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Number of troops in British Armed Forces falls to record low

The number of Army soldiers has dropped by 4 per cent in the last year, down to just 75,983
The number of Army soldiers has dropped by 4 per cent in the last year, down to just 75,983 - IAN FORSYTH/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

The number of troops in the British Armed Forces has fallen to a record low, official figures show.

Figures published by the Ministry of Defence last week reveal that there were 184,865 UK service personnel as of Oct 1, covering both regular troops and volunteer reserves – 7,440 people, or 3.9 per cent, lower than last year.

In the most recent quarter the number of troops fell by 1,115.

Meanwhile in the Army alone, the number of regular soldiers dropped by 4 per cent in the last year, down to just 75,983.

The number of fully-trained soldiers has decreased as the result of a plan announced by the Government in 2021, with troop levels now at their lowest for 200 years.

But Richard Foord MP, a former Army major who serves as the Liberal Democrats defence spokesman, said the situation had been made worse by troops leaving the service because of issues such as substandard military housing.

A recent MoD survey found that just 34 per cent of service personnel said they felt valued and 46 per cent felt dissatisfied with the overall standard of their accommodation. Over the past year, 16,260 personnel have left the armed forces.

‘Ensure a fair deal’

Mr Foord suggested that recent comments by Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, criticising the Army’s ban on beards smacked of desperation.

In an interview with The Times last week, Mr Shapps said: “The armed forces get terribly pernickety about whether people have beards or not. Nowadays people have beards.

“How is it we are still struggling with recruitment and then arbitrarily saying you can’t join [if you grow a beard]. It is ridiculous. It is time to modernise.”

Mr Shapps said the decision was ultimately for the army, but added: “It is certainly a discussion that I think the army themselves should be having.”

In a tweet earlier this month, Sergeant Major Paul Carney said that the chief of the general staff had agreed to look at beards in the Army “to understand the benefits to recruiting, retaining, motivating and our reputation to aid a quick decision next year”.

Mr Foord said: “Grant Shapps needs to realise that tackling the recruitment and retention challenge will take far more than worrying about policy on beards. It requires properly investing in our brilliant armed forces personnel.

“The Defence Secretary needs to work on the retention of our best service people, by providing decent accommodation and ensuring a fair deal for service personnel – as well as their families.”

However, a Conservative source hit back at the Lib Dems. “Being criticised on defence policy by the Liberal Democrats as they stand on the sidelines is risible,” the source said.

“This is the party that has historically dallied with getting rid of the nuclear deterrent and whose plans for the defence of the country are anaemic at best.”

“Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is working tirelessly to improve pay and conditions for our brave service men and women,” they added.

‘Top priority’

An MoD spokesman said that the Government had made clear that future recruitment is a “top priority” with the publication of its Defence Command Paper and a review of troops’ pay and conditions carried out by the businessman Rick Haythornthwaite.

“A number of trials and pilots are underway to support armed forces careers, backed by investment to increase recruitment and retention,” the spokesman said.

“In the meantime, all three services continue to meet their front-line operational commitments.”

Last week, Gen Sir Roland Walker was officially announced as the successor to Gen Sir Patrick Sanders as the new chief of the general staff, the professional head of the British Army.

Earlier this year, The Telegraph revealed Gen Walker had been selected after it was confirmed that the incumbent, Sir Patrick, would be standing down after an unusually short tenure.

Defence sources said he had been forced out after just two years amid a row over troop numbers, with Sir Patrick consistently critical of planned cuts.

A defence source said Gen Walker would not let the cuts to his army define him.

“I think his tenure will be marked by some troop cuts, but the litmus test will be the extent to which he is able to reinforce the argument for recapitalisation and modernisation of the army,” they said.

“His job is to create as capable an army with the resources the Government of the day is inclined to spend on it.”

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