Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt pledges action to bolster recruitment for Britain's reserve forces

Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt pictured alongside Royal Navy reservists on HMS Medway in Portsmouth ahead of Reserves Day. Photo: MoD.
Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt pictured alongside Royal Navy reservists on HMS Medway in Portsmouth ahead of Reserves Day. Photo: MoD.
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DEFENCE secretary Penny Mordaunt is calling on the nation to thank all those who serve as military reservists as she today pledged new measures to bolster recruitment.

In an exclusive interview with The News, the high-flying Tory MP vowed to stop ‘losing people’ through the training ‘pipeline’ and address ‘challenging’ targets for new recruits which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has struggled to meet.

Her pledges come as Britain today celebrates Reserves Day, which marks the efforts of all those who serve the nation in their spare time.

Speaking to The News from the deck of HMS Medway – one of the Royal Navy’s newest offshore patrol ships – naval reservist Ms Mordaunt said: ‘The message we want to send is thank you.

‘Anyone who wears the uniform makes tremendous sacrifices, they do tremendous things for our sake.

‘But I think reservists in particular are brilliant. Many of them are doing jobs which are involved in public service in one way for the prosperity of the UK but they also spend huge amounts of time training, working and supporting the mission of our nation.’

Reserve units have been seen as an increasingly important part of the nation’s armed forces following vicious cuts made during previous defence and security cuts.

Many reservists have gone on to serve during deployments overseas and in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.

So far about 32,560 serve as part of Britain’s reserve forces, with more than 27,000 in the army, 2,830 in the maritime reserve and 2,660 in the Royal Air Force.

However, the government has set ambitious targets for this to hit 36,400 by April next year as part of the Future Reserves 2020 proposals.

But the MoD has struggled achieving its own goal, with latest figures showing it was 2,500 shy across the board of the 35,060 marker for April.

The majority of the deficit comes from the army, which has several reserve units based across the Portsmouth area, with troop numbers some 10 per cent shy – 3,030 in all – of where the MoD had hoped they would be by this year.

But the figures are more promising elsewhere, with the RAF 800 above its 1,860 goal and the maritime reserve – which includes the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary – just short of its 3,100 target, hitting 2,830 in April.

And although overall targets have not been hit, Ms Mordaunt remained confident this can be turned around.

‘We have some really challenging targets for reserves, and there was a time where people said “you can’t do that, the younger generations won’t want to do that” and we have proven that wrong,’ she said.

‘We have been building up and the numbers are going in the right direction. We’re getting more and more resilient in terms of our manning across all of our services.

‘But I think there are some additional things we can do as well which I'm initiating coming into the department. We still lose a lot of people through the training pipeline and although some of them are picked up not all of them are.

‘I think if you lose people out of a pipeline you want to find out why, you want to see whether having stepped up and said “I want to serve my country” there’s another role for them.

‘So things like that which I think are common sense and I think we can do to make sure we’re picking everyone up.’

In the 12 months between April 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019, 4,870 people left the reserves, a decrease of 650 (11.8 per cent) compared with the previous 12 months.

Some 540 less people signed up to become reservists last year compared to the previous year.

Ms Mordaunt said that as well as taking further steps to address the recruitment shortfall, she would be encouraging reservists to help.

‘The best recruitment tool is these reservists themselves, the pride in what they do, hearing what it gives them and brings back as an individual and to their other job I think is really powerful.

‘I know from my own experience what an amazing thing serving can be like, the training that you get and what it does to you and helps you grow. It’s really fantastic,’ she added.