Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
WEDNESDAY 19 JANUARY 2000 [Morning]
SPELLAR MP, AIR
600. No. Let us start with the broad figures.
(Mr Spellar) I say that it is important because in
some senses if we talk about full manning as being every arm and
every speciality being fully manned, then that is like a constantly
receding target. You will never actually achieve that. It depends
where you want to start. Perhaps we can start with the Navy.
(Commodore Wykeham-Martin) On the basis of trained
strength to requirementrather than overall numberswhich
I think is an important issue, the answer is that the Navy manning
is just over 95 per cent.
(General Sir Alex Harley) If we do not count Gurkhas,
reservists and the Royal Irish, and if we are talking about trained
adult United Kingdom personnel, against an establishment in the
Army of 102,389 we have 96,662, which is minus 5,727 or minus
5.6 per cent. That is the manning figures as of 1 December. I
can go on about the whole Army strength and the Gurkhas and the
Royal Irish and so on if you want.
601. No, at this stage, that is sufficient.
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) In the case of the
Royal Air Force, we are about 580 people short which represents
99 per cent manning against our requirement. That is a significant
improvement on a year ago. Within that there are some key areas
of shortfall such as pilots.
Mr Blunt: We shall want to come back
602. What are the key areas that you have identified
for the continuous haemorrhage of trained personnel leaving the
three services? What are the main factors that you have identified?
When will the initiatives that you have put in place to combat
that be available to the personnel in the three services?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) We have our own
continuous general attitude survey. The trends that have been
apparent for some time are time away from home, separated service
and operational tempo to use the phrase used earlier. In the case
of the Royal Air Force, we have taken a number of measures. I
talked about some of them earlier when dealing with people in
the Kosovo campaign. Now, we have our forces back home, although
some are clearly on operations and getting ready to go on operations.
On the way in which we manage our people and the way in which
we look after them and their families, I am optimistic that we
have turned the corner in terms of retention although we still
have some way to go.
(General Sir Alex Harley) We have talked about overstretch,
but undermanning is a contributory factor to overstretch. Undermanning
and overstretch are our most important priorities. The overstretch
is the most worrying to soldiers and families because those who
are married do not get enough time with their families and those
who are single do not get enough time to live a normal life and
indulge in their own pursuits such as sports or seeing girlfriends
or boyfriends or whatever. However, there is another difficulty
in that they are not always able to pursue their own educational
or career qualifications, so they get behind. Of course, such
qualifications are required for their career structures and their
trade training and so on. I would say that the overstretch is
an unhappy thing for families. Families say that they do not see
their husbands and so on which contributes to encouraging people
to leave. The next most important area is the standard of accommodation.
For people in the forces those three mattersoverstretch
and undermanning, the effect on people's careers and accommodationare
at the top of the list in the continuous attitude survey and those
who leave are always debriefed.
(Commodore Wykeham-Martin) It is fair to say that
the problem of the deficit of manpower that we have had in the
Navy goes back to about 1993-95 when we capped recruiting. Whatever
one does now, there will always be that hole in the numbers that
will flow through the system. Currently, recruiting is buoyant.
Of course, we have an endemic shortfall because of that capped
recruiting and it is particularly prevalent in the case of operator
mechanics, engineer officers and junior officers. At the moment
I would reinforce what the other two services have said that we
now are recruiting the right people and given the right conditions
of service we shall be able to retain them and get into manpower
balance. For us the target is 2002.
603. I am amazed by your answers. Not one of
you has mentioned an issue that is raised time and time again
when I meet service personnelI am sure it is the same for
others, as I know it has been when I have been with defence ministers
in the pastthe lack of promotional opportunities whether
for enlisted personnel or a log-jamming for officers and the lack
of financial incentives to remain. None of you has offered a timescale
for the initiative of which the Minister has spoken and Parliament
has been informed of to tell us when they will be in operation.
I am depressed. I have a constituent, a young RAF officer, who
was university-educated by the RAF and trained to fly and who
has had a very interesting career, but she has decided to leave.
That decision will cost her £10,000 to pay back the educational
facility, but you have done very little to encourage her to stay
in a trade which I was told was vital and in which there is a
shortage of well-qualified ground engineers. I am amazed at what
all three of you have said. None of you has mentioned that point.
I cannot believe that the test that you carry out or the questions
that you ask your servicemen and women give you the right answers.
You cannot be asking the questions because they tell us totally
(Mr Spellar) One point is that you asked why people
were leaving. I presumed you were moving on to "remediation"
and what was being done in response. Secondly, on issues such
as promotion, ironically if there is a greater level of retention
for some people that can have an impact on their promotion prospects
as gaps do not open up further up. That is slightly more difficult
and we shall have to look at other opportunities for people, in
particular how we reward skills within the services.
