Government has 'bungled' Army job cuts, according to Commons accounts committee

Capita, the firm charged with recruiting reservists, is far behind schedule

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Indy Politics

Public spending watchdogs have accused the Government of “bungling” the axing of 20,000 Army jobs, warning the cuts will result in under-manning, capability gaps and a slump in morale.

In a scathing report published today, the Commons Public Accounts Committee rebuked the Ministry of Defence for not road-testing its plan to recruit and train 30,000 reserve soldiers by 2019. It is behind schedule and there are only 19,000 reservists now. “It is wholly unacceptable that the department’s current Plan B is to get Plan A to work,” said the cross-party group of MPs.

The timing of the report is embarrassing for David Cameron because he is urging other Nato members boost defence spending at its summit in Wales ending today. Only four of Nato’s 28 members spend at least two per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on defence. Although Britain is one of them, its commitment lasts only until next May’s general election and there are already fears that the Army may need to cut another 20,000 jobs after the election.

The MPs said the programme, designed to save £10bn by 2021-22, did not provide value for money and the savings target was at risk. Capita, the private firm running the recruitment drive, missed its target for regular soldiers by 30 per cent in 2013-14 and signed up only 2,000 of the 6,000 reservists it sought. “A huge step-up in performance is required,” said the committee.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “The MoD's bungling around the recruitment contract with Capita has meant at least £70m of the planned £267m savings from the contract have already been lost.”

Vernon Coaker, the shadow Defence Secretary, said: “David Cameron’s  advice to the [Nato] neighbours would be better received and have greater credibility if he had his own house in order.”

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, is confident of hitting the target of 30,000 trained reservists. He said: “We have arrested the many years of decline and neglect that has plagued our reserve forces and now we need to build on that. Our Army 2020 plans are on track and will deliver by 2020 the Army we need to counter the wide range of threats we face. Working closely with the Army and Capita, we have already addressed many of the points raised in this report.”