Now funding fears hit Army cadets

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Indy Politics

Defence funding cuts have left the Army's cadet programme facing an uncertain future as it prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2010, organisers have warned.

A huge outcry over plans to suspend routine training for Territorial Army soldiers to save £20 million led to a dramatic climbdown by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

But less attention has been paid to the impact of similar cutbacks on the Army Cadet Force, which had £4 million slashed from its £40 million annual budget in October, halfway through the financial year.

Leaders of the youth scheme warn that the cost-cutting move will make it harder to find and retain adult volunteers.

They say this will have a knock-on effect for the 45,000 cadets aged 12 to 18 who benefit from the discipline and exciting activities provided by the programme.

The cutbacks could also affect Army recruitment - up to a quarter of those who join the Armed Forces have belonged to one of the cadet schemes, and they are less likely to drop out in training.

Melanie Bowran, head of marketing for the Army Cadet Force Association, said: "If this is a one-off, it's manageable.

"If it turns into a longer term reduction in funding, then there will be repercussions. We will struggle to keep our adult volunteers."

Some Army Cadet Force events have already had to be cancelled, including a national girls' football competition and several weekend conferences.

But the big worry is the impact the cuts could have on next year's annual summer camps, which Ms Bowran described as "the highlight of the year" for the cadets.

Senior figures in the Government have stressed the value of the UK's four cadet schemes, the Combined Cadet Force, Sea Cadet Corps, Army Cadet Force and Air Training Corps.

In June 2006 Mr Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced an expansion of the programmes.

He said at the time: "We want more young people to have the opportunity also to join our cadet forces, to develop new skills, build their confidence, actively engage in their local communities, and experience for themselves an introduction to both military and community service."

In July this year former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn recommended giving every state school access to a cadet force as part of moves to improve social mobility in Britain.

Calling on the Government to provide extra resources, he said the schemes helped young people develop skills valued by employers such as punctuality, responsibility, team work and leadership.

Adult volunteers with the Army Cadet Force are not paid for the weekly evening training sessions, so these have continued as normal despite the 10% budget cut.

But they are no longer receiving compensation for running activities at weekends or taking time off work to run camps.

Ms Bowran said: "It's a quiet time of year in the winter. If we had had the cuts before the summer, it would have had quite a significant effect.

"The summer camp is the highlight of the year, particularly for cadets who live in cities."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "The Army Cadet Force plays a key role in introducing young people to teamwork, adventure and community work and this will continue.

"However, like all Government departments, the MoD is facing challenging financial pressures and some difficult decisions must be made.

"Ensuring that our personnel in Afghanistan have the resources they need both now and in the future must remain our top priority."

The cadet movement's history dates back to 1860, when Queen Victoria carried out a review of newly-formed Army volunteer units, including the cadets of the Queen's Westminsters.

The 150th anniversary celebrations - whose patron is the Queen - will include a Royal review of the cadet forces in London in July, as well as an expedition to Lesotho in southern Africa under the patronage of Prince Harry.