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Outsourced Departmental Contracts

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

6. What recent assessment he has made of the quality of service provided under contracts outsourced by his Department. (900005)

The Ministry of Defence routinely monitors the performance of all contractors, including those who provide outsourced services. Performance against contract targets is regularly scrutinised and officials take appropriate action when standards are not met.

The latest figures show that the Army is currently more than 9% under strength, and that the full-time trade trained strength is now well below the Government’s stated target. It beggars belief that Capita still holds the contract for recruitment. Have the Government just given up trying to hold Capita to account?

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her new post, which is very well deserved. She is a graduate of the armed forces parliamentary scheme—that is where she learned everything—so I am glad that she is now at the Dispatch Box. I very much welcome the fact that the new Type 31s are to be built in Rosyth, which should be a very good contract indeed, but what evidence can she bring forward that the contract will be delivered on time and within budget?

For the benefit of those observing our proceedings, so that they are intelligible, it ought to be explained that the hon. Gentleman is what might be described as the overlord, or the Gandalf figure, who oversees the armed forces parliamentary scheme.

You know that your comments may go to my hon. Friend’s head, don’t you, Mr Speaker? I thank him for his question. Indeed, one of the most exciting things that I have had the opportunity to do in this role so far has been to set running the new Type 31 class of general purpose frigate. It will be built in Rosyth under Babcock’s guidance. At the moment, the contract is being drawn through to the final details so that we can hopefully get cracking early in the new year.

I welcome the new Minister to her post. A report in the Financial Times today demonstrates that botched public sector outsourcing contracts wasted more than £14 billion-worth of taxpayers’ money just in the last three years, with the MOD found to be the biggest culprit, accounting for £4 billion-worth of the extra cost. At a time when our defences are badly in need of investment after nine years of Tory cuts, does the Minister accept that this Government’s ideological obsession with outsourcing is failing our armed forces and the taxpayer alike?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have had a chance to look a little at the Reform think tank’s paper, which highlights some issues. All of us would agree that contracts have not always been managed as tightly as possible. I direct her, most importantly, to the outsourcing review that was done by the Cabinet Office and was set in place by the former Prime Minister in February this year. It has been very clear and set some really good guidelines for all Government Departments on thinking more proactively about early market engagement, in particular—I think that has been a weakness historically—and being much more active in the management of contracts, so that when we have great contracts, such as with Leidos and a new contract that I have just signed with Atos, we make sure that we are responsible in the governance of those contracts so that we get the best for our money and that the contractors provide the service that we need.

19. Capita’s record of success in engaging with potential recruits has been particularly bad, as we see with the bureaucratic aspects of the recruitment process and the difficulty with the call centres. Does the Minister think that this is the appropriate way to go forward if we are serious about getting more folk into the armed forces? (900019)

I am sorry, but I did not quite catch the start of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In relation to call centres and Capita, we have to remember that those who are applying, who are 16 and upwards, live in a digital world. They live on apps and dealing with those systems is very much part of that. The call centre is one part of the whole. That service ensures that young people can really ask those questions and get to grips with their initial questions about whether joining the armed forces is for them. How that follows on from that is something that, as I think we would all agree, my colleague the Minister for the Armed Forces has spoken about at length this afternoon. We are making huge progress in making sure that we get the numbers that we need in the armed forces.