Anne-Marie Trevelyan: Capita’s mishandling of MoD contracts means the Army is falling short on recruitment
To fight back against dropping recruitment rates, the Army must revise its entry criteria and speed up the application process, says Anne-Marie Trevelyan
The Public Accounts Committee has reviewed many Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracts over the years, and there is a depressing familiarity about our latest report, Capita’s Contract with the Ministry of Defence.
Two contracts have been causing us continuous concern. First, the MoD’s recruitment contract with Capita – to delegate a critical element of the MoD’s responsibilities, despite having no experience of recruiting soldiers, sailors or airmen and women, thinking that they could save money.
Second, the military housing contract for service families, which continues to fail to deliver on the armed forces covenant commitments to those who serve and their families who support them.
The MoD decided that the army would lead on the recruiting partnering project, but no one took responsibility for the contract management, rather expecting Capita to suddenly become an expert on the complexities of the 10,000 requirements the service handed down to them. This made the contract too prescriptive and restrictive.
Capita’s later confession that it had been chasing revenue and so took on this contract without due research is no excuse for the MoD’s attitude of simply handing over this vital element of the long-term health and viability of our armed forces – its people.
In 2012, when this contract was set up, the army was still busy fighting in Afghanistan, which of course was a useful recruiting tool. It also meant no one was looking at the long-term picture of future recruits. The contract ran for two years without anyone seeming to question its underperformance and continued inability to get as many recruits into the process as had been expected or asked for. But no one challenged Capita, or indeed the army, on the data reality that it was taking more than 300 days to get through the application process and into training.
"Only in the last year has the army started to question why nearly 50% of applicants are just walking away"
Only in the last year has the army started to question why nearly 50% of applicants are just walking away – but it’s not hard to see why. In a buoyant jobs market, even if you want to join the navy and go to sea, after months of inaction on your application other jobs become more attractive. If you want to be an army engineer but aren’t getting accepted on to the basic training course, the apprenticeship offer from industry draws you in.
The three services run great adverts, which bring our enthusiastic young people to the application process, but there it slows down. The medical assessment framework – set up by Capita but on the army’s directions – is slow and full of strange automatic exemptions which lose too many applicants unnecessarily.
The fact that the RAF and the Royal Navy are now taking their applicants and assessing their medical situations once they are through the door indicates that the whole Capita system is badly built. There is now movement on this, but it is too little, too late and the reputational damage is great.
This contract will come to an end in 2022, and the Public Accounts Committee remains deeply concerned that the MoD is, once again, not thinking proactively about how it will do recruitment from that point. Take it in-house again? Run an online system with complexity at the start which loses those we want to attract?
Or might we hope that there will be a step change – and that after an initial online sift which is welcoming and efficient, potential recruits get to go to an army, navy or air force centre where they can meet real servicemen and women to talk about their dreams and ambitions; where the medical assessments can be done so that we harness all those we will need for our armed forces of the future.
Not everyone needs to have rugby player fitness or strength on arrival, and we should not be rejecting those with an autistic spectrum disorder – our infantrymen and women will need strength, our cyber specialists will need minds that think outside the box.
We want all those who want to serve their country to be welcome to apply and discover it’s for them. The MoD has much still to do to make that a reality.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, member of the PAC and a vice-chair of the Armed Forces APPG