Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report

1  Introduction

Scope of the inquiry

1. In February 2008 we announced an inquiry into how the Armed Forces were responding to challenges in recruiting and retaining sufficient military personnel to fulfil the MoD's objectives. In particular, the inquiry would:

We were also concerned, in the context of recruitment and retention, to examine why ethnic minority personnel formed such a low proportion of the Armed Forces.

2. Our purpose in undertaking this inquiry was not to provide a comprehensive analysis of the broad and complex issues surrounding recruitment and retention, but rather to update the work already undertaken, with particular focus on looking forward to what improvements could be made.

Previous work by the Committee

3. The Defence Committee has had a long interest in recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. Most recently, we considered recruitment and retention issues in our Report Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07.[1] We concluded that:

  • the MoD would not achieve manning balance in the Royal Navy/Royal Marines or the Army by the end of March 2008, and should set out how it planned to achieve manning balance in the future;
  • the MoD should assess the success of the measures introduced to reduce the number of manning pinchpoints;
  • the MoD should monitor the flow of voluntary departure from the Armed Forces, which showed signs of increasing;
  • the MoD should identify how to improve Unit Tour Interval Guidelines for the RAF and investigate what impact its failure to meet Harmony Guidelines would have more generally on retention in the Armed Forces.

We also expressed concern at the MoD's failure to achieve most of its diversity targets, particularly with regard to the recruitment of people from ethnic minorities.

4. In our recent Report we also considered specific issues which impact on retention: Medical care for the Armed Forces;[2] The work of Defence Estates[3], and Educating Service Children.[4]

5. In 2005, our predecessors conducted an extensive inquiry into Duty of Care.[5] The inquiry examined the responsibilities, structure and provision of duty of care in the Armed Forces, the recruitment process, and the structure of initial training.

6. In 2001, our predecessors focussed solely on recruitment and retention in its Report The Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People[6] which considered issues relating to both recruitment and retention with particular reference to the relationship between the Armed Forces and civilian society, ethnic minorities, women, under manning and overstretch. The Report noted the scale of the problem that the MoD faced in recruiting personnel. It also considered specific issues which might contribute to the outflow of Armed Forces personnel: overstretch, pay, career development, accommodation, and the working environment.

Previous work by other organisations

7. A great deal of data about Armed Forces recruitment and retention is already in the public domain. The MoD publishes data and policies relating to recruitment and retention in performance reports,[7] and the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) provides regular statistics.[8] A number of reports which consider recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces, or related issues, have been published in the last two years including:

  • the NAO's report Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces,[9] which concluded that the number of Service personnel leaving the Forces was increasing and that, while a variety of factors influence someone's decision to leave the Armed Forces; Separated Service, workload, and the impact on family were key factors. The report also noted that the Department's recruiting performance had been mixed, but that it had a good understanding of why people joined the Forces.
  • the NAO's report Reserve Forces,[10] which concluded that the Reserve Forces were vital to the operational capability of the Armed Forces, but that the MoD faced real challenges in recruiting and retaining the required number of Reservists.
  • the Committee of Public Accounts report which Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces,[11] examined the levels of commitment and stretch; measures to improve recruitment and retention; and social and educational diversity in the Armed Forces.
  • In 2007 the MoD, responding to a recommendation by the NAO, commissioned RAND Europe to investigate how serving personnel viewed their pay and allowance package. The study concluded that while the basic pay and pension package was acceptable, it was also difficult to understand, that aspects of the package could drive unwanted behaviour, and that there was an overwhelming desire for less stretch and disruption to Service life.[12]

Conduct of the inquiry

8. We held four evidence sessions during the course of this inquiry. On 25 March 2008, we took evidence from: Professor Dandeker of Kings College, London; Professor Strachan of Oxford University; the Army Families Federation; the RAF Families Federation and SSAFA FH. On 1 April 2008, we took evidence from SaBRE; the Institute of Career Guidance; Armor Group; and Control Risk. On 22 April 2008, we took evidence from Chris Baker OBE, Director General Service Personnel Policy; Air Vice-Marshal Simon Bryant CBE, Chief of Staff Personnel and Air Secretary; Major General Andrew Gregory, Deputy Adjutant General and Director General Services Conditions (Army); Major General Simon Lalor TD, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Reserves and Cadets); Rear Admiral Charles Montgomery CBE, Naval Secretary, Chief of Staff (Personnel); and Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson CVO, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel). On 20 May 2008, we took evidence from Derek Twigg MP Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans, Ministry of Defence and Vice Admiral Wilkinson.

