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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 620-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE LANGUAGE SERVICES
MONDAY 15 OCTOBER 2012
GEOFFREY BUCKINGHAM and ALAN THOMPSON
ANN BEASLEY CBE, PETER HANDCOCK CBE and MARTIN JONES
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 1 - 257
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Public Accounts Committee
on Monday 15 October 2012
Margaret Hodge (Chair)
Mr Stewart Jackson
Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, Gabrielle Cohen, Assistant Auditor General, Aileen Murphie, Director, National Audit Office, and Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, were in attendance.
MEMORANDUM BY THE NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE
The Ministry of Justice’s language services contract
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Geoffrey Buckingham, Chair, Association of Police and Court Interpreters, and Alan Thompson, Secretary, Association of Police and Court Interpreters, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: I welcome Mr Buckingham and Mr Thompson. Before we come to you, let me just say that we asked Capita to attend today’s hearing-I do not know whether someone from Capita is sitting behind you, but I imagine they probably are-but they felt unable to give evidence. I admit that we gave them rather short notice when asking for their attendance-I think we asked them in the middle of last week. They felt unable to come, so we will be reconvening the Committee next Monday, expecting them to attend at 5 pm, which gives them ample notice to account for themselves. We will report after that evidence session, because we recognise the topicality of the issue.
Mr Buckingham and Mr Thompson, you have both been very busy raising concerns about this. The first part of this is relatively short-we try to do it in less than half an hour. The idea is that consumers of the service we are looking at and stakeholders in it have an opportunity to put to us the issues that they-you-consider important and that you think we should investigate as we consider the value for the taxpayer’s money of both the procurement exercise and the way in which Capita delivers the contract.
Over to you, Mr Buckingham. Do you want to start by drawing to our attention what you consider to be the key issues?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to say thank you for taking this matter seriously. It is our view that the matter of interpreting in the criminal justice system lays such a responsibility on its practitioners that only qualified, experienced, vetted and registered public service interpreters should be employed. Failure to do so is an abrogation of responsibility and, under the terms of the current framework agreement, will be very costly, not just in financial terms but in human terms and in terms of the reputation of British justice across the world. You do not have to believe me on this, but follow me on Twitter and you will see. I imagine one or two of you already have access to my tweets, and I have no problem with that: I do not say anything too bad, but what I say is the truth.
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, let me start by giving you an example. Last Friday I attended two courts: at the Old Bailey, I listened to a wasted costs application, which was adjourned, before Her Honour Judge Joseph QC; and, in the afternoon, at Aylesbury Crown court at Amersham, I attended the public delivery of a ruling by His Honour Judge Sheridan. As a witness, I can tell you that Judge Sheridan said certain things. He was not aware that Applied Language Solutions had changed its name two days previously to Capita Translation and Interpreting, but his being unaware changes little. Among other things, and these are direct quotes, he said, "The failure to provide an interpreter on this occasion is down to ALS. They should not retain a contract which is too difficult for them." He went on, "If the procedure provided by the contract gave the opportunity to the courts to find interpreters directly, then the contract is totally redundant and there is little point in having ALS." He went on, "ALS did not act in time, and the way they dealt with it represents serious misconduct." He invited the National Audit Office to consider whether "the contract is even viable." He said that, although it was not ALS’s fault that they did not have enough interpreters, "if they don’t, they should say so." He added, "The courts may as well book interpreters directly. Justice delayed is justice denied." That is one angle, encapsulated in one ruling delivered by one judge in a sleepy little town not all that far from here.
However, there are other matters that are far more serious. I know that the NAO Report-thank you for ordering it-was done very quickly, and I am sure they would have liked to have more time. Forgive me, Ms Murphie, I didn’t see you were there. I am not going to embarrass you by saying too many nice things, in that case.
Q2 Chair: It won’t embarrass them-it will please them.
Geoffrey Buckingham: The Report uncovered, in a pretty short time, a number of items that are crucial. One of them is the fact that there appears to be no mechanism whereby the state, via the National Audit Office, has any ability to measure the huge ancillary costs that are being generated by this appalling contract. Let me say at this stage-it is really a summary word, but I will say it anyway-it is my view that this contract is unsalvageable; there is nothing that can be done to it that will ever make it work.
Q3 Chair: Let me interrupt you there. Capita, when they give evidence, will undoubtedly say to us that they are now meeting targets. You can question the quality of the people they are putting into the system, but they are meeting targets of-Aileen, what is the figure?
Aileen Murphie: They are reporting 95% for the bookings that are taken and fulfilled.
Q4 Chair: So from 58% in the first month, they are now up to 95%. In that context, are they not really rescuing the system?
Geoffrey Buckingham: That is a very interesting question, Madam Chair. Perhaps I can answer it by asking: 98% of what? We understand, from a statement made in the House of Lords by Lord McNally back in July, that there are something of the order of 800 requirements daily for interpreters. We also know that a very substantial number of these are not calls that are made to ALS. We know this because we have a national network, for want of a better of word, of colleagues who report on what is going on in the courts.
Q5 Chair: Do you mean they are being rung directly?
Geoffrey Buckingham: In some cases interpreters are being rung directly, although many interpreters are refusing to work directly for courts at the moment-each individually, really. Contrary to some reports, it is not a boycott; it is individual practitioners saying that they have got other things to do that will earn them more money.
Local courts are also using local small agencies. We know this; it has been a plague on court interpreting for many, many years. There is a list, which I could probably draw up for you if you wanted, of small local agencies that service local courts. Unfortunately, they do not supply professional interpreters to those courts. They generally supply such people as-well, kebab shop workers are a common one; takeaway workers are another; there is a lady I know who is a teacher, and another who is a florist. They do this job as and when they feel they can be bothered, in order to earn just a little bit of extra pocket money. They are not professional interpreters; they have no qualifications. Indeed, I can go a little further and say that I witnessed a case in Snaresbrook on 18 April, I think it was, following the collapse of a trial the previous week in front of His Honour Judge Bing, where a Romanian interpreter-would you like me to give you her name? I will not give you her name, but if you wish to know, please ask me privately and I will let you know her name. She committed a cardinal error, a grave error, by not owning up to making a mistake. I have made mistakes in interpreting at court, and I don’t think that any of my colleagues watching on the internet or behind me today can say that they have never made a mistake. When you make a mistake, you draw the judge’s attention to it. She left it three and a half days, as a consequence of which the case collapsed and had to be retried. So far, so good.
His Honour requested that she be the subject of disciplinary procedures. She was; and although she was, I think, an interim member of the national register, the national register took action and suspended her, I believe until March next year. However, she remains one of the busiest interpreters still working for ALS/Capita. I find that a little odd.
Q6 Austin Mitchell: Your members lost out through the creation of this service. How many of them are now employed by Capita, and are they working for Capita on lower wages than they would have got had the old arrangements continued?
Geoffrey Buckingham: That is an interesting question. The Association of Police and Court Interpreters does not monitor who works for whom. It is not our position to do so; it is our position to represent members’ interests, in so far as we can. We do not say how much they should charge. We do not say whom they should work for. We know that there is a spectrum of members within the association, which has several hundred members. There are people on the one hand who are refusing to work while the framework agreement is in place. Then, we go through people who might do the occasional job because they feel that they have to for particular reasons. There are others who have registered with ALS/Capita and do not work for them, and then we have some-I know, they talk to me-who do work for ALS/Capita.
Q7 Austin Mitchell: You don’t know whether they are getting less money.
Geoffrey Buckingham: They are earning less money.
Q8 Chair: How big is your membership?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Do I have to give a figure to that? I would prefer to stick to several hundred.
Chair: Several hundred?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Just under 300 members.
Q9 Chair: So it is actually quite small.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Oh yes. We don’t pretend to be anything other than a small association.
Q10 Meg Hillier: You said that this woman was de-registered?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes.
Q11 Meg Hillier: But she was able to work for ALS/Capita?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes.
Q12 Meg Hillier: So you are saying that if you have been suspended, there is no bar to being employed under the new framework contract?
Geoffrey Buckingham: I don’t know what the procedures are, madam, but it baffles me that somebody who is suspended can work for them.
Q13 Nick Smith: I had the same question-she was suspended by whom?
Geoffrey Buckingham: By the National Register of Public Services Interpreters, sir.
Q14 Nick Smith: So there is no relationship between that register and ALS?
Geoffrey Buckingham: I believe not, sir.
Alan Thompson: Madam Chairman, may I add something to the answer that Mr Buckingham just gave to Mr Mitchell’s question, please? Mr Mitchell, the people we represent are highly talented individuals. Not only do they have a very sophisticated knowledge of languages, they also have a detailed awareness of legal terminology and court procedure. In particular, they have many decades of experience. Both Mr Buckingham and I have 25 years’ experience, approximately, but there are some members in our association who have 40 years and more experience of working for the courts and the criminal justice system. These are people who are very passionate about quality. They have invested many hours of their time, and thousands and thousands of pounds, in learning how to do the job, in getting qualified, in getting registered, in renewing their registration on the national register year after year, and in undergoing continuing professional development. These are people who have invested in their future, and who believe in justice.
Chair: Mr Thompson, I am sure that nobody is impugning the integrity of the association. I think that Austin Mitchell was asking a perfectly legit question, because one of the things that has happened with the contract is that people’s pay has been cut. Clearly, you can take your view on that. If there is less money around, that decision could have been taken by the Department without a procurement process.
Q15 Nick Smith: May I follow up on my previous question? Carrying on from Meg’s point, the interpreter caused the collapse of a case and was then said to be suspended by the national register, but continued to work for ALS. Did the previous contract have a relationship between the provider and the organisation responsible for standards?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Sorry, I am not quite sure I follow. Perhaps I’m being thick here.
Nick Smith: Did the previous regime have a relationship-
Geoffrey Buckingham: Oh, with the national register?
Q16 Nick Smith: Yes, with the national register. I am trying to understand how, if you are suspended on a national register, you can get employment doing the same thing down the road.
Geoffrey Buckingham: I do ask that same question myself. If I was suspended by the national register, they would take away from me my national register identity card, which means that I could not show it to a court clerk in Essex, where I live, and where they require to see it. They would take a photocopy of it every time I went to court.
Q17 Chair: Mr Buckingham, to be clear, before the new contract was let, people were providing interpreting services in the courts without being on the national register?
Geoffrey Buckingham: They were. It was something that we really were not very happy with at all.
Chair: To be honest, that has not changed.
Q18 Nick Smith: Sorry to labour this, but I am still trying to understand, who is responsible for the quality of the service that you provide?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Well, fundamentally, we are, as interpreters, responsible for delivering a service which meets, or preferably exceeds, the quality of delivery that is required by the end user: court, police, solicitor. We are effectively measured by that because if we fail to provide adequate service, we find that our telephones go quiet.
Q19 Ian Swales: I have got another question but can I just add to this current line of questioning? Who actually runs the national register-who is responsible for it?
Geoffrey Buckingham: It has a board of directors, sir.
Q20 Ian Swales: So it is not your organisation?
Geoffrey Buckingham: No.
Q21 Ian Swales: How many interpreters do you think are on the national register?
Geoffrey Buckingham: The last figure I saw was something of the order of 2,320 I think.
Q22 Ian Swales: So a lot more than we think are needed to fulfil this contract?
Geoffrey Buckingham: I am not able to answer that. I don’t know how that calculation would be made.
Q23 Ian Swales: Okay. I just wanted to check that it was not your organisation.
Geoffrey Buckingham: No.
Q24 Ian Swales: So it is separate from everything; it has got a board, but it is a separate organisation?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Indeed. It used to be wholly owned by what is now the Chartered Institute of Linguists. On 1 April 2011 it split and became an independent, voluntary, regulatory organisation.
Q25 Ian Swales: Right, that is useful clarity. My question is about an expression you used earlier. In addition to everything we are talking about, we are failing to measure, to use your expression, "the huge ancillary costs" of getting this wrong. Can you say a bit more about what you think the costs are, because I am sure that a lot of them are public sector costs that are occurring because of the failures in this process?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes, from the very simplest to some quite complicated ones. In the first case, let’s say you have a situation at a magistrates court where the defendant is there, the magistrates are there, defence and prosecution are there-the court population you would expect to be there is there-but the interpreter is not. The case will be adjourned, and there will be a financial cost to that. I am not entirely certain how much that is, but I believe that it is, at magistrates court, something in the order of just over £300.
Q26 Ian Swales: There are many cases in our papers, one of them is of a juvenile who is on remand. So, typically, if such a case is adjourned, how long would it be for, and how often would there be someone on remand through that period?
Geoffrey Buckingham: I cannot give you a figure as to how many as I do not have access to the statistics, obviously, but in a document that I have already put into evidence to you, which I believe is called "incidence of failures", we have documented incidents where people have been remanded in custody for what we would normally consider to be very minor offences; first-time theft of a mobile phone, for example. Those really should be disposed of by way of, perhaps, a conditional discharge, but because the defendant is unable even to answer normal questions such as, "What is your name?" or "Where do you live?", she cannot give an address and is remanded in custody.
