During the 2019-20 recruiting year the armed forces hit 93% of our inflow target despite covid disrupting the end of the year; recruitment was, however, 31% up from 2018-19. While the armed forces are doing excellent work to continue that success, covid has had an initial impact on training throughflow this year. In the short term, therefore, we expect to see lower throughflow, but early signs are that this will be mitigated by improved retention and, very encouragingly, a good flow of rejoiners.
As a response to covid, we have seen the unemployment figures start to rise, and that is particularly reflected in the 18 to 24-year-old demographic. Do the Government agree that this is an opportunity to recruit, and perhaps even to meet our full-time trained requirement for the first time since the year 2000? Does the Minister agree that a career in the armed forces represents an excellent career life choice, and that now is a better time than ever to sign up?
The Secretary of State recently said that
“the greatest asset we have is not our tanks or our aeroplanes, it’s people.”
Yet under the last 10 years of Conservative Government, the numbers of personnel in each of the tri-services have declined. With this in mind, will the Minister make it a priority under the integrated review to address the failure to maintain the strength of our armed forces?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to pre-empt the decisions of the Prime Minister and the integrated review. However, I can assure him that recruiting targets remain as they were, and that while the sun is shining we will be making hay.