Spending watchdog points finger at Capita for 1,300 shortfall in British Army rookies

No one knows if recruitment system will be usable once contract ends in 2022

The British Army has missed its recruitment targets by between 21 and 45 per cent each year since 2013 because of a botched project with Capita, according to a damning report released today.

A core part of the British Army Recruiting Partnering Project was the creation of a new system for online recruitment, but this was beset with problems.

When it finally went live last December – at a cost of £113m, three times the original budget and four years late – it was riddled with bugs and users encountered multiple problems, as we exclusively revealed at the time.

To add insult to injury, the online recruitment system is hosted on Capita's IT infrastructure – so it isn't clear if the Army will be able to keep using it once the contract ends in 2022.

Newly passed out 2Lts from 6 RIFLES on Salisbury Plain Training Area. Crown copyright, 2013

New Capita system has left British Army recruits unable to register online

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In a report detailing the project's woes, published this morning, UK spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) said it would not achieve the planned £267m savings for the Ministry of Defence and criticised the various parties involved.

Both the Army and outsourcer Capita – who was contracted in 2012 – had underestimated the complexity of the project, it said.

Capita failed to recognise how much customisation would be needed, so it couldn't use an off-the-shelf solution, causing delays and reliance on manual workarounds as it developed a bespoke application.

The MoD, meanwhile, failed its contractual obligation to provide Capita with the IT infrastructure required to host the recruitment software. Instead, Capita hosted the recrutiment portal, and has ownership of the system until the contract ends in 2022.

Under the terms of the contract, the Army does not have any rights to access the source code until 18 months before the contract ends. It is currently in negotiations with Capita about full access.

"But the complexity of the system will mean it is difficult to test its future adaptability," the NAO warned.

The Army "has not yet established whether it will be suitable in the future", but will have to pay Capita for a licence to keep using it, the NAO said.

If the system isn't suitable for modification, the Army will have to buy or develop a new one.

The cost of the 10-year Capita contract rose from £495m to £677m partly because of the automated online recruitment platform, which, when combined with costs for keeping the legacy system running longer than planned, cost the Army £113m.

Neither the Army nor Capita tested the changes to the recruitment process, which saw the number of local centres cut from 131 to 68 in favour of a centralised, automated approach using the online tool.

However, they never tested whether this approach would work in a military environment and had to increase support for applicants in local offices.

Moreover, when it was eventually launched, technical problems meant applicants struggled to use the system and staff found it hard to process applications.

This led to about 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018 than in the same period in the previous year – this could lead to 1,300 fewer recruits, the NAO said.

As a result of the missed recruitment targets over the years, the Army shaved some 6 per cent off Capita's contract payments, applying financial service credit deductions of £26m.

The targets were then renegotiated and lowered by 20 per cent in 2017, but Capita is said to still be missing these targets for new recruits.

However, the NAO said there had been an increase in applications in the past two years, noting that given the time it takes to go through the recruitment process they hadn’t been converted into new recruits.

There were calls in Parliment in June to strip Capita of the project before the 2022 end date. Defence secretary said in October he'd consider bringing the project in-house, though early termination will cost the MoD £50m. ®

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