Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)

MR PADDY DOYLE, MR SIMON PILLING AND MS DENYSE METCALF

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002

  460. Let's hold that one for a minute, Mr Doyle. You think it is not the IT system?
  (Mr Doyle) The IT systems are at fault and it could be that, but what we are saying is that on the evidence we have, we do not believe it is that.

  461. I am just trying to get you to agree with me. Secondly, it is dodgy providers of training or people who are not even real providers of training going out there in the marketplace, commissioning people to get names and drawing down money for either tiny bits of training or no training. That is the other, is it not?
  (Mr Doyle) Yes.

  462. How bad was that? How would you rate that?
  (Mr Doyle) Again I am not trying to be awkward, but I cannot put a figure on that or even get an idea of what the size of that is because where we can identify that and where we have suspicions, we have passed that across to the Department. I know there is a lot of work going on in the Department. I do not know what the evidence is for how large or how small that is. I am not privy to that information.

  463. The third evidence of pulling the plug is perhaps someone in the Treasury saying, "This is costing a great deal more money than we ever intended and it could go beyond" and someone then in the Treasury said, "This is too successful. Pull the plug", and some other wise person has said, "Well, we can always blame it on fraud or the selling of providers". Which do you think it was of those three?
  (Mr Doyle) The real evidence that I have is that there was poor quality provision. There were providers out there which were less than scrupulous. I can see that evidence. I have no evidence at all of someone in the Treasury deciding to pull the plug.

  464. Let's stay with the middle one then. Here you are at Capita. You said three things which interest me. You have been around a long time, like me, so you are pretty streetwise. Secondly, you said, "Once we have signed the contract, we get down and do what is needed". The question I am asking you and this Committee has been asking you all morning is did you actually do enough in terms of a highly competent company, well known for its contracts across the educational world, local government, central government and in the private sector? Do you not think that this Committee has every right to suspect that you were negligent in terms of the quality of advice you gave to the Department in terms of the running of this scheme?
  (Mr Doyle) No, I do not believe there is any evidence to say that we were negligent in terms of that.

  465. You said "do what was needed".
  (Mr Doyle) And I believe that we have done that. Quite correctly, what we are concentrating on here this morning are the things that went wrong. We did a hell of a lot that was right as well. Was it enough? No. How can I sit here and say it was enough when we are sitting here in the situation that we are in? But there are a hell of a lot of good things that we have done and we played our role in that scheme in an honest way. There is not any evidence to suggest that we have been negligent in terms of our work.

Ms Munn

  466. I am still confused about this validation of providers of this scheme, and Andrew helpfully pointed out the paragraphs where you deal with it in your written evidence. Our first session of evidence that we had was the specification for which you bid for the contract within which it states, and it was only a one liner, that one of the responsibilities of the company taking this on would be the registration of providers. Given that that was your responsibility, given that prior to May 2000 you thought there was going to be separate validation and there was going to be this approved list, can you just explain the sequence then? Given that you were supposed to be registering them, would you have just taken that as the registration from that database, however good that was or whatever that was, you would have taken that and when that did not happen, that is when the one-page form came in, or were people still required to fill in the one-page form which had been designed prior to that, but they were then on the database and that was a check? I just have not got that process at all clear in my head.
  (Ms Metcalf) As I understand it, there exists learning providers and there existed learning providers well before the ILA and there was a database of those providers. It was still necessary for those providers to register their interest in the ILA because a number of them would not be eligible because they would be offering learning that was not relevant to the ILA, so the intention was that they would register to join the ILA and their registration could be cross-referenced—to use that expression—to another external database.

  467. So the form that existed prior, you designed the form as your means of fulfilling that bit of the contract, registration?
  (Ms Metcalf) Absolutely.

  468. And then you would cross-reference with the database, so at the point that it was decided that that was not going to be used, you just did not do anything else, but you said, "Okay, they will just fill in the form"?
  (Ms Metcalf) At no point was the registration by ourselves meant to represent a validation. It was a registration to provide learning under the scheme.

  469. So was there any discussion at that point, given that the validation had fallen away, for any reason? Did you discuss with people from the DfES or with the previous Department, which I think it was at that point, that that might cause problems in terms of these people not having been externally validated, even though that was not your responsibility?
  (Ms Metcalf) I do not think we foresaw that it was going to be a problem at that point.

