back to article UK defence secretary ponders £50m hit to terminate Capita recruiting contract

The UK Ministry of Defence could terminate Capita's disastrous military IT contract following confirmation that the Recruiting Partnering Project (RPP) was 90 per cent below recruiting targets for calendar Q1. During yesterday's Parliamentary session of the Defence Select Committee, Conservative former defence minister Mark …

  1. Vimes

    Odd how this sort of failure keeps on happening. Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause that allow them to drop suppliers without any financial penalties when said supplier provides such an abysmal level of service?

    1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
      Trollface

      "Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause"

      That would require both a lack of political interference and competence in the civil service which is about as likely as my cat marrying next doors Rottweiler!

      1. IneptAdept

        Re: "Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause"

        Are you assuming your cats and next doors rottweilers sexual preference

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: "Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause"

        There is competence in the civil service. It's just the competent ones are drowned out by the arse kissers and schmoozers who piss all the money away. All they want to do is make a misleading name for themselves as "Getting things done" (the blind sheep ignore that they fucked it up in the process) so they can then move on to the next sucker that employees them at 90k a year for producing fuck all.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: "Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause"

        likely as my cat marrying next doors Rottweiler

        My previous two half Rotties loved their cats.. and defended them against the neighbours young male cat.

        As does our current (JR/Staffie/Corgi/something something) mutt - despite being a 12-year old rescue when we got him.

        Cats and dogs really do mix as long as they are integrated properly.

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: "Don't government contracts have some sort of get-out clause"

          "Cats and dogs really do mix as long as they are integrated properly."

          Sounds like a good test for Capita et al.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The rules are that each tender must be evaluated in isolation. So even if you know perfectly well that Capita failed the last 10 times, a civil servant cannot use that knowledge in the awarding of the contract - it has to go to the lowest bidder regardless

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        "The rules are that each tender must be evaluated in isolation."

        So you're saying there is an easy fix - change to the way normal businesses work as in "after what happened with the last two orders I'd rather buy from a bucket shop in Shanghai than that lot?"

      2. jmch Silver badge

        a) Judging every tender in Isolation is senseless. Surely there must be some criteria of 'demonstrated capability to do the job'? Otherwise I can start my own company, undercut Capita on the contract and get the contract award.

        b) Even if the tender is judged in isolation enough to decide that Capita should be the winning bidder, it's still possible to put in penalty safeguards in the contract. Milestone targets that must be met, and if not met, penalties automatically imposed. Miss enough targets and contract can be cancelled without penalty on the gov side.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Milestone targets that must be met, and if not met, penalties automatically imposed. Miss enough targets and contract can be cancelled without penalty on the gov side.

          Nice idea, and normal in private sector contracting. At least by companies that want to stay in business. Problem is public sector contracting is often a cosy little business. Consultants are engaged to help the public body write & run the bid, the bidders are often politically well connected. Hence despite repeatedly poor performance, the usual suspects keep winning.

          But SLAs and penalties are also an important part of the bid process. I once worked on a large bid and knew that SLAs could not be met, so penalties were just rolled into the pricing schedules. If there were no SLA hits, well, that would be extra profit. That was further complicated by a fairly normal SPV structure from the bidding consortia, ie an expectation that the SPV would get sold on to a pension fund or similar looking for 10+ years of guaranteed profits.. Which was also an interesting process, ie risk flowed down to consortium members, profits flowed up to the SPV.

          But it was an enlightening experience, especially persuading my then employer that we really shouldn't be bidding this, even though sales were desperate to given it was a 'billion $$$' opportunity. That part at least is fairly normal for any bid, ie balancing potential profits vs cost/risk. But the experience left me determined never to get involved in any future PFIs.

          Some problems are shared with the private sector. So to me, the best bids are those were the bidders can fully engage with the customer to understand the requirements and communicate any risks/challenges involved. Public sector bids can be more challenging given the tight process & procedures, but private sector bids aren't immune. So here's the RFP, produce a fully compliant response by X. Then managing sales expectations and persuading them that saying 'Yes' at the bid stage doesn't contractually mean you can then say 'No' once you've won the bid.

          But that's all part of the joy of bid management, especially trying to define services for 5/10/15+ year contracts.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Surely there must be some criteria of 'demonstrated capability to do the job'?

