The British Army will lose at least 17,950 staff between now and spring 2018 according to a document published on 8 February by the Ministry of Defence. Entitled “Ministry of Defence Vote A”, this key document outlines the maximum number of personnel engaged in the UK’s Armed Forces up to 31 March 2018. It needs to be approved by Parliament which could cut the numbers even further.
Britain’s defence budget has been rising for the past two years (€42bn for 2017-2018), so the reason for this cut in personnel numbers is a pragmatic one to take into account the British Army’s major recruitment problems. Why try and increase the contingent when one has trouble keeping the one in place? Because despite an extra €3.5m to launch a “last chance” recruitment campaign, the British Army is having a hard time inspiring a military vocation amongst Britain’s youth.
Poorly supported, badly paid, rarely deployed abroad – unlike the Royal Navy whose numbers will rise by 500 in 2018 – morale amongst soldiers is low, FOB’s sources say. So one can’t really blame youngsters who, confronted by a rising number of irritants in the army, prefer turning towards more lucrative professions, such as becoming a trader in the City, rather than remaining bored and frustrated in barracks in the magnificent – but somewhat isolated – Pembrokeshire, for example.
The main victim of this tendency amongst the ground forces: the infantry which, in 2016, only managed to fill 2,380 of the 3,480 jobs available. In these conditions it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for London to respect one of the fundamentals of the White Paper published in 2015, that is, to maintain the size of the regular army. Most of the effort will be furnished by the land forces’ reserves even if their numbers are also dropping by almost 16% (12,920) to 80,410.
The regular army will drop from 112,900 to 107,930 next year. The principal cuts will be in the uncommissioned officer ranks and the rank and file who will lose 6,300 personnel. The only escapees will be the “Commonwealth, Colonial, etc., troops abroad and Gurkhas” whose numbers will rise from 3,270 to 4,400. An important detail is that “the maximum number includes a margin of 10% (9,810) to cover unforeseen contingencies“, according to the MoD document, instead of the 5% margin defined for 2016-2017.