Problems with the online recruiting system contributed to the failures to attract a sufficient number of new recruits to the British Army, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
In a report on the issue it has highlighted the digital shortcomings as key factors in the underperformance since recruitment was outsourced to Capita Business Services in 2012.
Since the £495 million deal between the parties was agreed, 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.
One of the main reasons was that the Ministry of Defence failed in its contractual obligation to provide Capita with the necessary IT infrastructure to support the online recruiting system. In January 2014, it passed responsibility for developing the system to the company, 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, with applicants experiencing difficulties when using the system and staff finding it hard to process applications.
Fall in enlistments
The Army estimates that these problems resulted in 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018 compared with the same period in the previous year, which in turn could lead to up to 1,300 fewer enlistments.
Capita owns the online recruitment system, and while the Army has the right to modify and use it, 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 to continue to use the system.
Another factor affecting recruitment numbers is the complexity of the recruitment process, taking up to 321 days for half of regular soldier applicants to go from starting the process to beginning basic training. 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 do so and to improve conversion rates.
The Army has penalised Capita for missing its recruitment targets, applying financial service credit deductions of £26 million, 6% of the total contract payments. In April 2017, it agreed to lower Capita’s performance targets (by 20% in 2017-18) and, as part of this effort to improve recruitment performance, both parties agreed to implement an improvement plan and have said they believe a new online system will increase the number of recruits.
The NAO says, however, that Capita is continuing to miss these lower targets for new recruits.
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