More than £1 billion has been spent on recruitment in the armed forces in just a few years, new figures reveal, prompting demands from MPs for urgent changes.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) spending includes £752 million on a contract with Capita – £54 million more than was planned at this stage of the contract.
It comes amid widespread vacancies across the armed forces and repeated failures to hit recruitment targets.
The MoD said it was operating in a highly competitive job market and all spending was scrutinised.
Tory MP and former Army officer Johnny Mercer said: “It is clear that the military is currently experiencing a manpower crisis and with the amounts of public money being spent on recruitment, I would expect to see much improved results.
“Perhaps it is time for the MoD to review their recruiting practices to ensure that the public is getting proper value for money and that the military is having its manpower requirements satisfied.”
Annual spending has been steadily rising, peaking in 2015/16 at £42.2 million in the RAF and £41.3 million in the Navy.
Statistics released to Parliament, meanwhile, show £752 million has been spent on the recruiting partnering project with Capita since it was signed in February 2012.
The project’s business case forecast £698 million being spent at this stage, the end of the 2016/17 financial year.
“The MoD’s total and repeated failure to manage the contract with Capita is deeply worrying,” said Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary.
“The company has fundamentally failed in its basic job of driving up Army numbers, with the latest figures showing that the Army is now smaller than it was last year.
“The MoD should urgently consider whether services could be delivered more effectively in-house by trained officers, instead of civilian staff who no doubt do their best but are being badly let down by Capita.”
Last week, it emerged that the £1.3 billion Capita contract had failed to deliver more than £100 million in planned savings so far.
The MoD says it is confident the 10-year contract will still deliver virtually the same level of savings over the life of the contract as originally forecast.
Under the contract, Capita has taken over recruitment in the Army and has also built the defence recruitment system, an IT system intended to handle recruitment across all the armed forces.
The project went live in November, five years after the original contract was signed, but this was immediately followed by reports of technical issues.
“With ministers now admitting that they’ve actually spent an extra £50 million, the claim that this private sector contract will save money overall is looking a lot less credible.”
According to the most recently available figures, the overall size of the Army fell to 77,440 in October, more than 4,000 short of its 82,000 target.
The RAF and Royal Navy are 5.8% and 3.5% below their personnel targets respectively, according to the same figures.
A report last year by Conservative former defence minister Mark Francois found that the Army is missing its annual recruitment target by as much as 30%, with the Royal Navy and RAF around 10% short.
“It is clearly evident by now that the Capita recruitment contract has not provided good value for money and last year the Army were 3,000 recruits short,” he said.
“If this under performance continues much longer, the MoD should look to alternatives and try and get out of the contract they currently have with Capita.”
An MoD spokesman said: “In a highly competitive job market the armed forces need to recruit high quality candidates in sufficient numbers to protect UK interests at home and abroad.
“Proactive advertising provides excellent exposure and is a proven way to recruit suitable personnel.
“We continue to scrutinise all spending in order to ensure we obtain value for money.
“The Army has enough people to perform its operational requirements that help keep Britain safe and has recruited around 8,000 people over the last year into a variety of posts.”