          There is.

          it's still possible to put in penalty safeguards in the contract

          Depends whether its a Framework contract or not. Those have very, very little capacity for customisation unless your contracts people really, really know what they are doing.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Tender evaluation

        The irony here is that if a reference site give a bad review it can be taken into account, if an incumbent supplier responds to a tender and provides wonderful service metrics which do not tally with your experience as a client, you may be told that you cannot take this into account. I had a very long, very heated conversation with my 'procurement expert' when this was explained to me. fortunately that suppliers bid response was so piss-poor they failed the basic selection criteria anyway.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        it has to go to the lowest bidder regardless

        Not entirely true.. we can evaluate using "market reputation" and award the contract to "best value" - which can take into account factors other than "lowest price".

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          > we can evaluate using "market reputation" and award the contract to "best value"

          Only if you use the right wording in the tendering process and are willing to fend off a potential challenge from lowest £££ bidder.

          It was another country and a very long time ago but I was rigorously schooled to include the words "Lowest or any tender not necessarily accepted" as the final sentence.

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      That would also require having people in the Civil Service capable of writing contracts that protect the interests of their employer.

      I think a wider change is needed. So much incompetence and poor judgement in government is covered up because details cannot be published as they are "commercially confidential". These are contracts between the contractor and the public. All contracts, prices and terms for public sector work should be published. If they don't want light shone on their murky world, don't bid.

  2. Secta_Protecta

    Am I Missing Something?

    Why should the MoD have to pay out 50M quid when Capita are quite obviously not meeting the standard? Please tell me there was some form of SLA or KPI measurement in the contract...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Am I Missing Something?

      Please tell me there was some form of SLA or KPI measurement in the contract...

      One would have hoped so, but for a contract negoitiated by civil service oompa-loompas against Crapita lawyers I would be surprised if there was such an SLA.

      Still, £50m to get rid of Crapita seems like a bargain to me.

    2. }{amis}{ Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Am I Missing Something?

      The contracting houses will always win this game, the people they put in on their side of the contract negotiations are better-paid more competent and much better motivated than any civil servant will ever be,

      combine that with the tax office using IR35 to chase off any talent they can get their hands on and the government is always fighting a losing battle.

    3. ivan5

      Re: Am I Missing Something?

      Just remember this is a government contract and nothing like those in the real world.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Am I Missing Something?

        Just remember this is a government contract and nothing like those in the real world.

        This is what happens when process becomes more important than outcome.

        Awarding a contract is always seen as the endpoint, when (in this case) the proper goal is effective recruitment.

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

    "a success rate of 7.5 per cent is nothing for Capita and its IT systems to cheer about."

    Possibly. But depending on the acceptable candidate qualifications set out by the Army, this also be seen as the first time ever that Capita have actually delivered to requirements?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

      Judging by the string of stories on el'reg about the specific faults in the Capita system the only possible conclusion is that Capita are some sort of militant pacifists committed to removal of all armed forces

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

        Capita are some sort of militant pacifists committed to removal of all armed forces

        Maybe another P.U.T.I.N. operation?

        Where is Louise Mensch when you need her to hysterically tweet?

      2. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

        Capita are some sort of militant pacifists committed to removal of all armed forces

        No, that's the MoD you're thinking of. And particularly their fundamentalist wing operating out of a base in Abbey Wood, Bristol. Crapita are mere accessories to the crime.

        However, all things concerned (and speaking as somebody from a family with military roots), aren't we better off as a nation of our politicians don't have the resources to go an engage in unsuccessful hobby wars in distant lands?

        1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
          Mushroom

          "...politicians don't have the resources..."

          Since when has that ever stopped them?

        2. Secta_Protecta

          Re: Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

          I'm a fan of the old school mentality, if someone in power makes the decision to go to war then they and their offspring above the age of 18 should be in the front line with the soldiers. It used to be that way and at some point it changed, would Blair have been as keen to join the US in Iraq if he and his son (who was 18 in 2002) had to go house to house with the infantry?

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Whilst I'm no lover of Capita...

          "No, that's the MoD you're thinking of. And particularly their fundamentalist wing operating out of a base in Abbey Wood, Bristol. "

          The MOD have skin in the game. Politicians on the other hand are merely rabble stirring things up on the sidelines and encouraging the fighting.

  4. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    Word of mouth.

