A FORMER senior army officer and commander of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers has again questioned the logic of the Westminster government’s defence policy after news that the Borders is set to lose its only army recruitment office.
A written answer to Welsh Labour MP Owen Smith has revealed that the Ministry of Defence plans to shut 83 out of 156 army recruitment offices in a bid to cut costs.
This includes 14 of the 19 in Scotland, with the recruiting office in Paton Street, Galashiels, among them.
It means only five recruitment offices will remain – in Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.
As well as Galashiels, recruitment offices in Perth, Dunfermline, Dumfries, Kirkcaldy, Bathgate, Dumbarton, Hamilton, Irvine, Paisley, Stirling, Wick, Elgin and Greenock will close by March 26.
The closures come amid concerns that plans to double the size of the army in Scotland, announced by former defence secretary Liam Fox in 2011, will also now be ditched.
But Brigadier Allan Alstead, a former commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, KOSB, says it is just the latest in a long line of measures to cut soldier numbers to save money.
“Ministers say that they are introducing ‘more modern and convenient’ ways of enlisting. However, experiments in the past using Job Centres and such like have not worked,” he told TheSouthern this week.
“My view is that Scotland is very different from England and we need local army recruiting offices to keep in touch with what is a much more rural spread of population.
“Without local offices, the Royal Regiment of Scotland (RRS) will end up being recruited entirely from the central belt and with very few from the Highland areas.
“This will make it very much more difficult to maintain the currently projected four-battalion and one company-strength of the RRS.
“I must say that everything that is being done at the moment to cut Army numbers, reduce expenditure on arms and the policy to try and fill the enormous gap left by the sacking of 20,000 regular soldiers with 30,000 Territorial or Reserve Army personnel really casts into doubt the logic of our current defence policy.”
Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker says the closure of the Galashiels recruiting office will be a loss to the town, but added that times have changed.
“The recruiting office has been in the town for a long time and has served to keep the links between the Borders and the army strong,” he said.
“My father ran the recruiting office for a number of years when he was in the army when it was based in Market Street.
“It has to be recognised that the way in which people are recruited to jobs has changed with much greater use of the internet and also roadshows and visits to schools and colleges, but nevertheless this will be a provision which will be missed by some.”
Brigadier Alstead says it is clear to the vast majority of defence analysts that the forces mix needed to operate in places such as Afghanistan and Mali, and to cope with terrorist threats, has to be centred on ground forces and in the main, on the infantry.
The brigadier added: “Somewhere a balance needs to be struck between defence expenditure on our hugely expensive sea and air forces to produce a land, sea and air mix that will secure the nation’s defences for the future.
“I entirely accept that this is not an easy task and huge defence spending contracts have been entered into which have tied the hands of ministers, but there still needs to be more reality about the threat and how we deal with it in the future.”