The National Audit Office (NAO) has found that significant problems with the British Army Recruiting Partnering Project1 (the Project) have meant that the Army has not recruited the number of soldiers that it needs. The British Army and its contractor, Capita Business Services Ltd, underestimated the complexity of the Project, which has been beset with problems, such as the delayed introduction of the online recruitment system. Over the last year, the Army and Capita have introduced some significant changes to the approach to recruitment, although these have not yet resulted in the Army’s requirements for new soldiers being met.
The Project was meant to reduce the costs of recruiting, while at the same time recruiting more soldiers and officers. In 2012, the Army committed £1.36 billion over ten years to the Project and, as part of this, entered into a £495 million contract with Capita to secure its expertise in recruitment and marketing. However, Capita has missed the Army’s targets for recruiting new soldiers and officers every year since 2013. The total shortfall each year has ranged from 21% to 45% of the Army’s requirement.
A core part of the Project was online recruitment, but the Ministry of Defence failed in its contractual obligation to provide Capita with the necessary IT infrastructure to enable this. In January 2014, it passed responsibility for developing the online system to Capita, but due to the complexity of the Army’s requirements, system development was delayed even further. This resulted in the online system launching over four years (52 months) later than originally planned, at a cost of £113 million, triple its original budget.
Technical problems continued after the launch of the online recruitment system, with applicants experiencing difficulties when using the system and staff finding it hard to process applications. The Army estimates that these problems resulted in 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018, compared to the same period in the previous year, which in turn could lead to up to 1,300 fewer enlistments. Capita, and not the Army, owns the online recruitment system. The Army has the right to modify and use the system, but it has not yet established whether it will be suitable in the future. After 2022, if the contract with Capita is not renewed, the Army will have to create a new system or negotiate a new support contract with Capita so it can continue to use the system.
Another factor affecting recruitment numbers is the complexity of the recruitment process. The Army failed to implement measures to simplify it prior to, and during, the Project. This has contributed to the lengthy time it takes for applications to complete the process. In the first six months of 2018-19, it took up to 321 days for half of regular soldier applicants to go from starting the process to beginning basic training. The Army and Capita believe this is a significant factor in its failure to convert applications into new recruits. In 2017-18, 11% of applicants went on to join the Army, but 47% voluntarily dropped out of the process. The Army has not reduced the time it takes to complete the recruitment process since 2014, although it has now implemented a new project to reduce recruitment times to and improve conversion rates.
Neither the Army nor Capita tested the fundamental changes to the recruitment process prior to its introduction. The Army and Capita reduced the number of local recruitment centres, from 131 to 68, at the start of the project, preferring a more centralised and online approach. However, both parties realised that this approach did not provide applicants with sufficient support, and that face-to-face contact was crucial in encouraging applicants to join. This meant that in November 2016, the Army and Capita enhanced the support available for applicants in local offices.
The Army has penalised Capita for missing its recruitment targets, applying financial service credit deductions of £26 million, 6 per cent of Capita’s total contract payments. In September 2016, the Army and Capita renegotiated the recruitment targets as the Army considered that there was little prospect of performance improving without agreeing to concessions. In April 2017, the Army agreed to lower Capita’s performance targets (by 20% in 2017-18) and, as part of this effort to improve recruitment performance, the Army and Capita agreed to implement an improvement plan. Capita is, though, continuing to miss these lower targets for new recruits.
The Army and Capita believe the changes to the recruitment approach, their management of the project and the new online system will lead to an increased number of recruits. Applications have increased in the last two years, given the time it takes to complete the recruitment process, these have not yet been converted into new recruits. Capita recruited only 2,400 regulars, compared to the Army’s target of 5,300, in the first six months of 2018-19.
The Project will not achieve its planned savings of £267 million for the Ministry of Defence. The NAO found that the Army has not yet adjusted its forecast savings to take into account the additional personnel that continue to be involved in the recruitment process or established whether savings resulting from pension changes should be included.