    Send the 50m over, I've built a few, battle tested for 160k users per month, seasonal uplift with candidate profiling, used by more than one multinational in past, usually until the top job changes and it goes downhill with a old/new supplier. You'll just have to change the pictures and a few words. #jobboard #anotherbottleofnavajota

    1. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

      Re: Word of mouth.

      Forgot to mention, it's got geo, multiple sites and brands too. #withfreepaymentgateway

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Word of mouth.

      ANd once the system is built and ready to be tested , the civil servant in charge will hand you a piece of paper completely changing what it is you have to do.

      The the minster hands you another piece of paper telling you to disregard the first 2 jobs specs and build a bridge across the Thames....

      1. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

        Re: Word of mouth.

        It can do that too.

      2. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

        Re: Word of mouth.

        It's more of a penknife, for you know paying the bills and no it's not wordpress.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Word of mouth.

          Is your MP ex-military? Be a good place to start talking about it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Word of mouth.

            A competent primary school kid could do that with MS Access and Excel!

            No they couldn't, Capita already tried that.

            1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

              Re: Word of mouth. - No they couldn't, Capita already tried that.

              They didn't, they are not allowed to employ primary school kids. (They have to be kept available for working down Rees-Mogg's coalmines post Brexit).

      3. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

        Re: Word of mouth.

        Just checked, it'll tick the AI box but the IoT chequebook will be steep.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Word of mouth.

      Can you handle candidate records that have different fields accessable to different users and automatically extrapolating uploaded test results into recommendations for some users and graphical results sheets for others?

      The test result categories also keep changing as does the scoring system and the criteria for acceptance.

      It's not a completely normal recruitment system, but if people had taken the first six months requirements gathering from all prospective users then it should have been delivered easily by a couple of years ago.

      AC because of how I know this stuff.

      1. smudge Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Word of mouth.

        Can you handle candidate records that have different fields accessable to different users and automatically extrapolating uploaded test results into recommendations for some users and graphical results sheets for others?

        You're kidding? A competent primary school kid could do that with MS Access and Excel!

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Word of mouth.

        It's not a completely normal recruitment system, but if people had taken the first six months requirements gathering from all prospective users then it should have been delivered easily by a couple of years ago.

        AC because of how I know this stuff.

        I experienced the old ways. So wandered into a recruiting office manned by NCOs and taken through the process. So got to watch some introductory videos and ask the staff questions. Then the standard aptitude tests, more videos about the trades available, and the room emptying as candidates left based on their scores. Then being sent off to my chosen Corps for them to take a look. And do more tests. And then finally standing before god (ok, an RSM), swearing my oath and taking the Queen's shilling.

        So the process took time & resources, but as a candidate, it was good to be able to speak to people who were in the job, and presumably good for them to get a look at a potential recruit. With the new system, a lot of that seems to have vanished and replaced by side-channels like ARRSE's guides for noobs.

        1. The Nazz Silver badge

          How difficult can recruitment be?

          re Jellied eel - my how much has changed with the times.

          I'll never forget my dad telling me his experience of National Service. He'd just recently got married and was called up for NS and was likely to be sent out to some conflict zone, Aden i think.

          On arriving at the range for his field test, he told the RSM "i'm a dreadful shot Sir."

          "ne'er mind, have a go with this" and was handed a rifle.

          He deliberately aimed high and took out a pigeon.

          "Hmmmmm, try again" said the RSM.

          This time, he deliberately aimed wide and took out a Fresian cow, hitherto grazing peacefully in the next field.

          "I really am a dreadful shot Sir, does that mean i won't be going out to Aden."

          "No, it means you won't be coming back again."

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "The civil servant in charge"

            Therein lies one of the many problems. It's not a civil servant in charge, the software has to satisfy all three services, so the top Army General insists he needs all the data gathered on an applicant for an army role. This is fine, until the Air Commodore insists that "He's not getting our records off the system!" and the General retorts with "Oh yes I am!"

            "Oh, no he isn't!" insists the Air Commodore. "Oh yes I am!" repeats the General.

            And so we get two conflicting requirements and it all descends into pantomime.

            Ranks and services may have been changed to protect yer mum.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: "The civil servant in charge"

              Ah, politics. From a recruit PoV, not sure why that would be a problem. Or given the way recruiting's been merged into one office in my town, possibly a benefit if a recruit isn't sure which service they want to join. And given shortages of recruits, whether a Minderbender could organise a bidding system for the best recruits. Or if that already exists and is why records sharing is problematic to prevent poaching. Son, you don't want to join the RAF Regiment, join the Mobile Infantry!

