MPs tear 'naive' British Army a new one over Capita recruitment farce

But things are getting better, insists notorious outsourcer

Newly passed out 2Lts from 6 RIFLES on Salisbury Plain Training Area. Crown copyright, 2013
'See that?' 'Yes, corporal?' 'That's public money flying into Capita's coffers, that is'

Angry MPs have labelled the British Army "naive" for signing up to an "abysmal" outsourcing deal with Capita for military recruiting and associated IT systems.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has savaged both the Army and Capita over the disastrous Recruiting Partnership Programme (RPP), which also included the Defence Recruiting System (DRS) IT project, blaming it for numerous delays, cockups and reductions in the number of recruits reaching the Army.

"We are not convinced that the Army will manage Capita strongly enough to improve performance or avoid Capita charging excessively for the continued use of the online recruitment system after 2022. We are also highly sceptical that the Army will achieve its forecast savings as a result of employing Capita," thundered the committee's report, titled Capita's contracts with the Ministry of Defence.

The Army initially forecast that it would save £267m over 10 years as a result of its partnership with Capita but has now reduced this to £180m. It claims to have saved £25m in the first six years which means it expects to save £155m in the remaining four years – this appears overly optimistic and unrealistic.

The idea behind the RPP contract was to free up soldiers from recruiting duties and let them rejoin frontline units. Instead, the National Audit Office "found that the Army had employed additional military personnel to improve awareness of recruitment campaigns". By January this year, the MoD quietly admitted that its projected savings over the life of the contract had dipped by a third to just £180m.

Palace of Westminster

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Developing DRS – which was intended to underpin the Capita-run outsourcing of Armed Forces recruitment – cost the Army £113m, with Capita spending a further £60m "to bespoke the system to meet the services' recruitment processes and criteria". And, although the MoD has an "in-perpetuity right" to use the Capita-customised system, it will still have to stump up "an industry-standard maintenance fee".

Although the Army has withheld £26m in contractual payments to Capita since 2012, and defence secretary Gavin Williamson has previously said he would not shy away from terminating the contract, the PAC said that the MoD "could not provide us with clarity on in what circumstances – other than the withdrawal of key staff – or what level of under-performance would lead to this".

In response, the MoD said: "The Army has developed a range of measures to speed up the recruitment process. This includes new measures to reduce the time between applying and starting training, greater access to military role models for recruits and a new IT system.

"As the Chief of the Defence Staff outlined in his evidence to the House of Common's Defence Select Committee, the Army and Capita underestimated the complexity of the recruitment challenges facing the Army. We have since realigned the contract to ensure that it is more suitable for the recruiting environment, whilst continuing to hold Capita to account."

For its part, Capita told The Register that it is "looking at ways to speed the process up" of getting civilians into the military, which currently takes more than three months. It confirmed that Capita "does incur a financial loss for under-performance" and admitted that it had "underestimated the complexity of the recruitment challenges at the beginning".

The mouthpiece added: "This quarter, Q1, is well on track to being the best in the life of the contract so far in terms of indications of interest." ®

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