THE number of Army reservists has fallen over the past year according to official figures, despite Government plans to build up the ranks of part-time soldiers while the regular Army is cut back.
The latest quarterly manning figures for the armed forces show there were 19,150 trained Army reservists at the start of January – 50 fewer than there were a year ago.
The Ministry of Defence is committed to expanding the numbers of reserve soldiers to 30,000 by the end of 2018 as the regular Army is scaled back from 102,000 to 82,000.
The MoD said that it was still ahead of its target of 18,800 trained reservists by the start of April, but Labour said it was only because it had revised down its recruitment targets.
A MoD spokeswoman acknowledged that meeting the 2018 target would be a “challenge” but said the numbers would start to pick up again as new recruits coming through the system completed their two-year training.
“We know it won’t happen overnight and always anticipated that the first few years would be the most difficult as we reverse the decline of the last decade,” the spokeswoman said.
“However, we are pulling out all the stops and at the start of the year all three services launched new recruitment campaigns. With a better offer now in place for reservists we are committed to achieving the numbers we need.”
For Labour, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker warned the Government risked storing up problems for the future, leaving a dangerous shortfall in troop numbers.
“It is incredible that as the Defence Secretary says his plans to recruit thousands of new Army reservists are on course, the figures show that the number of reserve soldiers is actually falling year-on-year,” he said.
“The Government has revised and lowered recruitment targets for this year, making it nearly impossible for it to miss them. But the danger is that just stacks up problems for later years, and as a result Britain’s armed forces could be left with a dangerous capability gap.”