              But from reading about recruits experience with the new system, there seems to be a lot of problems around records management, poor communications, and delays. And I suspect the delays don't help given prospective recruits may give up or find other work.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "The civil servant in charge"

                Recruitment goes far beyond the AFCO. Once you apply for one or more services there's all the things they do to size up what you're good for apart from a sandbag. That's the data that services think they have the right to control and if someone in another service wants it they can ask nicely and get the executive summary, not the exact numbers.

  5. adam payne Silver badge

    MPs have long been calling for Capita to be stripped of the contract. Four years ago the cost of terminating the contract was given as £50m.

    Did someone not read the small print?

    How much is it now? £200m?

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      "Did someone not read the small print?"

      Probably not. Remember, this money is not theirs. The government has no money, it's ours. Forcibly extracted through taxes. As there seems no downside to making a mess of any contract, project or scheme why would anyone bother with due diligence?

  6. SVV Silver badge

    If I got this kind of shit from a supplier

    They would never be on my supplier list again, never mind given another contract. So explain to us again how exactly government outsourcing is a "free market" exercise please.

    Just cancel the contract. Then set up a list of non allowed bidders for future contracts, changing the rules to allow this. If they demand the 50 million, inform them they're now on that list. If that causes the company to collapse, take staff on existing contracts in house for the remaining duration of contracts, and then permanently if successful.

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: If I got this kind of shit from a supplier

      They're paid to take the blame for fuck-ups that would have happenned anyway.

      In this case it's finally coming back to bite the government.

    2. IceC0ld Bronze badge

      Re: If I got this kind of shit from a supplier

      Just cancel the contract. Then set up a list of non allowed bidders for future contracts, changing the rules to allow this.

      =========

      then when Crapita come back at you, you tell them to go do one, or else, when they say -

      "You and whose Army" just give them the 1000 yard stare :o)

      1. Mycho Silver badge

        Re: If I got this kind of shit from a supplier

        If Capita got blacklisted from government contracts, how many of their senior managers do you think would move to a newly formed contractor company called definitely-not-capita and bid on the same contracts?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Going on normal public sector performance the contract was probably signed by a receptionist or some poor contractor trying to get things done before an elected member had another 'great idea'.

  8. Aqua Marina Silver badge

    You’re all missing the point.

    Remeber the Atos disability assessments were intended not to ensure that those with genuine disability retained obtained the correct benefits, but rather to remove as many people as possible, for as long as possible from any payments to relieve the public purse.

    In the same way this system is working as intended by those at the top. 7000 annual salaries coming out of the coffers instead of 100000 salaries is the desired result. A one off payment to Capita of £50m for a job well done in saving £1.7bn is to be commended. Public servants the lot of them.

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      But we have to have enough armed forces to fire off all the weapons so the suppliers can make lots more money replacing them. And create enough enemies so that we have targets to shoot those weapons at, and excuses to spend even more money developing even more expensive weaponry.

    2. 0laf Silver badge

      This being the company that cariied out disability assessments in building that were not accessible to the disabled.

      A canny move really.

      Make it through the door - You're not disabled, benefits cancelled

      Can't make it through the door - Non-attendance, benefits cancelled

  9. Valerion

    The Sun

    Are we really basing all of this on an article from The Sun?!

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: The Sun

      "During yesterday's Parliamentary session of the Defence Select Committee"

      I understand there are many non-Capita-run reading comprehension assistance services available to the public. Please do not shy away from making use of them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Sun

      It is covered in Private Eye. Quotes from MPs on the defence select committe include:

      "how badly do you have to fail before you get sacked ?"

      "Jesus - they've had six years. This is a farce."

      The most telling interchange:

      MP

      "The contract has not been complied with. There is therefore a breach of contract, isn't there ?"

      Permanent Secretary

      "It is unlikely to be as simple as that."

      1. IceC0ld Bronze badge

        Re: The Sun

        The most telling interchange:

        MP

        "The contract has not been complied with. There is therefore a breach of contract, isn't there ?"

        Permanent Secretary

        "It is unlikely to be as simple as that."

        ===

        YES Minister ................................

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Sun

      Red Tops stick together ;-)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Sun

      I agree it shouldn't be used in this or any article. Especially as it isn't the source.

