Urgent Question Ministry of Defence
The Labour Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker called Phillip Hammond to Parliament on Tuesday to answer urgent questions on reports that the government will be forced to spend an extra £50 million fixing problems with Capita's IT system being used to recruit the next generation of reserves to the army.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the performance of Ministry of Defence IT systems and the effect on Army recruitment.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): The Army entered into a partnering contract with Capita in March 2012 to manage the recruitment of regular and reserve soldiers. That is an Army-led initiative designed to free up military personnel from recruitment-related administrative tasks and to improve both the quantity and quality of Army recruits. It will play a key role as we transition the Army to the new Army 2020 structures.
I should make it clear to the House that the Army has not outsourced its recruitment; it remains in overall charge of recruitment and will continue to play a major role in attracting and mentoring recruits. Capita’s role is to manage the supporting processes by which a would-be recruit becomes an enlisted regular or a fully trained reservist.
As I have explained to the House previously, there have been initial difficulties with that recruiting process as we transition to the new recruiting arrangements with Capita. In particular, we have encountered difficulties with the IT systems supporting the application and enlistment process. The decision to use the legacy Atlas IT platform was deemed at the time to be the quickest and most cost-effective way of delivering the new recruitment programme. An option to revert to a Capita hosting solution was included in the contracts as a back-up solution.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Secretary of State for that statement.
In these first few weeks of 2014 there is no danger of auld acquaintance being forgot with this Secretary of State and Government. It may be a new year, but is it not the same old story of complacency, inefficiency and a lack of transparency at the Ministry of Defence? Here we go again. The Secretary of State has been forced to come to the House of Commons to try to explain catastrophic failures costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. This time it is an IT fiasco. It did not have to be like this.
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that many in this House, myself included, warned that the Government were taking risks with Britain’s security by not fixing the reserve recruitment crisis before reducing numbers in the regular Army, and now we have the IT debacle? Does he accept that, just like the mess the Government made of privatising procurement, his entire armed forces reform programme is in danger of collapsing, too?
I asked the Defence Secretary specifically about the IT problems and Capita on the Floor of the House on 20 November 2013. Did he not say that everything was in hand? It is clear that the computer said no, but the Defence Secretary said no problem.
Does the Defence Secretary remember telling the House on 4 November 2013 that there had merely been “teething problems” with the IT support for Army recruitment? If today’s reports are accurate, I would advise the Defence Secretary to seek dental advice elsewhere, because today we have learned that the problems are even worse than anyone thought and still have not been fixed.
Will the Defence Secretary tell the House which Minister signed off the deal and who has been responsible for monitoring it? Will he confirm that the project, costing £1.3 billion, is almost two years behind schedule and will not be fully operational until April 2015 at the earliest?
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Millions wasted on planned “cats and traps” on aircraft carriers, millions wasted on a failed GoCo and millions wasted on a failed IT system—will the Secretary of State tell us how many members of the armed forces would still be in their jobs if it were not for the millions that have been wasted by this Government’s failures?
Mr Hammond: Unfortunately, the hon. Lady forgot the £1.6 billion that was wasted by deliberately delaying the aircraft carrier contract because of a shortage of £300 million of cash in-year. The restructuring of the British Army is a long-term strategic response to the fiscal environment and the post-Afghanistan challenges that we face. The size of the Army is right for the future.