Britain faces an army recruitment crisis, with frontline combat units operating as much as 40% below strength, figures obtained by the Guardian reveal.
Data released by the Ministry of Defence under freedom of information laws shows the number of soldiers in the British army’s infantry regiments has declined steadily over the past five years. There are more than 2,500 fewer personnel in frontline units than 2015, and all 16 regular regiments are have shortfalls.
The figures have prompted criticism of the outsourcing company Capita, which signed a contract with the MoD to manage recruitment to the armed forces in 2012, for its “shambolic and chaotic” handling of the situation. The have also been calls for the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, to address the crisis urgently.
Publicly available data published quarterly by the MoD shows a 7.6% deficit in personnel across the army on 1 January 2019, but the figure masks a more dramatic shortfall in frontline troops.
Guardian analysis of the FOI data for the same period shows that nine of the 16 infantry regiments were 20% or more below their “workforce requirement” – the planned number of personnel needed. Four were 25% or more below their required strength.
The Scots Guards regiment, which has fought in nearly every major conflict since the reign of Charles I, is worst affected. The figures show as many as 257 soldiers below its target strength of 697, a shortfall of 37%. If the regiment’s F company, a supporting unit,is removed from the figure, the shortfall grows to 42%.
The Guardian reported in March that figures from October 2018 released to the MP Mark Francois revealed almost half of all infantry battalions sitting within regiments were missing 20% or more of their required personnel.
The data released to the Guardian for January 2019 reveals a significantly worsening picture, with 10 out of 16 regiments having fewer soldiers than four months earlier.
The figures show there were more than 2,580 fewer soldiers in infantry regiments than there were five years ago. There were 15,880 personnel serving at regimental duty at the start of 2015, 6% lower than the 16,847 needed.
On the same date this year, there were 13,300 people serving, 17% below the target strength of 15,940.
The shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith, said Wallace had to get to grips with the recruitment and retention crisis as a matter of urgency. “Several of his Conservative predecessors have talked a good game, but all have failed to turn this shocking trend around,” she said.