Thompson (pictured above) had been summoned before the committee to address National Audit Office (NAO) criticisms of Army 2020: the programme to shrink the regular army and increase the number of reserves.
PAC chair Margaret Hodge homed in on the NAO’s concerns about IT contracts for the Recruitment Partnering Project (RPP), which gave Capita responsibility for armed forces recruitment.
Prior to tendering the contract, the MoD had – as part of its work to align with the wider IT strategy – extracted the provision of file storage (hosting) from the bid specification, and given the work to its existing provider the ATLAS consortium. However, by late 2012 some officials realised that ATLAS wouldn’t be ready by the time of the RPP launch.
Thompson said that junior officials noticed the problem and tried to resolve it, but didn’t inform their bosses until September 2013. In December the MoD passed the hosting work to Capita, adding costs the NAO puts at £70m. The individual with overall responsibility for this delay “does not work for me any more,” Thompson said.
The NAO also warned that the MoD may struggle to recruit 11,000 reserve troops by 2018, as planned. The department’s data indicated that 55,000 candidates had applied to join the army or reserves, it said; but when Capita got involved, the company could only find 12,000 valid records.
Hodge described the situation as “unbelievably awful”, and Thompson responded that one reason for outsourcing the work was to clean up the data, “which we felt was incorrect”.
Professor John Louth, senior research fellow at defence think tank RUSI, told CSW that the NAO report and select committee hearing demonstrate the “the narrative and the commercial reality are quite different” from one another, adding that “the danger in defence is that we all get swept up in the rhetoric”.
Professor Keith Hartley, emeritus professor of economics at the University of York, said that the government’s strategy on army recruitment is “sensible” but that its planned timescale is “very ambitious”.