The External Scrutiny Team 2016 Report focuses on the Ministry of Defence’s progress towards completing its Future Reserves 2020 (FR20) programme.
That progress has been strong in some areas, while other areas are at risk of failing to deliver within the timeframe.
FR20 programme was developed following the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2010 , which identified the changes needed to the Armed Forces in order to maintain capacity and specialists while reducing the size of the Regular Forces and help manage spending in the Ministry of Defence. SDSR 2010 identified that the Reserve Forces should be a more integral part of the Armed Forces and needed to increase in size to 30,000 by April 2019. The goal seemed achievable, given that the Reserve Forces had stood at 72,000 as recently as 1990.
The UK Reserve Forces External Scrutiny Team (EST) was established by the Council of RFCAs to report on both the condition of the Reserve Forces and on the delivery of the FR20 programme. Annual reports were published in 2014, 2015 and last week.
The External Scrutiny Team 2016 Report praises the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force for the sustained increase in the number of Reservists in 2015/16, noting this is well above the rates of previous years.
The Army has already improved the experience for Reservists. It now offers better and more challenging training, the pairing of Army Regular and Reserve units, increased access to modern equipment, improved administrative support and enhanced terms and conditions of service.
As of June 2016, there are over 27,000 trained Reservists. The Royal Navy looks set to hit its targets by April 2019, and the Royal Air Force has effectively done so already. But projections for the Army Reserves predict the target 30,000 will be missed by up to two years.
The Army is delivering its recruiting operations in partnership with Capita through the Recruiting Partnering Project (RPP). Capita was put in charge of advertising, marketing and handling application forms in March 2012. In January 2014, a number of steps were taken by the Ministry of Defence to improve recruiting performance, however RPP is still considered “beset by flawed contract design and management, unduly slow delivery of a full operating capability and consequential systemic weakness.”
The External Scrutiny Team 2016 Report recommends an urgent contract review, indicating that some applicants still lose interest due to delays in processing applications and carrying out medical exams. There is still an issue in attracting young officers and retention of trained Army Reservists.
Support from employers across the public and private sectors remains key to the success of the Reserves agenda. The RFCAs, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, continue to work with employers to promote the Armed Forces Covenant and raise awareness of the benefits of employing Reservists.
Over the last decade, funding reductions have meant that the Reserve estate is maintained to no more than mandatory compliance standards; almost no preventative maintenance is funded. In SDSR 2015, the government set out its intention to dispose of 30% of the built Defence estate; while this is likely to affect the Reserve estate, no plans are expected to be confirmed until queries about the reduction of the Regular estate have been resolved.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs he will consider the report’s findings and recommendations before responding.