NAO exposes serious failings in army recruitment contract

14 Dec 18

A £495m army recruitment contract let to Capita will not deliver proposed savings or objectives, the government spending watchdog found.

The British Army Recruiting Partnering Project, agreed in 2012, was meant to recruit more soldiers and officers for less money, but planned savings of £267m will not be delivered, the National Audit Office concluded.

The army committed £1.36bn to the project over 10 years. This included the Capita contract, which the army hoped would capture the company’s expertise in recruitment and marketing.

However, soldier recruitment targets have been missed every year since 2013, falling short by between 21% and 45% of the army’s requirements, the NAO said.

The project was also plagued by IT problems. The Ministry of Defence failed to provide Capita with the necessary IT infrastructure and the online recruitment platform was delayed by four years, costing £113m, triple the original budget, auditors found.

Even after launch, both army staff and applicants experiencing problems with the system.

Recruitment has also been hindered by the complexity and time taken to the complete the application process. In the first six months of 2018-19, it took up to almost a year (321 days) from initial application for a recruit to begin basic training.

Closure of local recruitment centres, which have been slashed from 131 to 68, has also been a factor, the NAO noted. Without face-to-face contact and support applicants are more likely to give up on the process. However, since November 2016, the personal support offered to applicants has been enhanced.

The army imposed £26m financial penalties on Capita because of the problems with the contract and recruitment targets have been renegotiated and lowered, although the NAO reported these lower targets also continued to be missed.

An improvement plan was agreed by both parties, and applications numbers have up in the last two years. However, given the length of the process, these have yet to be converted into genuine recruits. Just 2,400 regulars were recruited in the first six months of this year, compared to the army’s target of 5,300.

Responding to the NAO’s findings, a Capita spokesperson acknowledged both parties had underestimated the complexity of the army recruitment process.

“We have overhauled governance on the contract and are already seeing improvements, with applications at a five-year high and a reduction in the amount of time it takes candidates to join the army,” they added.

“We are absolutely committed to getting this partnership right.”

The Ministry of Defence has been approached for comment.

  • Vivienne Russell
    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

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