I believe that you might have figures as to how much it costs per night to keep somebody in custody. Figures I have seen rather vary, but there must be some figures somewhere that somebody can rely on. We have seen, and got evidence of up to 11 days, and I have anecdotal evidence of some people who have been kept in custody for weeks.
Q27 Ian Swales: So, are there any other costs that you can think of beyond, you were saying, the ancillary costs?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Well, if you have a trial, and you have called witnesses to come and give evidence, you have costs. They might be police officers, they might be expert witnesses, they could be anything. Failure of the interpreter to turn up means that, at least part of a day, possibly, would be lost to the court, and I understand from Judge Sheridan from last Friday that the average cost per day of a trial is something in the order of £12,500.
I have also put into evidence for your consideration an economic model which accompanied the first Involvis report from September 2011. I am not a statistician-forgive me, I know I am in front of people who deal with accounts and things, but I don’t like numbers very much; I am a linguist-but, take those figures for whatever you like, the state is going to have to bear something between zero and £232 million extra in year one as a consequence of this framework agreement.
Q28 Ian Swales: You mentioned two cases you attended on Friday and you said that the first one, at the Old Bailey in front of Judge Joseph, was adjourned. Was that for the lack of an interpreter? You did not actually say.
Geoffrey Buckingham: No sir. The case was adjourned because counsel for the defence-counsel for ALS/Capita-was unable to produce a piece of evidence that Her Honour required. They have a week to find it.
Ian Swales: It was just that you did not say why it was adjourned. Okay, I think we have a picture of what the hidden costs are. Thank you for that.
Q29 Nick Smith: Just a quick query. Mr Buckingham, you said that when an interpreter was not there, but the judge, assorted lawyers and others were, there was a cost of £300 a day.
Geoffrey Buckingham: As I understand it. That is just going from memory. That is at a magistrates court.
Q30 Nick Smith: I would hate to guess, but that seems a very, very low number.
Geoffrey Buckingham: It seemed low to me, but I recalled it from a report I read somewhere. If I am wrong, I am wrong, and I hope you will forgive me for that. If it is more, the cost to the state will be more.
Q31 Nick Smith: We will ask another witness to see if they have a number for how much the cost per day would be on that.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes.
Q32 Mr Jackson: Mr Buckingham, are you saying on behalf of your members-it is a completely respectable position to take-that the reduction in the revenue, the terms and conditions and payments, will inevitably lead to a reduction in the quality of service; or are you saying that, even if the terms and conditions were at exactly the same level as before, the way the contract and the demand are being managed means that the taxpayer would lose out? I just want to get your principal focus. Are you saying there is a causal link-in other words, if you reduce the terms and conditions you put off talented people from coming forward, and therefore the system is going to be disadvantaged?
Geoffrey Buckingham: There is an economic factor here-of course there is-but I can say on behalf of my members that it is not a matter of pay; it is a matter of the terms and conditions of the framework agreement and the nature of the company that was engaged to do it, which we believe, frankly, to be untrustworthy. Alan has something he would like to add.
Alan Thompson: There is something that might help to answer your question, Mr Jackson. Prior to the nationwide roll-out of this contract, ALS contacted interpreters and explained to them that it was necessary to reduce the hourly rates, but that they would be able to make up their income by doing a whole load of assignments on the same day in the same general location-in other words, stringing assignments together as if they were beads on a necklace. This has turned out to be a complete fiction. Just a moment’s thought tells us that it is completely impossible. How can ALS possibly know, for example, that tomorrow there are going to be five Latvian assignments in the general district of Peterborough?
Mr Jackson: I can assure you there definitely will be.
Alan Thompson: Can they also be sure that those assignments will not all be taking place at 10 o’clock in the morning? I don’t think they can. To put it the other way around, can they assure us that those assignments will be nicely spread out during the course of the day, with one at 10 o’clock, one at 11 o’clock, one at 12 o’clock and so on? Of course they can’t, because, according to sod’s law, all of those cases will go live at the same time and five Latvian interpreters will be required simultaneously within 25 miles of Peterborough. That is why this whole business model can never work. It is impossible. Anybody who has ever been to the Crown court, or even to a magistrates court, can tell you that if your case is listed for 10 am, you may be lucky-you may get on straight away and be out on the street by 10.15-but on the other hand, you may be sitting there until 3 or 3.15 in the afternoon before your case is heard.
When we worked for the tribunals service, they gave us a handbook for interpreters, which said, "When you are booked with us for a case at 10 am, we require your services for the whole day. We require you to be available for the whole day. Please don’t accept any other bookings." These ALS/Capita workers are accepting a booking in Croydon at 10 o’clock, in Haringey at 12 o’clock, somewhere else at 2 o’clock, and obviously they are not managing to be in all those places.
Q33 Mr Jackson: You have touched on a very important issue of public policy, which is that where you have very heavy usage of translation and interpreting, there is not anything inherently wrong in collaboration between different public bodies. In Peterborough, the PCT, the hospital trust, the police, the courts service and the prison service all have needs, yet they are all using different people, at huge cost to the public. You are not saying that you are opposed to the idea of having a hub for these public services. Forgive me, because this is probably an issue for the Ministry of Justice rather than you, but I can see how that might lead to the development of a hub where people could access the expertise of your members.
Alan Thompson: We would not be against that for a second. Many of our members work for the justice system, for the health service and possibly for a local administration. We have no objection to that at all.
Chair: I want to move on. We will hear from Fiona and Austin, and then I am going to draw this bit of the questioning to a close and we will get on to the main bit.
Q34 Fiona Mactaggart: I want to ask you about the fact that one of the things that ALS offered in its contract was a tiered system, where it would check the qualifications of different interpreters. It is clear that they had not actually managed to test people fully when this went live. What I am interested in is their tests. You are interpreters. You understand the testing system. You referred to the institute that you are members of, which you felt was a quality assurance mechanism. Tell me about their quality assurance mechanisms.
Geoffrey Buckingham: About the ALS quality assurance mechanisms?
Q35 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes. Some of your members work for ALS, so presumably they have gone through its tests.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes. It is a very complicated issue. I can tell you that none of our members who have spoken to me in respect of the tests that they have undergone-the language assessment tests, as they are called, administered by Middlesex university-have anything positive to say about them.
Q36 Fiona Mactaggart: Why not?
Geoffrey Buckingham: The tests themselves are unrelated, they say, to what they actually do at work. It is easy to cheat. You take the work home with you to do some of it. You have access to it online from your home. It is not a test; it is an assessment. There is no pass or fail. I understand that it is used as a mechanism to determine which tier you will be allocated to. That is interesting because nobody has spotted that originally you would have interpreters allocated as tier 1, 2 or 3, but now that has shifted and it is jobs-assignments-that are allocated as tier 1, 2 or 3. It has shifted.
Q37 Fiona Mactaggart: I do not understand the difference. I am sorry to be stupid.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Let us take Alan and myself as an example. We might go and do a test. Alan speaks very good Spanish, as I would expect him to; that is his qualification. He is allocated as a tier 1 interpreter. I go and do a Spanish assessment and I might get tier 2. That is to say, we are allocated those tiers-they are allocated to us-so if there is a tier 1 job in Spanish, it might go to Alan. Now, that has changed so that jobs are allocated as tier 1, 2 or 3, and they are supposed to be matched to tier 1 or 2, usually, interpreters.
Q38 Fiona Mactaggart: And you are saying they are not being matched?
Geoffrey Buckingham: I do not have the evidence to say one thing or the other. I would suggest that is something you might like to explore with Capita.
Q39 Chair: Is there anything else you would like to add at the end? We will obviously be interrogating the officials.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Madam Chair, thank you for the opportunity; that is very kind of you. I am going to be impertinent-
Q40 Meg Hillier: Madam Chair, I wanted to ask about pay rates, because we have heard about the issues of pay. I wondered what the difference was between what you were paid and what you are paid now.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Let me give you an example. If I get a call to go to City of Westminster magistrates court and I am there for an hour in the morning and I go home, I get £85 plus my travel time, which is three hours at £15 an hour-it takes an hour and a half or so to get to City of Westminster from where I live-plus the cost of my train fare, which is, I think, £28.80 or £29.80. I get all of that, so if you add that up, it comes to-
Q41 Meg Hillier: Did you say your earnings would be the £85?
Geoffrey Buckingham: My total income would include expenses. Under the new regime, I would get, if it was tier 2, £20 for attending, plus a small number of pounds for my travel, which is calculated on a point-to-point basis-that might be £3 or £4-plus, if it is three hours in total, I would get two hours unpaid and one hour paid at £10, so I would get £35-ish. I think we have submitted to you in evidence a paper written by one of my members and colleagues, which goes into this in a good deal more detail.
Q42 Meg Hillier: Are most of you self-employed?
Geoffrey Buckingham: We are all self-employed. We are freelancers.
Q43Meg Hillier: So what would be your ability normally to get work five days a week, except when you are on holiday?
Geoffrey Buckingham: Many of us work seven days a week-or have been.
Q44 Meg Hillier: So there is the possibility of that level of work.
Geoffrey Buckingham: It depends on your commitment, your engagement and how much you wish to earn, as well as your language. There is a lot of work for Latvian interpreters.
Q45 Ian Swales: Can I clarify that point? It is really important, and it is something we will get on to. If you were booked for Westminster court at 10 am one day-this is the example you gave-would you take another booking on that day?
Geoffrey Buckingham: No, because I know how that court works very well. I know that I will get there and be told at 10 o’clock, "Oh, the prisoners haven’t arrived yet and there is a mental health issue, so you’ve got to see the mental health team." You will do a report that might be ready by 12 pm or 1 pm, and then you will be there the whole day.
Q46 Ian Swales: So when you said that you might be there for an hour, you could be there the whole day.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Under the old regime.
Q47 Ian Swales: But under the new one, you are expected to take other bookings at 12 pm, 2 pm and so on.
Geoffrey Buckingham: Yes. Under the new regime, of course, people do not do that. You would have your job at 10 am for the City of Westminster, you might do Snaresbrook at perhaps 1 pm or 2 pm, and then you have to go off to Peterborough for 4 pm-something like that. However, we know, as experienced practitioners, that that is not possible.
Ian Swales: That is useful.
Q48 Chair: We are going to have to move on.
Geoffrey Buckingham: I just want to make one or two little points, if I may be impertinent, Madam.
Chair: Go on.
Geoffrey Buckingham: I hope you will forgive me, but you did ask, so you are going to get it.
Chair: Very quickly, please.
Geoffrey Buckingham: I have some suggestions about questions that you may like to ask other witnesses, the first of which is: what led you to believe that you would save any money when you have no idea how much you spend?
Secondly, the MOJ was warned for months and years to make checks on ALS. ALS was a tiny company that had hardly ever made a profit, yet it was allocated a £300 million contract without verification that it had enough interpreters on its books or confirmation that adequate numbers of professional RPSIs would work for it. Why? If you are buying a second-hand car, you will at least check that there is an engine and a key that makes it turn. I do not wish to sound rude about the Ministry of Justice, with which I have had a living relationship for the best part of 20-plus years, but it strikes me that it has bought a second-hand car that has no engine and is not going anywhere. That is all I would like to say.
Chair: Thank you very much. That was very clear and forceful.
We will now hear from members of the Department, and we will see Capita next Monday, but there has been another slight hiccup in that Ursula Brennan thought that she had been stood down but she had not. I do not know how that went wrong, but I think that we owe apologies to her.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ann Beasley CBE, Director General Finance & Corporate Services, Ministry of Justice, Peter Handcock CBE, Chief Executive, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, and Martin Jones, Deputy Director, Sentencing, Ministry of Justice, gave evidence.
Q49 Chair: May I start by saying that I hope you will convey our apologies to Ursula Brennan? We were expecting her this afternoon. Obviously something went wrong with communications and she thought that she had been stood down, but I am sure that you will all do a very good job. However, I did not want in any way to be discourteous to her.
As I understand it, Martin Jones, you are the senior responsible officer on this project; Peter Handcock, you are the accounting officer; and Ann Beasley, you are in charge of procurement for the Department. Have I got that right?
All Witnesses: Yes.
Q50 Chair: Martin Jones, as the senior responsible officer, I think that this is probably your question. This Report makes grim reading about a botched up procurement process. Now that you have seen the evidence in the Report, do you agree that you should not have signed this contract with ALS?
Martin Jones: For me, looking at the Report, there are some valuable lessons for us. I do think it was the right thing for the Ministry to pursue this new arrangement. I think there were some significant problems, which the National Audit Office itself reports, in terms of the reasons why we went into this arrangement. Clearly, if you look at the first weeks of the contract, there were unacceptable problems and, of course, the Ministry took action with the contractor to resolve these.
