In 2012 the British government announced its Army 20/20 plan to cut its armed forces from 102,000 personnel to 82,000. The loss of 20,000 regular soldiers is to be compensated by 30,000 newly recruited reservists (the new word for territorial army).
Now in November 2014 the army cuts have been made and the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh and 3rd Battalion Mercian Regiment are now all confined to the history books. However a problem has arisen, in order to meet the quota for new reservists 2,750 people have to join up per month. Statistics show that in the calendar year of 2014 reservists monthly recruiting rate is at 23 people per month, resulting in a grand total of 140 new personnel.
It certainly seems something has gone badly wrong; the government motivated by economic pressures has tried to cut cost by reducing the national security budget within the strict parameters of 2%GDP. However with what surely now is a failing strategy to recruit 30,000 reservists in order to save money, has actually resulted in greater expenditure. With millions spent on advertising and marketing campaigns seemingly wasted, the government has resorted to more desperate measures. The sign up fee offered for joining the reservists to ex regular serviceman has been doubled from £2,500 to £5000 and a new sign up fee of £300 is now being offered to civilians. A critical issue the government seems to have neglected however is the incentive on employers to allow members of their staff to join, in an era of economic instability and high unemployment it seems naïve to rely on the principles of good employer practice or patriotic duty.
The governments reaction is to highlight what I would consider a false statistic, Britain has the 4th largest defence budget in the world, but in real terms we rank 30th in being able to commit troops abroad. Of course there is much more than just an economic argument as to why this plan is a devastating mistake for Britain and her armed forces, there are the key issues of capability and the moral implications.
In early 2013 I made a short documentary entitled 'Save Our Soldiers - Save 2RRF', in which I examined the ramifications of the Army 20/20 plan, using the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF) as my focal point. I had both the difficult task and privilege of spending time with Lee Rigby's family, Lee Rigby himself a Fusilier would have been potentially been in line to lose his job had he not been killed in such dreadful of circumstances. His father Ian told me "It was a family to him, to take away the heart of a regiment it takes away history and it hurts a lot of families.
Another person I spent time with was Carol Valentine, a mother whose two sons both had served in 2RRF. Her eldest son Sgt. Simon Valentine was killed in the line of duty in 2009 whist serving in Afghanistan. What Carol conveyed was the sense of injustice, how can soldiers who willingly do their duty in defence of Queen and country, and survive, be handed P45's on their return home?
The British army is now at it's smallest size since the Napoleonic wars, to put that that in a modern day context the entire 82,000 personnel could fit inside Wembley stadium, with 8,000 seats to spare. This comes in a day and age of increased military tension, Russia has proven itself to be antagonistic at least and imperialist at worst, setting about the re-colonisation of its former Soviet states. ISIS also proves to be a threat and a perpetrator of genocidal criminality; it is these kinds of tensions and Britain's desire to be an interventionist in the world so as to provide the defence and liberty of not only our own sovereignty but of those less able, which arguably requires a strong military force.
There is also the question of capability, when then Defence secretary Phillip Hammond announced the Army 20/20 plans in 2012 he stated reservists would "routinely share jobs that were once the exclusive domain of regular forces". He also followed by stating on another occasion "Army reservists will be critical to mounting military operations in the future", this however is in stark contrast to the newly appointed Chief of General Staff's view, General Nick Carter who has openly conveyed reservists are no replacement for regular troops. He also espoused the idea that "reservists should not be routinely be called up for active service" which clearly is in direct conflict to what Government would have us believe is achievable with a large reserve force.
I feel that perhaps this is a situation not dissimilar to teachers decrying the inherent flaw of politicians legislating on how to teach. The same can be said for our armed forces, the only difference being that as well as livelihoods at stake, so are actual lives. I understand the economic constraints of today but if £50 billion can be found for the HS2 high speed rail line to cut time from London to Birmingham, then money should also be in place to protect the jobs of our armed forces.
The prospect of not being able to protect to our own liberty and sovereignty or the intervention to protect that of others, in my opinion should be outside the boundaries of economic consideration. If my penance is sitting on the train for an extra hour travelling north, so be it.