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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 620-ii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE LANGUAGE SERVICES
MONDAY 29 OCTOBER 2012
SUNNA VAN LOO and ANDY PARKER
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 258 - 495
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Public Accounts Committee
on Monday 29 October 2012
Margaret Hodge (Chair)
Mr Richard Bacon
Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, National Audit Office, Gabrielle Cohen, Assistant Auditor General, NAO, Aileen Murphie, Director, NAO, and Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, HM Treasury, were in attendance.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sunna Van Loo, Public Service Director, Applied Language Solutions, and Andy Parker, Joint Chief Operating Officer, Capita plc, gave evidence.
Q258 Chair: Welcome. Thank you for agreeing to come. Miss Van Loo, it sounds awful, but I cannot read your name plate because of the light.
Sunna Van Loo: It’s Sunna.
Chair: You are the public services director for ALS. You are not employed by Capita; you are employed by ALS. Or are you employed by Capita and put into ALS?
Sunna Van Loo: I am employed by Capita.
Q259 Chair: Thank you very much for agreeing to come. Mr Parker, may I start by asking you a question? You did not bid for the original MOJ framework agreement on interpretation services, did you?
Andy Parker: No, we did not.
Q260 Chair: Why not?
Andy Parker: We have a process where we have a team that works in a group sales organisation and looks at PIN notices that are issued, and they decide centrally whether we will respond. My belief is that, at the time, someone evaluated it, looked at language services, thought it was not something we did and, like many PIN notices and OJEU notices, we passed.
Q261 Chair: Why did you change your mind?
Andy Parker: We changed our mind not just because of the MOJ contract. A financial intermediary brought me an opportunity in, I think, the beginning of September, with a company called Applied Language Solutions.
Q262 Chair: What do you mean brought you an opportunity? Did they want to sell?
Andy Parker: We regularly buy companies. We have done probably 150 acquisitions. A number of them are brought to us by financial intermediaries. They bring us an opportunity and say, "This may be a company of interest to you." We probably reject 90%.
Q263 Chair: I am interested in the process. Does that mean that they brought you the opportunity because ALS wanted to sell the business?
Andy Parker: Yes, these people-
Q264 Chair: Not because they are looking at all sorts of public service contracts and thinking, "Capita might be interested in this."
Andy Parker: These intermediaries work with a number of businesses of all sizes. We work with 30 or 40 of these intermediaries and we reject 90% of them immediately. We probably reject another half of the other 10% once we get into more detail and a very small number we take to acquisition. That is not the only way we acquire companies. Sometimes we come across companies when we work with them as a partner or supplier, but that was how that particular one was identified.
Q265 Chair: Why did you change your mind from deciding not to bid to deciding to acquire? What changed?
Andy Parker: When the opportunity was brought to me, the first thing that attracted me was not the MOJ contract, but the potential for language services generally. In 2010, a KPMG report estimated that the value of the language services business in the UK was £1.7 billion. The global market for translation, rather than interpretation, is estimated to be worth £20 billion a year, with half of that spent in Europe. It seemed like an attractive marketplace and looked like the sort of business that was of interest to us as a support services organisation and for the efficiencies that we thought that we could bring.
Q266 Chair: I am bit unclear. If you thought it was suddenly a good business in August or September-
Andy Parker: I never personally saw the original OJEU-
Q267 Chair: And you might have come in on the OJC if you had seen that.
Andy Parker: It is difficult for me to say that I definitely would have. I may well have done, but I never saw it, so I cannot really comment now.
Q268 Chair: Have you bought other companies like that, where they have secured a Government contract and you have then acquired them before they have even started the contract?
Andy Parker: Not to my recollection.
Q269 Chair: This is the only one where there has been a contract signed between a company and Government and then you have acquired them before the contract started.
Andy Parker: We have obviously acquired other companies that had contracts in the public sector, but never one where there was one large contract.
Q270 Chair: Are you prepared to tell us how much you paid for ALS?
Andy Parker: Yes, it is on the public record. The initial figure was £6 million to the shareholders and £1.5 million to clear a loan.
Q271 Chair: What was your deal with the chief executive? You parted company pretty shortly afterwards, but what was your original deal?
Andy Parker: He was the majority shareholder, so he picked up-
Q272 Chair: Was he not the sole shareholder?
Andy Parker: He had the lion’s share. I believe that it was approximately 90%, but the figure was about that. I do not know the exact number, but it was roughly 90%.
Q273 Chair: And the deal was that he would carry on running it for you.
Andy Parker: That was what we initially anticipated.
Q274 Chair: But?
Andy Parker: We mutually agreed to part company in July this year.
Q275 Fiona Mactaggart: When you agreed to part company, did you have any legal agreement about what either party might say about the terms on which you parted company?
Andy Parker: There is an agreement in place, but that would not affect a hearing such as this.
Q276 Chair: So how much did he get for parting company with you?
Andy Parker: He did not get any additional money when he left. As a shareholder of the original company-
Q277 Chair: He would have got his £6 million or whatever.
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q278 Nick Smith: So why did he leave?
Andy Parker: I would rather not comment on an individual employee, which is what he became. I do not mind speaking in private or providing written evidence, but I do not think that it is appropriate to comment on an employee and the terms of his leaving. I am happy to do so in private.
Q279 Nick Smith: Was it your company’s view that he should leave?
Andy Parker: As I said, we reached a mutual agreement and we signed a document and he left.
Q280 Nick Smith: I am still not sure why he left. Why did your company ask him to leave?
Andy Parker: As I said, I do not think that it is appropriate to comment on an individual employee. I am more than happy to do so in private or to provide written evidence. I just do not believe that it is appropriate to make that comment in public.
Q281 Chair: When you took over the contract, did you look, in your due diligence, at whether you could deliver it?
Andy Parker: We obviously looked at what evidence there was. Just to be clear, there were two parts to this business, so the larger part of the business had nothing to do with interpretation. There was more than one reason for buying this business. It was not just the MOJ contract. In terms of that contract, we looked at what evidence was available. We obviously knew that the north-west police forces had been operating with ALS. We took references, which were very positive. We were also aware that a similar service had been contracted in Scotland and had been running for, I believe, two years. In terms of what available information there was, we assessed that and in terms of the process-although not exactly the same-there were similarities to a number of resourcing contracts that we run. On that basis, we believed that we could operate that contract.
Q282 Chair: But you broke the terms of that contract from day one.
Andy Parker: Yes, we did.
Q283 Chair: So, what lessons do you learn from that?
Andy Parker: I am sorry-
Q284 Chair: What lessons do you learn from that? Before you come to that, I suppose the other question is did the MOJ encourage you to take over the contract?
Andy Parker: No. There was no initial contact with the MOJ-
Q285 Chair: Until after you had bought it?
