What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of Capita’s Army recruitment contract with her Department.
The Army continues to work closely with Capita with multiple interventions in place, and is delivering improvements. The year 2018-19 was the best for applications in five years. As expected, we are now starting to see those applications move through the pipeline. The last quarter of 2018-19 was the best performing quarter for enlistments since 2012-13. Although we cannot be complacent and continue to maintain close oversight of this contract’s performance, this does demonstrate early signs for cautious—I repeat, cautious—positivity.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. There is no denying that the Capita contract is an appalling failure, when the Army is still 8% below its par. This issue has been repeatedly raised during Defence questions, but the situation keeps worsening. Does that not show that the Minister’s Department has zero desire to resolve the problem?
I think I tried to address this point earlier. Obviously, we have seen a rise in applications, and we have now seen a rise—taking the Regular Army as an example—in people entering training, with an extra 1,000 in the first quarter of this year. It can take up to two years for a fully trained member of the armed forces to count as being trained and therefore to qualify as part of the figure we always use at the end, but the early signs are positive. Not only are applications up; we now have more people joining, wearing a uniform and being trained, and those people will slowly filter their way through the process.
I have been waiting two months now for an answer to a fairly straightforward parliamentary question about the number of applicants being rejected on medical grounds. Given the deeply unsatisfactory way that Capita seems to handle applications where a medical issue has been flagged, especially in the area of mental illness, will the Minister please look further into this to ensure that there is fairness in the system and the Army does not lose talent?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the fact that the one thing we do not want to do is to lose talent. I made reference earlier to the medical review process that we are looking at. We have already found areas where we think we can improve, and I look forward to those improvements being implemented shortly.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her post?
It is scarcely credible that after all Capita’s incompetence on the recruitment contract, its failure on the defence estate’s management contract and the assessment by experts that this company carried the highest possible risk factor, the Minister is still pushing ahead with plans to outsource the Defence Fire and Rescue Service to Capita. To make matters worse, his Department is now spending hard-earned taxpayers’ money on an expensive legal battle with rival company Serco. Is it not high time that the Government stopped throwing good money after bad in pursuit of an ideological fixation with privatisation, did the right thing and abandoned plans to outsource the Defence Fire and Rescue Service?
I do not think there is any ideological belief about having to use Capita. For reasons I have already explained, we are seeing progress in the one particular contract that I am responsible for. With regard to the Defence Fire and Rescue Service, which also falls under the Army, there has been a court case that is currently under review, as the hon. Lady knows.