Defence Committee

Session 2007-08, 30 July 2008

Publication of Report - Conclusions


The MoD is not responding with “sufficient flexibility and imagination” to the problems it faces relating to the recruitment and retention of Armed Forces personnel, according to a Report published today by the House of Commons Defence Committee (Fourteenth Report of Session 2007-08, Recruiting and retaining Armed Forces personnel, (HC 424).

The Armed Forces are operating at an unprecedented tempo and their commitments outstrip the levels for which they are resourced. The number of trained military personnel joining the front-line is falling and the number of personnel leaving the Armed Forces early is increasing. The operational capability of the British Armed Forces is particularly threatened by pinchpoint trades―trades which are significantly undermanned such as submariners, medical staff, aircrew, mechanics and engineers. The number of pinchpoint trades has increased since 2004 and there are currently 30 pinchpoint trades in the Army, 31 in the RAF and 25 in the Naval Service.

Harmony Guidelines are not being met; Service personnel spend increasingly long periods away from their families and gaps between deployments are narrowing. This has placed our Armed Forces and their families under intense pressure. The impact of Service life on personal and family lives is one of the main reasons that Armed Forces personnel leave. In recognition of this, the MoD is attempting to improve conditions for Service personnel and their families and is currently refurbishing Service accommodation, but more work remains to be done. The MoD acknowledges that it costs less to retain Armed Forces personnel than to recruit them-the Committee calls on the MoD to give greater priority to addressing the underlying causes of worsening retention.

Ministers, officials and senior officers acknowledge the pressures that the Armed Forces are under and have introduced a number of measures to ease the strain on existing personnel, including The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans, published on 17 July which proposes improvements to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, and promises Armed Forces personnel and their families better assess to heath care and social and affordable housing. While these proposals are welcome, the Committee is concerned that they don’t go far enough.

Commenting on the Report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP said:

“Our Armed Forces are being worked extremely hard to support current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is vital that the pressures on our Service personnel and their families is minimised. However, recruitment and retention targets are being consistently missed resulting in increased pressure on those who remain. The MoD must take action to address this vicious circle before it becomes irreversible."

"Retaining highly skilled and experienced Service personnel must be a key priority and the MoD needs to push forward as quickly as possible with its plans to improve Service accommodation - a key reason why many Service personnel decide to leave. Other areas which need to be tackled urgently include meeting Harmony Guidelines and providing greater stability to Service personnel and their families. Taking action to retain those already in the Armed Forces will also make the Armed Forces a more attractive employer. The MoD must respond with sufficient flexibility and imagination if it is to recruit the number of new Service personnel required to enable our Armed Forces to continue to operate effectively.”


The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. The Defence Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Ministry of Defence and its associated public bodies.


Media Enquiries: Alex Paterson, Tel 020 7219 1589, 07917 488 488 email: 

Specific Committee Information:  Tel 020 7219 5745, email:

Committee Website:

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online:

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on