Andy Parker: No. Roughly a week before we concluded the deal, as part of contacting a number of customers, we informally approached the MOJ to see if there would be any objections to us acquiring the business.
Q286 Chair: And?
Andy Parker: They said that there were no objections, but that was-
Q287 Chair: But don’t you think that it is a bit odd? In terms of process, it strikes me that if you enter into a new contract with Government, as ALS did-presumably the MOJ thought that ALS was going to be their partner in delivering this service-and then you jump in before the contract has even started and suddenly say "Hey ho, it is not going to be ALS, it is going to be us", do you think that that is a completely acceptable way of operating in the delivery of public sector contracts?
Andy Parker: We were bound by the original contract and took on all the obligations and liabilities, so I am not sure what the issue is. If the MOJ-
Q288 Chair: You are a different company, with a different set of individuals who would have responsibility for delivery. The MOJ thought that they were signing a deal with one set of individuals and one company and then find themselves having to deal with another company-yourselves.
Andy Parker: The company that operates the contract is still the same company-it just has a different managing team. We are still bound by the same contract.
Q289 Chair: Well, it is not the same company; it is a different set of individuals and there is different ownership. You cannot say it is the same company-it might hold the same name, but in every other aspect it is a different company.
Andy Parker: Companies get bought and sold all the time.
Q290 Chair: I know. I am just slightly concerned that, at a time when there is increasing-I mean, you have done very well out of Government. Over the last year, you are about the only bit of the world that is doing quite well. My understanding is that in the first four months of the year you have won public sector contracts worth £900 million, compared with-I am told-£330 million in the first four months of 2011, so you are doing quite well.
It seems to me that, for Government contracts, paid for by taxpayers-our interest is always about following the taxpayer’s pound properly-we should know who we are contracting with. There is something a little bit unsavoury-maybe that is the word-when you think that you are contracting with one company but find that another company with another management team is delivering that contract.
Andy Parker: I cannot really comment on that. I do not believe that there was an issue. One of the main reasons for us contacting the MOJ was that we are aware of Government policy around procurement to SMEs. If the contract had been awarded on the basis of ALS being an SME, and they had informed us of that, we would not have followed through with the acquisition. But they did not.
Q291 Chair: That is what worries me. You waited for an SME to get it, and then you jump in with your big boots and take it over their heads.
Andy Parker: Contracts are awarded all the time, and we are not doing that all the time.
Chair: I accept that you are not doing that all the time, but in this particular instance-
Andy Parker: This was a particular-
Q292 Chair: When we took evidence from the MOJ officials, they said that they were anxious to try to contract with an SME. In my view, they did so completely ridiculously, given that if they had looked at their due diligence, they would have seen that ALS was a company that could not possibly deliver on a £40 million-odd contract. Still, they sign it, and while you think that you do not want to go for the contract because the MOJ want to give it to an SME, you jump in very quickly behind to buy it up.
Andy Parker: I do not think that that was the overriding reason why. I think that only SMEs responded. I do not know why only SMEs responded, but I am not aware of any companies that were not SMEs that responded to the original prior information notice. Part of the reason is that the language services industry is very fragmented; there are a number of small players and no really large player in the UK. There are some large US players who operate here as well, but it is a very fragmented market. Perhaps that was the reason why only SMEs responded.
Q293 Chair: So, you broke the terms of your contract from day one-you put unassessed, unmarked interpreters into the field.
Andy Parker: No, we do not accept that that is the case.
Q294 Chair: Everybody behind you is nodding.
Andy Parker: No, we do not think that that is the case.
Q295 Chair: Well, actually, the Report found that that was the case.
Sunna Van Loo: Some of the interpreters were unassessed and unmarked, and they were asked to work. However, that was agreed with the Ministry, and I think that this is-
Chair: You are going to have to speak up. I am really sorry, it is the acoustics in the room.
Sunna Van Loo: Sorry. There were unassessed and unmarked people who were attending assignments at the time. That was referred to in the NAO Report, which I think is the point you are picking up on, and it was done in agreement with the Ministry of Justice at that time.
Q296 Chair: It was agreed with the Ministry of Justice that you would put in unassessed, unmarked interpreters, although in the terms of your contract you were clearly not allowed to do so?
Sunna Van Loo: That is correct, yes.
Andy Parker: What it does not reflect, though, is whether the interpreters actually had the relevant qualifications.
Q297 Chair: Well, you don’t know. Do you know now?
Andy Parker: Yes, we do.
Q298 Chair: Do you know about every interpreter who works for you?
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q299 Chair: Do they all have the relevant qualifications?
Andy Parker: For the relevant tier that they are assessed on, yes.
Q300 Chair: How many of them are on the lower tier-what proportion?
Sunna Van Loo: Just over 10% are on the lower tier.
Q301Fiona Mactaggart: Is that true in every language?
Andy Parker: No, because in certain languages there is no tiering, because there is no way of assessing.
Q302 Fiona Mactaggart: So not all your interpreters are assessed, because you do not have a mechanism to do so in some languages?
Andy Parker: There is no available method to assess some of the rare languages. Currently, we have 677 Tier 1 interpreters, just over 300 Tier 2 interpreters and a couple of hundred-
Chair: That’s not 10%.
Andy Parker: Sorry, that was Tier 2, not Tier 3.
Sunna Van Loo: About 130.
Andy Parker: In Tier 3.
Q303 Chair: And what is a Tier 3? Explain that to me.
Sunna Van Loo: A Tier 3 is an interpreter who does not necessarily hold a diploma in public service interpreting. It is a level of interpreter who may have community interpreting as their qualification, or they may-
Q304 Chair: How do you test and assess them?
Sunna Van Loo: They are not being tested and assessed through the methods of the contract, which is one of the issues that you have raised.
Chair: Through the what?
Sunna Van Loo: Through the contract.
Q305 Chair: What does that mean? Just explain to me-I do not know about interpretation, right? It seems to me to be quite an important job to be an interpreter in the court system, so if you are Tier 3, how do I know your level? I know that there is a postgraduate qualification, and there is this, that and the other. At Tier 3, what level of qualification do you have? What is it, and how do you, with responsibility for it, test and assess?
Sunna Van Loo: The level of qualification required for a Tier 3 interpreter is community level interpreting. That is one example.
Q306 Chair: What does that mean?
Sunna Van Loo: It is an interpreting certificate that teaches the individual how to undertake the interpreting of-
Q307 Chair: Who gives that? What is community level interpretation as a qualification? What organisation awards that?
Sunna Van Loo: I do not know the specific organisations. There are a number of organisations, so I would have to come back to you on that.
Q308 Chair: No, what does it mean? Is it a level 3?
