A MANPOWER crisis has forced the Royal Navy to spend millions of pounds to keep one of Britain’s most advanced warships docked in Portsmouth.
For more than a year HMS Dauntless has been relegated to the role of a training ship while navy top brass battle to tackle a shortage of sailors.
An investigation by The News has revealed it has cost the taxpayer more than £5.3m for the £1bn destroyer to languish at the city’s naval base.
It comes as fresh figures show the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has failed to hit its targets to bolster the number of recruits signing up for the service.
Defence officials last night insisted the nation had enough military personnel to meet the UK’s commitments abroad.
But a source from the navy admitted the move to keep Dauntless alongside was part of a ‘personnel recovery programme’ adding it was not a cost-cutting measure.
(The navy) is diabolically short of senior rate engineers. They can’t retain or train the replacements fast enough to stop the shortagesSenior Royal Navy insider
Now one of Britain’s former top sailors has called on Whitehall to address the manpower woes.
Admiral Lord West said the problem stemmed from a move to axe 4,000 sailors during a spending review in 2010.
The retired First Sea Lord said this had created a ‘vicious circle’ which the navy was still struggling to overcome.
‘Cutting 4,000 people in 2010 was a terrible error and one we are still feeling now,’ the Labour peer said.
‘I think that since then (the navy) has been trying desperately to fix this. They have tried everything they can.’
Dauntless – one of six hi-tech air defence warships based in Portsmouth – is due to go into refit later this year.
But the figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal the MoD has spent £706,000 on fuel costs and a further £4.6m on staff.
The navy stressed this was not an extra cost and would have occurred if the ship had been alongside for routine operations or maintenance.
It comes following a prolonged battle by the government to bolster the dropping figures in all its armed forces.
As previously reported, the navy has been left desperately short of experienced engineers.
Figures revealed by a News investigation have shown that, despite a number of high-profile TV campaigns, the MoD has still missed its recruitment targets.
The navy had set a target to recruit 3,571 new sailors last year. But it only achieved 2,980. And of the combined aim of 1,237 new engineering ratings and officers, only 1,080 were recruited.
It has forced some of the service’s top engineers to be ‘bounced from pillar to post’, a senior sailor claimed.
Experienced engineers are being forced to stay at sea longer than ever before because of the personnel shortage, the insider said.
The source said: ‘The navy is diabolically short of senior rate engineers. They can’t retain or train the replacements fast enough to stop the shortages.
‘So those who do stay are working harder, not getting the down time and deciding they can get the same, if not more, money outside but more importantly a better work/home life balance.’
The MoD said recruitment targets were not the minimum number of people the forces needed to recruit to maintain its capability, adding a ‘level of resilience and contingency’ was built into all aspect of military manpower.
An MoD spokeswoman said: ‘We are meeting all our commitments at home and abroad and we have enough people to do this, with numbers joining the armed forces increasing thanks to a number of innovative recruitment initiatives.’
A Royal Navy spokeswoman said the rotation of ships through operating cycles – including those that become training ships – was helping to create ‘more qualified’ engineers who can ‘operate ships in high-tempo’ missions.
Low unemployment and budgets are to blame for woe
TIGHT budgets and record-low unemployment on ‘Civvy Street’ are the causes of the naval manpower crisis, an admiral and MP have claimed.
Lord Alan West said the limitations imposed on the cash-strapped Royal Navy, as well as surge of work available elsewhere was making a life in the military less appealing for prospective recruits.
‘It’s been a difficult time for the navy,’ the former First Sea Lord said.
Likewise, the drop in recruitment has concerned Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South MP. But Mrs Drummond said she was also ‘worried about the bigger picture’.
She said: ‘There is a total shortfall of over 1,000 personnel across the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.
‘We have to do more both on recruitment and retention of people in all our armed services. The services offer fantastic training opportunities for people who want to learn a skill.
‘But in times of low unemployment they have to compete with other potential employers to attract young people.’
As a result of the crisis HMS Dauntless has been relegated as a training ship for more than a year while she awaits a major refit to her propulsion.
Mrs Drummond added she will press the MoD to confirm when this upgrade will start.
What the navy has been doing to tackle the crisis
‘I WAS born in Carlisle – but I was made in the Royal Navy’.
It is a slogan that has been the linchpin of a major TV recruitment drive by the Senior Service in recent months.
The advert shows the transformation of a wannabe sailor into a polished new recruit, who eventually passes out of training and is posted on his first ship.
The ‘Made in the Navy’ campaign is all part of an effort to increase the number of new sailors joining the navy and plug some of the manpower gaps in the fleet.
But this is not the only thing the navy has been doing in a bid to bolster manpower.
A number of recruitment events have been staged by the force.
And the service has sought to improve candidate relationship management during the recruitment process to try and keep prospective sailors keen on a life at sea.
With a drop in the number of engineers in the service, the navy has also kick-started a series of campaigns to boost its numbers and counter the impact of a ‘highly competitive labour market’ on the level of applicants coming forward.
Strategies include a ‘direct entry technician scheme’ which looks to hire qualified and experienced personnel from the industry into specialist areas, at a senior non-commissioned officer level.
The navy is also working with a number of university technical colleges to advertise the opportunities available to youngsters, while continuing to run its undergraduate apprenticeship scheme and an advanced entry scheme, which features an accelerated training pipeline.
For more details, see royalnavy.mod.uk/careers