The External Scrutiny Team Report 2018 focuses on the Ministry of Defence’s progress towards completing its Future Reserves 2020 (FR20) programme.
This is the penultimate year of the FR20 programme. It 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 35,000 (of which the Army Reserve should account for 30,000) by April 2019.
Lt Gen (Retd) Robin Brims CB CBE DSO DL, said in his report foreward: “If Reservists are challenged by interesting and worthwhile training, have the opportunity to deploy on operations alongside their Regular counterparts, have the opportunity for personal development (to the benefit of the individual, unit and civilian employer) and the opportunity to have fun – adventure training – and, most importantly, feel valued by Defence, then they will join and stay.”
The report sets the context that neither the recent National Security Capability Review, or the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP), has altered the FR20 plans.
The report goes on to state that the External Scrutiny Team considers the FR20 programme has been a success in that the changes in attitudes, recognition and value of and support for the Reserves are palpable. This is reflected in the recent Reserves Continuous Attitude Survey, where 58% of personnel report that the Reserves are well integrated, an increase on the 53% of 2017.
Success in terms of raw numbers, at this stage, are muted. As at 1 April 2018, there were a total of 36,280 Reservists in the Armed Forces, of which 32,200 are trained. The Army currently lagging behind its target with a trained strength of only 26,957. Of further concern is that there is a 40% reduction in the number of Army Reserves application/enlistments for the period January – March 2018 compared with a three year average for the same period.
With regards to the Estate, there is a considerable national backlog of site disposals. Only 2 of the 69 sites under review nationally for disposal have actually been disposed of. This is largely due to sourcing the funds for reprovision.
The report praises the efforts of the RFCA Estates teams in the region for their management of resources under austerity, and recommends the Reserves Estate Strategy be re-invigorated and accelerated, continuing to draw on local and regional expertise. The further recommends that priority is given to ensuring adequate funding is made available to sustain the existing Reserve estate until the new strategy is implemented.
The report also echoes the recommendation found in the Francois Report, Filling the Ranks (A report for the Prime Minister on the state of recruiting into the UK Armed Forces by the Rt Hon Mark Francois MP – July 2017.), which states: “After a difficult start and considerable effort, good progress has now been made on the Reserves agenda but it is vital that earmarked funding for the Reserves is maintained if targets in FR20 are to be achieved.”
The Report highlights critical flaws in the recruiting process, contributing to the disproportionately low numbers that start initial training compared with expressions of interest. It showed that it took 185 applicants to get 30 recruits to start Phase 1 training over an average of 12 months. Only 22 failed the medical appeal process. It is the unit’s assessment that of the 160 that fell by the wayside, 100 were potentially eligible recruits that were fit for training, but ‘gave up’ due to the process.
The Operation FORTIFY Operation Order was re-issued on 26 February 2018 and, at time of writing, it is understood that funds will be found to retain a proportion of the the Regimental Sub-Unit Support Officer (RSUSO). Operation FORTIFY measures, in particular RSUSOs to nurture potential recruits through the recruitment process has been outstanding and absolutely key to helping potential recruits navigate this tortuous passage. RSUSO’s were only originally on a two-year contract.