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q309 Chair: So sort of equivalent to an A-level in a language?
Sunna Van Loo: It is not necessarily equivalent to an A-level in a language.
Chair: Well, that’s what level 3 is.
Sunna Van Loo: Tier 3 interpreters are-
Q310 Chair: No, I understand Tier 3. I am trying to work out the level of qualification and competence. Is there an exam board?
Andy Parker: Are you talking about any Tier now, or just Tier 3?
Chair: Tier 3.
Sunna Van Loo: I should mention that Tiers 1 and 2 are the interpreters who are predominantly used for courts and tribunals. Tier 3 interpreters are used, for example, for community assignments. They are not regularly used in courts and tribunals.
Q311Fiona Mactaggart: You say not regularly-how frequently are they used?
Andy Parker: Less than 2% of jobs for the courts and tribunal service are attended by Tier 3 interpreters.
Q312 Fiona Mactaggart: So one in 50 jobs in a court could be done by a Tier 3 interpreter?
Andy Parker: However, that is never done without the agreement of the court or tribunal.
Q313 Meg Hillier: Would that be for a whole court case, or would that be for a committal hearing? Is there any threshold above which you do not let a Tier 3 interpreter appear?
Andy Parker: We never let a Tier 3 interpreter go to a court or tribunal unless the court or tribunal actually says that they are prepared to accept them.
Q314 Meg Hillier: What choice have they got? Is it Hobson’s choice of either a Tier 3 interpreter or no one? Or is it that a Tier 3 interpreter is offered because that would be quicker?
Andy Parker: In some cases that would be the option.
Q315 Meg Hillier: So there is horse trading that goes on?
Andy Parker: It is not horse trading. We make it available, and in most cases the court would say no, but most courts are attended by Tier 1 interpreters.
Q316 Meg Hillier: When you say the courts, do you mean the clerk, or the lawyers, or the judge? Who assesses whether Tier 3 is good enough?
Andy Parker: Whoever books the interpreter.
Q317 Meg Hillier: Okay, so if it was the defence barrister, say, booking someone, they would have to be happy about this? It is perhaps difficult to speculate, but would you say that defence barristers-or any other court official, for argument’s sake-know what a Tier 3 interpreter was capable of doing?
Andy Parker: I’m not sure we can answer that, actually.
Sunna Van Loo: Yes. They should be aware, in terms of the specific tiers and the framework that will have been communicated to them via the Ministry of Justice, through the regular communications that they have with their front-line staff.
Q318 Chair: What I don’t understand is this: in two cases out of 100-one in 50 cases-you put in somebody with a dubious set of qualifications. Nobody working in the court service looks back at the framework agreement-they think on the day, "We need an interpreter," so I doubt they are aware of any framework agreements. I want to know whether you are unequivocally satisfied that, in those cases, the level of interpretation is sufficient for the purpose of ensuring that proper justice takes place.
Andy Parker: I don’t think we can answer that because we don’t know what the court case is.
Q319 Chair: You make the decision to put a Tier 3 person in.
Andy Parker: We make it available to the court. We make it very clear that it is not the tier they asked for, and we make it very clear what they are then getting. Only the court can make that assessment. I don’t think we would know whether it was a 15 minute committal-
Q320 Chair: If you can’t explain to me today what a Tier 3 is, how on earth can a judge waiting to start a case understand? You can’t explain. Tell me. I am trying to get it out of you. Is there a board that covers it? You don’t know. If it is not an A-level equivalent, what is it?
Sunna Van Loo: With the majority of our Tier 3 interpreters it is around the experience they have, which is then supported by certain qualifications. The majority of what makes up a Tier 3 interpreter is experience that they have had previously.
Q321 Chair: What qualifications?
Sunna Van Loo: For example, there are bilingual skill certificates in community level interpreting, which are certificates that are obtained by interpreters.
Q322 Chair: Who awards that certificate?
Sunna Van Loo: That is a question I am going to have to get back to you on to make sure I provide you with the appropriate detail.
Q323 Chair: Presumably you check at the moment that they have those certificates, don’t you? You check their veracity?
Sunna Van Loo: Yes. I don’t check the certificates. I have a team of people who check the certificates, so, just to make sure I give you the correct information, I would have to check exactly the details.
Q324 Nick Smith: What percentage of your Tier 3 interpreters have that certificate?
Sunna Van Loo: We have about 130 Tier 3 interpreters.
Q325 Nick Smith: And how many of them have the certificate that you are talking about?
Sunna Van Loo: It would be either that certificate or they would have demonstrable experience in public sector interpreting. I can get back to you on the exact detail.
Q326 Chair: What does demonstrable experience mean? Explain how you would verify that.
Sunna Van Loo: That is something that is quite difficult to verify. What we would normally do is request references from the interpreter, which are valid in terms of the work experience that they have undertaken. So they may have a reference from a public sector or criminal justice individual or organisation that gives them that experience. For example, the tribunal service would be able to provide us with a reference to say that a particular interpreter has undertaken a number of hours of experience.
Q327 Chair: How do you verify those references?
Sunna Van Loo: We look at the reference, which we will have requested from the individual to make sure-
Q328 Chair: That was not the question. How do you verify it?
Sunna Van Loo: By reading it and, if necessary, checking with the individual who has provided the reference.
Q329 Meg Hillier: I want to pursue that point. I represent one of the most diverse constituencies in the country. There is sometimes a politics to the language that people speak. An interpreter may have gained amazing levels of community interpretation skills working for an organisation that represents a certain political segment of that language-speaking community, but then could be called to court to represent somebody from a different political view. There could be trust issues. Do you assess interpreters’ community experience for that level of sensitivity, which could matter a great deal to the individual being interpreted for, but which might not come up through a simple screening?
Sunna Van Loo: It does not always come up when the booking is made. However, in certain cases it is specifically pointed out by the person making the booking, if there is such a request. That is normally the way it would get picked up.
Meg Hillier: Presumably it would be down to the individual who was being interpreted for to tell the person who is booking the interpreter to tell you to make sure of that. That seems like a long chain for quite a sensitive issue. It is one of the sensitivities about interpreting in my constituency and therefore in the Courts Service.
Q330 Chair: Before this went live, you had a report from Mr Brooke Townsley, who expressed "profound reservations" about the validity of the tiering.
Andy Parker: No, we didn’t.
Chair: You did, according to the Report.
Aileen Murphie: He was asked to provide a view to ALS but there was never actually a written output from the work that he did.
Q331 Chair: Well, you did, then Mr Parker. You own ALS. ALS-if that helps you a little bit-had a report from Mr Brooke Townsley. This is on page 12 of the NAO Report, if you want to have a look.
Andy Parker: I have seen that. I am just saying that we never saw that Report.
