The head of a controversial private outsourcing firm accused of presiding over a collapse in Army recruitment has attempted to blame a lack of war for its failure to sign up new soldiers.
The number of people attending army interviews and selection tests to be regular soldiers has fallen by 35 per cent since Capita took charge of hiring new recruits from the Ministry of Defence in March.
But when asked to explain its failure to maintain manpower levels Capita’s chief executive suggested it was partly down to potential new recruits having too little to do.
“We have the disadvantage that we actually have no wars on,” Paul Pindar told the Public Accounts Committee.
“Soldiers like to join the Army when they actually have something to do.” When MPs expressed surprise at the statement he added: “You can pull faces at me but actually it is something that is factually true.”
Mr Pindar said that recruitment had also been hit by the general improved economic situation in Britain and the failures of a new IT system that his company had been told would be up and running when it took over the contract.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, described his comments on war as “awful”.
Her Conservative deputy, Richard Bacon, said he was “doubtful” of Mr Pindar’s explanation and pointed out that millions of soldiers had been recruited in the past without any IT systems at all.
“I think there is a difference from the past when young men and women would go into a recruiting office and speak to someone in uniform who could be considered a role model,” he said afterwards.
“Now they are filling in an anonymous online questionnaire. Go figure.”
Mr Bacon added that he also believed that Mr Pindar was trying to be “diplomatic” and not passing too much blame on to the MoD for problems the company had inherited with the IT systems.
The MoD declined to comment on Mr Pindar’s statement but sources pointed out that 5,000 members of the armed forces are still on active service in Afghanistan.
Mr Pindar had been defending his company against allegations by MPs that recruitment had slumped since Capita was put in charge of advertising, marketing and handling application forms.
MPs read him figures showing that recruitment to the Territorial Army had slumped from 1,432 in 2012 to 367 in the same period this year. The figures for regular army recruitment had fallen from 5,042 to 3,259.
Former Army commanders have warned the shortfall in men would make operations more dangerous. Mr Bacon said one of his constituents had been trying to sign up since May but had become “lost in the system”.
Mr Pindar admitted there had been problems but said his company was confident that over the longer term recruitment targets would be met. “Our expectation is that we will not fail over the long term.
“What we have done in response to the situation is rather than blame other people we will now take responsibility for the IT infrastructure even though it not our responsibility. We are expecting that the recruitment numbers will increase very sharply. We are not sitting back and blaming other people.”
The hearing came as attempts by Tory rebels to give Parliament the power to scrutinise plans to replace regular soldiers with reservists failed.
An amendment tabled by Tory rebel John Baron, that would have delayed plans to expand the reserve force in place of full-time soldiers until it had been approved by MPs and peers, was defeated by 306 votes to 252.