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Delayed army recruitment website came in three times over budget, NAO reveals

The botched rollout of a £113m online recruitment website has hindered the army’s efforts to sign up new recruits, according to a damning investigation.

The National Audit Office revealed that the website cost triple its original budget, launched more than four years late and has resulted in the army failing to meet recruitment targets every year since 2013.

The outsourcing giant Capita won the £495m British Army Recruiting Partnering Project contract in 2012 and was tasked with building the website in a bid to help the army boost recruitment and cut costs.

After the Ministry of Defence failed to provide the necessary IT infrastructure, Capita took over responsibility for the whole system in 2014. However, “due to the complexity of the Army’s requirements, system development was delayed even further,” the NAO reported.

The report revealed that technical problems following the launch of the website and the complexity of the recruitment process had also contributed to the failure to meet recruitment targets. As a result, there has been an annual recruitment shortfall ranging from 21 to 45 per cent over the last six years, the NAO said.

The auditor was particularly critical of the army and Capita’s decision to close nearly half of the 131 local recruitment centres, with the aim of providing a centralised, automated approach. “[They] did not test whether this approach was appropriate to a military context before introducing it,” the report stated. “They told us that automated recruitment processes were widely used, but neither the Army nor Capita recognised the complexity of introducing this level of change in the military context.”

“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,” the NAO stated. “Capita is, though, continuing to miss these lower targets for new recruits.”

Only 2,400 “regulars” were recruited in the first six months of 2018-19, 2,900 short of the target. The project is not expected to meet its planned savings of £267m for the government.

In a statement, a Capita spokesperson 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.”