Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 212-219)


22 APRIL 2008

  Q212 Chairman: This is a further evidence session into recruitment and retention. I welcome you to the Committee. I am sorry that we kept you waiting at the beginning. We have a large number of witnesses and questions. Each witness should not feel required to answer every question because that would take us until breakfast tomorrow, but some of these issues are directed at the particular specialisations of the witnesses. I start by asking you to introduce yourselves and to set out very briefly your roles.

  Major General Gregory: I am Andrew Gregory, Director General Personnel, and I am in charge of both setting personnel policies and ensuring on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief the delivery of those policies across the Army.

  Vice Admiral Wilkinson: I am Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Personnel in the Ministry of Defence. I am charged by CDS and Ministers to produce sufficient capable and motivated personnel for the operations required according to the government's policies.

  Air Vice Marshal Bryant: I am Air Vice Marshal Simon Bryant, Chief of Staff Personnel for the Royal Air Force and also the Air Secretary, so I am concerned with personnel policy and also human relationships management.

  Mr Baker: I am Chris Baker and I work for Vice Admiral Wilkinson in the Ministry of Defence as Director General of Service Personnel Policy.

  Rear Admiral Montgomery: I am Charles Montgomery, Chief of Staff Personnel at Fleet and also Naval Secretary and Deputy Principal Personnel Officer responsible for strategic personnel policy, that is, the operational as well as tactical deployment of people.

  Major General Lalor: I am Major General Simon Lalor, senior reservist. I am Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Reserves and Cadets and am responsible for tri-service policy for the reserves and cadets in defence.

  Q213  Chairman: Let us start with public perceptions of the Armed Forces which play such an important part in recruitment and retention. I suggest it is quite important for the public to have direct contact with the Armed Forces rather than simply through the media. If that is the case what sort of initiatives are most successful in providing that real contact between the public and the Armed Forces?

  Vice Admiral Wilkinson: I think this is a question for each of the Services to deal with. Perhaps Major General Gregory can start by talking about some of the marketing and outreach activities that the Army undertakes.

  Q214  Chairman: I was hoping that somebody would explain to me exactly what an outreach activity was.

  Major General Gregory: I will try. An outreach initiative is one where we take Army personnel out into the wider community to explain the roles and activities of the Service. We do it through a number of forums: first, within schools. Where invited we will visit schools on behalf of careers advisers not in terms of recruiting but curriculum development particularly to support their activities on a wider basis. We visit about 1,000[1] schools a year and have found that is much welcomed by the schools themselves. More widely, we have an Army presentation team that based on invitation goes to forums to talk to a range of people, particularly gate-keepers and influence-formers, to give them a better understanding of the Army and its activities.

  Vice Admiral Wilkinson: Perhaps it would be helpful if the Air Force could either expand on that or make clear any differences.

  Air Vice Marshal Bryant: First, at a lower level like Major General Gregory there is such an ability with the reserve and cadet forces which I am sure Major General Lalor will speak to in greater detail, but engagement must be done at strategic level as well and engagement with opinion-formers and gate-keepers, ie parents and the people who have influence above them, are key to assuring success. Some work has been done to suggest that at the moment this is a negative influence. Clearly, this is critical if we are looking at the recruiting side to address that concern.

  Chairman: No doubt in the course of the morning we shall explore engagement with the gate-keepers in more detail.

  Q215  Mr Jones: In terms of opinion-formers and people in various communities, why do you not contact Members of Parliament who have extensive contacts with schools in their own constituencies? On the one occasion I did it with the Royal Marines it was quite successful, but as a Member of Parliament I have never had any other service contact. I go regularly to many of the schools in my area. I am sure that would be quite welcome in terms of any input I can have in getting you past the gate-keepers.

  Air Vice Marshal Bryant: We are always trying to do better at everything, but there is a reasonable level of engagement. First, there is the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, with which you are obviously well familiar. Second, at strategic level the heads of service engage on a regular basis with MPs through information groups. The chief of the Air Force does this.

  Q216  Mr Jones: It is a group of Tory MPs.

  Air Vice Marshal Bryant: But it is part of the engagement strategy. The other point I make is that at local level what tends to happens is that one uses one's platforms or stations as the source of influence. Therefore, their local engagement will be significant. In the case of the Royal Air Force that platform runs pretty much throughout the United Kingdom.

  Q217  Mr Jones: I do not have any Army, RAF or Royal Navy stations in my constituency but there are large numbers of people who join the Armed Forces. Why do you not engage with their Members of Parliament who would help the process?

  Vice Admiral Wilkinson: I think that is a helpful point. Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the National Recognition Study led by Quentin Davies announced by the government last November, its objectives being to encourage greater understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces by the nation. Obviously, I cannot anticipate in detail what Mr Davies's study will say, but from the work done so far I think the points Mr Jones makes are apposite to those that Mr Davies will pick up.

  Mr Baker: We would be delighted to engage with you. If you have ideas on this matter the more the merrier.

  Q218  Chairman: I am not aware of which schools in my constituency accept or invite these visits, but if I were aware would you like to do more of these visits? Are you funded to do more? Would it help recruitment if you did more of these visits?

  Rear Admiral Montgomery: We operate within finite resources and our business is one of making sure that they are used to best effect. The context here is that we already do a great deal of engagement with schools, both state and private. Last year our regional teams visited 4,000 schools and colleges in the secondary sector and over 300 in the private sector, so we are already doing a very great deal in terms of engagement with schools, but this is always on the basis that schools are prepared to invite us to engage.

  Q219  Mr Jones: If you made contact I and I am sure many Members of Parliament would be more than willing to see how you could get into schools with which you have difficulties. In the case of the Royal Marines which went to one of the schools in my area no thought had been given to having such a visit. I was quite happy to do that. In MPs you have a resource. Some would not do it but I think the majority would.

  Vice Admiral Wilkinson: To go back to the original question about outreach, I think it is important that you hear from Major General Lalor about his work with cadets and reserves.

1   The figure of 1,000 for the number of Army visits to schools given during the evidence session was provided in error. The correct figure is 4,000. Back

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