“I have today placed in the Library of the House a paper setting out the planned growth of the trained strength of the Reserve Forces, together with the enlistment targets for the next five years that will support that growth.”
So says the Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, to the House today. The paper should make interesting reading, if you’re into data and that sort of thing – tables, graphs, etc. But it is also worth remembering that government data predictions are rarely worth the paper they’re written on.
As a reminder, this manpower growth refers to the hope that the Ministry of Defence will be able to entice an extra 10,000 people to join what used to be called the TA, taking the full establishment to 30,000. I hope they can do it, I really do, because if they cannot, then we will have rather a gap in our defence capability.
Let’s be clear though, anyone can write a paper setting out ‘planned growth.’ I did it in the previous paragraph, sort of. The MOD plans to recruit 10,000 more Reservists! There, see, it’s easy! And setting out ‘enlistment targets for the next five years’ is the same game, only broken down into five seasons, as it were. Football-club owners do that sort of thing – projecting Premier League and European Cup domination within five years. But things don’t always go according to plan.
Targets are fraught with danger. They beguile an organisation into thinking most of the work has been done. Articulate the plan and it will happen! That is the refrain. But the plan is just the beginning; it’s important, but just the beginning. Targets also, especially in politics, create hostages to fortune:
‘You said you would recruit 2,000 people this year,’ says the opposition MP. ‘But you’ve only recruited 1,998.’ Guffaws of laughter from his (or her) colleagues. ‘What an omni-shambles.’
‘Well, yes we did, ‘replies the Minister, ‘but what my Right Honourable Friend (said through gritted teeth) doesn’t understand is…’
And the wrangling begins. Meanwhile, what is really going on with the data is something far worse, perhaps a failure to offset those 1,998 people with the 2,200 who have left that year, leaving the Reserves weaker than at the start of the Five-Year Plan.
It probably won’t come to that *we hope* but the suggestion of hiring Reserves before firing Regulars seems more sensible by the day. That’s not going to happen, though, so all we can really do is follow the Secretary of State’s plan with crossed fingers.