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The Army is working closely with Capita to deliver improvements to recruitment. While there are positive indicators that measures are having an impact, I continue to monitor the Recruiting Partnering Project very closely and hold regular discussions with my officials regarding the contract.
Subject to a legal challenge, Capita was awarded the MOD fire and rescue contract despite an MOD financial assessment that gave the company the highest category of distress and vulnerability. With shoddy finances and an abysmal record of delivery, does the Minister agree with the MOD fire and rescue staff from my constituency that private corporations should have no place in managing MOD services?
No, I do not think I do actually. Successive Governments have involved the private sector and I am sure that that is set to continue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a challenge to that particular contract at the moment, but I remain convinced that the use of the private sector in delivering the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation is probably the right thing to do.
The private sector has had enormous success in delivering huge efficiency savings to the Ministry of Defence over decades now, but on this particular contract, there seems to be an element of risk aversion in the management of it, not least on the medical side from the people making health assessments. Is there a case for getting more military back engaged in the delivery of this contract to make the right risk assessments about recruiting?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will be aware of recent work being carried out by the Ministry of Defence through a medical symposium to try to tackle these very issues. Sometimes, some of the medical reasons for not joining are frankly quite archaic. To give a brief example, if someone has had childhood asthma, they cannot join even if they no longer have it, even though the chances are that it will not return until that person is probably in their 50s, when, of course, 99% of service personnel will have left.
I am not celebrating current recruitment levels. What I am saying is that we are all aware of the challenges facing the defence recruiting system some months ago, but given that this is a long pipeline, I am confident that the hopper at the start of that process, which can take up to a year, is now at a five-year high. I hope and I am confident that we will then see that slowly come through the system, which will result in an increase in the number of our service personnel.
The sorry saga of the Capita recruitment programme is made worse by the fact that the Ministry of Defence was told at the time that it would not work. I hope the programme will be sorted out in the short term, but until then will the Minister place a greater emphasis on retaining those superb personnel currently engaged in our armed forces?
There are always two factors in the equation of armed forces numbers. One, clearly, is the number we recruit, and being a bottom-fed organisation, we have to keep recruiting, but equally, although we cannot retain everybody—the rank structure does not allow it—it is important that we continue to retain as many service personnel as possible for as long a career as possible. I have already highlighted some of the things we are doing to make that happen.
According to a written answer from the Minister, the figure is £1.15 billion. This addiction to privatisation at the MOD, which I get he is ideologically attached to, is causing mayhem, from recruitment to the fire and rescue service. If he pledges to sack Capita, he will have the support of people behind him, of the people across from him and of the SNP Benches. Why won’t he do it?
The Secretary of State has made it clear that that always remains an option, but if the hon. Gentleman had listened to a word I had said over the past 10 minutes, rather than preparing his question, he might have realised that there was hope. I am confident, at the start of this process, that things are getting better.