The head of Capita has set out plans for a number of changes to the firm’s Army recruitment contract with the Ministry of Defence following an audit report that found the scheme had faced considerable delays.
In a letter to committee chair Meg Hillier, Capita chief executive Jon Lewis said the company is introducing new technologies and practices “that will help us recruit more quickly and effectively” under the programme, which is intended to improve recruitment of soldiers and reservists.
In December, a report from the National Audit Office found the project had been beset by major problems, including a website that launched four years late at a cost of £113m – triple the original budget.
Since the 10-year engagement between the Army and Capita began in 2012, recruitment targets have been missed every single year – with annual shortfalls ranging from 21% to 45%, auditors found.
Following the publication of the NAO report, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee launched its own inquiry into the project.
At a hearing as part of its inquiry, Lewis told MPs that the company should have pushed back against some of the contract’s requirements but admitted that it didn’t because “we were chasing revenue” when it signed on. As a result it was unable to meet its obligations and has had £26m deducted from its remuneration for the programme.
The session also heard from Lt Gen Tyrone Urch, commander of the Army home command group, said the Army and MoD had handled “not too cleverly” the contract, as the Army had insisted that the outsourcer use an “antiquated IT system”.
But Lt Gen Urch contended that the contract had not been a failure, because it was still on track to save around £200m and had allowed the Army to return around 900 soldiers who had previously worked in recruitment to the front line.
In a follow up letter to committee chair Meg Hillier, Lewis he said the company was making improvements, including to an app that assesses how close candidates are to being fit or strong enough to qualify for certain roles in the Army. “This can, for example, monitor cardiovascular and muscular tests, such as running or sit-ups, and help the candidate see in which discipline and by how much they need to improve to qualify for the role they seek,” he said.
Lewis also flagged up research conducted by Capita in late 2017 that found that, of those who withdrew during the recruitment process, only 6% did so because they felt it was taking too long. Far more common reasons for dropping out were a change of personal circumstances (31%), various other personal reasons (27%), or a perceived lack of fitness (23%).
This research is currently being repeated, Lewis said, “which should also inform us of the impact the new IT system is having”.