HC Deb 09 January 1996 vol 269 cc4-5
4. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the average amount spent on recruitment costs for each entrant to the Army in the most recent 12 months for which figures are available. [6341]

Mr. Soames

During 1994–95, the average cost of an entrant to the Army was £4,638. That figure does not include the significant recruiting efforts made by individual regiments for which costs are not held centrally.

Mr. Flynn

Can the Minister explain why the Government spent £1 billion in redundancy costs, forcing—against their will, in most cases—137,000 people out of the armed forces? Those people were fully trained and fit. At the same time, in 1994, every recruit to the RAF cost £26,000. So the Government spent £ 1 billion getting rid of people, and £1.25 billion replacing them. Can we rest in our beds at night knowing that the people who are responsible for that enormous calamity and waste are in charge of the defence of the realm?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman is confusing a number of separate issues. There are difficulties with recruiting at the moment, and recruiting to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is expensive. The reason for that is that, although the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force do not at the moment require large numbers of recruits, for obvious reasons they need to retain a viable, satisfactory and operational recruiting service. The Army spends rather less on recruiting because it has more people coming through its books the whole time, so the average cost is much less.

As for redundancies, it was certainly a cause of great sadness that "Options for Change", the defence costs studies, and all the other measures flowing from those resulted in large numbers of people leaving the services—but I am afraid that that was inevitable. To ensure the correct profile of experience and the right balance of specialisation and age, it is necessary at all times to continue recruiting, to refresh the ranks at all levels.

Mr. Brazier

Is it not true that the armed forces are basically for the young, and that although we must deal generously with the older people who have had to be made redundant we must continue to recruit young people? Will my hon. Friend say a little more about the welcome initiatives that he is currently carrying out with the education and employment services?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his recognition that, especially for the infantry and the other specialist arms of the services, this is essentially a young man's game. We need to ensure a constant flow of young people of the right age. I am grateful to him, too, for mentioning the jobcentre initiatives. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, we shall tomorrow be announcing an initiative with the Employment Service to advertise jobs in 1,100 jobcentres nationwide. That follows a highly successful trial at 99 jobcentres. We are extremely confident that it will tap into an important source of young people and give them the information that they need when considering whether to join the armed forces. We very much hope that many more will do so as a result.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister believe that the recruitment budget has been well spent when the total strength of the Army is only 104,000 men and women against a requirement of 117,000—a shortfall of 13,000? It takes a Government of special genius, does it not, to be unable to recruit men and women to the Army when there are 2.5 million men and women desperate for work?

Mr. Soames

That shows a profound misunderstanding of the facts and is an obvious demonstration of the hon. Gentleman's complete lack of grasp of this important matter. We are competing in a highly competitive job market. It is true that we are suffering from manpower shortages—the Army is short of 2,500 men—but the hon. Gentleman's figures are way out.

I believe that our recruitment budget is extremely well and effectively spent. As I have said in the House before and will go on saying, we need to do better and to improve the image of the armed forces, so as to ensure a proper flow of young men and women into them. We badly need them; but the hon. Gentleman's assertions are way out of order.

Mr. Rathbone

What does the cost of recruiting to the Territorial Army happen to be? It has always struck me as the most cost-efficient part of the military.

Mr. Soames

I cannot tell my hon. Friend precisely, because the cost comes under the overall recruiting budget. My hon. Friend is certainly right to say that recruitment to the TA is extremely important. We regard it as an essential part of the one-army concept, and we regard the reserves as part of the mainstream forces. We greatly value their contribution to the United Kingdom defence effort.

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