Q51 Chair: Do you think you were wrong to have signed this contract with ALS?
Martin Jones: I do not think that we were wrong to sign this contract with ALS.
Q52 Chair: Do you agree with that Mr Handcock?
Peter Handcock: I agree very strongly with that. The Report makes very clear that we needed to make some new arrangement-
Q53 Chair: I am not arguing about that; I am saying: do you think you were wrong? Let me repeat the question, and I would really appreciate a direct answer. We are not asking for a justification for engaging a procurement process. I am just asking, after looking at this Report and what we have found: do you think that you, as the responsible officers, were wrong to sign this contract with ALS?
Peter Handcock: No.
Q54 Chair: Well, I find that astonishing.
Let me ask you the first question, then, about when the due diligence took place. It appears that you ignored a report from a financial data company-this is on page 12 of the NAO Report at paragraph 1.13-that advised that you should not enter into a contract worth more than £1 million with this company, yet you entered into a contract worth up to £42 million a year. What on earth were you thinking about, Mr Jones?
Ann Beasley: Should I answer that, because actually-
Chair: No. I would like Mr Jones, as the senior responsible officer, to answer it.
Martin Jones: I do not think we were wrong to sign the contract-
Q55 Chair: You were told that £1 million was the maximum. Dun and Bradstreet-whoever it was-gave you advice that said, "Don’t sign a contract with ALS for more than £1 million." You signed a contract for up to £42 million. I want to know what on earth you were thinking about.
Martin Jones: I think-
Ann Beasley: Can I say that that was actually part of the procurement function, for which I am responsible, not Martin? It was actually me who signed the contract.
Q56 Chair: I am grateful to Mr Jones for coming, because all too often senior responsible officers do not appear, but he is the senior responsible officer. It looks, through the process of the procurement, that he advised Mr Handcock of some things-not everything-but here was a very simple, obvious, basic bit of due diligence, where you ask a financial data company for information on whether this is a credible company with which to do business. It advises you, "Don’t do business in excess of £1 million," and you enter into a contract for £42 million. I want to know what you were thinking about.
Ann Beasley: I know that this is difficult, Chair, but Martin relied on the advice from the procurement function, for which I am responsible, and the report on which we relied-
Q57 Chair: So you looked at this report, did you?
Ann Beasley: Staff working for me looked at this report and made a judgment about what it was saying.
Q58 Nick Smith: Did either of you look at the report?
Ann Beasley: I have looked at the report, yes.
Q59 Nick Smith: At the time, did either of you look at the report?
Martin Jones: I have certainly read the report.
Q60 Nick Smith: At that time?
Martin Jones: I didn’t read the report at that time.
Q61 Nick Smith: Ann Beasley, did you read that report at that time?
Ann Beasley: No, but staff working for me did.
Q62 Chair: Mr Handcock, did you?
Peter Handcock: No, I didn’t.
Q63 Chair: Right. Mr Jones, what were you thinking about?
Martin Jones: The Equifax report, which the National Audit Office comments upon, was about the value of the contract. The crucial question for me, as the senior responsible owner, was that there had been a diligent procurement process by procurement professionals, which had recommended that this was the company that was most suitable for this contract.
Q64 Chair: But you have got advice saying, "Don’t give this little company more than a million quid contract", and you give it a £42 million contract. What were you thinking about?
Ann Beasley: That was not what the report said.
Q65 Chair: According to Aileen’s Report, that was what it said. Let me again find the reference-page 12; paragraph 1.13. It did say it.
Ann Beasley: The report that we took advice from said a number of things. It is a standard report on the company and it compared the company with other similar companies. It graded ALS as above average. It looked at the risks of fraud-
Q66 Chair: This is irrelevant, Ms Beasley. What it said was that it advised only giving the company a contract worth up to a million pounds. That must have been in the report. No doubt the report said lots of other things, but I have done these sorts of things and I have looked at these reports. If you get a report saying that, you don’t then give the company a contract for £42 million.
Ann Beasley: It says that the company appears to be of sufficient financial stability to undertake contracts to a value of a million pounds.
Ann Beasley: That is any generic contract, so it would include contracts where you were actually paying them on credit, and that is what the £1 million is in relation to. Had it been a contract that was an asset-rich contract, where we were having to invest heavily up front, we would have had to say that we would not have wanted to invest £1 million up front. That is not the nature of the contract-
Chair: That is not what the report-
Q67 Ian Swales: This report was commissioned by your Ministry. Presumably, it was something that you actually paid to get.
Ann Beasley: We did, but not in relation to this specific contract. It was a generic financial report.
Fiona Mactaggart: The company did need to invest up front, because it had offered a tiered interpreting service that required it to assess which tier each interpreter goes to. That would have cost it money, I assume.
Q68 Ian Swales: It is clear that the seeds of this problem are exactly in this area, because the company did not invest in the recruitment processes required to get the number of people to deliver the contract, just as we saw with G4S over the Olympics. There is a massive investment required to grow your operation from what it might be to what is needed, so this investment question is at the heart of the problems.
Ann Beasley: The role of the company that we contracted with-ALS-was to provide an agency service for providing interpreters, and it needed to invest in developing a booking portal, which is working incredibly well, and it needed to increase the number of staff that it had in its call centre. It already had a call centre, because it was already providing-
Q69 Chair: Ms Beasley, this evidence is shocking, because it shows a complete- You are in charge of procurement, and I don’t think you understand what you are procuring. If you read the Report, this company is not a booking agency. It was being paid up to £42 million of our money to assess, to inspect, to put into tiers-to do a heck of a lot of jobs. And this was a company about which the advice to you was, "Don’t give them a contract for more than a million pounds." I tell you what really worries me about this: if you make a mistake on what is a relatively small procurement contract for your Department, and you are involved in procuring private prisons, your answers give me absolutely no confidence that you will be able to procure those in an effective way for the taxpayer.
Ann Beasley: We made a professional judgment, on the basis of the report-a standard report-
Chair: It was not on the basis of the report; you ignored the report.
Q70 Mr Jackson: None of you read the report. The report said, "Don’t give it to this company because it is an SME and you are giving it a £42 million contract," but you disregarded it. Then, apparently, you did not go for a second opinion from any professional expertise to decide as to the efficacy of your course of action. It is shambolic. What is the point of commissioning a report, at great cost to the taxpayer-taking a lot of time on an important contract like this-and not reading it? Answer that question.
Ann Beasley: The Ministry of Justice lets thousands of contracts. I am in charge, overall, of a spend on procurement of something like £3.5 billion a year. I do not read the credit checks-
Chair: You are here answering for the Ministry.
Ann Beasley: I am, and I have-
Q71 Mr Jackson: The collateral damage to the reputation of the Ministry of Justice has been enormous as a result of this, so I suggest-this is a little bit of friendly advice-that in future you do read these reports, because the damage not only from the niceties of this particular contractual arrangement, but to long-term reputation, has been immense. You are not actually conceding that in your evidence.
Ann Beasley: I am not conceding that we were wrong to let the contract with ALS, because actually the service today, through ALS, is approaching the levels that we want from the contract-
Chair: We will come to the performance. We want to talk about the shambles over the past eight months.
Q72 Meg Hillier: Chair, the witnesses said that they did not see the actual report, but presumably someone summarised it for some or all of you.
Ann Beasley: Yes.
Q73 Meg Hillier: What did that summary say?
Ann Beasley: The evidence that we took through the procurement committee, which I chair, said that they had carried out the due diligence on ALS, which was not just on the financial credit report, and it was a company with which we could do business. We undertook a number of reference visits to a number of other organisations-
Q74 Meg Hillier: Forgive me, a company that you can do business with may be true, but there is clearly a scale to the business here and that was the issue. I ask my question because I want to know whether you think that you had the right advice at the time-as a summary from the staff working to you-for you to make the right decision.
Ann Beasley: Yes, I do.
Q75 Chair: Can I ask the next question then, on process? A Mr Brooke Townsley, an academic from Middlesex university, gave advice to ALS and he expressed, as I understand it, profound reservations about the validity of the proposed tiering-I am looking at page 12, paragraph 1.13-and also about the in-work assessments. Did you see that advice, Mr Jones?
Martin Jones: I saw views from Mr Townsley that suggested that he was actually impressed with the assessment process. I certainly did not see anything suggesting that he had profound reservations-
Q76 Chair: Did you ask to see his total report?
Martin Jones: I did not ask to see his total report.
Q77 Chair: Why not, when you were procuring a brand new system for the Department?
Martin Jones: The other crucial thing-
Q78 Chair: Why did you not ask to see the total report?
Martin Jones: At that point it did not seem to be relevant to me.
Q79 Chair: Why?
Martin Jones: I wanted some further information about ALS’s ability to deliver this contract. ALS had contracts with a number of police forces and it was obviously important for me, as SRO, to talk to those police forces about the level of service that they were getting, because I had heard, and had had letters suggesting this, that the level of service-
Q80 Chair: If you have somebody who is providing advice on absolutely basic aspects of this contract-whether the tiered approach and the in-work assessments worked-wouldn’t you have thought, in being responsible for taxpayers’ money and for the quality of service, that you would have asked to see the report that would give you evidence as to whether an objective assessment suggested that ALS could deliver what it was promising?
Martin Jones: I think, with hindsight, there are certainly lessons that we need to learn from this in terms of how we should do things. Indeed, one of the recommendations from the National Audit Office Report is to look again at that section, and that is something that is already under way.
Q81 Chair: So you accept that you should have asked for it really.
Martin Jones: I think I do, yes; sorry.
Q82 Austin Mitchell: What were you about to say about your inquiries of the police forces that employed ALS? You said, "I had had a number of letters." What did they say?
Martin Jones: I contacted police forces in the north-west to make inquiries about the way in which ALS was delivering its service, and the reports that I got back from those police forces said that they were very pleased with the service that they were getting from ALS. That was quite a crucial piece of evidence for me in determining where to go next, given the fact that this was about providing services to further police forces and indeed to Her Majesty’s Courts Service, which was the organisation within which I was working. I also sought the views of colleagues working for the courts in that region because, again, if they have been procuring interpreters for the police, that certainly has a knock-on effect for the courts.
Q83 Austin Mitchell: The letters you’d had, on the basis of which you were asking the police forces about the service, were complaints about ALS.
Martin Jones: That is right. What we had were allegations that ALS was providing a shoddy service to the police forces, so I went to the police forces and said, "Can I have your views direct about the service being provided?" They said that they were not experiencing a shoddy service.
Q84 Chair: Right. Still on the procurement process-it seems that this is really a question for you, Ann Beasley-a decision was taken by the Department to outsource this work. Presumably they wanted, through competition, to get better value for money for the taxpayer. You had 58 pre-qualification submissions, and you have ended up with one national private monopoly. In effect, a public monopoly has been replaced by a private monopoly. What I do not understand is that if you want to promote competition to get better value, which I do understand, what on earth led you to proceed with only one national supplier, creating one national monopoly, and, in my view, impeding future competition?
Ann Beasley: We went through a process with a number of suppliers. As you know, there were initially 126 suppliers who expressed interest in this procurement. When we originally went into it, we did think that we might need to have a number of regional frameworks for this contract, but it became clear as we went through the procurement process that there were significant advantages in having a single booking system and-
Q85 Chair: Creating a national monopoly.
Ann Beasley: Well, actually, it is not a monopoly because it is not an exclusive framework. ALS is incentivised to provide interpreters through it, but there is nothing in the contract that says we can go only to ALS. The market for language services is worth something like £900 million and we are currently spending about £15 million, so there is no way that the supply that we have created is a monopoly.
Q86 Chair: What is it in the Courts Service? I am not talking about the MOJ totally, because this is only a contract for the Courts Service.
Ann Beasley: It is about £15 million.
Q87 Chair: So the £40 million is for what?
Ann Beasley: That was based on estimated expenditure before this contract across the Ministry of Justice and police forces.
Q88 Mr Jackson: What specifically were the reasons that made you conclude that it was better to disregard a regional roll-out and to move to a national model when considering the contract?
Ann Beasley: That came after the contract was let.
Chair: No, it must have been in deciding who to let the contract to, and I think it is very unhealthy. You have not answered the question, which is what we are trying to tease out of you. If you want to create competition, then create it; don’t create a private monopoly.
Q89 Mr Jackson: Let me make it clear: at the beginning of the procurement process, you must have had an idea that you wanted to end up with one monopoly provider, albeit a very successful and efficient one, or you would have had a regional system-a set of regional contracts. What was the rationale behind the decision to go for a national roll-out?
