Publication of the 36th Report of the Committee, 2006-07
Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
“The Ministry of Defence cannot have it both ways. As the Regular Forces become more stretched, the MoD is increasingly relying on the men and women of the Reserve Forces to step in, with over 12,000 having served in Iraq alone. At the same time, the MoD is not giving them the training and support they need to serve effectively alongside their Regular counterparts. And shortfalls in numbers need addressing.
“You cannot treat Reservists as second-class members of the Armed Forces while demanding a first-class job from them.
“Reservists now expect and want to serve on operations. That makes it all the more important that they train alongside Regulars and with the equipment they will actually use on active service. The MoD must also take whatever measures are needed to make sure recruits pass basic fitness tests. The department is alarmingly ill-informed about the extent to which Reservists are fit enough to deal with the rigours of front line service.
“Proper support for Reservists also includes providing them with prompt diagnosis and treatment if they return injured from operations.”
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 36th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence, examined four main issues: deploying Reserves; providing support and healthcare to Reserves; maintaining capable Reserve Forces; and planning for the future use of Reserves.
The Reserve Forces have become an integral part of the United Kingdom’s defence capability. Reserve Forces comprise approximately 36,000 Volunteer Reserves, the largest element being the Territorial Army, and some 52,000 Regular Reserves (former Regular service personnel who retain a liability to be called up). The Department has used Reserves at unprecedented levels in the last ten years with the Reserve Forces making an increasingly important contribution to Defence as the Regular Forces have become more stretched. It has also successfully changed the culture of the Volunteer Reserve Forces to one where Reservists now expect and want to serve on operations. Over 12,000 Reservists, most of them from the Volunteer Reserves, have served in Iraq since operations commenced in early 2003.
All of the Volunteer Reserve Forces are below strength and numbers have been falling, although there have been signs that numbers may be stabilising. Compared with Regular Armed Forces personnel, Reservists generally have a more limited breadth of experience and may also be less physically fit. The performance of Reservists on operations is enhanced when they are trained, mobilised and integrated properly with the unit with which they will serve. However, many Reservists do not have the opportunity to train alongside their Regular counterparts before they are mobilised. The Department has had difficulty in providing training for Reservists due to problems in scheduling, resource constraints and the lower priority they are given. The Department has made improvements to the support it gives to Reservists and their families, especially when they are mobilised, and to those suffering mental health problems. But further provisions need to be made, particularly for those Reservists who have been physically injured. Overall, whilst the Department is heavily reliant on its Reserve Forces to conduct operations, they are not being treated with sufficient priority with respect to their training and support. Significant parts of the Reserve Forces are being restructured and undergoing other changes but the Department is making decisions on these changes in the absence of reliable management information about the cost and capability of Reserve Forces.