Q332 Chair: Who is "we"?
Andy Parker: I never saw that Report and no one from Capita ever saw it.
Q333 Chair: But ALS did?
Andy Parker: Well, in fact, the first time we knew that he was unhappy was when, after taking over the company, we chased him on the marking. He did not seem to have an objection to working for ALS and taking its fees in the marking assessment centres until we chased him and said that the marking was behind schedule and he needed to work quicker. At that point he seemed to fall out with us. Up until that point we had not heard anything negative from the individual concerned, who was actually working for ALS before our involvement.
Q334 Chair: So you are suggesting that he was peeved?
Andy Parker: I don’t know. I have never met him. The first time I heard about his report was in the NAO Report.
Q335 Chair: Well, it says that Mr Townsley described, "his profound reservations about the validity of the proposed tiering system and about applying in-work assessments for interpreters".
Andy Parker: All I would tell you is that he did not seem to have an objection to them when he was being paid for marking. So I don’t know. That is the only thing I can comment on.
Q336 Chair: How do you do the in-work assessments?
Sunna Van Loo: I think that as the NAO Report demonstrated, the assessment centres were one of the issues that became apparent during the investigation. The assessment centre process that had been put in place by ALS as part of the contract was not actually feasible to execute in practice. That became quite clear during the NAO investigation, when looking at the assessment centres, what they were intended to achieve and how that would actually practically be executed.
Q337 Chair: I don’t understand a word of that. Can you just say how you do the in-work assessments?
Sunna Van Loo: At the moment, as is in the NAO Report, there aren’t any undertaken, until we find a way-
Q338 Chair: There aren’t any? You don’t do in-work assessments?
Sunna Van Loo: Not at this moment.
Q339 Chair: Okay, that would be the clear answer to the question. So, again, another element of the contract obligation-to do in-work assessments to ensure that tiering worked-is not taking place. Am I right?
Sunna Van Loo: That is correct. We are working with the Ministry at the moment to introduce a revised process that serves the requirements that the Ministry have as part of this contract.
Q340 Chair: Can I just say to you that that is a bit scary? You have over 100-I forget the figure-people at Tier 3, I do not really understand the difference between Tier 2 and Tier 1. The way you were going to ensure that the quality was appropriate for the proper administration of justice was through in-work assessments, but you are now into the second year of the contract and you are not in a position to do those assessments yet. That is scary.
Sunna Van Loo: We have made a proposal to the Ministry for the new in-work assessments.
Q341 Chair: Yes, but it is scary. It brings me to the fact that nobody has great confidence in your organisation. Even if you manage to get somebody to court, there are a whole load of judges who have expressed concern to the NAO about quality, which is related to the questioning around tiers. The most recent one involves Amersham court. No doubt you will know about that. I don’t know whether you were fined there for wasted cost hearings. Judge Francis Sheridan said that Capita "should not hold this contract if it is too difficult for them" and that the Government needed to look at whether "the contract was even remotely viable." So there is questionable confidence among the judiciary that you can provide a proper service.
Andy Parker: That was one court and one example so I think-
Q342 Chair: Do you want me to go through them all? I have a whole dossier here. Do you want them?
Q343 Fiona Mactaggart: There is one person facing trial. In this particular service we are talking about people’s futures, their lives, their liberty and British justice-a thing that we are rather proud of. So it is quite important that we do not say that these things happen. They do happen. I accept that. I accept that under the previous system mistakes were probably made. But the point of the system was not, as I understand it, "a save money system", it was to try to make sure that some of the previous mistakes that sometimes happened in a very devolved system were overcome. It does not look to me as though they are being overcome.
Andy Parker: I think the majority of the incidents in your dossier were in the first three months of the operation.
Q344 Chair: No. This case I have deliberately taken up is one that was in the courts in October this year. I deliberately have not gone back to the first three months because I thought that would be unfair. I have looked at cases that came up in August, which is not that long ago; Peterborough, that was July. One reads: "I represented a client today who had been held in custody for shoplifting since Friday morning"-this is again July-"as ALS couldn’t provide a Lithuanian interpreter. In desperation, the court phoned a local interpreter that they knew at 1.30 pm who refuses to work for ALS. She arrived by 3pm and the case was concluded by 3.15pm. The current situation is a farce." There are appalling stories about false information to you. No doubt you have looked at the transcript of our last hearing. There was somebody with a fake name, a fake address, a mobile number with only 10 digits, an obviously faked Skype name, no qualifications, no experience and no security vetting who got a job with you.
Andy Parker: Just on that one, we don’t believe that interpreter was offered any jobs.
Q345 Chair: "Received 12 job offers."
Andy Parker: If we get the references to those jobs then we are more than happy to investigate.
Q346 Chair: I don’t think this is particularly secret. I am sure you can get it-
Andy Parker: In every case where that has been suggested we have asked for the reference numbers as there are two unique reference numbers for every case. No one has ever been able to provide them.
Q347 Chair: Well this says, "12 job offers in e-mails". So I am sure you can get them.
Andy Parker: If the 12 job offers were in e-mails they would be able to provide 12 sets of unique references. So whenever we ask for a back-up of that we never get them.
Q348 Chair: So what are you suggesting?
Andy Parker: All I am saying is that we can’t investigate them.
Q349 Chair: You are very welcome to the two dossiers that I have received. I would be most interested in your comments on them. To take you back to the general: I think the judiciary have expressed, according to our Report, lack of confidence in your ability. I don’t know what happened to you in this case in Amersham. I assume you picked up costs there, did you?
Sunna Van Loo: We were not awarded costs in that case, no.
Chair: But if one was to get to the position where there are appeals, which is what I guess will happen, on the basis that the interpretation was not good enough at the first level hearing, do you think it is fair that you should pay the public costs of holding those appeals? If it is an appeal on the basis that the interpretation was not good enough and therefore a miscarriage of justice might have been possible, i.e. it is being re-held at a higher court simply because of the failure of interpretation, would it not then be fair for you to be charged for the whole cost of that case?
Andy Parker: That is at the discretion of the judge.
Q350 Chair: I am asking your opinion.
Andy Parker: It is not under the terms of our contract, but if the judge awards it-
Q351 Chair: Wouldn’t you think it would be fair?
Andy Parker: I think it would depend on the circumstances. The other thing-to make the point-is that the vast majority of all interpreters that work for us are Tier 1 interpreters who have worked in the Courts Service for a number of years.
Q352 Fiona Mactaggart: How many? You say the vast majority. How many are Tier 1 and how many are not?
Andy Parker: There are 677 interpreters who cover approximately 1,200 languages.
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Andy Parker: They are Tier 1 interpreters, so they are either on the current NRPSI register, the national register of public service interpreters. They hold a diploma in public service interpreting or they have the Met Police qualification. They are the three main criteria for level 1 interpreters and they are the vast majority of interpreters who work for us.
