald Howarth stated that the RAuxAF is undermanned and did the Review look at the use of civilian pilots? He also asked how would the civilian sponsored reserve work?
The Minister replied that civilians were unable to operate in operational areas; this work would have to be carried out by the military.
Commodore Halliday said that there were issues with the civilian Sponsored Reserve. But he pointed out that civilian drivers need only be fit and able to do their job of driving in operational areas. However it was cost effective to use this type of reservist in a threat environment.
Commenting on a previous question about the RAuxAF he queried the need for these units to be located on RAF bases. It would be better to have a much wider footprint.
Julian Radciffe welcomed the level of MoD consultation with the Reserve Forces Group. However, Julian was concerned about the critical mass of the Reserves and how it was becoming a major issue. He also asked the Minister if the MoD held a database on niche capabilities, if Officers could be encouraged to use civilian skills and noted how important gap year student and employment were for recruiting young officers into the TA.
Bruce George asked how was it that the Regular Reserve was so neglected? The Russian Army was the largest in the world and he was worried that if there was a real crisis we only have a very small reserve.
He said that he would like to thank Julian Brazier for his leadership in the APG on Reserve Forces.
Julian Brazier thanked him for his kind words and closed the meeting after thanking the Minister and Commodore Alistair Halliday and his team for their attendance at this extended session.
Colonel Richard Dixon TD
Clerk to the RFAPG