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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what recent comparative assessment has he made of trends in armed forces reserve recruitment and operational capability of the armed forces during the covid-19 outbreak.
With regard to the operational capability of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has robust processes and measures in place to conduct capability assessment, compare data sets and metrics, and identify trends in order to inform decisions. These processes have been dynamically and routinely used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to help protect and prioritise critical and essential outputs, such as our permanent tasks.
To aid in delivery of these, non-essential commitments and activity has been minimised, postponed or cancelled. The MOD continues to assess which essential commitments and activity have required to protect all priority outputs, adapting accordingly.
Recruitment, retention, and morale of Reserve Forces is the purview of the single Services and therefore there will be differences in approaches.
Armed Forces recruitment, including for Reserves, continues online while in-person interviews and assessments have been paused in order to comply with current health and safety guidelines. At this early stage of the pandemic we are unable to make any firm pronouncement on trends or conclusions. A fuller assessment will only be possible much later in the year.
At this stage there is no evidence of a significant downturn in the recruitment of Reserve Forces, with the operational capability of the UK Armed Forces being as robust as ever, bolstered by augmentation in the form of our committed and highly skilled Reservists.
Far from seeing a retention issue, we have seen the re-engagement of many Reservists whilst morale remains high, evidenced by significant numbers of Reserve personnel both currently mobilised and on stand-by for future requirements. COVID-19 has actually proved a galvanising factor in giving Reservists the opportunity to step forward to support the nation in a time of need.
The Maritime Reserves (MR) are still receiving applications, albeit at a reduced rate. Virtual interactions and assessment processes are being developed to accommodate the requirement for social distancing. These should be trialled soon and will be supported with specific marketing to reignite the attraction of high calibre candidates. MR have not experienced any voluntary outflow because of COVID-19, and at present no additional specific retention action has been necessary. A continuous assessment of people, morale and wellbeing has been undertaken within MR units, using virtual methods to engage with personnel. Effect on morale is judged minimal overall.
Morale amongst Army Reservists is reviewed formally through the Reserve Continuous Attitude Survey and evidenced more informally through the levels of participation in Defence's contribution to fighting the pandemic. 1750 Army Reserves are currently mobilised, with many more volunteering and hoping to be utilised. That their service was engaged quickly and efficiently, and at scale, is indication of good morale. Innovative use of virtual training and communications (such as Defence Connect) has enabled units to maintain contact with their Reserve Soldiers on a weekly basis during the lockdown. This commitment, initiative, and shared purpose has been critical in enabling the maintenance of the morale of the Army Reserve.
No comprehensive assessment has been made of the morale amongst Royal Air Force (RAF) Reservists, however they are proud of their contribution to Defence's response to pandemic. This is evidenced by the initial trawl for Reservist Personnel yielding over 800 volunteers, many of whom, with the consent of their employer, waived the 28-day notice period.