Failures by Capita to reach army recruitment targets in a long-running contract are partly due to the outsourcing firm being “overly ambitious” in what it could deliver, according to the chief of the defence staff.
Speaking during an evidence session before the Defence Committee, General Sir Nick Carter said some “appalling lessons” have been learned since Capita was awarded the contract for Army recruitment in 2012.
He told MPs: “To be clear, Capita's bid when they competed for this contract was ambitious and I think it was overly ambitious and that would be their fault.”
But he admitted that the Army was also culpable for the botched contract, making several mistakes such as outsourcing the role of recruiting sergeant and support for potential recruits, “something that could not be handled by an anonymous call centre”.
And problems with IT systems have taken more than six years to resolve, he added.
But the biggest mistake made by the Army had been in the complexity of the contract, with 10,000 sub-specifications in the tender, according to General Carter.
“The thing that we got wrong most is that we didn’t think about simplifying the requirement at the very beginning,” he said.
He revealed the Army will “still undershoot” its recruiting targets this year by around 3,000 new recruits, something he said is “fundamentally unacceptable”.
Commenting on whether individuals within the Army have been held to account for their part in the failings, he remarked: “Certainly some people’s careers have not profited as much as they would have liked.”
The deal with Capita is expected to run until 2022 and General Carter told the committee he expects the company to hit its recruiting target “before the contract expires”.
He added: “We have learnt some appalling lessons between 2012 and 2018 and I very much hope that those lessons will be rolled out more broadly across government when it comes to outsourcing.”
The contract has been repeatedly criticised in recent years and SM reported in 2014 how Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of “bungling” the contract and losing £70m in potential savings as a result.
In its report, the PAC said the MoD provided Capita with details of 12,000 potential candidates rather than the 55,000 the company was expecting, and did not provide the IT infrastructure needed to deliver the contract.
A Capita spokesperson said: “Capita and the British Army successfully reset this strategic partnership earlier this year, with a renewed focus on delivering a joint campaign to improve the number and quality of applicants to the British Army. Regular soldier applications to join the British Army are at a five-year high and the number of overall eligible applications have increased by 71% between the same period from 2013 to 2018.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.