THE BRITISH Army is facing one of the worst staffing crises in history, with virtually every regiment, infantry battalion, unit and corps understrength.
New figures paint a devastating picture of the army’s failure to retain demoralised, sceptical and under-utilised troops and recruit enough new ones to replace them.
Overall Army numbers dropped for the eighth year in a row in January this year to 75,880. They stood at 86,000 in 2015 and, according to the Future Army 2020 plan, there are supposed to be 82,000 soldiers next year – making a shortfall of 6,120.
Prince Harry’s former regiment, the Household Cavalry and the Brigade of Guards who responsible for guarding the Queen and the Royal Palaces are hundreds of men short.
The worst recruited infantry regiment is the Scots Guards which is 230 soldiers below “workforce requirement”. One source within the regiment last night conceded that it was “no longer operationally effective”.
Every tank regiment and almost every artillery unit is understaffed, and specialist regiments are not immune, either.
There are a myriad of factors at play, and it’s true that some are just beyond the Army’s control. High civilian employment levels always affect recruitment, and Generals cannot help the Government’s current unwillingness to engage troops in combat – in favour of using them as trainers for other forces, which removes the most important incentive to join for so many.
Nor can they control the Treasury’s tight grip on the purse strings which has led to a series of disastrous streamlining projects in the name of saving money.
Last week’s damning parliamentary report on Capita who are contracted by the Ministry of Defence to be in charge of the recruitment process gave light to the scale of the problem. It emerged that every agreed target was missed, and it took on average 321 days from signing up to walking through the barracks door which, of course, is causing so many willing recruits to simply abandon the process.
Brigadier Allan Mallinson, author of The Making of the British Army, thinks the problem stems from a lack of leadership as top chiefs move around too much:
“Commanding officers are being parachuted from battalion to battalion, seeing their promotions as stepping stones to greater things. This removes the sense of responsibility. They enact policies knowing full well they won’t be around when the results of those policies is felt.
“The bigger the regiment and the more movement of officers there is, the less junior ranks feel there’s continuity, that they’re part of a family, and that their worth is going to appreciated in the years to come,” he said.
Brig Mallinson added: “When I was commanding everything was my responsibility. Recruiting was part of that. I was very conscious that for the rest of my life I’d be carrying around the reputation of those two-ands-a-half years in command. Where has the ownership gone now?
“The Army will accuse me of being a dinosaur and not keeping up with the times. But we saw these problems coming. I reply that they have ignored the wisdom of the ages.”
An Army spokesman said: “The Army meets all its operational commitments to keep Britain safe.”