Ann Beasley: There are two separate themes there. One is how you actually implement the contract, which is about whether or not to go for regional or national roll-out, and the other part is how you let the contract. We let the contract in the end-we went through a process of discussion, initially with 126 suppliers, and then with 12, and then three. Then, as you say, we narrowed it down to ALS. The reason we went through that was that we did not have a firm view on the model of contract that we wanted to implement in the first place. We decided that there were significant benefits to having a single managing agent. All the interpreters are still freelance-they are free to work for ALS or any other contractor in the country, just as other interpreters are free to register with ALS-but what we wanted was a single booking system and a single call centre that would manage the bookings for the criminal justice system, because we thought there were significant benefits to that.
Q90 Mr Jackson: But those are not mutually exclusive concepts-having a single national booking system and different people. Remember, they are all SMEs, so I cannot see what-
Ann Beasley: The individuals are all self-employed.
Q91 Mr Jackson: But I cannot see what ALS’s unique selling point is. All the 112 were SMEs that, incidentally, we think were not capable of dealing with a £42 million contract. Why could you not have expertise across a region, but a central hub for the booking? I do not understand what was wrong with that model.
Ann Beasley: But that is what the contract is. This is, I guess, the nub of the issue. What we have let is a contract to ALS to provide a booking service for interpreters, to maintain a register of self-employed interpreters, and to provide us with management information.
Q92 Chair: Whose job is it to make sure that the quality of the interpreter is right? Is it ALS’s, or whose?
Ann Beasley: That is the role of ALS.
Q93 Chair: So it is not just a booking service. It also has to verify the quality.
Ann Beasley: That is part of the registration.
Q94 Chair: Whose job is it to make sure that somebody actually appears at the court at 10 o’clock on Monday morning?
Ann Beasley: Well, there are two parts to it, aren’t there? Somebody from the court needs to book and say that they need an interpreter.
Q95 Chair: Of course, but whose job is it, once they have booked?
Ann Beasley: There are people in the call centre in ALS who find an appropriate interpreter.
Q96 Chair: Well then, stop telling us it is a booking service; it is not. It is a service that is supposed to verify and authorise whether or not interpreters have the right qualification, and make sure that they are there on time, on the day, at the appointed court.
Ann Beasley: Well, that is what I would call a booking service.
Q97 Mr Jackson: May I go back briefly to my last point? I am slightly disturbed that you said in your evidence just then that you were not sure at the outset of the procurement process what you wanted to end up with. I mean, who is running the procurement in the Ministry of Justice? It’s like Fred Karno’s circus. Surely you had a framework for what you wanted to reach, and you were hopeful of getting there, even if by a circuitous route, rather than not really being sure what was going to happen, or what you were going to end up with. It is a bit worrying, isn’t it?
Ann Beasley: I do not think that is what I said. I think what I said was that we knew the outcomes that we wanted to achieve, which were around a better booking system that was not actually done by members of the criminal justice system directly. We wanted to improve the quality of interpreters, we wanted better management information, and we wanted to deliver it for less cost. We did not have a completely firm view in our mind about how you would deliver that, and that is the point, in procurement, of entering into competitive dialogue with a number of suppliers-so that you can have an exchange of views about how we would best achieve our objectives.
Q98 Mr Jackson: And end up with a substandard monopoly.
Ann Beasley: I do not think we have ended up with "substandard", and I do not think we have ended up with a monopoly.
Chair: We have a dossier that shows that you have. We will come on to the actual delivery; we are still on the procurement.
Q99 Ian Swales: Clearly, the company has already changed hands. Do you know how much Capita paid for ALS?
Ann Beasley: No.
Chair: It is in the report, actually, Ian.
Ian Swales: Is it? I do not think it is. I cannot find it.
Chair: I have a £9 million figure in my head. Where did I get that from?
Q100 Ian Swales: We know that Capita is only interested in this to make money, so what does the fact that a company such as Capita has already bought this contract tell you? What do you learn from that, and what discussions have you had with Capita?
Ann Beasley: My assumption is that Capita saw this as a good opportunity. It is a private sector company looking to make profit. I think it saw this as a good model for delivery within the public sector, and it was happy to put its name behind it. I think we have benefited from having Capita behind ALS, through some fairly firm negotiations with it. It has invested quite heavily in making this contract more efficient more quickly than it perhaps would have been. I think it has been a good thing.
Q101 Ian Swales: I do not know if you were in the room for the previous witnesses, but how do you respond to what we heard? We heard that they are now expected to take multiple bookings a day, even though they will not know what the court proceedings will be. Experienced, professional interpreters called to a Crown court in the morning are not going to take another booking for the rest of the day, yet this kind of thing is now expected by Capita management. In fact, we heard about some of the pay levels involved, and no one could make a living unless they did so. How do you respond to that?
Martin Jones: We know that a Crown court trial is going to last for three days, so clearly it would not be sensible in that situation to take a number of repeated bookings in that time period. The magistrates court is a rather different beast. What you commonly have on a Monday morning is a number of people who were arrested by the police over the weekend, and then you have a number of short hearings for which you require an interpreter. You are likely to require an interpreter for in the region of 10 to 15 minutes of court time and a bit of pre-time in assisting with the defence solicitors. I think that those sorts of bookings are ones where you could quite legitimately say to someone, "You could do three or four jobs of that kind during the day," particularly in busy urban centres.
Q102 Ian Swales: There are an awful lot of people shaking their heads behind you. Is the Ministry of Justice logging the cost of trials delayed due to the absence of interpreters? The previous witness talked about randomly attending a court and finding a case delayed because of the lack of an interpreter on Friday last week. Are you logging that, and do you know what it costs?
Peter Handcock: It is quite difficult to log the cost, but we are logging the incidence.
Q103 Chair: Why? Why is it difficult to log the cost?
Peter Handcock: If you let me explain, there is an awful lot of anecdotal noise in the system-I am not in the slightest bit surprised at this-about the number of cases currently failing. It is a fact that in the first two months of the operation of this contract, only four cases were adjourned as a result of the failure of an interpreter.
Q104 Chair: Only four cases?
Ian Swales: Four in two months?
Peter Handcock: In the first two months. I am sorry; I can do no more than give you the facts, rather than anecdote-
Q105 Chair: To be fair, Mr Handcock, the facts come from the Report from the NAO, and the NAO says that only 58% of cases in the first month-Aileen, help me. How many cases had an interpreter?
Aileen Murphie: That 58% refers to bookings filled by Capita.
Peter Handcock: But the remainder were filled by the contingency arrangements that we had in place. If you look at the largest area of business-the magistrates courts, where the volume of cases is greatest-the net effect on the ineffective trial rate in the magistrates courts of the transition to these new arrangements is an increase of 0.2 of 1%.
Q106 Chair: Hang on a minute. Look at what the Report says. I make a plea to you to give honest and open evidence to the Committee. The Report says that there was a doubling of ineffective trial cases; the Report says that. It also says that you do not collect the information to know how many were ineffective.
Peter Handcock: We do collect it. The NAO collected the data.
Q107 Chair: Was it a doubling?
Peter Handcock: Yes. From 0.4 of 1%-
Q108 Chair: How many?
Peter Handcock: The number was about 90-odd cases.
Aileen Murphie: Paragraph 3.6 shows that in the first quarter of 2012, 182 trials in the magistrates courts were recorded as ineffective, which means completely stopped.
Q109 Chair: That is 182.
Peter Handcock: That is the total, as opposed to 95 pre-contract.
Q110 Chair: It doubled.
Peter Handcock: It doubled, but the numbers are relatively small.
Q111 Chair: What is the cost of that?
Peter Handcock: Without doing a specific time and motion study on every case, it is very difficult to say, but our estimate is that it is somewhere in the region of £60,000.
Q112 Chair: Is that the cost of the court, the cost of somebody being in custody, or the cost of the-
Peter Handcock: That is the cost of the court.
Q113 Chair: So what is the cost of people being in custody?
Peter Handcock: Those people would not necessarily have been in custody.
Q114 Ian Swales: We have examples in our case notes of young people being held on remand for longer. The previous witnesses gave examples of people having to be held on remand because they could not answer the questions involved in what might be a fairly straightforward case. Are you making any effort to work out the wider costs of failure?
Peter Handcock: The difficulty is that without costing every individual case in which there is a failure, it is very difficult to work out the cost.
Q115 Ian Swales: What average cost of a lost case are you assuming?
Peter Handcock: You are also assuming, if I may say so-
Q116 Ian Swales: I am asking for your figures. What is your average assumption of the cost of a lost case?
Peter Handcock: I do not have an average cost assumption. It depends entirely on the circumstances in which the case is lost. You are assuming, if I may say so, that the previous system operated faultlessly, and that this one does not.
Chair: No. Nobody is making that assumption.
Ian Swales: We assume you tried to have a good system in place.
Fiona Mactaggart: We assume you would like to improve things.
Q117 Ian Swales: May I ask one more question about data gathering? Will your systems pick up the fact that a trial was adjourned on Friday in Aylesbury because of the lack of an interpreter, and how does that happen?
Martin Jones: Yes. We get weekly information that allows us to know the particular trial and the particular court, and what language they fell short of, so we know that it was Polish on Friday at the Old Bailey.
Q118 Ian Swales: So you get that, which is good, but it is not necessarily evaluated. When you pick up that information, you do not pick up any collateral information about whether it was someone on remand, or whether they were on bail, or whatever. So you may not know the wider costs if someone was, for example, in custody for an extra week.
Martin Jones: We have some additional information. For example, some of the most sensitive cases in the system are those in which there is a custody time limit to get the case to the Crown court. There are markers on the system to ensure that those cases receive particularly close attention. That level of detail can be pulled from the reports.
Q119 Nick Smith: Mr Handcock, I want to return to the said cost of £60,000 for the said loss of 90 cases. That works out at roughly £1,000 a case if it is averaged up. Does that include the cost of police time, custody and lawyers, or is it just the cost of the court building? What does it include?
Martin Jones: My understanding of the £60,000 cost that is quoted in the National Audit Office Report is that it is the cost to all agencies, so it includes an element of legal aid costs, police costs and CPS costs.
Q120 Chair: Aileen, is that right?
Aileen Murphie: I understand that the problem with the £60,000 is that it comes from some cost estimates that are not used publicly because they are not robust enough. We know that the costs are higher than that, but we do not know how much higher.
Nick Smith: So can we have a better estimate of the cost of the loss of just one case? We could then try to get some sense of what the real cost is, because these seem to be Mickey Mouse figures, based on the fact that no one would be so daft.
Chair: Coincidentally, at a dinner on Thursday, I was sitting next to the judge who runs the Old Bailey, and he told me that the cost of running the Old Bailey is £1,000 a minute, which rather shook me. One of the cases that was brought to our attention by previous witnesses was at the Old Bailey, so the idea that 182 delayed cases cost £60,000 is laughable.
Q121 Nick Smith: It is risible. To go back to some of the big-ticket numbers that are being floated around, you said that the cost of the previous service was about £40 million. How robust is that estimate?
Martin Jones: I think there are a couple of figures here. We think that the cost of interpreters to the justice system is £60 million. About £30 million of that is a Ministry of Justice cost, the majority of which is attributed to the Courts & Tribunals Service.
Q122 Nick Smith: So it is not £40 million; it is £30 million.
Martin Jones: There is £30 million from the Ministry of Justice, which I think is what the National Audit Office Report says, and £60 million from the justice system more generally.
Aileen Murphie: Perhaps I could clarify that. We did not put in the Report an estimated cost for the justice system because, again, costs are all based on estimates. We know definitely that the cost for the tribunal service was £5.85 million in the past year. The rest of it was built up from a variety of different estimates by the MOJ and the Courts Service.
Q123 Nick Smith: Okay. You say now that the contract is about £15 million a year.
Martin Jones: Correct.
Q124 Nick Smith: Do you have any further information about the costs that ought to be added to that £15 million a year? On the face of it, the difference between £15 million and £30 million is a reasonable saving, but I am not sure the gap really adds up. What are the real total costs in your estimate?
Martin Jones: We estimate that we will pay ALS £15 million for the service. The crucial thing that the Committee needs to know is that ALS is only paid when it delivers. So if it delivers 70%, it only gets paid 70% of that cost. If ALS was 100% successful, it would get £15 million from us. We do not pay it up front; we pay it per job that it successfully meets. Providing a good level of performance to the courts is in its interest.
Q125 Chair: It is in your interest, too, because you want your courts to be used efficiently.
Martin Jones: That is exactly right. Any adjournment is absolutely regrettable. In the seven or eight years that I worked for Peter in the Courts Service, one of my tasks was to look at the level of adjournments in the courts. Anything that increases the level of adjournments is not acceptable. That is one of the reasons why we intervened very early in this contract to ensure that appropriate action was taken.
