Defence Secretary dismisses watchdog’s warning over Army cuts

Philip Hammond has dismissed a warning from the public spending watchdog over plans to save billions of pounds by slashing the regular Army and boosting reservist numbers.

The Defence Secretary said he was “confident” that the target of 30,000 part-time soldiers would be hit by 2018, despite the National Audit Office (NAO) concluding it could take six years longer.

The watchdog’s report also expressed alarm that ministers did not know whether the policy was “feasible” when they signed it off three years ago, and questioned whether the new structure would even deliver the predicted £10.6bn savings.

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NAO chief Amyas Morse said: “The department and Army must get a better understanding of significant risks to Army 2020 – notably, the extent to which it is dependent on other major programmes and the risk that the shortfall in recruitment of new reserves will up the pressure on regular units.”

Publication of the findings – delayed for several days amid wrangling with the Ministry of Defence – prompted a wave of criticism from politicians and military figures.

Former head of the Army Lord Dannatt accused Mr Hammond of “wishful thinking”, saying his approach was “based on hope rather than any science”. Even if the goal of increasing reservist numbers is met by 2018, there will be at least three years before then when the Army is under strength, he said.

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, attacked the “scandalous” £1m a month being spent to cover “incompetence” in the reservist recruitment process.

Tory backbencher John Baron said Mr Hammond’s reputation was now “on the line”.