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Capita fails to meet British Army's annual recruitment targets for five years running

For five years in a row, Capita has failed to meet the British Army's annual recruitment targets, with the online recruitment system taking four years longer than expected to go live

Capita delivered a new online recruitment system for the British Army 52 months late and £182m over budget, causing the Army to miss targets for bringing in new officers and soldiers for five years in a row.

Since the decade-long £495m contract began, outsourcing firm Capita has missed the Army’s annual target for regular soldiers by an average of 30%, according to an investigation carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO).

This is compared with 4% in the two years preceding the contract, which was far enough below the annual targets to prompt the reform in the first place.

While the online system has been developed for all three branches of the Armed Services, each is responsible for its own recruitment, with the NAO report stating:

“The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force used the online recruitment system when it was launched and also experienced reduced applications and enlistments. However, the impact was lower as they implemented their own business continuity arrangements.”

Much of the Army’s complication has therefore come from the fact that the new online recruitment system was launched 52 months later than originally expected due to a series of delays.

This caused the cost of the contract to increase by 37%, from £495mn to £677mn, although the Army has forecast that the broader Recruiting Partnering Project (RPP) will remain within its original budget of £1.36bn up to 2022.

Continued delays

The delays were initially caused by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failing to meet its own contractual obligations to provide IT infrastructure that could host Capita’s recruitment software, but delays continued even after responsibility for developing the whole system was passed from the Army to Capita in January 2014.

The main problems encountered by Capita involved the scale of the three Armed Services’ requirements, as well as the number of interfaces with other IT systems.

For example, the NAO report points out the Armed Services have over 250 job roles, each with different rules and eligibility criteria, which means new Army candidates have 27 possible pathways through the recruitment process.

The report claims Capita underestimated the level of customisation that was required for the new system.

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Unable to use an “off-the-shelf” commercial solution that would have worked for most ordinary online recruitment systems, Capita had to develop a bespoke application, but the delays meant an automated approach to recruitment could not be introduced as originally envisaged.

“Our focus is now on working with the Army to deliver a recruitment process fit for the 21st century,” said a Capita spokesperson. “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.

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

The MoD was asked for comment but did not respond.

The Army and Capita have also highlighted a range of other factors they claim create barriers to their ability to recruit.

The most important of these appears to be the fact young people, the Army’s traditional target population, are less likely to join the Armed Forces, especially if they reached adulthood in the early 21st century.

Public support analysis

A separate analysis of public support for the UK’s armed services found that, while most people hold military personnel in high regard, there is little support for the recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan (which would have been highly visible in the public eye during the adolescent years of today’s young adults).

It is therefore possible that young people’s reluctance to serve in the military stems from changes in attitudes to armed conflict, something reflected by a fifth of under-25s in 2017 deciding not to participate in the Poppy Appeal on the basis that they feel it glorifies war.

The Army began reassessing its recruitment strategy again in March 2018, citing the need for a more coherent, resourced and supported governance structure as well as greater and more sustained expertise on contract management, among other things.

Part of the reassessment will also look at whether Capita’s online system can be adapted for future needs, although the Army does not have contractual rights to access the software source code until 18 months before the contract ends in 2022, making it difficult to test its future adaptability.

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