Q126 Fiona Mactaggart: I have come to the conclusion that the issue is not just about the failure of a contract. You can see that the general view around this table is that that has been the case. The Department has not had the imagination to consider other ways that it could save money on court interpreting. For example, we heard earlier-I do not know whether you were in the room-that ALS thought it could encourage interpreters to chain cases, which is not realistic in our present court system, but that would be quite a good thing to be able to do. I wonder what you have put in place to make court timings more predictable. I understand that judges are not very keen on Governments telling them anything about court timings, but, nevertheless, there could be more. It was clear to us that ALS’s estimations of the possibility of such work were wholly unrealistic. Do you agree that those estimations were wholly unrealistic? What have you done to try to make such an approach more possible, because that would save the taxpayer money?
Martin Jones: The performance in the first six to eight weeks of the contract proved that the ambition for the number of interpreters expected to work in those first few weeks was not met in reality. The ambition is now much closer to the reality. The National Audit Office Report quotes figures showing that we are hitting 95% of the level of service.
There are things that we are doing. For example, among other things, the City of Westminster magistrates court, which is a very busy court with an extradition morning where virtually every defendant before the court has some kind of language need, is working with ALS to say, "We think we are going to need a Polish interpreter in court every Monday morning to pick up maybe two or three cases." They are taking that case-stacking approach, but they are doing it in a rather more sophisticated way than simply expecting the interpreter to run around the place to catch those bookings. That sort of thing can be done.
The other thing that we are doing is looking at patterns of behaviour. We know, for example, that there are some courts with particular demand for certain languages. So you can start to look at that. From the very detailed management information that we are now getting, we can look at places where there is a particular demand for Lithuanian interpreters and start to build that into our planning.
Q127 Fiona Mactaggart: You are saying that you could, but I am asking whether you are.
Martin Jones: We are doing that now. One of the things that has got us to our current level of performance is looking at those pinch points in the system where smarter working will get better value for money out of the system and make better use of interpreters’ time.
Q128 Fiona Mactaggart: I am glad that you are doing that, because it seems to me that part of the point of this story is that there has been a failure to listen. What I am hearing is that the Department is disregarding the views of professional interpreters and thinking, "Oh, they are just trying to get themselves more money." Of course, they were trying to get themselves more money-it is perfectly reasonable for a worker to do, and I have no objection to that-but, from this account, it seems to me that the Department disregarded all sorts of signs early on that, for example, the ALS assessing system was not going to achieve what you thought it would. The interpreters’ experience of the practical timings of courts seems to me to have been disregarded by the Department. I am wondering why I do not know whose job it was to regard or disregard it.
Martin Jones: I think it was probably mine, as the SRO for the project.
Q129 Fiona Mactaggart: Did you disregard it?
Martin Jones: My view is that we sought views on what we were doing at many stages.
Q130 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, absolutely. You sought views and then disregarded them.
Martin Jones: There is a starting point for this. In the summer of 2009, before we started looking at the procurement process, there was a series of workshops with interpreters. What we were hearing in 2009-not just from the Department’s perspective, but from interpreters themselves-was that there was some dissatisfaction with the way that the system was working. Almost irrespective of that, a series of regional workshops were held, and we certainly listened then. Then, we spoke to other agency partners, the police, and the CPS. If the police, the courts and the CPS were saying, "We want a more efficient system here," my suggestion as SRO for the project was that we needed to do something about it.
In terms of ongoing discussions with the interpreters’ organisations, the last meeting that I had with an interpreters’ organisation was in November/December 2011. That conversation was ongoing over time; there was never a point at which I said, "I don’t want to listen to you any more." I was continuing to listen, but ultimately, I think we probably got to a point where the information from the majority of interpreters’ organisations was just, "Don’t do this contract", but the Ministry had obviously been through a competitive dialogue process and we believed that it was the right thing to be doing.
Q131 Chair: But if you knew they were not going to work in this contract, and you knew that you only had 280 interpreters in January, why on earth did you not hold back? It just seems crazy. If I had been in your position, knowing that a lot of interpreters were not engaging with ALS, and I knew I needed 1,200 interpreters and I only had 280-why did you then go for a national roll-out?
Martin Jones: May I assist the Committee in terms of the timeline? I was first asked to go big bang, national go live, on this contract in October 2011.
Q132 Fiona Mactaggart: Why did you say yes?
Martin Jones: The crucial point is that I did not say yes in October 2011.
Q133 Chair: Who asked you?
Martin Jones: That was procurement and Applied Language-
Q134 Chair: Ms Beasley’s lot.
Martin Jones: It was the people in the procurement team who were working on this project.
Q135 Chair: Why?
Martin Jones: They were saying that they had assurances that there was a sufficient supply of interpreters to meet our national need. Given the fact that I was the SRO for the project-but also, frankly, I was reporting to Peter as my ultimate boss-I did not think that it was in my interest to start off with a contract that was going to fall flat on its face, so at that point I said that I was not prepared to agree to this contract going live until I had assurance that ALS had recruited sufficient interpreters for this to have a good chance of success.
What then started was that I required weekly information in terms of where they were getting to on their recruitment. I started getting weekly information. When I first asked for that information, the answer was, I think, that they had 800 interpreters registered as prepared to work for them. Clearly, that was nowhere near the 1,200 figure that we thought was necessary to meet the needs of this contract, so I said "No, I am not prepared to go live on that basis." I asked to meet ALS, so I could see them face to face and see the whites of their eyes, to ensure that I was convinced that they had a good plan to bring us through. I was then asked to go live on this contract on 1 December, on the basis of those recommendations, and again, I said no. I was not prepared to go on that basis. I still thought that they needed to make further progress on the registration of interpreters.
Registration of an interpreter means that somebody logs on to the portal and puts information on the system in terms of their qualifications. As I describe it, they are indicating an intention to work. The answer was that they had 2,000 people saying that they were willing to work for ALS. The next step in that dance was the assessment process. When I finally agreed to go live on this contract, in the middle of January, the answer was that they had well over 2,000 interpreters registered as wanting to work for them and that 1,200 interpreters had been assessed.
Q136 Chair: Did they lie to you?
Martin Jones: I do not think they lied to me. I think the position was that-
Q137 Austin Mitchell: Heads behind you are nodding "Yes".
Martin Jones: I do not think they lied to me. I asked them very simple questions, such as, "How many interpreters-
Q138 Chair: Either they had them or they didn’t.
Fiona Mactaggart: Either they had been assessed or they hadn’t. The number that you are telling us for assessed people does not seem to match the data that we have been given.
Martin Jones: They had 2,000 people who had gone on to the website and uploaded qualifications to say that they were suitable for interpreting in the justice sector. Clearly what then happened was that some of those interpreters who registered an interest subsequently were not prepared to come and work for ALS.
Q139 Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested in the assessment figure, because the assessment figure that you have just cited seems quite different to the assessment figures that we have been seeing.
Aileen Murphie: The number of people who had been all the way through the registration, assessment, verification of identity and the CRB check was 280 by the time the contract went live.
Q140 Fiona Mactaggart: You must have had those numbers, so how do you go ahead when you have got only 280?
Aileen Murphie: Can I just say something else? The reason why there is a section in the Report on "A note about definitions", paragraph 2.19, is that there was a misunderstanding between the Ministry and its contractor about what "registered" actually meant. If you said "registered" to someone who had been used to working with NRPSI, that would mean something quite different from someone just putting their details on a website. I think that kind of fatal misunderstanding, if you like, underpinned a lot of what happened at the "go live".
Q141 Ian Swales: When people registered on the website, did they know what they were going to be paid?
Martin Jones: The information on the website was very clear, I think, in terms of the rates of pay. Certainly we got letters from interpreters asking, "Are those rates negotiable?" and the answer is of course that it is a matter for the interpreter to negotiate with ALS on rates in individual cases. The rates have changed since this interpreter contract went live, in order to incentivise, and that is part of the £3.5 million we talked about-
Q142 Chair: Mr Jones, to take it at its most ridiculous, I understand that the owner of a cat registered him as a feline language specialist as a joke, and was then asked by ALS to bring the pet in for a language test.
Martin Jones: I am assuming that they would perhaps have not done well when they turned up.
Q143 Chair: But that is a registered number. What is really disturbing-we have been given a long dossier-is a case not from December but from 17 July 2012: "After reading about Jajo the rabbit I decided to register with ALS. I had no intention of working for them. I only wanted to see how far I could go and how incompetent ALS is. So I registered with a fake name (the name of a fictional character)"-this is the end of July-"a fake address (a well-known official residence of a head of state), a mobile number with only 10 digits and an obviously fake Skype name. No qualifications, no experience, no security vetting. Two days after I registered I got my first job offer, a 45 minute job at a court in central London. Soon after that I received an email inviting me to take the assessment test, I did not reply, but I carried on receiving job offers. In total, up to now, I have received 12 job offers."
Martin Jones: I have looked at a number of allegations of this kind and I have fed those through to ALS to investigate for us. On a number of those, they cannot find that interpreter on their system. Obviously, once I have the details of that one, I will ask the question again and perhaps write back to the Committee.
Q144 Ian Swales: Can we ask about the national register of interpreters? The previous witness spoke about a Romanian interpreter who had made a crucial error in a case, which had to be adjourned as a result; the interpreter was suspended from the national register as a result, but as far as the previous witness knows, is still working. What link do you have in terms of professional standards, discipline and the national register? How do you assure us all that you are providing the right quality through this system, especially given examples of the type we have just heard about?
Martin Jones: I think we have seen a number of cases that have hit the press in terms of failings in particular cases. I know in particular that two of the ones that have hit the biggest headlines, we have investigated, and the interpreter providing the assistance in that particular case was in fact a NRPSI-registered interpreter now working under ALS. So the idea that, somehow, it was an ALS interpreter who was the problem was not true in those two cases.
Q145 Ian Swales: Are you talking about the national register?
Martin Jones: The National Register of Public Service Interpreters.
Q146 Ian Swales: Right. Do you expect all the people used by ALS to be on that register?
Martin Jones: I do not expect everyone on the ALS list to be on that register.
Q147 Ian Swales: Do you think you should?
Martin Jones: No, I don’t. If you look at the relevant qualifications, there is a number of places where you can get an interpreter from-there are all kinds of lists and qualifications. The important one is the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, which is the crucial benchmark. Some people do not choose to be on the National Register for Public Service Interpreters. I know that one of the reasons why that was the case is that, until last year I think, you had to pay to be on the register, and some interpreters decided that they did not want to pay a fee to be on the national register. That changed about a year ago.
Q148 Ian Swales: How are you going to ensure that rogue interpreters are not in the system?
Martin Jones: There is a crucial question that I would have. I have been robust in saying that if there is a complaint about an interpreter working for ALS it must be investigated and action taken where necessary. As a result of the line that we are taking, there are now 20 interpreters who have carried out work for ALS who are no longer working for the justice system and will not be allowed to work for the justice system again, because of concerns about the quality of interpreting that they are providing. Indeed, in some cases it is about not the quality of the interpreting but how reliable they are-there have certainly been cases in which people do not turn up; they are booked to go in on a Monday and they do not turn up.
Q149 Ian Swales: That is important. You still have the power to ensure that somebody who does not deliver does not work for ALS again?
Martin Jones: Absolutely right. Moreover, my understanding is that of those 20 interpreters who have been struck off our list-they won’t work for us any more-five are registered on NRPSI, and my understanding is that they are still on that register, so if you are a police force not in this contract, you could be contacting one of them and booking them.
Q150 Chair: Mr Jones, can you describe for us the protocols for ensuring appropriate quality? What are your protocols? You knock people off if they are brought to your attention. The NAO found 50 people-I don’t know how many days’ work you did, Aileen, but probably not a lot-who had neither the qualifications nor the CRB checks, but that seems fortuitous rather than planned, so what are your protocols for ensuring quality?
Martin Jones: Our protocols are that nobody should be working under this contract unless they have the relevant qualifications.
Q151 Chair: How do you check it?
Martin Jones: We are simply not allowing those interpreters to be on the list. We have been giving instructions to that effect to Capita. A number of people are essentially suspended until they prove their qualification and vetting status.
Q152 Chair: You would not get a dossier like this and you wouldn’t get the NAO going in and finding 50 people who were working with no evidence of qualifications or of CRB checks if your edict that "Thou shalt not work" was operating effectively; it is not. You need further protocols to ensure quality because otherwise it is justice denied.
Martin Jones: The one NAO recommendation that is really helpful is that we take a further look at the quality criteria contained in the contract.
Q153 Chair: You have not got any at the moment?
Martin Jones: No, I think we have.
Q154 Chair: What are they? I am just trying to get you to explain to the Committee what they are.
Martin Jones: The answer is, as a starter for 10, you have to put on to the website what your qualifications are. It is not a matter of simply saying, "I have a qualification, despite the fact that I am a cat." It is a matter of producing a document that says, "I have a degree."
Q155 Chair: But this is not happening. What does the Department do to ensure quality?
Martin Jones: I am not sure-the Report was certainly very helpful and I think the National Audit Office-
Q156 Chair: It found another 50 that were working who did not have the qualifications.
Martin Jones: The National Audit Office will attest to the fact that when that came to our attention, we immediately ensured that those interpreters were no longer working for us.
