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Watchdog verdict due on army cuts

The Ministry of Defence is braced for fresh criticism when the Whitehall spending watchdog delivers its verdict on controversial plans to scale back the regular Army while building up the numbers of part-time reservists.

Reports suggest that the National Audit Office (NAO) will raise new doubts over the ability of the MoD to increase the numbers of trained reservists from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018 when it releases its findings today.

Publication of the report – which had been expected yesterday – was delayed amid bitter behind-the-scenes wrangling over its conclusions.

Negotiations between the NAO and the MoD – which, by convention, has to sign off the report before it is released – were being described in Whitehall as “robust”.

The Financial Times quoted one defence official as saying: “The original draft of this report was sloppy and methodologically flawed. The report had been based on inaccurate information, which the NAO acknowledged, and this has taken time to correct.

“A number of senior figures, who led the decision making process, were not even interviewed. This led us to have serious concerns about the integrity of the report in its original form.”

An MoD spokesman: “As with all NAO reports, it is only right that we work closely with them to ensure the information within the report is as up to date and accurate as possible.”

The report comes after the Financial Times reported that the Government’s Major Projects Authority (MPA) had placed the Army re-structuring programme on its watchlist of troubled projects.

John Manzoni, the former BP executive who heads the MPA, was said to have written to Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude warning them that it needed to be kept under close scrutiny.

The re-structuring programme – known as Army 2020 – forms part of the package of defence cuts originally set out in the coalition’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

It will see the regular Army reduced from 102,000 at the time of the SDSR to 82,000 in 2018 – its lowest level since the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

Despite difficulties with the reserves programme, the MoD insisted that it remained on track to meet its target.

“Although there have been a number technical challenges, the programme is on track and the reserves are now growing in size for the first time in 18 years,” a spokesman said.

“While increasing the Army Reserve from around 19,000 to 30,000 won’t happen overnight, we are no longer seeing the decline that has plagued our reserve forces previously. We are confident of delivering a reinvigorated reserves by 2018.”

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