      It's sad you're getting down votes and sadder I'll probably get some because I lost someone in Hillsborough.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NPfIT vs Fujitsu

    A long time ago in a government far, far away a contract was awarded to Fujitsu to implement a large chunk of a DoH/NHS system. As soon as the ink was put to paper, but probably before it had dried, the government side started to fiddle with the deliverables which soon lead to s situation where Fujitsu and probably anyone else couldn't have completed the contract as written, let alone as it now stood. Fujitsu knew that they were on a roller-coaster to a bad place indeed and were probably relieved to be sacked off the contract, particularly when it became apparent that they had been sacked in a way that made the breach of contract the government's fault. It also gave the company a cast iron excuse for no bonuses or pay rises for that year, to the delight of management and the dismay of those working on profitable accounts. There then followed many days in court and much lucrative trade for our learned friends before it was found that the government, by dint of the contract that they had drawn up, now owed Fujtisu a large amount of money plus costs. Fujitsu still owed some subcontractors some money but they were still very much quids in.

    I guess that Capita are now hoping for a similarly incompetent sacking, legal play time and hefty cheque heading their way. I wonder how many MPs or their spouses sit on the boards of the usual outsourcing suspects? There certainly seem to a lot of cash cows being milked.

    TL;DR - government are really bad at outsourcing but they still keep on doing it.

  11. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Ah, Capita. The gift that just keeps on giving...

    "The gang that couldn't shoot straight" is placed in charge of mission-critical recruitment systems for, of all things, the British Army.

    Ironic.

    (Icon is artists concept of results of Capita taking over a gas station.)

  12. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "Conservative former defence minister Mark Francois"

    BY HARRY AND ST. GEORGE!!!

  13. N2 Silver badge

    Why

    Does the governement continually opt for this crappy outfit?

    Were it three strikes and your out they would have been off the list years ago

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Why

      Directorships, big lunches, revolving doors.

      1. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

        Re: Why

        And they are where GCHQ stores all their compromising video footage of MP's and senior civil servants.

  14. Geekpride
    Joke

    Simple answer

    Crapita's screw-up means the army is short of 5000 troops. So conscript 5000 people from Crapita, starting from top tier of management and working down. Yes, they might be as useless as soldiers as they are at everything else, but getting them all killed would still be a net benefit to the country.

  15. Jez53

    If its so easy to recruit grunts....

    ....the army would do the job itself. Times have changed, nobody actually wants to join the army. They all have PTD from playing too much Line of Fire.

    This publication seems to hate Capita, I wonder why.

  16. ShortLegs

    Its regarded as a "win" that they have shaved 87 days from the average recruiting time?

    My god, how times changed. I walked into the Army Careers Office 17th Sep 1983. Attended Sutton Coldfield that November, attested 3rd Dec 1983, started Basic that month. So what, less than 3 months (90 days) from enquiry to Recruit.

    That was in the days of telephones, typewriters, and carrier pigeons. Fast fwd to 2016, when I think about joining the Reserves. In the days of workflow, email, and IM. Visit ACIO (or whatever it was called that week) May 2016. Attend Selection Weekend Aug. Start Phase 1A Feb 2017 (1 week), Phase 1B March (2 weeks), and finally Phase 2 Aug 2017.

    8 months from ACIO to training... Crapita blamed the delay on my Drs not sending them my records, only by Nov to inadvertently to FWD me an email c/w prior history, that showed they hadn't requested my records until the end of 2017.

    Its not just the length of time. Potential recruits have been told that they have failed the Selection medical before they even attend Selection; failed and eyesight test despite expert medical evidence that they have 20/20 vision; been told they have heart problems, with no ECG having been carried out. When appealed, another medical reason is conjured up. The time delay means that many potential recruits lose patience, withdraw their application, and go elsewhere.

    And the current advertising ("This is Belonging" and the radio "FAQ" adverts) really don't help.

  17. NIC Watt

    UK Defence Capita shortage

    So who is to blame. Is it Capita or is it deeper than that? It would seem Capita are getting the applicants in but the process to appointment is failing.

    I would suggest it's the Unrealistic job expectations,

    Lack of engagement,

    Out of date training methods and

    Poor work and family balance to name but a few.

  18. Colin Bain
    Headmaster

    Missing stat

    How do we know that a 7.5% success rate is poor? What do we compare this to? Perhaps 92.5% of current applicants are just not good enough in this particular generation. Not sure why though.

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