Q157 Chair: So great, the NAO discovered 50. Great, you have discovered another 20. No doubt all of us could give you another 10 or so. What are your processes and your checks? What have you got in the system? The report suggests that you have no quality checks.
Martin Jones: The crucial question for us is first, "How many complaints do you get from court staff around this?" so reaction in relation to that. There is also the question in relation to qualifications: "Have you got a diploma in public service interpreting?"
Q158 Chair: Are you doing spot checks?
Martin Jones: We have done spot checks, yes.
Q159 Chair: On Capita?
Martin Jones: On Capita, yes, in relation to qualifications and vetting.
Q160 Chair: And you have found that everybody has the qualifications and the CRB checks?
Martin Jones: In relation to a particular allegation before the summer-
Q161 Chair: No, an allegation I understand. I am trying to find a systemic way in which you check. It appears that you do not have one.
Martin Jones: We have already done some vetting and some checks in relation to particular cases.
Q162 Chair: Only when they are brought to your attention.
Martin Jones: At that point, yes.
Q163 Chair: That is not a system of checks.
Ann Beasley: I was only going to add that as a result of the recommendation-the NAO brought this to our attention when it did its study-
Q164 Chair: It shouldn’t have had to. You should have had a system. Any proper procurement and monitoring of a private sector contract requires a system of checks from the Department, and not an assumption that they will deliver. This lot clearly haven’t.
Ann Beasley: But we have been working with Capita to check all of the qualifications and all of the vetting of all of the interpreters.
Q165 Chair: How did they find 50?
Ann Beasley: This is subsequent to that.
Chair: That is shocking. That was in June or July. Mr Handcock told us that after a few weeks, all was hunky dory.
Q166 Meg Hillier: I want to pick up on that, but first can I say that I was recently a witness in court? This is testament to perhaps the inefficiency of the court system, picking up on what Fiona Mactaggart was saying. In the witness room I was in, there were six different sets of witnesses for six different cases. One case was heard that morning and the rest of us, for various reasons, were either held on or dismissed at 1 pm. At the time I thought that this was not a way to run an operation. Some of the problems around interpreters are about not just this contract, but the completely shambolic nature of the system, and the fact that CPS does not see files till very late notice. Most of those witnesses will not even complain about it. One classroom assistant said that she was unlikely, as a victim of that, to get another day off work to come and give evidence about the perpetrator of a crime. I am sure that we will be looking at those serious issues further, but I felt that I should put that on record, Chair.
On audit and accountability, I agree with the Chair. We have looked at a number of contracts let by different bits of the Government to private sector bodies. Different Governments have done this over time, but where is the accountability for the public pound and for the quality? I still do not understand how you are checking that. The more you check it, the more the Department is having to spend money on something it has already spent money on, to be done by a private sector body. But where is the accountability? Which bits of the Courts Service complain, and where do they complain to? Do they complain to you, or do they complain to Capita?
Peter Handcock: Can I try and answer that? As we have explained already, we now capture a huge amount of data about the effectiveness of the system, so we know where the system fails and we know the cases in relation to which it fails.
Q167 Nick Smith: You do not know how much it costs.
Peter Handcock: We don’t know how much it costs, I accept that, but we also have a right of audit that we have not yet exercised. I think we will have to exercise that right of audit so that we are satisfied that the-
Chair: Say that again; I missed that.
Peter Handcock: We haven’t yet. The contract has been in place for a relatively short amount of time and it has been quite challenging. The focus has been on getting to the point where the contract is working and we are getting the right number of interpreters booked. You have heard about cases where, as a result of data being reported under the contract or action being taken by Capita, people have been required to produce their qualifications and evidence of their CRB checks and so on. Many of those people would have been working the system as it was operated before, and the previous system simply did not capture that. One of the things that having this contract enables us to do is to capture all that reliably and take action about it. It is one of the reasons why we needed to make a change, because previously we did not have anything-
Q168 Chair: Mr Handcock, I just cannot accept that about a system whereby, under the current contract, as Mr Jones has just told us, you respond to things drawn to your attention. That does not enable you to capture anything.
Peter Handcock: I don’t think he quite said that.
Q169 Chair: He did entirely say that.
Peter Handcock: Well, perhaps I can correct it then.
Chair: He is the responsible officer, but never mind.
Peter Handcock: There is an obligation on the part of the contractor to check the qualifications of those who are registered and to check their CRB status. What that process has revealed is a number of people, including people who were previously working for us day in, day out on the NRPSI register, who, for example, haven’t been able to produce appropriate CRB clearance.
Q170 Meg Hillier: You cannot CRB check unless you are employed. As a self-employed person, you cannot get a CRB check.
Peter Handcock: But it was previously assumed that, by virtue of their membership on that register, they were CRB checked. This process has established either that they are not, or that they are not able to-
Q171 Chair: What process? Whose process?
Peter Handcock: Capita’s process.
Q172 Chair: But you don’t know that Capita is doing it. We are discovering that it is not doing it.
Meg Hillier: This is a technical point, but an important one, about CRB checks.
Peter Handcock: Excuse me, but we do know it is doing it, because it has given a list of people who have not been able to provide satisfactory evidence. I do not think that it has just made that list up. Those are NRPSI interpreters who, in other circumstances, would just have carried on working.
Q173 Chair: Are you convinced, Mr Handcock, that all the people currently being used by Capita as interpreters have got the qualifications they claim to have and have got the enhanced CRB check? Are you now telling me we can be certain of that?
Peter Handcock: I do not think we can be completely certain.
Q174 Chair: Okay, so we never were and we can’t be now, because you haven’t got a system of checking.
Peter Handcock: No. I think the point is we are en route to a position now where we will get that certainty.
Chair: Oh dear, dear, dear.
Peter Handcock: We would never have got it before.
Q175 Meg Hillier: First, I want to ask about the CRB check, and then I want to talk about benchmarking. On the CRB check issue, if you are self-employed, you cannot get your own CRB check; someone has to get a CRB check for you. So you’re saying that in the past that did not happen-or it sometimes happened.
Peter Handcock: That appears to be the case.
Q176 Meg Hillier: In the current system, if you are registered for Capita, you are saying that Capita is responsible for them securing an up-to-date CRB check, bearing in mind that it is a snapshot in time. Capita has to get that CRB check-
Peter Handcock: I don’t know what the process is, but-
Q177 Meg Hillier: Okay, they’ve got it. A CRB check is out of date the day after it is issued; it is not yet a continuous assessment system. That is coming, but it is not in place yet. There is the vetting and barring agency, for example. So an interpreter could possibly work in an adult court who may have something that bars them from working in a children’s court. I am now getting a bit nervous, but presumably those things are checked by Capita, or they will not be on the list.
Martin Jones: Certainly under this contract, the safeguards-once fully operated in terms of vetting-are much greater than we had before. One of the reasons why I started looking at the question of improving the system on interpreters was a particular case that came to my attention. In one of the courts in the north of the country, an interpreter was charged with rape, but was still on the register and still being booked to work on a range of cases. Now, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but I was uneasy about the prospect of somebody who is appearing before one Crown court charged with rape then appearing in relation to a sensitive case at a much later point in time. Under the new system, if that happens, we have a way of ensuring that that person does not-
Q178 Chair: How?
Meg Hillier: Explain how.
Chair: Explain to us how. Who would know? How would you know?
Martin Jones: The answer is that in this particular case that I am talking about-
Q179 Chair: How would you know under the new system?
Martin Jones: What we have on the system is that the CRB checks have to be up to date, so you are right-
Q180 Chair: How would you know under the new system-you? We know what should happen. How would you know that we haven’t got a rapist, or somebody accused of rape, appearing in a court?
Martin Jones: There will be a time lag, obviously, between the point at which somebody is charged by the police-
Q181 Chair: How would you know?
Martin Jones: The second it came to my attention, I could ensure that they were removed from the list.
Q182 Meg Hillier: Chair, there is a much easier way. If you are Capita and you are booking someone for court, if what the witness is saying is right, surely you should look up the reference number for the vetting and barring service-you have permission to look up someone’s file-and automatically, from the police records, that should update that someone has been charged. It should be instantaneous. There may be a risk element-judgment about cost or risk-but that should be done at least periodically for someone. Is that the case?
Martin Jones: My understanding is that there are certain periodic points in the contract when those checks have to be done. I am not sure how regular they are-every six months, or every year-but certainly they are done much more regularly than under the old system, in which somebody could be convicted of a crime and if they did not declare it, they would simply be on the register and would be available to be booked.
Q183 Meg Hillier: So you are saying that Capita has to get the enhanced CRB checks and also check on the vetting and barring list.
Martin Jones: That is my understanding, yes.
Chair: Okay. Fiona.
Q184 Meg Hillier: Sorry, Chair, can I just ask about benchmarking?
You have let this big contract. Did you look at what other countries were paying interpreters before you went into doing this? Who did you benchmark against? What other public services in the UK and what other countries did you look at?
Martin Jones: We didn’t look outside the UK, but we certainly looked at Scotland, where the Scottish Court Service contracted out this function about two or three years ago. The rates being paid by ALS are higher than those paid in Scotland.
Q185 Fiona Mactaggart: How many languages do you require interpretation in?
Martin Jones: How many languages in total?
Fiona Mactaggart: Yes.
Martin Jones: I think the figure that was given in our statistics, which were published in May, was certainly many hundreds of languages.
Q186 Fiona Mactaggart: The tiering assessment service that ALS runs has been criticised by the independent report which, as far as I can see from the NAO Report, was not carefully read by the Department. That service is only able to assess people’s level in 32 languages, so what is your plan for the other 100-plus languages to see how well qualified people are, if the new court system depends on people being assessed at different tiers?
Martin Jones: I think there are a few things that we need to explain. One of them is that the classic qualification in this arena is the diploma in public service interpreting. That is not available in all languages, whereas for the majority-Polish, Romanian-there is a diploma in public service interpreting and you get that qualification. That is the quality mark that you get. For some of the rare languages that we are talking about, there is no such qualification, so of course the system is left with another way of checking.
Q187 Fiona Mactaggart: What is the other way?
Martin Jones: The sort of thing that we are looking for is, obviously, that they have a good command. Quite often what you are talking about is somebody who has moved to the UK and has a good command of English, and about what additional training they need to bring them up to necessary standards. We have a list of qualifications that we would recognise in this country that would try to make up the difference.
Q188 Fiona Mactaggart: I am not sure that I completely understand. We let a contract on the basis of assessing people at different tiers. It turns out-I assume you didn’t know when you agreed the contract-that, actually, that process isn’t available for the majority of languages, even if not the majority of moments of interpretation. I accept that, because we’re talking about lots of languages that are perhaps less frequently used. But in the majority of languages, the process that you let a contract on is not applicable, and I want to know what is the new process.
Martin Jones: I think this is something that the National Audit Office picked up. For some of the rare languages, you have one person in the country who speaks a particular language as an interpreter. Well, how do you assess whether that person is competent enough?
Q189 Fiona Mactaggart: There is a lot more than one person who speaks Twi, for example, which is relatively rare.
Martin Jones: We are looking at working with Capita to identify what a suitable system would be. The original plan would be that you would have used universities to test that. What they discovered in doing the assessment process was that it only worked to a certain level of languages, which was, I think, 52.
Q190 Fiona Mactaggart: It’s 32.
What this suggests to me is that the process of due diligence on this contract was profoundly flawed. There are all sorts of things in it which it wasn’t capable of doing. You might be trying to amend them now-I am glad about that and that the NAO Report has brought them to your attention. I am a bit frightened that, with something as serious as court interpreting-when someone’s freedom depends on it-it has taken an NAO Report to make you aware of the fact that the contract as originally designed was not capable of being delivered in respect of more than 100 languages. That is a lesson for us about the whole of the contracting process, because you seem to have taken a whole load of things on trust without testing them.
One of the things that we expect of public contracts is that they are properly tested. The thing that is worrying me most about this Report is the suggestion that it was simply not possible for some of the claims made by ALS in its original document to be delivered, and that there was evidence that implied that, such as the linguists’ report and so on, which you had not fully read-let’s put it that way. Is that criticism well founded? If it is, how are we going to be sure that that doesn’t happen in the next contract that is let by the Ministry of Justice?
Peter Handcock: I think it’s a fair criticism. It pretty obviously is, isn’t it? We had more difficulty implementing the contract than we expected and we found, for example, that the assessment process that was to be in place under the contract, in the end, could not be applied across the right range of languages. There is no doubt that, with the benefit of hindsight, we would look at the due diligence we did on this contract in a completely different way, and we would test it a bit more thoroughly, so we absolutely have to learn that lesson.
Q191 Austin Mitchell: It is most entertaining watching you, because most of what you say has been greeted with multilingual nods of denial from behind you. That is an interesting background.
