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Fresh doubts over reservists' plan

Fresh doubts about the Government's policy of building up the Army's part-time reservists while cutting back the numbers of full-time regular soldiers have been raised by the former head of the armed forces.

General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, who retired last year as chief of the defence staff, has said that he was sidelined over the plans, which will see the regular Army cut from 102,000 to 82,000 while the reserve is increased from 19,000 to 30,000.

"It was taken out of my direct chain of command, I didn't have anything directly to do with it. I think you could say that's because people knew I wasn't going to be very helpful over it. But I don't know," he said in an interview with Parliament's The House magazine.

He added: "I didn't particularly agree with the reservist strategy - are we calling it a strategy? I think it's a reserves policy.

"There's a big difference between a policy which is: 'That's what you want to do,' and a strategy which actually delivers it. I didn't agree with the reserves policy."

His comments came after the National Audit Office warned earlier this month that there were "significant risks" surrounding the plan, while the current head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, has said it could be put in jeopardy if defence spending is cut any further.

Lord Richards echoed critics who have warned that the Army will struggle to recruit the number of reservists it needs.

"It looks to me like there's a risk that the Army will be at 82,000, but the number of active reserves available will not be what the Government had hoped and the Army needs," he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: "Our armed forces are recognised as some of the best and most capable in the world and the UK has the biggest defence budget in Europe and the second largest in Nato, spending above the Nato target of 2% of GDP on defence.

"Few countries can match the broad spectrum of capabilities that the UK retains. We are radically reforming and revitalising our reserve forces, investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment and fully integrating them with the rest of the armed forces.

"While increasing the Army reserve from around 19,000 to 30,000 won't happen overnight, we are confident of delivering a reinvigorated reserves by 2018."

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