Army offensive averts a recruitment crisis

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

A potentially "catastrophic" shortage of recruits which would have made the British Army operationally ineffective has been averted by urgent government action, it was disclosed yesterday.

General Sir Michael Rose, the Adjutant-General - the Army's head of personnel - said that if swift action had not been taken to halt closures of high- street recruiting offices and induce soldiers to stay on, the Army, would within a few years, have been 20,000 short of its authorised total of 90,000 trained soldiers. The shortage, mostly in infantry, armour and artillery, would have made it "incapable of fulfilling its defence roles".

As Sir Michael addressed a conference in Whitehall on the "Ethos and Image" of the British Army, MPs heard that black people were deterred from joining up because of a perception of "institutional discrimination". The House of Commons Armed Forces Bill Committee heard more evidence from the Commission of Racial Equality.

Bob Purkiss, who led a recent inquiry into allegations of racial inequality, said he doubted the time allowed for implementation of the recent "action plan" agreed between the CRE and the MoD could be implemented in the time allowed.

Perceptions of racism are one of a number of factors discouraging recruits. The Army's image was also dented recently by the killing of Louise Jensen by three drunk British soldiers in Cyprus. Although the recruits shortage has been averted, the Army needs to attract 15,000 soldiers this year and 17,000 in each of the following two to three years.

Public perception is crucial to recruiting. The conference heard that 43 per cent of recruits come from broken homes and that mothers play an even more important role in influencing them for or against the Army.

Sir Michael said the fall in numbers was due to abandoning junior entry and to rapid closure of recruiting offices. The Army wants to reintroduce the schemes for junior leaders and junior soldiers, abolished in 1992, to help maintain numbers generally and provide a cadre of future sergeants and sergeant-majors. Bonuses of pounds 1,000 to induce soldiers to stay on an extra year had also been effective in staunching the loss.

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