Britain’s active army will be reduced to just a few hundred soldiers on duty over December, as military bosses have sent the vast majority of the 80,000 strong force home to save on heating bills. More than 100 barracks will be running on a skeleton staff until early January, as will bases in countries including Germany, Kenya and Canada.
As of this Friday, barracks will begin an effective shutdown, with the majority of soldiers being granted an extra week’s holiday. The majority will return on the 5th January, meaning that many will be getting an extended 24 day break, with some getting longer, the Telegraph has reported. Civilian staff, as well as Navy and Air Force staff stationed on Army barracks will also get the extra leave.
A military source has indicated that Army HQ in Andover, Hampshire, has “encouraged” barracks commanders to grant their staff and extra week off, in part thanks to soldiers racking up extra leave thanks to time spent in Afghanistan, but also as a measure to save on running costs. Many barracks are out of date and inefficient, so the measure is expected to save millions, if not tens of millions, on gas and electricity.
The source said that barracks commanders were given leave to interpret the instruction as they saw fit, but added that they would most likely grant the extra leave. A spokesman at the HQ, which will also be running on a reduced staff, has said that no Defence Instruction Notice, or official order, had been given. He also denied that the army was “shutting down”, but accepted that the extra week’s holiday was being taken.
Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan said: “This really does send out a message about the parlous state of our finances at the moment.
“What would concern me is that for a number of soldiers, their barracks is their home. It’s a minority, but there are always some who will stay in barracks at Christmas and it will be a shame to think that they were being inconvenienced to save money.”
Labour’s shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said “This is a damning indictment of the Government’s mismanagement of defence. It smacks of a decision made on the hoof with no hint of any strategy to save costs in the long term.”
The British military budget has been cut by around eight percent since 2010, with many warning at the time that the cuts would place the armed forces in a precarious position.
A spokesman said: “It is totally wrong to suggest that the Army is shutting down over Christmas with skeleton staff. Leave periods are at the discretion of local commanders and many units are allowing personnel an extra week over the Christmas period to offset accumulated leave following busy operational commitments. However, all Army bases will continue to be manned appropriately and security levels will always be maintained.”