Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said in the House of Commons today in response to the Government statement on UK Reserves:
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We support an enhanced role for Reserve Forces, working alongside Regulars to project force globally.
Our Reservists make an enormous contribution here at home in many ways, including the 2,000 who helped protect the Olympics. Many serve overseas in faraway terrain in the name of national security. It is right we pay tribute to each of those who have served, and above all those who have lost their lives. Their courage, professionalism and patriotism are even more important to reflect upon so soon after Armed Forces Day.
While we champion the Reserve Force we recognise the need to modernise. The scale of this task is underlined if we consider that the Reserve Forces of the US, Canada and Australia make up 40-50 per cent of each of their Armies, as opposed to 20 per cent in the UK.
However there are concerns that rather than synchronise the reform of the Army with that of the Reserves, today’s announcement appears belated, and there will be concern that the Reserves’ uplift is not designed to complement our Army but supplement lost capacity. Many will reasonably want an explanation of the defence rationale from the government as to why the cuts in the regular Army are happening regardless of the success of any uplift in the Reserves. A concern that is only added to by the fact that TA recruitment targets last year were missed by more than 4,000.
We welcome much of today’s announcement, some of which we have advocated. Increased training alongside Regulars and investment in equipment will enhance Reserves’ capability; transferability of qualifications will encourage recruitment; a changed name to ‘Army Reserve’ will reflect their contemporary composition.
There will undoubtedly be real hurt in those communities where centres are being closed and it is only right that the government publish all of the detail on how they have arrived at those specific decisions.
We have repeatedly said we want and the country needs a Reservist plan to succeed and much of that will depend on getting the offer right for employers and Reservists.
On the decision to locate units close to garrisons, could the Secretary of State say what criteria was used to determine which TA infantry battalions are to be cut; the criteria on which relocation has been based; and how many will be made redundant as a result of this decision? Could he also say what assistance is being given to those units which are currently under-strength to meet recruitment targets?
On employers, a central challenge to overcome is ensuring Reservists’ employment patterns are compatible with longer training and deployment periods and that Reservists don’t face discrimination in the workplace.
Service experience is an enormous asset to business, but despite this a recent Federation of Small Business survey found that one in three employers believed nothing would encourage them to employ a Reservist. Greater predictability for business is crucial and so is financial support.
Could he say what measures he is putting in place to ensure those employers least well-equipped to absorb the impact of a large scale deployment of Reservists – SMEs and the defence sector – are able to manage requests for leave?
Engagement with public sector employers is compulsory. We should not be inviting demands upon the private sector that we would not make of the public sector. So can he say how many government departments currently bill the MOD for the costs of their workforce who are deployed as Reservists?
It is essential that those who volunteer to protect our country are protected in their workplace. The announcement on access to unfair dismissal tribunals is welcome. But on discrimination at the point of hiring I fear he may be missing an opportunity. We need to get this right rather than be rushed, but many will worry that consultation on the principle could be time better used by consulting business on specific proposals.
There are a number of Reservists who will be on welfare. We have seen with the bedroom tax how government guarantees of Armed Forces’ protection can be unfounded, so can he give a unequivocal commitment that no individual will be worse off as a result of today’s announcement? I don’t doubt Ministers’ intention but question the implementation and so for the purpose of clarity will he publish full detailed tables on how reservists in receipt of benefits or credits will be affected?
Medical analysis shows that Reservists are more susceptible to post-deployment mental health problems and PTSD. Reservists return to civilian life without decompression and many do not have access to military medical services. What plans are there to improve post-deployment care, for example through greater access to military medical services and what additional resource will be provided to Reservists’ mental health screening on departure from service?
To ensure our frontline forces can face challenges of increasing complexity with the necessary skills we must maximise civilian expertise in a military setting, but could he say more on how the Government plan to link reserves’ recruitment to skills shortages, and what plans the Government has to collaborate with employers in specific sectors to recruit specialists?
These reforms must succeed to fill capability gaps, but more importantly they should mark a change in culture where we strengthen our frontline force with a greater and more integrated use of civilian expertise. Our modern forces must be as diverse as the threats we face and that means a new, high quality Army Reserve. In the interests of national security we will work with the Government to make that a reality.