9. We received written evidence from the MoD; welfare and support organisations; the Armed Forces Pay Review Body; the Equality and Human Rights Commission and others.[13] We are grateful to all those who submitted evidence.

10. We undertook visits to the Armed Forces Recruitment Centre at St George's Court, Holborn, London to learn more about the recruitment process, and to the Army Training Regiment Bassingbourn, Hertfordshire and HMS Raleigh, Plymouth to learn more about initial training. During these visits we spoke to recruitment officers from each of the Services, to recruits undergoing initial training, and to their trainers. We are grateful to all those who assisted us during our visits, or otherwise helped with our inquiry.


11. Alongside the written and oral evidence, we hosted a web forum on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. The forum ran between 2 April 2008 and 28 May 2008. The web forum attracted 13,785 views (7,271 views in most popular thread), 184 posts and 226 registrations. We are grateful to all those who contributed. We have drawn on the experiences shared with us via the web-forum throughout this inquiry. A summary of the forum is provided in Annex B to our Report.[14]

12. We welcome the input of Service personnel to our inquiries—it helps us scrutinise the work of the MoD more effectively. However, we were concerned that MoD officials had sought to discourage groups associated with the MoD from publicising the forum; and some of our respondents felt that they were being discouraged from sharing their experiences with us. We put our concerns to the Minister who responded that:

    I am, quite frankly, shocked to hear that. I condemn any such instruction that was taken out and I give you absolute assurance that, after we finish this session, I will ask for that to be investigated very promptly…We very much want to encourage our people to have this contact with you.[15]

13. The use of web fora provide us with an opportunity to hear the experiences of a wide range of current and former Service personnel and their families. We value this interaction. We welcome the Minister's support for our ability to communicate freely with the Service community. However, this is the second time we have had concerns that the MoD has attempted to undermine a web forum that we have hosted. We look to the MoD to demonstrate its support for our interaction with the Service community by actively promoting web fora we set up for future inquiries.

1   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07, HC 61 (hereafter HC (2007-08) 61) Back

2   Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Medical care for the Armed Forces, HC 327 (hereafter HC (2007-08) 327) Back

3   Defence Committee, Fifteenth Report of Session 2006-07, The work of Defence Estates, HC 535 (hereafter HC (2006-07) 535) Back

4   Defence Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2005-06, Educating Service Children, HC 1054 Back

5   Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2004-05, Duty of Care, HC 63 (hereafter HC (2004-05) 63) Back

6   Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People, HC 29 (hereafter HC (2000-01) 29) Back

7   For example, Ministry of Defence, Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07, HC 697 Back

8   For example, Ministry of Defence, UK Armed Forces Quarterly Manning Report, 1 April 2008 Back

9   National Audit Office, Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces, Session 2005-06, October 2006, HC 1633 (hereafter NAO HC (2005-06) 1633) Back

10   National Audit Office, Reserve Forces, March 2006, Session 2005-06, HC 964 (hereafter NAO HC (2005-06) 964) Back

11   Public Accounts Committee, Thirty-fourth Report of Session 2006-07, Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces, HC 43 Back

12   RAND Europe, Document Briefing, Motivations and Attitudes of New Recruits Regarding Remuneration Issues, Focus Group Investigation and Analysis, 2007 (hereafter RAND Europe, Motivations and Attitudes of New Recruits Regarding Remuneration Issues, 2007) Back

13   For a list of published written evidence see p 99. Back

14   See p 89. Back

15   Q 333 Back

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Prepared 30 July 2008