In the quarter to December, 1,490 personnel joined the Army reserve, an increase of 147% on the equivalent quarter last year. Colleagues will have seen the multimedia campaign showing the range of opportunities the reserves offer. We have unblocked the enlistment pipeline, more than 420 employers have signed corporate covenants and the civil service is setting an excellent example as a supportive employer, too.
A constituent, Reservist Rifleman Ben Taylor, was awarded the Queen’s gallantry medal for saving the lives of eight comrades in Afghanistan. With hundreds following in Rifleman Taylor’s footsteps every month, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the Chief of the General Staff’s blueprint for reaching our target is achievable?
I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend and I join him in congratulating Rifleman Ben Taylor. With the upturn in recruitment, and with retention improving too, the trained strength of the Army Reserve has gone up 560 over the past 12 months to 20,480. That is above our target for the year end, and I am confident that the plans of the new Chief of the General Staff—who, incidentally, was also a rifleman—will be achieved.
On Friday, I held my fourth Pendle jobs and apprenticeships fair, at the Colne municipal hall. I was delighted that the Army was one of more than 20 organisations that took a stall, at which it promoted regular and reserve opportunities. Will my hon. Friend tell us more about the steps that the Ministry of Defence is taking to recruit more reservists in the north of England?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative. The north of England provides the greatest proportion of our soldiers, regular and reserve, and the relaunch of the Army recruiting campaign’s reserve component last month involved a major event in Liverpool, as he knows. There will be more in the north. Following the Secretary of State’s announcement in October of the intention to restore a post-nominal award to recognise long service in the reserves, I should like to take this opportunity to confirm that such an award will be restored for those of all ranks who achieve 10 years’ service.
The new 77th Brigade, which will focus on psych-ops, is expected to recruit about 40 % of its members from the reserves. According to press reports, however, by Christmas only about 20 had been recruited. When does the Minister think he will achieve the full complement?
For obvious reasons, some of the detail of the recruiting in that area will not be published in the House, and I am sure that the hon. Lady—my hon. Friend, if I may call her that—will understand those reasons. There is, however, a big upturn in recruitment right across the reserves, as the figures I gave the House earlier indicated.
We cannot say what proportion of recruits resulted from it, but we can say that there has been a surge in recruiting, and that it was up 147% on the quarter last year, as the figures I have just given the House show. Additionally, although we are not going to publish the figures on cyber-recruiting, I can say that they are running ahead of the reserves average as a percentage.
Government answers show that the average age of an existing reservist infantryman is in the mid-30s. Given that we have added only 500 reservists in the two years that this plan has been in place, and that that has led to capability gaps and false economies, has not the time come to rethink the plan and to stop trying to get our defence on the cheap?
Over the past 12 months, we have added more than 800 to the reserves. That followed a long period—a whole generation—of decline. We make no apologies for revising the age requirements for ex-regular soldiers to join the reserves in order to share their knowledge and expertise. We are looking for people with key skills and it is a waste to lose people with specialist skills in areas such as intelligence and medicine. Dare I say that my hon. Friend, with his years of experience, might have something to offer to the reserves?
We have had months of failing IT systems, targets being revised downwards and recruitment to the reserves stalling. In addition, we learned last week that recruitment to the regulars was not meeting its targets. Will the Minister confirm the speculation that is going on within the Ministry of Defence and the Army that an alternative plan to scrap the current target of 30,000 is being drawn up?
There are no plans, and no such planning is going on, to scrap the target. The number I gave earlier, of 1,490 people joining the reserves in just one quarter, indicates that things are now moving sharply in the right direction. That figure relates to the Army Reserve, but the Royal Naval Reserve has been ahead of target all the way through and the Royal Air Force Reserve is also doing well, with 150 joining in a quarter.