Q353 Fiona Mactaggart: How many are at the other two levels?
Andy Parker: There are currently 303 Tier 2 and 132 Tier 3. The languages covered are for Tier 1, 1,332 languages; Tier 2, 640 languages; Tier 3, 281 languages.
Mr Bacon: Will you repeat those last figures? You said 303.
Q354 Fiona Mactaggart: I assume there is an overlap in the languages.
Andy Parker: Yes, some interpreters can speak more than one.
Q355 Fiona Mactaggart: No, I meant between the tiers. That is what I meant. Are there any languages where you have no Tier 1 interpreters?
Sunna Van Loo: There is an overlap in the languages, yes.
Q356 Fiona Mactaggart: Are there any languages where you have no Tier 1 interpreters?
Andy Parker: On the framework, for certain rare languages, there is no tiering.
Q357 Chair: How many languages are covered by Tier 1?
Sunna Van Loo: I would have to check the specific languages and how many would be covered in terms of individual languages and let you know.
Q358 Fiona Mactaggart: There is no tiering, I accept that, but someone who is in a rare language can nevertheless have an NRPSI qualification can’t they?
Andy Parker: They couldn’t have a diploma in public service interpreting in the way that the MOJ defines a rare language. The very fact that it is a rare language means there is no diploma available.
Q359 Fiona Mactaggart: I thought the NRPSI was partly about how you interpret and things like that.
Andy Parker: No, that register covers only 41 languages, whereas we cover approximately 180 languages.
Q360 Fiona Mactaggart: I thought the NRPSI covered a lot more than 41; something like 100 or a bit more.
Sunna Van Loo: I think there was confusion between the DPSI, the diploma in public service interpreting, which is 41, and the national register, which will be more than that.
Q361 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes. It is over 100.
Andy Parker: But they don’t have the diploma. We base it on the diploma. The languages are the individuals.
Q362 Mr Bacon: Will you just repeat the numbers again? The number of interpreters. You said there are 670?
Andy Parker: There are 677 Tier 1, 303 Tier 2 and 132 Tier 3.
Q363 Chair: Originally the MOJ said they needed 1,200 interpreters to fulfil the terms of the contract.
Andy Parker: That was the estimate, although there is an assumption in there about how many languages those interpreters cover. If the assumption was-I don’t personally know what the assumption was-that it was 1,200 interpreters doing 1,200 languages, but-
Q364 Chair: No, no, it was doing more languages.
Andy Parker: There was no assumption there. It was just based on assumption.
Q365 Chair: They cannot have got it that wrong.
Andy Parker: There was no demand.
Q366 Chair: Maybe, if we had the MOJ here today, I don’t think they would accept that their figure of 1,200 was plucked out of thin air. They certainly did not firstly admit that they gave you permission not to meet the terms of the contract.
Andy Parker: It was an estimate. At the time, the one thing that nobody knew was the demand. There was no record of the demand.
Q367 Chair: You would know the demand. That’s just ridiculous. You know what happens in courts. It is not suddenly a new business; it has been going on for years.
Aileen Murphie: The estimate of 1,200 was based on the data that the Courts and Tribunals Service had, but just for the tribunals service.
Q368 Chair: Just for the tribunals.
Aileen Murphie: Just for the tribunals service and then it was extrapolated to the courts, because there was no data on what languages would be needed and where, as we say in the Report.
Q369 Chair: Yes, but the courts had been running this thing for a little while.
Aileen Murphie: There was no data coming through from the courts. It was from the tribunals service, so that could be different.
Q370 Chair: What proportion of the business goes through the tribunals service?
Aileen Murphie: Approximately £6 million out of £21 million. So it is a smaller bit.
Q371 Mr Bacon: Why do you describe Tier 1 as the vast majority? You did say that the vast majority of your interpreters were Tier 1, didn’t you?
Andy Parker: Well over 50% are Tier 1, yes.
Q372 Mr Bacon: Yes, I know; I have just calculated it at 61%, so 39% are not Tier 1. I am just curious as to why you would use a phrase like "vast majority" for 60%.
Andy Parker: Sorry-a majority. Well over half.
Q373 Mr Bacon: It is slightly over half, isn’t it? It is six out of 10. That is just an odd use of language.
Andy Parker: My apologies.
Q374 Meg Hillier: I want to go back to when you took over the contract with ALS. At that point, when you put £6 million or £7 million into the business, were you confident that ALS had won a contract that it was capable of delivering?
Andy Parker: Based on their performance with the police forces in the north-west, we believed that they could deliver the contract. That was the main empirical evidence that we had at the time.
Q375 Meg Hillier: So you went on empirical evidence. Did you go into the company and see how it operated? You must have done all that as part of your due diligence.
Andy Parker: We did do due diligence; it is standard that we do.
Q376 Meg Hillier: There is the paperwork due diligence, but did you actually go in and see how they operated?
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q377 Meg Hillier: Can you just talk through what you did and what you saw? It is amazing that nothing raised an alarm at that point.
Andy Parker: We saw the proposed IT system, in which a huge amount of confidence was being placed. There was an assumption, which I now think was probably incorrect, that a larger proportion of bookings made by both the courts and tribunals and by the interpreters would be done online. There was the call centre, which would take the overflow bookings by phone. Then there was the rest of the business, which dealt with the rest of the business. At the time of the acquisition, probably three quarters of the business was not engaged in this activity.
Q378 Meg Hillier: Capita has contracts across a huge range of public services. You must have thought that you were bringing something to this business when you came in, other than buying up one company. What did you think that you were going to do, as a company, to make it better and capture a market?
Andy Parker: A broader range of management skills, greater depth and more experience of running larger enterprise contracts.
Q379 Meg Hillier: Did anyone in your team have experience of running interpreting services?
Andy Parker: No.
Q380 Meg Hillier: So you brought in a new management team-
Andy Parker: Not initially.
Q381 Meg Hillier: The chief executive was there at the beginning, and all his original team remained?
Andy Parker: At the very beginning, yes.
Q382 Meg Hillier: How long was it before Capita put in its own management team?
Andy Parker: We supplemented the team immediately with Ms Van Loo. Before we went live, we recruited some new external staff, because we did not believe we had enough management, so we bolstered the team.
Q383 Meg Hillier: Were any of those external staff recruited from organisations that had experience of running translation services?
Andy Parker: No, because it was in the back office, it was experience of running a back office operation-it was to run the operation. In terms of the people who engaged with the interpreters, we did not make any change initially. Of course, we were going with the people who understood and had worked with interpreters over several years.
