Capita-led project saw Army website launched four years late and at triple the planned cost

Programme has consistently fallen well short of recruitment goals, NAO report finds

Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/PA Images

A project to help the Army meet its recruitment goals has been beset by major problems, including a website that launched more than four years late – and at a cost of three times the original budget.

In 2012, the Army signed a 10-year contract with Capita to jointly deliver the Recruiting Partnering Project, which aimed to significantly increase numbers of soldiers and reservists by transforming the Army’s approach to recruitment, according to a newly published National Audit Office report.

The value of the contract at the time it was signed was pegged at £495m – but this has since risen £677m.

This is one of many aspects of the project that have not panned out as intended.

Chief among these is a new website for online Army recruitment which was due to launch in July 2013, but did not go live until November 2017 – four years and four months behind schedule. The cost of developing the site also spiralled to £113m – triple the original budget.

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These additional development costs were borne by Capita and, from July 2015 until the new system’s eventual launch, the outsourcer also paid the bill for supporting the legacy platform the site replaced.

The NAO report said: “Capita underestimated the complexity of the Armed Forces’ requirements. It did not recognise the level of customisation that was required for the new online system. As a result, it could not use an ‘off-the shelf’ commercial solution, and took longer than expected to develop a bespoke application. These delays meant Capita could not introduce the automated approach to recruitment as originally envisaged. It developed manual workarounds to process applications and candidates were unable to manage their applications online.”

Once the system launched, it continued to be beset by “significant problems” which, the Army believes, “resulted in 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period in the preceding year”. This disparity will ultimately result in 1,300 fewer new recruits enlisting, the Army estimates.

To cope with the website’s ongoing issues, Capita again had to reach into its own pocket to fund “a seven-month period of enhanced support to fix the problems”.

The system is hosted on Capita-owned infrastructure. While the Army will still have rights to “use and modify” the platform once the contract between the two parties ends in 2022, it will ultimately need to either retain Capita to continuing to support the system, or develop its own IT infrastructure capable of hosting it.

Recruitment shortfalls
The problems encountered by the project have resulted in much lower recruitment levels than were initially expected. The NAO found that annual targets for new recruits have been missed by some distance every year so far – with the yearly shortfalls ranging from 21% to 45%. In the 2018 fiscal year, “Capita recruited 6,948 fewer regular and reserve soldiers and officers than the Army needed”, according to the NAO.

Despite all its challenges, the overall project is set to remain within the Army’s allocated 10-year budget of £1.36bn. While the programme will not deliver for the Army the original forecast savings of £267m, it is still on track to create savings of about £220m by 2022. 

For its part, Capita is set to lose money on the deal.

The project is understood to have gone through a reset process in April and Jonathan Lewis – who was appointed as Capita chief executive a year ago – has made the it a priority area of focus during his time in the hot seat.

A spokesperson for company said: ““As the NAO report states, both Capita and the Army underestimated the complexity of this project. Our focus is now on working with the Army to deliver a recruitment process fit for the 21st century. 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.”


Sam Trendall

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