This week’s threatened Tory backbench revolt – and its political ramifications – over the Ministry of Defence’s plan for the reduction in size of the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000 to save money, to be compensated for by an increase of the ‘Reserve’ (territorials) to 30,000, up from 19,000, has just thrown up an interesting little side-show.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, Paul Pindar – the chief executive of Capita, the private firm outsourced to maintain regular army recruitment levels – was pressed on the fact that the number of people attending interviews and selection tests had dropped by 35% since Capita took charge of recruitment as recently as March 2013.
At one point he told the Committee:
“We have the disadvantage that we actually have no wars on. Soldiers like to join the Army when they actually have something to do …”
When MPs expressed their surprise at his statement, he continued:
“You may pull faces at me but actually this is something that is factually true.”
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee, described Mr Pindar’s comments as “Awful”.
Around the table, she was not alone in expressing distaste at his statement. The Ministry of Defence later declined to comment on what Mr Pindar had said, but pointed out that it still had 5,000 troops on deployment in Afghanistan.
Ironically, I’m with Mr Pindar on this one.
Seven or eight years ago, I attended a talk given by the now deceased military historian Brigadier Richard Holmes, formerly Colonel of the Prince of Wales’s Regiment. At the time, if memory serves, he was promoting his then latest book Tommy, about the lives of British soldiers in WW1. Once he had finished delivering his main discourse, he invited questions from the audience on any related subject they cared to raise.
One chap, picking up on Holmes’ mention that he was in overall charge of recruiting for his regiment, put it to him that – in the 21st Century, with all its ‘heath and safety’ issues, discrimination laws, welfare systems and lack of respect for authority – it must be difficult, generally, to persuade young people to submit themselves to the rigours, and indeed dangers, of life in the services.
Holmes caused not a few of us in the auditorium to snap to (seated) attention with his response – of which, not being able to recall his exact words, I now present the gist:
“Well, you might be surprised by my answer. We find that the type of young person who wants to ‘belong’ and contribute to something worthwhile … who wants to test themselves, want to go on an adventure, even at risk to life and limb … are generally ‘up for it’, and have been for centuries. Statistically, throughout history, army recruitment goes through the roof every time a war gets declared and/or the services get tasked with some hazardous mission in some far-flung corner of the globe”.