I want to question, first of all, the qualifications, because surely you should be able to supply us with a list of how many people on the Capita or ALS list are qualified to act in what capacity, and what qualifications they have. The Report says at paragraph 2.22-this is May 2012-that the number of individual interpreters on the ALS list, now the Capita list, was 1,340, but the number appearing on both lists-that is to say, also on the NRPSI list as qualified-was only 305. I read that as meaning that only 305 people are qualified to act at tier 1 and tier 2. It might be that, from the large number remaining-about 1,000-some are qualified to operate at tier 1 and tier 2, but most will not be and therefore can operate only at tier 3. We have a letter from Mr B. L. Pells of Loughborough, which says that, in his view, this discrepancy accounts for something; it is widely believed that Capita has used and continues to use tier 3 linguists to fulfil court bookings as a matter of routine, which accounts for the perceived drop in standards. What assurances can you give us and what numbers can you give us in relation to the cases in which tier 3 linguists are being used in a role for which they are not qualified?
Martin Jones: In relation to tier 1 and tier 2, it is important to be clear that qualifying as a tier 1 interpreter is not simply about being on the NRPSI list. There is a list on page 33 of the National Audit Office Report of the criteria that qualify people to be in tier 1, and that includes having a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting-that is the qualification that we are talking about-a Certificate in Community Interpreting, which was the forerunner to the DPSI, the Metropolitan Police test with DPSI, NRPSI registration, membership of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters-
Q192 Austin Mitchell: This is all obfuscating. You cannot tell us that the 1,000 people who are not on the NRPSI list are qualified to operate at tier 1 or tier 2.
Martin Jones: I guess what I am saying is that, in relation to the tier 1 qualifications, NRPSI is one of six things that qualifies you to be a tier 1 interpreter. The question, which perhaps we can write to the Committee about, is what percentage of the interpreters working meet one of those other qualifying criteria.
Q193 Austin Mitchell: Okay, let me counter that by asking what percentage of interpreters sent to court by Capita are qualified to operate only at tier 3 but are operating at a higher tier in the particular case?
Martin Jones: I have not got that figure-
Q194 Austin Mitchell: Can you get that figure; can you give us that figure?
Martin Jones: But I can assure you that the figure will be a very low percentage indeed. I am sure it would be less than 5%.
Q195 Austin Mitchell: Can you tell us, from the Capita list, who is qualified and how many are qualified to operate at each level?
Martin Jones: I cannot tell you now, but I could certainly write to you with that information.
Q196 Austin Mitchell: If you can supply that, I shall go on to the next question. It seems to me that all of this was done in a bit of a rush, and my surmise, with things being done in a bit of a rush after May 2010, is that they were done to save money-I put that just as a general proposition. It was decided in October 2010 to advertise. In February 2011-this is paragraph 1.11-the Ministry "invited ALS alone to submit a final tender." It must have been very happy with ALS at that stage. The Report says in paragraph 1.13: "In early 2011"-it does not say what month in 2011-"the Ministry carried out due diligence on ALS and its bid, a standard process". But the NAO says that "we consider that its due diligence on ALS was not thorough enough." Why did you not do a thorough due diligence test on ALS to see that it could deliver what it said it was going to deliver, to see that it had the necessary numbers of staff to do the job, to see that it was competent to operate on the national scale instead of the local scale that it had been operating on before? Why did you not do full and proper due diligence?
Ann Beasley: This is the conversation we had earlier about the amount of due diligence we did on ALS. We actually did undertake quite a complicated procurement process. We evaluated a large number of bids, and at each stage, we reviewed the proposals that they were offering to show us how they were going to recruit interpreters and run the bookings. We involved key stakeholders, from not only the Courts Service, but police and other agencies, to evaluate whether the proposals seemed plausible. When we got to the point where we had a single bidder, because in the process we had a quality mark, so people had to achieve a level of quality-
Q197 Chair: Did you measure that?
Ann Beasley: They were scored by a panel of people with different expertise. You had to score a minimum quality-
Q198 Austin Mitchell: A panel of experts said that it could do a quality job.
Ann Beasley: I think the NAO Report accepts that through the procurement process, ALS offered a very credible bid and the best bid. At the point when we decided that we wanted to pursue ALS as a single preferred bid, we went through further due diligence. We went to talk to other agencies, such as the police, who used ALS for interpreting, to take references. We reviewed CVs of the people who they were expecting to use as part of their management team in the call centre. We went to look at their mapping tool to see how they were demonstrating where they had interpreters and where they had gaps. We reviewed the booking portal to ensure that it was actually delivering.
Q199 Austin Mitchell: This process never yielded any problems? I get the impression from the Report that you did not take independent and expert advice on the proposals as part of due diligence. We heard evidence today that you did not listen to a lot of the advice you got.
Ann Beasley: We listened to a number of the-
Q200 Austin Mitchell: Did you take independent expert advice?
Ann Beasley: We did not take specific independent advice on the tiering.
Q201 Austin Mitchell: Why not?
Ann Beasley: Because tiering was a solution offered by every single one of the 126 bidders and is already in operation in an OGC language framework. Although it was new to the Ministry, it was not new in the world of delivering interpreting services.
Q202 Austin Mitchell: Again, you have disbelieving nods behind you.
I will finish with one question: having not done effective due diligence, landed ALS in a situation in which it was too small to cope-it could not cope-and discovered that you had launched a crock, did you then persuade or suggest to Capita that it should come in and take over this mess?
Ann Beasley: No, that was completely independent of us.
Austin Mitchell: So it is an entirely independent submission by Capita, not motivated in any way by the Department.
Q203 Chair: Did you encourage ALS to look for another partner?
Ann Beasley: No.
Q204 Meg Hillier: Chair, may I ask about the technical side? Some time before ALS bid for the contract, I had complaints in my constituency from an interpreter about ALS, so I surprised that your due diligence threw up none of those concerns or, if it did, that you dismissed them. This is a contract that was let under European procurement rules to one company, and then there was a takeover. Was there any issue for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Was there any issue for you, as a Department? No further process was taken to go back to any of the previous bidders. It was one monopoly taken over by a very large company that already provides a very great deal in the public sector.
Ann Beasley: We are encouraged, as a matter of Government policy, to let contracts with small and medium-sized enterprises. I believe that we do due diligence on them. We formed a judgment different from that of the NAO. In particular, in relation to the finance report. If they are then taken over by another company, they would have to notify us and we would review the circumstances of that. Our view, as I said to Mr Swales earlier, is that Capita coming in behind ALS was a good thing.
Q205 Chair: Did it meet all these European regulations?
Ann Beasley: Yes, it does. It is entirely within the law.
Q206 Ian Swales: That is something I wanted to come in on actually. Were Capita one of the original 126 bidders?
Ann Beasley: No, they were all SMEs.
Q207 Ian Swales: They were all SMEs. I wondered whether Government policy had driven out the big players at the start, but you are saying, no, they were all SMEs.
Ann Beasley: No, it would not be lawful to exclude them. We undertake market engagement. We specifically try to encourage SMEs. We try to let the contract in a way that makes it capable of being delivered by SMEs.
Q208 Ian Swales: I am guessing that some people in ALS got quite rich, quite quickly out of this. That suggests a hidden loss of public money somewhere in the system, but we do not know the numbers, so we cannot say how that works.
I want to ask about future flexibility. How long is the contract for?
Ann Beasley: Five years.
Q209 Ian Swales: Who owns the portal.
Ann Beasley: We do. We own all the intellectual property. We own the register of interpreters. If we needed to, we have the right to step in.
Q210 Ian Swales: So if you wanted to re-let the contract to somebody else, you would be able to hand a working package over to them.
Ann Beasley: We would. Absolutely.
Ian Swales: That is good, because I don’t think that is always the case, so full marks for that bit of evidence.
Q211 Nick Smith: Mr Jones, when giving evidence earlier, you talked about holding back your procurement team, which seemed to be pulling at the leash for you to sign off this contract. We have heard a tale about due diligence being seen through, and we have heard talk about taking references from the police, about checking management’s CVs, and about the mapping tool that ALS told you about, but I am not convinced that there was sufficient challenge from the Department to ALS for signing off the contract. How did ALS manage to pull the wool over your eyes?
Martin Jones: I asked for weekly reports from ALS on where it had got to with the recruitment of interpreters, and reviewed them regularly. I required ALS to sit down with experienced court staff who understand delivery of the business so that we could look them in the eyes and understand how they were delivering that service. The assurances that I got to convince me to go live in the middle of January were formed over a period, so I do not think ALS pulled the wool over my eyes. If anything, there was perhaps a bit of over-confidence. It had 2,000 interpreters registered on its portal, and 1,200 interpreters had been assessed, so that as we moved to the new contracts everyone would conform, but that was not the reality in the first few weeks.
Chair: So they did pull the wool over your eyes.
Q212 Ian Swales: We could spend all night on the details, but an example relating to Mr Smith’s question is that the Report says at paragraph 3.11 that "Capita/ALS has" only "recently introduced training for interpreters to increase their familiarity with the justice system". Was that not talked about? Why, a year later, are we saying that on average our interpreters do not know enough about the justice system? Why was that not talked about? Was that not one of the areas covered as part of your checking process at the start?
Martin Jones: We were very clear about the information that interpreters need to know. One of the key qualifications was having 100 hours’ experience as a public service interpreter.
Q213 Ian Swales: When ALS said it had 2,000 people, did those 2,000 people have 100 hours’ public sector experience?
Martin Jones: My understanding was that those 2,000 people had provided the relevant information: details of qualifications and of vetting status.
Q214 Ian Swales: But not experience of this kind of work.
Martin Jones: I think it may have included people who were saying they had had 100 hours’ experience as well.
Q215 Ian Swales: It "may have" .
Martin Jones: I will check.
Q216 Ian Swales: If the Report says that ALS has only recently started to train people, that suggests a massive failure.
Martin Jones: Court craft classes were introduced in response to particular concerns about the judiciary. For example, some interpreters used to specialise in the tribunal service, but now work for the court system. The systems were somewhat distinct, and there are, unfortunately many differences between the different sorts of court. In some cases, they are allowed to speak to only one side, and in other cases it is a bit different. Some things need to be improved.
Q217 Meg Hillier: Chair, the witnesses may not know this, and we may need to ask our next witness next week. Does ALS have any contracts other than with the public sector?
Ann Beasley: Yes, it also does business with the private sector.
Q218 Meg Hillier: Do you have any idea of the percentage?
Ann Beasley: No, I don’t know the percentage, but some of the firms are well known, such as Nike and so on.
Q219 Chair: In this dossier of evidence, there are a number of cases and I will pick out one: Stoke-on-Trent tribunal. I have deliberately gone for later months. Again, this is 16 August, which is seven months into the contract. No interpreter attended and the judge went ahead without hearing evidence from the witnesses. Is that a good way of carrying out justice? Are you happy with that?
Peter Handcock: We would have to be happy with the judgment that the judge made on the day. There are clearly some processes that could be transacted without-
Q220 Chair: So we do not need interpreters?
Peter Handcock: That is a decision for the judge on the day, isn’t it? That is not for me.
Q221 Chair: But you do not think that the rights of the defendant to have a proper-
Peter Handcock: I think the rights of the defendant are absolutely paramount, and I trust the judge to protect those rights. That is what he is for.
Q222 Chair: Well, the judge may have been so fed up of waiting for you guys to produce the interpreters.
Peter Handcock: Not to the extent that he would breach the rights of the defendant.
Q223 Chair: Well, there are a couple of such cases. Will you write to the Stoke-on-Trent A1 tribunal-the hearing was on 16 August-to find out why he decided to go ahead and let us know his response?
Peter Handcock: Of course.
Q224 Chair: When you sign a contract with a private contractor there are penalty clauses. However you look at this, in the first few months, from January to April, Capita/ALS failed to perform. Why didn’t you fine them?
Ann Beasley: We took a judgment that we needed to develop a long-term commercial relationship with ALS, because we were going to be doing business with them for five years. We knew their expectation when they went live was that it would take them a couple of months to get up to the service levels. We thought it was better to-
Q225 Chair: You knew that when?
Ann Beasley: When we went live, they said it would take a few months.
Q226 Chair: Again, that puts into question why on earth you went live.
Ann Beasley: There was always going to be that challenge.
Q227 Chair: So you mean that you never intended to implement the terms that you wrote into the contract?
Ann Beasley: No, I did not say that at all. When you are implementing a new operating model, it is not unusual to take a couple of months to get up to service levels that had never previously been specified.
Q228 Chair: Why do you not put that into your contracts, if that is your view? There are two things. First, this is not a couple of months. I am talking about January to April-January, February, March and April-which I make four months. If you have no intention of fining for failure to comply with a contract in the first four months, why do you not put that into the contract?
Ann Beasley: We could if we wanted to.
Q229 Chair: That might be more open and honest.
