Recruitment and retention in the armed forces: thirty-fourth report of session 2006-07, report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence

The armed forces are short of servicemen and women. At April 2007, the overall shortfall was 5,850 personnel, or 3.2 per cent and none of the three Services were within their targets, known as 'manning balance'. Many highly specialised areas, such as nurses and linguists, have larger shortfalls. The impact of continuous downsizing, pressures and overstretch is affecting the ability of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to retain and provide a satisfactory life for Armed Forces personnel. Numbers leaving early have risen in the last two years, and are now at a ten-year peak for Army and Royal Air Force Officers and for Royal Air Force Other Ranks. The frequency of deployments is creating pressure on some personnel, with large numbers exceeding the "harmony" guidelines on time spent away from home. The MoD has operated above the most demanding level of operations under Defence Planning Assumptions since 2001, but has not adjusted its manning requirements. Short term financial measures to improve retention have had some success, but do not address the key drivers for leaving such as servicemen and women's inability to plan ahead and the impact on their family life. The MoD also lacks basic information on the costs of its measures which would enable it to make more informed judgements on incentives to improve recruitment and retention. Past cuts in recruitment activity have had a damaging longer-term effect on manning in some areas. Such cutbacks are almost impossible to recover as budget and capacity constraints prevent the MoD from over-recruiting to make up for shortfalls in previous years.

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