604. This Committee stood in a military hospital
in Frimley and young corporals who had probably done eight years'
service in the medical services told us that there was no chance
of promotion. They were qualified to be promoted but they have
no chance of getting any more money and they might as well take
a civilian job in the same hospital for substantially more money.
They were going nowhere. There is no answer yet from anyone about
how we can retain pilots and give them a better package and how
in critical areas we can retain nursing and medical services where
there are deficiencies. Some deficiencies are in excess of 20
per cent of what is needed. That cannot be right for the Armed
Forces of this country.
(Mr Spellar) Let us start with pilots, as that is
a good example and one that is driven by the current state of
the civil airline industry which firstly, is experiencing rising
traffic and, secondly, quite a number of those pilots, whom the
airlines do not train because they poach from all the world's
air forces, are coming up towards requirement age. That causes
a pressure and one to which we have responded. I shall ask Air
Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall to describe the way in which we have
responded to that with measures that enable our people to take
the necessary qualifications and to remain for a longer period
within the Royal Air Force.
605. It is the truth that it is near impossible
to compete with the private sector in the circumstances that you
have just described? We met engineers in the Falklands who said
that they had been offered jobs at £30,000 a year if they
leave the services. There is no way that you will be able to compete
with that. Is that the problem?
(Mr Spellar) It would be in that context. We shall
come on to pilots. This is a broader national problem of companies
not necessarily training sufficient people for their needs and
relying substantially on services training. I alluded to that
when talking about signals as well. That is not entirely a negative
issue. At the end of their period of work for us in the services,
it is a good thing that our service personnel are able to take
the skills that they have developed in the services into proper,
long-serving civilian employment. That is a good thing. We have
to look at the balance. We have to get a proper relationship with
the outside firms so that we get a longer period of return on
our investment in the training that we have undertaken. Of course,
one of the temptations, understandably, very often is that if
at this stage of the economic cycle particular jobs are available,
people will want to take them now because they may not be available
in another period of time. That is one of the drivers in relation
to the airlines. We have been involved in discussions with the
airlines as to the availability of those positions. I shall ask
Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall to describe the more technical
side of the scheme and the training provided.
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Before I do that
perhaps I may respond to your point, Mr Hancock? You put your
finger on a crucial issue. We have to retain the people who are
in the Royal Air Force today and that means looking at every factor.
I touched on the headline reports that I see on the attitude surveys.
I spend one, two or three days a week out and about listening
to people; not talking to them but listening to them. In that
way I can identify the concerns that they have whether it is in
the DHE or the way in which their careers are managed and so on,
so that we can introduce the flexibility so that we can respond
to the situation. In the case of the young lady that you have
mentioned, if there were a particular issuean elderly parent
or career development aspirationsI do my very best to meet
that, so balancing the needs of the service against the needs
of the individual. In terms of the outside market, people do not
join the Royal Air Force, the British Army or the Royal Navy to
go and work for an IT company; they join the Armed Forces. We
have to convince them that it remains a career of first choice,
with through-life career development, sensible promotion prospects,
sensible accommodation and sensible pay. The difficulty is that
when you get a sector like the IT world that is overheated at
the moment, it is desperate. Aerial erectors are being poached
and IT people are being poached for salaries that are extremely
attractive. We have to look at the whole package of opportunity
that we give our people and their families in order that they
stay with us. In the case of pilots, the writing has been on the
wall for two or three years. The position as of now is that we
are 95 fast jet pilots short of our requirement. That is masked
by a surplus of multi-engine junior pilots so the global shortage
is around 61. Thankfully, that translates into only nine holes
in actual cockpits because we have made use of people with other
skill sets to fill jobs on the ground that would otherwise have
been filled by skilled aircrew.
606. Does that mean that there are nine multi-million
pound aircraft not being used?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Potentially, but
they will be used. All I am saying is that against the 100 per
cent requirement there are those holes right now.
607. What is your shortage in junior officer
fast jet pilots?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Ninety-five.
608. What is your percentage
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Ninety-five out
609. Of the order of 20 per cent.
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Yes.
610. Do you expect that position with the measures
that you are taking to get better or worse over the next three
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Perhaps I can continue,
but I shall come back to that point. In recognition of this, we
have done a number of things. The first is to try to extend the
period for which people remain available for flying duties. This
comes back to the example of the young lady. Because of the drawback
of the Armed Forces we have a backlog of peopleuniversity
cadets to whom we were committed to offer trainingand some
of them will not join their frontline squadrons until they are
25, 27 or 29. You will have seen that. We have set ourselves a
target to increase the number of direct entrants so that we will
get them in the cockpits at 20 or 21. Already the backlog has
gone and the age spread of those moving into flight training is
dropping which will increase the time that they spend with us.
