Written by Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Armed Forces Minister
In recent days, we have heard alarming reports of Government plans to make more than £1bn of cuts to the military, with our reservists taking a hit.
The Defence Secretary has apparently signed off on the Royal Naval reservists being stood down until April next year in a bid to save £7.5m.
Reports suggested that all drill nights, training weekends, and two-week training activities for the service's 2,700 reservists enlisted will be "paused".
One hundred and fifty naval reservists currently mobilised, as well as the 300 on full-time reserve service, are expected to continue as normal, while the number of British Army reservist training days will be cut from 38 to 32.
Former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord West, was right when he told the Telegraph that: "It’s a bad message for the reservists, it sort of says 'you’re not that important'."
A review of the UK’s reserve forces, Reserve Forces 2030, is currently underway but we need to ask - is the Government doing enough to support our dedicated reserves?
Firstly, let's look at the Government’s performance when it comes to meeting targets set under Future Reserves 2020 (FR20) – an independent review set by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010.
Ministers under the Coalition Government set the target to expand the reserves to 35,000 by 2018.
After years of failing to even increase the number of reserves, the project was outsourced to the private firm Capita, who continued to preside over a failing track record and missed, by 66%, its heavily watered-down target of 6,000 for Army reservists.
What was the Government’s solution to this litany of failures? Rather than address the flawed recruitment process, ministers instead chose to massage the statistics and change the categorisation of what it means to be a 'trained reserve' in the Army by eroding the requirements to meet phase 2 of basic training.
At the close of the FR20 this year, there was a deficit of more than 2,000 against the target.
Sadly, it is not only recruitment where Government is failing our reserves. More must be done to educate people on what being a reservist entails and of their immense value to our society.
Worrying statistics revealed by a 2019 Government survey highlight that nearly seven in 10 Britons have no idea what our troops do on a day-to-day basis, with nearly half believing they run fitness camps for the public and 16% thinking they perform as movie extras.
Our Armed Forces are the nation's defenders, shielding us from danger every day, it is unacceptable that Government continues to fall short in telling their story.
This misunderstanding of what our Armed Forces do is having a directly detrimental effect on the lives of reservists.
In 2013, the Ministry of Defence found that around 50% of reserve forces said they had been disadvantaged in the civilian workplace, and while improvements have been made since then, the 2017 'Filling the Ranks' report conducted by a Conservative MP found that Government must do more to get employers to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant.
The Government must do more to show that our reservists matter. Cutting training will not assist in that task.
Labour stands four-square behind our reservists. We want to see better integration across the wider armed forces and better support for those who want to serve.
High-tech weapons systems are essential, but highly trained service personnel, including reservists, are indispensable.
Cover image: MOD.