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Recruitment: Capita

Volume 639: debated on Monday 23 April 2018

5. What discussions he has had with the service chiefs on armed forces personnel working with Capita to improve recruitment. (904863)

14. What discussions he has had with the service chiefs on armed forces personnel working with Capita to improve recruitment. (904872)

I discuss armed forces recruitment regularly with the principal personnel officers of each service and with the Chief of the General Staff. Implementation of the recruitment improvement plan is a priority and I am monitoring it very closely.

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is precisely why, in the Royal Navy, for example, we have associations with technical colleges. In my own corps, the Royal Engineers, we have a tremendous offer, in which young recruits are enrolled as apprentices and trained not only as infantry soldiers but in specialist engineering trade skills, such as brick laying, electrical and carpentry.

A constituent of mine, Mr Lamb, served in the Army for 43 years, the last 13 being spent in recruitment. Contract changes meant that in January this year he was discharged 72 days before his 60th birthday and his planned retirement date. He tells me that, despite senior officers seeking to find him employment, the date was fixed and he lost 72 days of his pension. Will the Minister look carefully at how Capita is fulfilling its contract so that recruitment personnel are not disadvantaged?

My hon. Friend is a champion for her constituents. As she knows, I wrote to her on 26 March regarding this matter. I would be delighted to meet her again if she has any further questions she wishes to raise with me.

In general terms, we work closely with Capita. I have mentioned before at the Dispatch Box how we are looking at moving to a more regional recruiting mechanism and ensuring that we have young role models.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) on asking this question on the day Capita has announced a loss of half a billion pounds. That comes as no surprise when we look at the mess it is making of the recruitment project, which is not a channel for recruitment but a logjam. There are huge delays, with many people losing interest in the meantime. Will the Minister admit that the contract has failed and that it is time to bring it back in-house?

I do not accept that. I have looked at this incredibly carefully. I have met the chief executive of Capita on several occasions and we continue to work very closely with Capita, which is investing large amounts of money. There have been challenges—there is no doubt about that—with the introduction of the new defence recruiting system. The manual workarounds have not worked, but I have seen at first hand now how most of those issues have been addressed and I am confident that, in future months, we will move forward with this contract.

Does the Minister think that decisions such as moving the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers HQ from the proud military town of Wrexham to yet another base in the M4 corridor incentivises recruitment in places such as north Wales, or puts people off?

It is important that, through the Army 2020 review, we begin to bring units together because that gives greater stability. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents is that it is not only the REME that they can join in the armed forces.

Capita’s performance on Army recruiting has been distinctly sub-optimal, such that throughout the Army it is now almost universally known by the unfortunate nickname of “Crapita.” Given the company’s half-a-billion pound loss this morning, given that it has debts of £1.7 billion, and given that it is rumoured to be preparing a £700 million rights issue, what assurance can the Minister give the House that we have a plan B in place in case it were unfortunately to go the way of CarillionAmey?

May I start by thanking my right hon. Friend, not least for his report, “Filling the Ranks”? It has made a major contribution to addressing some of the issues that we have faced over recruitment, some of which are way beyond the realms of any contract with Capita and are a result of the changing dynamics of the British population. But I accept his broader point that there have been challenges within this contract. If he is asking me if I am confident that we have a business continuity plan in case things go absolutely awry, which I do not think they will, then yes.

Does the Minister agree that the armed forces used to have a reputation for having the best trainers in our country? They were admired everywhere. Is he also aware that the number of people coming to our armed forces with the highly specific engineering skills that we need—my father was a Royal Engineer—is dire at the moment? We need recruitment, and we need it now.

The hon. Gentleman builds on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). We have a number of schemes in place, such as partnerships with technical colleges and ensuring that all new recruits are enrolled on apprenticeships. There are few careers where someone can start with minimal qualifications and leave with a level 6 apprenticeship—that is degree level—in engineering. I am very proud that the armed forces continue to offer that opportunity to our young people.