Beyond that, 500 posts that hitherto have been filled by qualified
pilots have been transferred to the new operational support branch
that is now up and running. We are grooming people within that
branch. To increase the return on servicethe amount of
time that they remain with uswe have looked at the other
end of the pipeline, the people in their mid to late 30s who are
leaving us. We have gone back to career management. If someone
has a working wife and they wish to stay at Leuchars for five
years, now we shall try to leave them at Leuchars for five years
rather than move them. The PVR rate has stabilised and is showing
signs of decreasing for aircrew which is an indication, as is
the feedback that the Secretary gets, that the personnel management
measures are working.
611. What you are saying is very interesting,
but it is true, is it not, that a fast jet flight lieutenant pilot
who seeks to leave the RAF to go to a civilian airline will start
on less money?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) In the civil sector?
612. Yes. A flight lieutenant fast jet pilot,
leaving the RAF, will start with a civilian airline on less money
that he gets in the RAF? They leave, do they not, because they
enter a structure that will give them promotion and good potential
earnings in the future, which they do not see in the RAF? Is it
not also true that in some of your squadrons every single pilot
is seeking a civilian licence?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) There are a number
of points there. The entry salary will probably be lower, but
almost certainly the individual concerned will have a pension
and a lump sum of money in his pocket. It is indeed the case that
a lot of people are doing their civilian licences. The RAF, indeed
all three Armed Forces, have introduced a scheme whereby we will
pay for the cost of the civilian licence in return for the individual
remaining in the cockpit until the age of 38. If they start their
flying career at 22 or 23, and remain there until the age of 38,
I am not concerned whether some wish to leave at that stage. We
shall have had an excellent return on the investment. If you look
back at the last year or so, such people were not getting into
the cockpit on the frontline until they were 27 or 28 and some
of them were leaving at 38, a mere eight or nine years return
of service. Returning to Mr Blunt's specific question, I do not
know precisely whether the situation will be better or worse.
All the levers that we have pulled are retention positive. All
the indicators are that people are responding to those levers:
the flying pay rates, people who have decided to stay in the Air
Force as a result of
613. Is it your current forecast that the position
regarding junior officer pilots on fast jets will get better or
worse over the next three years?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) My current planning
assumption is that the problem will increase by about 40 people.
Mr Blunt: All I want you to do is to
put the problem that you have to deal with over the next three
years into perspective. It will get worse over the next three
years from a position that is already dire. Over the last 10 minutes
you have gone over, in detail, the measures that you are trying
to take to ameliorate the position. We understand them. As time
is limited, I want to move on to the Army.
614. In fairness, you said that it was going
to get worse, full stop. What was the next sentence?
(Air Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall) Thank you. Those
assumptions or that modelling does not take account of the Link-Up
scheme because it was introduced only last year. At the moment
we have 74 people on the register. Some are giving us six months
extension of service and 12 months extension of service. They
are in the bag right now. If that continues to be successful and
the operational tempo, which is a factor, as are flying pay rates,
continues on a positive trend, in a year's time I hope that I
can sit here and tell Mr Blunt that the prognosis is much better.
615. I want to turn to the Army as the position
in the Army is worse than in the other services. Brigadier Ritchie
wrote an article in RUSI in which he said that the net inflow
now is 24 people a month into the Army. For how many months has
that average figure been sustained?
(General Sir Alex Harley) We have seen a turn round
in those figures since about November or December last year.
616. It is very recent?
(General Sir Alex Harley) It is recent. Those better
figures started to appear at the back end of the summer.
617. They have ceased to be negative and have
started to become positive.
(General Sir Alex Harley) The year before we were
running at a net permanent loss of about 100.
618. The sad thing is that on those rates it
will take about 31 years to meet the manning targets, will it
(General Sir Alex Harley) You are quite right. For
the remainder of this year we seek to get that figure up to about
a 58 net gain and for the next four years we hope to get 140 a
month net gain. Then we shall achieve our target.
619. Is that why the Army manning target has
slipped a year from the date given in the SDR?
(General Sir Alex Harley) You will have to ask the
Secretary for that. It will be done by the year 2005.
(Mr Spellar) Perhaps I can clarify that. Mr Blunt
is absolutely right that the SDR said 2004. Subsequent PQs have
made it clear that that means the financial year 2004/5. So the
manning date is by the 31 March 2005.