Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Onward snowflake soldiers


THE Telegraph reports that the Army is happy with its recruiting because the latest round of advertising, controversially appealing to ‘snowflakes’, ‘phone zombies’ and ‘selfie addicts’ to join up, has delivered 90 per cent of its target with three months left to go in the recruitment year. 

Forgive me for not breaking out the champagne. For a start, the Army was 8,530 short of its established strength (82,000) in October. That is over 10 per cent. The impact is huge on those serving; fatigues come around more quickly, exercises are less realistic and the fun is less. Which means that soldiers are more likely to leave, exacerbating the problem. Newly arriving recruits can’t replace an exodus of experienced soldiers. The shortages are not consistent – as the Guardian reported in August, some units are 40 per cent under strength. 

The next problem is that the important number is not the number of people starting basic training, it’s the number completing it. Basic training can be quite tough. Data on failure rates is obscure, but according to a written answer in Hansard it is in the range of 58 per cent to 75 per cent (which sounds about right). 

So the Army is far from out of the recruitment woods and the realm’s defence is not secure. The worrying thing is that soldiering is all about people. Yes, they need (often expensive) kit, but the best kit in the world is useless unless it is in the hands of well-led, motivated people. Given the fundamental importance of recruiting and retaining soldiers, it is bizarre that this role was outsourced to a company colloquially known as Crapita. Despite the Army being short of people, it is actually very hard to navigate the recruitment process.  It would seem that Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace has grasped this – the Army has to satisfy him that it has sorted its recruitment and manning before asking for more money. 

It’s not just the Army; the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (which also outsourced recruiting) are undermanned too. The Royal Navy’s problems extend to kit (design faults in the Type 45 destroyers’ propulsion) and the RAF is struggling to train pilots at a viable rate. They too have received the Wallace ultimatum, and apparent overmanning in the senior ranks has attracted the attention of Dominic Cummings.

With a secure majority, Mr Johnston has five years as PM. Delivering Brexit is just the start; with that will come a coherent foreign policy – or at least a review – and a defence posture to support that. The Armed Forces may reasonably suggest that they need to be bigger, but it seems that they will first have to resolve internal management failures. This process is unlikely to just be blood on the carpet – it will be flowing down the streets. 

If I had Capita shares I would be selling them.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here. He is the Reform Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West.

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