Reservist level down despite drive
Trained reservist numbers have decreased since 2012, new figures show, as the Government attempts to boost the Armed Forces' back-up strength to 35,000.
The UK's military has also been operating under strength since 2008 and the shortfall has increased between October 2012 and October 2013, the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) quarterly update adds.
The Armed Forces' personnel shortfall on October 1 was 4,030 - 2.5% of the total requirement - an increase from 3,000, or 1.8% of requirement, at October 1 2012.
The Government is attempting to reform the Armed Forces as part of its Future Force 2020 project.
And Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insists he remains confident the 35,000 reservist target will be met by 2018, with the five-year recruitment campaign in its second month.
The coalition is seeking to have 30,000 Army reservists, 3,100 for the Navy and 1,800 for the RAF by 2018.
The new data states: " The trained strength of the Future Reserve 2020 volunteer reserve is 21,870, a decrease of 30 when compared to July 1 2013, and a decrease of 160 when compared to October 1 2012."
The Army's reserve numbers stood at 19,220 in October 2012, decreased to 19,120 by July 2013 and 19,090 in October 2013.
For the Navy there were 1,800 reservists in October 2012, 1,780 in July but an increase of 10 to 1,790 in October 2013.
The RAF's back-up force dropped from 1,010 in October 2012 to 1,000 in July and 990 in October 2013.
The figures at October 1 2013 do not take into account the Government's recently launched campaign to recruit more reservists.
Mr Hammond said: "We have always said that growing the reserve forces to 35,000 by 2018 would be challenging but achievable."
He added: "We are now less than two months into a five-year recruitment drive for the A rmy reserve and the Chief of the Defence Staff and I remain confident that we will meet our target."
Mr Hammond told the House of Commons earlier this month there had been 1,576 applications to join the Army reserve in the first four weeks of the campaign.
He said this was a promising start, although Labour urged him to assure the British public national security would not be put at risk by the reforms.
The coalition's Army 2020 programme will see the number of Army regulars reduce to 82,000 and requires reservist numbers to increase from around 20,000 to 30,000 trained soldiers by 2018.
The overall trained strength of the Armed Forces was 156,690 at October 1 2013, a decrease from 165,890 12 months earlier.
On the Armed Forces' strength, at October this year the Army had a 3.8% deficit against requirement, the RAF 2% while the Royal Navy had a 0.9% surplus.
Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said the figures showing a decline in the Army reserve numbers posed "major questions" about the coalition's planned reforms.
He added there are concerns over the Government not publishing reserve recruitment figures, suggesting Mr Hammond had "something to hide".
Mr Coaker said: "We have no way of knowing whether the Government is on course to meet its own targets. A previous report showed that the Government fell far short.
"The failure to provide transparency on its own figures can only lead to the conclusion that the Defence Secretary has something to hide.
"Labour will seek to work with MPs from all parties to bring forward an amendment to the Defence Reform Bill in Parliament next week to ensure the Government is held to account on this issue of critical national importance."
Replying to Mr Coaker's claims, an MoD spokeswoman said: "T he decision not to publish additional data today was one taken by the National Statistician and Defence Statistics, an independent body over which the MoD quite rightly has no control.
"The suggestion there has been an attempt to withhold information is utterly false because MoD does not control which data is published."
An MoD source said: "The figures pre-date the recruitment campaign that started in mid-September and need to be seen in the context of IT teething problems that are being ironed out and against a backdrop of redundancies that have led to people wrongly thinking we are not recruiting."
The IT issues are said to largely concern problems in processing applications.
Further data in the quarterly report addresses changes in the Future Reserve 2020 Population, which shows that 5,650 people moved in and 4,090 moved out between October 1 2012, and September 30 2013.
These figures are provisional and include trained and untrained reservists, although the latter group does not form part of the reserve 2020 targets.
The report states that the untrained numbers can indicate how many personnel might potentially join the trained reserve ranks but adds that they can and do leave before completing training or transfer to another part of the armed forces.