Squaddie shortage riles opposition MPs

The government was under attack from opposition MPs over the continuing recruitment gap in the Armed Forces after official figures revealed the Ministry of Defence was still thousands of soldiers short of its targets.

New figures released in the quarterly manning report last week revealed the Army, Navy and Air Force were more than 5,000 trained personnel short of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) target of 179,000. The major shortfall was in the Army, where the deficit for non-officer recruits is more than 3,300 as of 1 January, 2009.

Opposition parties slammed the figures, arguing that the government had denied the shortfall was an issue.

Liberal Democrat shadow defence secretary, Nick Harvey said: “These figures confirm there is still a yawning recruitment gap in the British Army. The continuing decline in the number of regular troops should be of grave concern to the government. Ministers persist in denying there is even a problem.”

However, the Army said it has seen an increase of 750 personnel in the final three months of 2008, and claimed that interest in becoming a soldier was growing.

An MoD spokeswoman told Personnel Today: “We have seen a lot more people coming in through our doors, and there are plans to run additional training courses this summer for new recruits.”

There were other green shoots within the statistics indicating an improvement in retention and diversity. The number of people leaving the Armed Forces dropped by 8% year-on-year, and is now at its lowest rate in nearly four years. And women make up nearly one in eight service personnel, while the proportion of ethnic minority personnel across the service has risen to 6.4%.

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