Made in the Royal Navy’, say the recruitment adverts for the maritime division of our armed forces in a high profile TV campaign.
They proudly proclaim how anyone can sign up and gain more qualifications, travel the world, take pride in themselves and their country, and so on.
There’s even one for ‘Stuart from Portsmouth’ who’s getting to achieve his dream of becoming a physical trainer – and getting paid for it.
But these lavish commercials have fallen short, and not enough people have heeded the call to leave civvy street. The navy fell some 600 short of its target to recruit 3,571 new sailors last year, and 150 short of a combined target for new engineering ratings and officers.
As a result, something has got to give – and in this instance, a state-of-the-art warship is unable to leave dock. Instead of being out at sea doing her job, HMS Dauntless stays alongside in Portsmouth and plays the part of a training ship.
As former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West says, the current situation is a ‘vicious circle’ stemming from the decision to cut 4,000 sailors during the 2001 spending review.
You can dress up this current period as a ‘personnel recovery programme’ to bring the navy back to full strength, but that essentially means that the navy is understaffed, with key roles unfilled and those remaining, consequently overstretched.
The MoD insists that current staff levels are not putting our commitments at risk as there is a built-in level of ‘resilience and contingency.’
That’s as maybe. But in the current geopolitical climate, it would provide a far greater degree of peace of mind to know that the British navy is ready to respond with all of the resources at its disposal should the need – God forbid – ever arise.