Reservists and the NAO

(You wait or dread a long time for a Dover post, and then two come along in half an hour.. hardly seems right, does it?)

The government got a thorough drubbing from the NAO about the plan to have in place 30,000 reservists, whilst dialing down the number of regulars to 82,000 (a historically low figure). The NAO concluded that the government was going to fall well short of the required figure of 30,000 by 2018. There was also criticism of yet another government IT project that looks like it can just be added to the litany of computer system gaffs that all governments seem acutely prone…

General Sir Peter was quoted in the media yesterday as saying that the army should not face any further reorganisation or redundancy until after SDSR 2015 – this has to be palpably correct. The thousand redundancy notices poised to be sent to serving members of the army should be shredded until such time as it makes some/any sense to issue them. If the reservists cannot be recruited why go through the self-defeating exercise of expelling regulars.

The NAO were critical of the MoD in saying that the policy had not been rigorously tested. To be fair to the MoD it’s difficult to pre-test a radical departure, there is a sense in which one has to live these things to discover whether they work or not, and whilst many people did highlight the many difficulties with the policy it isn’t right to say it was obviously fatally flawed from the start. I thought and wrote here that it was going to be difficult to persuade regulars made redundant to come back in via the reservists (there is nuance here around statutory compulsion to that effect anyway, but the essence is right) because rightly or wrongly it is seen as a less good contractual basis. I argued that the military covenant was simply not strong nor effective enough to deliver the guarantees to service personnel they needed, nor were the provisions in place for compensating civilian workplaces for reservists going on tour strong enough: they relied (in part, I thought) on a kind of patriotic sense of duty for the employer, that is simply misplaced in this economy.

It is easy to sit back and say that what is really required is another thought about fundamental strategy (that’s right, but the message is out there) and unless I’ve missed something fundamental SDSR 2015 is moving along quietly and without really taking up the time of anyone other than the usual academic suspects. But that’s not to write it off a year and a bit out from when it will be published. Needless to say, it strikes me that the intellectually sound fix to these issues is to appropriately position the UK in the world etc and then to work out how much security one can buy. My friend and colleague Tim Edmunds uses a risk methodology for this equation, and whilst this has its own flaws, one can see that evidence-based joy of it.

Anyhow, the view before breakfast is halt the redundancies, pause, reflect, and wait for SDSR 2015.


2 thoughts on “Reservists and the NAO

  1. Robert Hobbs says:


    Is it not a reality that SDSR 15 will not be taken seriously until after the next general election? The current coalition government was given a bankrupted MOD by the Labour administrations and military senior management that would not or could not balance the books. The financial crisis of 2008 onwards caught them out (leading to governmental change) and all they could do was use this administration to a) get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and b) strive to reduce the deficit.

    We do need a refreshed FCOC paper and strategic vision of UK international role (diplomatic, economic and military) and a proper capability-led SDSR can then take place. SDSR 10 was financially based, what we could afford, and to save aircraft carriers and hi-tech multi-role stealth aircraft contracts the Army was sacrificed, shrinking by a fifth.

    The redundancies were never to go pause as the Treasury funding for them expires at the end of this year – if SDSR 15 did discover that we had people in capabilities that were no longer required, there would be only the basic governmental redundancy package open to MOD, leaving future redundees financially worse off.

    The Army have faced the brunt of the loss under SDSR 10 but let us not forget why – to save expensive equipment programmes started for the RN and RAF. The other Servives benefit from a coherent voice and are equipment focused where the Army squabble among themselves but FCOC and NSS states that the main political effect will take place in the Land environment. That now needs to be taken into account when designing the integrated / joint force of the future.

    The shrinkage of the Army to 82,000 has been painful but if we can use this harsh pruning as the foundation for shaping a capability-based force to achieve UK Govt foriegn and national security policies of the future, then it may yet be better for all that have to fight in the future. I think that Reservists do have a major role to play (as shown in other western countries) but we need to be told what we are to achieve, research how that can be conducted and resourced accordingly.

    Where we are traditionally poor is in identifying and resourcing the risks – luckily we are traditionally good at adapting in adversity and achieving the near impossible regardless of the cost. These redundancies have been hard but the Army has always reformed, let’s not get too “Joanna Lumley” about it and fail to reform just for the sake of keeping what we are used to.

    • Rob Dover says:

      Thanks for this Robert. I think I agree with most of your observations. On your first point, that might be the political reality, but I think most of the groundwork is already done and so facts will have been created on the ground that will be difficult to undo.

      I’m not sure the RAF and RN had a coherent voice, but they had a well-managed voice via various media sources. I remember well checking certain media sources in the run-up to the 2010 review because it was clear that these outlets had good sources with identifiable allegiances.

      The one thing I’d missed, and thank you for it, is that those being made redundant might be worse off if delayed. So, I’m happy to remove the make-up and the desire to re-make Absolutely Fabulous, but still sit with a surety that it’s silly to lose people out, when struggling to get people in.

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