Q384 Meg Hillier: It is interesting that interpreters tell me that when the MOJ consulted interpreters, that meant sitting in the meeting. They were not actually consulted, but someone came and sat in a meeting. Did you, as a company, try and meet interpreters? Did you think you needed to do that? You seem to indicate that you have not, but I just want to be clear. Did you leave that to ALS, or did you try to do it?
Andy Parker: We did not attempt to meet interpreters. There was an awful lot of information on the internet, which showed that there was obviously a lot of resistance to this contract. We were aware of that. We were also aware that when they went live with the police forces in the north-west, there was a lot of resistance to that, but it settled down very quickly.
Q385 Mr Bacon: How quickly?
Andy Parker: In the north-west, the feedback from the police was roughly four to six weeks.
Q386 Chair: What have you done? When I look at this contract, among the judges-not the one-there is quite a lot of criticism of you. The interpreters certainly do not like you. I am not sure why you are in there. What have you done to build confidence with interpreters? You are making money out of it, I suppose. That’s all right, but what have you done?
Andy Parker: Since we went live, we have significantly increased the number of interpreters that have worked for us.
Q387 Chair: How many? You are still below this estimate of 1,200.
Andy Parker: We are below the estimate, yes.
Q388 Chair: I think it was 280 when it went live. That is the figure that sits in my brain.
Andy Parker: Yes, 280 were assessed and marked, but there were others, such as the interpreters that were on the national register, who had not been assessed and marked. They were on top of the 280.
Q389 Chair: They were not prepared to work for you-or were they?
Andy Parker: We had interpreters that were on the national register from day one, who were working for us. We have over 400 today.
Q390 Chair: How many?
Andy Parker: We have over 400 who are on the national register working for us today.
Q391 Chair: What have you done to encourage the interpreters to have confidence in your organisation so that they will work through you, so you can deliver the contract? What have you done?
Andy Parker: We changed a number of the terms and conditions.
Chair: That does not encourage people!
Q392 Meg Hillier: Can I ask a simple question? What do you currently pay interpreters? Is it by the hour or by the job?
Andy Parker: The interpreters get a minimum payment of one hour, depending on the tiering. The rates range from £16 for a Tier 3 to £22 for a Tier 1.
Q393 Meg Hillier: What about travel time? For an hour’s job where you may have an hour’s travel either side, £22 is not a great deal.
Andy Parker: For the first hour, there is no travel time paid. However, for any travel above 25 miles there is a mileage rate paid.
Q394 Meg Hillier: There is a mileage rate if you drive. What if you don’t drive and you have to get the train?
Andy Parker: If you get the train, and if it was deemed to be more than 25 miles-if you would have received payments if you had driven-we would reimburse the train fare.
Q395 Meg Hillier: So it is either the train fare or the-
Andy Parker: If it was deemed a long journey that would involve a mileage claim, and an interpreter says they cannot drive-
Q396 Meg Hillier: Just to be clear-I know it sounds boring-if you were travelling within zones 1 and 2 in Greater London, there would be no travelcard.
Andy Parker: There would be no reimbursement.
Q397 Meg Hillier: But if you were travelling to Lincolnshire, you could claim the train fare or the mileage.
Sunna Van Loo: The mileage for the first 10 miles.
Q398 Meg Hillier: But for the first hour-I am not clear-you said there is no travel for the first hour.
Andy Parker: That is correct.
Q399 Meg Hillier: So if I were an interpreter travelling today from here to Lincolnshire to interpret, I would not get paid for that hour. Or would I just not take it up?
Andy Parker: Not for the first hour, no.
Q400 Meg Hillier: So it would not be worth my while taking that job if I were a London-based interpreter.
Andy Parker: It depends on whether you were doing a three-week job at a Crown court or going for a 15-minute committal at a magistrates court.
Q401 Meg Hillier: So if I speak one of those very rare languages and you desperately need that language-in my constituency, you may well find people with those languages who may be wanting to do this and maybe get a Tier 3 qualification that would help them to get that sort of job-it would not be worth going. Where is the justice for the person in the Courts Service-for the victim?
Andy Parker: Part of the onus on the contract is to ensure that interpreters are nationally spread, in which case that does not actually arise.
Q402 Meg Hillier: But that will be impossible, in practical terms.
Andy Parker: In certain places, that is very difficult.
Q403 Meg Hillier: Do you have a bonus payment if you are desperate for an interpreter in Yoruba or something? I cannot think of a Nigerian or a Yoruban who does not speak English. Let us say Twi. Would you pay a premium to that interpreter to go and travel so that you could fulfil the contract?
Andy Parker: No.
Q404 Meg Hillier: So, if no one wants to take that job, that means you cannot provide that interpreter. Is that right?
Andy Parker: If that was the case, then yes.
Q405 Meg Hillier: Okay. It is kind of worrying that you could have someone in court somewhere in the country where there is not an interpreter who speaks that language and it is not worth their while financially to do the job at £22 an hour, or less.
Andy Parker: But in an awful lot of cases the interpreters do travel. In fact, we pay a huge amount in travel expenses to the interpreters.
Q406 Meg Hillier: But if it is just for a committal, it would not be worth their while, would it, because they would not get the travel costs?
Andy Parker: It depends if there is any other work in that court.
Q407 Meg Hillier: In that rare language. The problem is that you have a contract, with lots of people on your books speaking a range of languages, but you have no control over where those languages may need to be spoken or where those interpreters are based. It takes me back to the beginning when you took on the contract with ALS and you looked at the computer system for bookings. You were very experienced at running big public contracts-and, indeed, IT systems, although let us gloss over your housing benefit issues in the past in the London boroughs-but you should surely have seen that there would be really big challenges, just logistically, whatever brilliant computer system was there to match people up. I am surprised that you took it on-presumably believing that it would deliver, because you kept the chief exec in post and so on.
Andy Parker: I think the key thing was that we never anticipated the number of interpreters who would continue to withhold their labour. We did not expect the amount of interpreters who refused to work to continue for the amount of time that they did.
Q408 Meg Hillier: Do you think it is to do with pay rates? What was the pay rate? Have you changed the pay rate since you had these problems with the contract?
Andy Parker: The structure of the payments has changed significantly from the old method of reimbursing interpreters. That was done under the framework agreement.
Q409 Meg Hillier: If it were me, and my income relied on freelance work like this, I would feel nervous about taking an hour’s job that might end up being a bit longer because of court delays. I was recently a witness in court and I sat there all morning but did not end up being called-that is a lot of time and money, and it could happen to the interpreter too, because the case might not get called. Do they get paid by the hour that they are there?
Andy Parker: If an interpreter is booked for 10 o’clock and the hearing does not start until 12, they get paid from 10 o’clock.