Mr Chaytor

  470. You knew it was possible for non-existent human beings to register and you knew it was possible for training providers, without any previous track record of providing training, to register and you knew it was possible for the ILA to be opened without any training taking place, but you did not spell this out to the Department and you do not think you were negligent in not doing that? Is that a fair summary of what you are saying?
  (Mr Doyle) It depends what you mean by "spell out". There were a number of meetings between us and the Department where these things were discussed sometimes of our volition and sometimes of theirs. Do I believe we were negligent? No, I believe in those discussions, as I said earlier, we may not have shouted loud enough, but I do not believe there is any evidence otherwise. The Chairman has already suggested that you might want to see evidence, et cetera, if that is acceptable and we will do that.

  471. Perhaps I could move on to the question of customer service and we have explored the relationship between yourself and the Department, but I just want to ask a little about the relationship between yourself and the learning providers. Did you have a complaints mechanism? If I were a learning provider and I was dissatisfied with the answer I was getting from your staff, what process would I go through to complain?
  (Ms Metcalf) We did have a complaints process and in fact we have a documented process for almost every type of complaint because different complaints needed to be dealt with differently. You are talking about a provider complaining and I have to say that there were less provider complaints than complaints by members of the public. Naturally, the volumes are in those sort of proportions, but where we received a complaint, we would pass that on to be investigated by the Department. On occasions, there may have been a requirement for us to write a letter first to confirm that complaint in writing and if that was the process that was set out, that was the method we followed.

  472. Could I just check, what was the process? How did either individuals opening accounts or learning providers, how did they complain?
  (Ms Metcalf) An individual opening an account could complain by telephone, in which case we took the details down. If they complained by letter, then obviously the letter was put on file. If the complaint arrived by telephone and it was perhaps, as the incident earlier, "my account has been drawn down and I have not spent it", then we would put those into a category of complaint. We then looked up the provider that had in fact drawn that money down and we would write to that provider to ask them to clarify whether there had been a mistake, that they had drawn down the wrong account or whatever, and subject to the answer in terms of that particular provider, we would then pass that across to the Department which carries out all the investigations where the matter is not closed and in a simple mistake or error.

  473. Do you have an approximate figure for the number of complaints that went through your complaints mechanism?
  (Ms Metcalf) From my memory, the statistic we used was one quarter of one per cent of the account holders. That was a tracking mechanism, so that obviously varied as we tracked that on a monthly basis.

  474. In terms of the staff in the call centre actually dealing with providers or with individuals, how many staff did you recruit initially to manage the programme?
  (Ms Metcalf) We had two separate call centres, as we have suggested. We had a provider call centre and we had a call centre based in Coventry for individuals. The numbers there, it is difficult to give a direct answer because in a call centre one recruits in terms of capacities at different times of day, so at any different point in the day or week there could be a different number of people, but it was approximately 75 which could be at any point between 50 and 100 as the number of staff.

  475. Were all those people recruited from outside the company or were they existing employees?
  (Ms Metcalf) I think the vast majority, there may have been one or two people who moved from another contract within the company, but on the whole they were externally recruited.

  476. What kind of training were they given?
  (Ms Metcalf) They would go through quite an intensive route for training for the call centre, probably some one or two months in terms of taking them through their whole basic call centre training and then they would do quite a lot of training in terms of functionality of the scheme. Of course I have to caveat that by saying that as people left and as we were under increasing pressure during the summer, there would be occasions where perhaps that training course was not as rigorous, but we did have a quality control mechanism and obviously we were concerned to ensure that standards remained high.

  477. And as the number of accounts increased dramatically during the May to July period, how many more people did you recruit to deal with that increase in workload?
  (Ms Metcalf) Interestingly, although I will answer your question, interestingly the large increase in accounts at that time was not coming directly through the call centre, but they were coming through non-personalised application forms, so much of the increase, and we did talk earlier about the decision to stop that method of approach, but a lot of the non-personalised forms came in actually by letter. They had been given out by the providers. We did have some increase in the call centre, but that was more about people enquiring about their account than actually making applications, so the increases were not huge there, but they just reflected the number of telephone calls.

  478. Finally, in terms of the one quarter of one per cent of complaints, what happened to those or what proportion of those did you refer to the Department for further investigation?
  (Ms Metcalf) I cannot give you a precise proportion, but I can tell you that all those complaints that appeared to have substance, ie, they were not sorted in terms of a discussion with the provider either confirming that they had made a mistake or the individual perhaps remembering that they had actually attended courses, which did happen on occasion, all those complaints were handed across to the Department and followed up on a day-to-day set-up.

  479. Was there a specified time period in which you were pledged to process the complaint?
  (Ms Metcalf) Yes, I believe there was.


 
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