Ann Beasley: Actually, we were working very hard with Capita to press them to improve the quality of the service. We estimate that they spent another £3.5 million on the contract and we forewent a number of thousands of pounds in service credits.
Q230 Chair: That does not matter. It is not your affair; your affair is protecting taxpayers’ interests. They were not reaching the contract. I really think this is very important in the way that we manage private-sector contracts. What the company was spending is not your concern; your concern is ensuring that the company was meeting the terms of the contract that they had signed up to. They were not, and you are now telling me that for the first four months you give them leeway. Why do you not honestly put that into your contracts?
Ann Beasley: I guess we could. It would make the legal drafting slightly more complicated.
Q231 Chair: Since then, because they still haven’t been meeting the terms of their contract, why have you fined them only £11,000?
Ann Beasley: The £11,000 relates to the first four months.
Q232 Chair: No, it does not. Of the £11,000, I think May and June are £2,200. There is nothing in the first four months. Am I right, Aileen?
Aileen Murphie: Yes, there was nothing between January and April.
Q233 Chair: There was nothing?
Aileen Murphie: No.
Q234 Chair: So it is not the first four months. I seem to know this contract better than you do. May and June was £2,200, and the entire period was only £11,000.
Martin Jones: From the Ministry’s perspective, when we got into February the real decision for us was whether we wanted to terminate the contract. The question of imposing penalties was secondary. Certainly Peter was pulling in Capita executives at a very senior level and saying, "You have a week to improve this level of service."
Peter Handcock: At that point, the implementation having been as bumpy as it was-I agree with you entirely that, when we let a contract, we should expect absolutely the service specified in the contract-it was quite clear that that service was not being immediately delivered. My approach was to call them in and tell them that they needed to fix it fairly quickly or we would consider pulling out of the contract. To be frank, the level of penalties that may be deployed under the contract are very small in any event. I was much more interested in focusing on getting the service right and getting the right kind of contingency plan in place to ensure that we had interpreters in courtrooms.
Q235 Chair: I understand that, but I am a bit shocked to hear that the penalties were small, because the penalties might have been an incentive for improvement in performance.
Peter Handcock: Again, I absolutely agree, but the difficulty you have in this kind of commercial arrangement is that if you put very substantial penalties in the contract, the contract price goes up, so this is as broad as it is long; it washes through the commercial arrangement whichever way you do it. If you plan for success-in the circumstances, this may seem a rather rash thing to say-as I believe we always should, you should be looking for best value in the contract. Building into the contract price something that reflects swingeing penalties just pushes the long-term price up. That is the fact. That is how bidders respond to it.
Q236 Mr Jackson: You are going to the other extreme now. What is the possible sanction for any business that wants to do business with Government when Ms Beasley basically says, "We want to help them out a bit by not being too unpleasant to them and terminating their contract"? You are saying that the sanctions in terms of fines are, to a huge company like Capita, meaningless. This is an important indicative contract for people dealing with the Government in future. They may think that they can deliver substandard service and still get a contract, and everything is tickety-boo for their shareholders, but the poor old taxpayers are getting a substandard service. I think you ought to be mindful of how that comes across.
Peter Handcock: And again, I accept that is right, but getting service credits under the contract is not the only remedy. We have a range of other remedies that can be deployed.
Q237 Chair: What are they?
Ann Beasley: We have remedies. In extremis, we could terminate the contract.
Q238 Chair: Well, obviously. What else?
Ann Beasley: We could then charge Capita, if we wanted to, for the costs of providing that service through third parties.
Q239 Chair: What else? We know that; you turned that out.
Ann Beasley: Judges always have the opportunity to call Capita into court and charge them for wasted time.
Chair: No, what remedies do you have as the contractor?
Q240 Mr Jackson: That is an issue for their shareholders, not for the taxpayer.
Ann Beasley: What is an issue for their shareholders?
Q241 Mr Jackson: If Capita are falling foul of the judiciary on the bench, that is an issue for them, if they are fined. It is not necessarily going to be impacting on the taxpayer, in terms of value, in the long term, is it, over a five-year contract? You said, "We can terminate the contract," and that there was a small fine. What else can you do?
Ann Beasley: We have other opportunities to withhold money from their management, a proportion of the fee that we pay, if-
Q242 Chair: And did you do that?
Ann Beasley: No, we have not done that to date.
Q243 Nick Smith: Would it make sense to have, in the contract, a sufficiently robust penalty to stop companies such as ALS taking a punt and saying that they can provide a service that they cannot, and to stop them leading you by the nose?
Ann Beasley: This is the point that Peter made. We pay Capita, or ALS-Capita, a small mark-up on the fee that goes to the interpreter. We do not pay them any other management fee. The service credit is in relation to that small mark-up. We felt that was proportionate to the fee that they were being paid. The point that Peter was making was that if we had gone for a much more punitive regime, the response to that would have been to have set higher rates for the work, so we would have paid a higher rate for all work.
Q244 Nick Smith: Or maybe they would have provided a good contract in the first place, rather than the car crash we have at the moment.
Ann Beasley: We do not accept that it is a car crash.
Q245 Mr Jackson: The most charitable way to see it is to say that they inadvertently misrepresented their readiness to take on the contract. Less charitable people would say they lied to you. If these guys were estate agents, you would be using consumer protection law against them for misrepresenting themselves. Clearly, they were not ready and they misled you, which is bad enough, but at the end of the day, you are also saying, "We’ll cut them some slack and we won’t fine them very much, and we’ll just let them carry on." What do they need to do before you say, "Actually, this is not a very good contract"?
Right at the outset of this session you said, "All things being equal, it’s not a bad contract." That is like putting the question to Mrs Lincoln, "All things being equal, how was the theatre?" Basically, this contract is a disaster. You now should be in a position to say, "We’ve gone into the wrong contract. We have learned lessons, and we are going to take the toughest sanctions possible to ensure they get back to adhering to the contract", and you are still not saying that.
Ann Beasley: No, I am saying that we are now applying the full service credits in line with-
Q246 Chair: That is £11,000 since the start of the contract.
Ann Beasley: The £11,000 was the penalties that we would have applied in the first four months.
Q247 Chair: No.
Ann Beasley: That is what the report says.
Q248 Chair: Ms Beasley, I think that you do not know the facts. You are working without the facts. The facts are that you have actually applied £11,000.
Aileen Murphie: No, I am afraid that Ann’s right there.
Chair: Is she?
Aileen Murphie: Yes.
Chair: They should have applied £11,000?
Aileen Murphie: We estimated what they forwent.
Chair: Apologies; that was my fault. But that is peanuts. Go on.
Amyas Morse: I do not want to sound like I am ploughing on-
Chair: But you are going to.
Amyas Morse: The first thing I would like to say is that I do not find it extraordinary that you did not want to apply the penalties in the first short period of time while you were winding up the contract. Personally, just from my commercial background-I have a reasonable experience of it-I can understand that you said to them, "Look, we have the power to impose these penalties if you do something egregious, but normally we probably won’t as you wind up to a reasonable service level." That is quite normal, commercially.
The bits I am not supportive of is saying that we should always plan for success, or that after that event, if the company is grossly failing in the contract, somehow putting strong penalties in will be necessarily reflected in the price. It is quite difficult for someone to get away if, having told you that they can carry out the contract, you say, "Well, okay, but you know it will damage our reputation greatly if you don’t perform, and therefore we will have to have some quite strong penalties." If they say, "Oh no, I’m sorry, I will go back on the price", "Get a bigger pair of boots" might be an answer to that.
Do you feel that you can get this thing sorted out? I am sorry, I just wanted to ask that question. I do not buy the soft approach to it, except at the very beginning. I am interested to know whether there is any indication. We do not have the information, but obviously this is going to be followed up by the Committee, so what are you expecting to happen?
Martin Jones: I think it would be fair to say that in the first six to eight weeks of this contract, my phone was burning with judges, members of court staff and lots of colleagues of mine saying, "Martin, I’ve had this problem today, what are you going to do about it?" and me making late-night telephone calls to ALS to say, "What are you going to do to ensure there isn’t a problem?" That has almost completely died away now. We have a reasonable level of service being provided to courts. I speak to former colleagues on a weekly basis, and what they are telling me consistently is that the situation has improved out of all proportion to where it was in January and February.
Q249 Ian Swales: There is a key point here, which is: what is a reasonable level of service? If this was a gardening contract, you could say, "Well, the weeds are a bit high," or "The hedge wasn’t cut at the right angle." Each of these interpreter cases is a massive issue for the person involved. It is a bit like asking a parachute manufacturer what failure rate they are prepared to accept. Each case, on any given day, is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the person involved. It is not a contract where you can just say, "Oh well, yeah, we’ll cut the grass a bit quicker next month", or whatever. I am not getting the feeling that excellence and 99.99% efficiency is what you are thinking. There seems to be this sense of, "Oh well, you know, if a few guys don’t turn up or someone’s not professional enough, well, we’re getting there." My sense is that that is not good enough.
Peter Handcock: No, you are completely right, that is not good enough. To answer the question directly, we have a contract that sets a level of service-a fulfilment level-and the expectation is that the fulfilment level under the contract will be 98%. We need to get there, and we are working hard with Capita to see that we do. The other thing that we absolutely have to fix, as NAO colleagues recommended, is the assessment process.
When we set out, our objective here was to make better something that was not well organised and did not work well. With hindsight, there are a whole load of things we could have done that would have made the implementation of that process better, but our objective has to remain the same. We have to go from a position in which we had a pretty ramshackle and unreliable system for booking, poor control of cost and relatively little control or guarantee of quality. Our objective in letting this contract was to fix those things.
Q250 Chair: Did you look at any other alternatives to improve the quality of the service? Was this the only option that you looked at?
Martin Jones: We certainly had an options appraisal. We looked at all other options. One other option we looked at was bringing the whole thing in-house and establishing a Government register of interpreters. That was one of the things that we looked at as part of the options appraisal.
Q251 Chair: What else did you look at? Cutting their pay? If you wanted to save money, which presumably was one of the driving factors behind this, which is fine, and if one of the ways you wanted to do that was to cut the way in which they were paid, which, as Fiona said, could be up for grabs, why did you not just do that?
Martin Jones: The primary reason that we did not just slash the pay was that there was more than that in the system. I described the old system as the equivalent of the Yellow Pages. A member of the court staff needing a Polish interpreter would look on the register and pick out the numbers of Polish interpreters and start ringing them. By the nature of the business, when a member of the court staff is ringing at 11 o’clock to find a Polish interpreter, lots of those interpreters will be in courts or tribunals doing business. The idea of a centrally managed service was meant to be much more efficient.
We are looking, in this contract, at the idea of an iPhone app, so that if you are an interpreter and you are in Birmingham and your case ends at lunchtime because the witnesses have not turned up, you can go on and say, "Where in Birmingham Crown court, Birmingham magistrates court or the police station can I get my next job?" Those are all advantages for interpreters.
Chair: Well, you do not see it in performance.
Q252 Austin Mitchell: I have a Yorkshire man’s question. Do we know how much the directors of ALS made out of selling their crock to Capita?
Ann Beasley: No.
Martin Jones: No.
Q253 Austin Mitchell: Shouldn’t we know?
Ann Beasley: No.
Martin Jones: No. It is not our business.
Q254 Austin Mitchell: If you have been involved in a huge contract worth £40 million, and you cannot fulfil it, and then you flog off your company to a bigger company, it is a good way of making money, isn’t it?
Peter Handcock: We do not have any right to know that. It was perfectly lawful-
Q255 Austin Mitchell: You should have the intelligence to ask that. The Treasury has taxed the profits made on PFI by selling them on. You should know.
Peter Handcock: I do not think that it is our business to know.
Q256 Chair: I do not agree. May I ask Ann Beasley a final question? You have a range of hugely important procurement projects that you are responsible for, and you have a new Minister, who has expressed a determination to ensure even greater private sector involvement in the delivery of MOJ services. Can you tell us if anything has changed in the way that you do your job, after the experience of this contract?
Ann Beasley: I think we have learned a number of lessons from this contract. In particular, we have made sure that we get the terminology right, so that we understand the same things as the suppliers. With the benefit of hindsight, we would have done more testing of what ALS were telling us, but we actually have some very rigorous processes for procurement activity and, depending on the value of the contracts and the inherent risks in them, we put more or less resources into play.
For example, when we moved a public sector prison into the private sector under G4S, we had a whole team of people working to ensure that all the transition issues were covered, and that the transition went smoothly. But that adds to the cost of the procurement process, so we have to look at the inherent risk of things going wrong compared with the costs that you would have to invest. Inevitably, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have wanted this to have had a smoother transition. I believe that it is now in a better place.
Q257 Chair: Is it a good enough place now?
Ann Beasley: Not yet, no. Clearly, with hindsight, we should have invested a bit more in that transition and made it smoother.
Chair: Thanks very much indeed. We will see Capita on Monday.