Q410 Meg Hillier: But they could not book something else. If they had been heard at 10 and finished at 11, they might have been able to book an afternoon job.
Andy Parker: There is always a level of short-term bookings at most of the courts, so they do regularly make more than one job.
Q411 Meg Hillier: What if they make one job and the court is delayed into the afternoon, as happened recently in a London court because of some papers not being delivered in time? All the court cases were delayed until the afternoon. So the interpreters would be paid in that case, but if they had booked a job for the afternoon, they would not be able to do the second job.
Andy Parker: The process is that they would inform us that they cannot do the second job, and the onus would be on us to find another short-term arrangement. That is no different from the old system.
Q412 Meg Hillier: The point is that this is supposed to be different from the old system. We heard from the MOJ last week that the old system was not all perfect and one of the reasons that they wanted to do this, as well as saving money, as the Chair said, was to make it more efficient and effective and to get people in the right place at the right time. I am really quite concerned that from what you have just described-not all down to Capita, some of it is down to the court system and the way that is run-it sounds like chaos, across the whole court system.
On training, how many of your interpreters have had court familiarisation training?
Sunna Van Loo: Court familiarisation training is something that we have introduced over the last few months. I would have to check exactly how many people have received it and let you know.
Q413 Meg Hillier: And why have you introduced it? Why did you feel the need to introduce it?
Sunna Van Loo: One of the reasons to introduce it was to make sure that interpreters were continuously kept up to date with updated processes and procedures, for example. It also gave them the opportunity to ask questions of ALS and to familiarise themselves with our systems, to make sure that they understood the online system and so on. That was one of the reasons. Another was that a number of interpreters currently work justice-wide, whereas maybe previously they did not-previously they might have been working only for a tribunal or for a court, maybe not for both. One of the things that we wanted to do was to provide the interpreters with some additional support to enable them to work in a court or a tribunal, so that they were able to do so.
Q414 Meg Hillier: Basically, you are training up people who have not got the experience, partly because you had difficulty recruiting people with the experience. Is that a fair summary?
Sunna Van Loo: They have the experience, they may just not have the experience in every situation-in a court, a tribunal or a police station, for example.
Q415 Meg Hillier: Do you pay them to go on that training, as they are freelance, or do they just have to do it?
Sunna Van Loo: We do not pay them to go on that training.
Q416 Meg Hillier: How long does the training take?
Sunna Van Loo: It is a day.
Chair: If you cannot recruit enough, you are not fulfilling the terms of your contract. You said in answer to Meg that you recognise that you were not able to attract as many interpreters as you would have liked, and as you needed. You cannot fulfil the terms of your contract, so what are you doing about it?
Andy Parker: We are continuing to recruit new interpreters. Over the last two months, a further 100 have joined.
Q417 Chair: Tier 1?
Sunna Van Loo: It will be a variety. I will have to check.
Q418 Chair: How many Tier 1?
Sunna Van Loo: I can get back to you to let you know the split.
Andy Parker: We continually get requests from interpreters who have shown an interest in working for us. We then go through the process, and when they have been appropriately vetted and have shown their qualifications, they are available to accept work, but that is an ongoing process that we have not stopped.
Q419 Meg Hillier: I wrote to the Permanent Secretary at the MOJ to ask what penalty there was if it decided to break the contract, and whether there was a cost to the public purse. I did that because, as a Committee, we want value for money for the public purse, and if something is not working, perhaps that is an option. I was told that if there is a material breakdown in delivery of a contract, there would be no penalty to the Government-to the Ministry of Justice-in breaking it. Would you take the Government to court if they broke the contract with you because you have not got 1,200 interpreters?
Andy Parker: Given our position in working with the Government, I think that is highly unlikely. If we were in material breach, I am not sure that we would have a right to appeal that.
Q420 Meg Hillier: Are you in material breach? You are not providing 1,200 interpreters, and there are other issues.
Fiona Mactaggart: In specific cases, you are not able to provide interpreters. Is that true?
Andy Parker: It is down to the MOJ to tell me whether I am in material breach. If they tell me I am, there is a remedy. I do not think it is down to me to tell my customer.
Q421 Meg Hillier: Can you just answer a simple question? Would you defend rigorously and legally an attempt by the MOJ to do that if there was a material breach, and it said so? Capita is a big company, and it would probably not take that lying down.
Andy Parker: If we were in material breach, we would take the penalties that were due to us.
Q422 Mr Bacon: Are you in material breach?
Andy Parker: I do not believe we are today. That is my opinion.
Q423 Mr Bacon: Have you been in material breach?
Andy Parker: I believe that at the start of the contract we were in material breach, and we were issued with a notice to improve.
Q424 Mr Bacon: By the MOJ.
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q425 Mr Bacon: How many notices like that have you had from the MOJ?
Andy Parker: We have had only one formal notice.
Q426 Mr Bacon: That sounds as though you have had another, informal notice. Have you?
Andy Parker: I have had a number of meetings with the MOJ where they expressed their dissatisfaction, and required us to demonstrate what actions we were taking on a continual basis.
Q427 Austin Mitchell: To go back a little, I take it from what you said to Meg Hillier that when you took over the company in December 2011, after checks with the north-western police and so on, you thought it was going to be okay and that the company could fulfil the contract. That is why you bought it, but had you realised what a mess it was in, you would presumably have paid less for it-or would you not have taken it over?
Andy Parker: It is a question with hindsight.
Q428 Austin Mitchell: Of course it is. That is our job.
Andy Parker: I do not regret buying the business.
Q429 Austin Mitchell: You do not regret buying the business?
Andy Parker: No.
Q430 Austin Mitchell: Did you realise what a mess it was in? Did the previous managing director go in January?
Andy Parker: No. He went on 5 July.
Q431 Austin Mitchell: So he hung around for a long time. By January, you had only 280 interpreters assessed and marked, and that was nowhere near enough to meet the Ministry’s requirements.
Andy Parker: At the time of go-live, we had over 600 interpreters.
Q432 Austin Mitchell: Yes, but only 200, and no chance of clearing the backlog before the contract went live.
Andy Parker: But of that difference, some were members of the national register, so they were interpreters working in the Court Service at that time, right up to the point when we went live.
Q433 Austin Mitchell: Yes, but you were still in the position of supplying unassessed and unmarked interpreters to the courts, which is naughty.
Andy Parker: Other than that, they were appropriately qualified with the diploma in public sector interpreting.
Q434 Chair: You do not know, because you had not checked. In fact, the NAO did a sample check and found cases where you had not checked either CRB or qualifications.
Aileen Murphie: Yes, we did.
Andy Parker: I think what the check found was that there was no audit trail. We fully accept that there was no audit trail, but the NAO did not actually say that we had never checked them. What we could not demonstrate was that we had checked them. We subsequently removed, I think, 50-
Q435 Mr Bacon: Had you checked them?
Andy Parker: We believe they had gone through our process.
Q436 Mr Bacon: It is not a question of belief, but a question of fact. You said just now-and I am not surprised this aroused some laughter-that the point was not that you had not done it, but that there was no audit trail showing that you had done it. I am asking whether you did it, and you replied, "We believe". My point is that this is not a matter of belief but a matter of what you did.
Andy Parker: I cannot demonstrate that we did. All I can say is that I believe we did in all cases.
Q437 Mr Bacon: Why are all the people behind you shaking their heads? I take it that they are not Capita employees, because they are shaking their heads at a great deal of what you say, when they are not laughing at you.
Fiona Mactaggart: They are the people who he thought were going to work for them, but turned out not to.
Andy Parker: I cannot demonstrate that we checked them, because we do not have the audit trail.
Q438 Austin Mitchell: You only had 280 assessed and marked, and the contract was due to go live at the end of January. You knew that. You knew you would be sending unassessed and unmarked people into the courts. Why didn’t you suggest delaying the start?
Andy Parker: Of the others, a number were appropriately qualified. They just had not gone through an assessment centre. However, they were on the national register of public sector interpreters.
Q439 Austin Mitchell: But there is a dispute over that, isn’t there?
Andy Parker: I am not saying all of them.
Q440 Austin Mitchell: Paragraph 2.20 states that "ALS told the Ministry that it had around 2,600 interpreters registered to work with it on justice jobs. Under the old system, a registered interpreter was someone who had been checked and entered onto the NRPSI register. But in ALS’s terminology, a registered interpreter was someone who had expressed an interest in working with the company but was still to submit documentary evidence and be assessed." When was it made clear to the Ministry that you were working on different definitions of "registered"?
Sunna Van Loo: That is something that the Ministry was aware of. It understood what the term "registered" meant.
Q441 Chair: I do not think they did. Did they? Can you help us on that?
Aileen Murphie: The Report states that some people in the Ministry misunderstood that term. That is in paragraph 2.20.
Q442 Chair: It is not right to say that they knew, because they did not.
Sunna Van Loo: Let me correct myself. I think certain people within the Ministry were aware of that. Obviously, I cannot say that everyone was.
Q443 Chair: Who?
Sunna Van Loo: The people with whom ALS was working closely on a day-to-day basis and to whom numbers were provided.
Q444 Chair: So are you suggesting that they lied to us last week?
Sunna Van Loo: No, I am not suggesting that.
Q445 Chair: They said last week that they were not aware, didn’t they?
Aileen Murphie: Yes.
Q446 Chair: We had the senior responsible officer in front of us last week.
Andy Parker: I do not believe that the MOJ ever believed we had 2,600 interpreters ready to work for us.
Q447 Mr Bacon: There is a lot of belief going on, isn’t there?
Andy Parker: Sorry, that is all I can say. I do not believe that was ever the case. It is very difficult to comment, because this was actually in advance of our acquisition, so I do not know what was said. All I can say retrospectively is my understanding, but that was well in advance of our acquisition. I do not really know what was said to whom, but this is just my understanding today.
Q448 Austin Mitchell: When did you make the Ministry aware of the problems with assessing all the interpreters? When that assessment was finally concluded, how many interpreters did you decide were not skilled enough to work on even Tier 3 jobs?
Sunna Van Loo: Sorry, I found it difficult to understand the question.
Austin Mitchell: When did you make the Ministry aware of your problems with assessing all the interpreters? That is one question. As part of that assessment, how many interpreters were found not to be capable of working on even Tier 3 jobs?
Sunna Van Loo: The Ministry was aware of the issues around assessment centres prior to the go-live period, and around the numbers of people who were assessed and marked. After the go-live period, the primary focus was very much on restoring the service delivery. In terms of understanding the assessment centres and what had been intended by ALS on how they should work, that was something that we started looking into during the time of the NAO investigation.
Q449 Chair: I do not understand that. Does that mean that you started doing assessments? Did you start doing assessments then?
Sunna Van Loo: At which point?
Q450 Chair: When you told the Ministry that you had not done them before. Did you say March?
Sunna Van Loo: The assessment centres had been done. A number of assessments had taken place. However, there were only 280 people, as per the National Audit Office Report, who had been assessed and marked, and that information was shared with the Ministry at the time. The assessment centre process continued for a period of time. Around the time of the National Audit Office investigation, it became clear that the actual assessment centre processes, as they were intended, in terms of what it said in the framework book agreement, were not actually practical to carry out.
Q451 Chair: What does that mean? The assessment centres were not assessing and marking?
Sunna Van Loo: The assessment centres were intended to assess every single interpreter in every single language, and it became apparent to us that that was not feasible. We could assess them in terms of them undertaking an assessment, but the marking was not something that we were able to do.
Q452 Chair: Is that to do with Middlesex university doing only 32 languages?
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Q453 Chair: What have you done to deal with that?
Sunna Van Loo: At the moment we have made a proposal to the Ministry, in terms of the assessment centre process, and that is something that we are working with it on.
Q454 Chair: So you have not done anything? You are still working on a way of dealing with it?
Sunna Van Loo: We have a proposal that is finalised.
Q455 Chair: Yes, but it is a bit shocking; we have now been into the contract for getting on for a year, and you still do not have a process for assessing and therefore marking people in anything other than 32 languages. That is what you are telling us.
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Q456 Fiona Mactaggart: We were talking about the beginning of the contract. The Ministry decided to do a national roll-out. You knew, even if the Ministry did not, what a registered interpreter was, and you knew that you did not have enough, and I wonder why you did not say, "Let’s do it in the north-west", which was, I think, in the original proposal. We heard from Mr Parker that the reason that you thought that ALS would work was because of its experience with the police in that area. Why didn’t you say that you would try it out in one area first? Why didn’t you resist?
Andy Parker: There had been a number of discussions about a regional roll-out. As time went by, the belief was, particularly given the strong resistance by a lot of the interpreter bodies, that a regional roll-out would be unduly affected by a boycott of work, and that a big bang approach was the best way forward.
Q457 Fiona Mactaggart: So you thought that the best way to bully the interpreters was to make all interpretation subject to this contract?
Andy Parker: That was not something on which we took a decision on our own. That was a decision that we worked on with the Ministry of Justice.
Q458 Fiona Mactaggart: You knew that you were not going to be able to deliver what the Ministry of Justice wanted.
Andy Parker: The one thing that we did not have any reliable information on was the actual level of demand when we went live. We did not actually know what that would be, because no one could provide that information.
Q459 Chair: I don’t accept that. This is back to-okay, it was an extrapolation, but there wasn’t anything new happening in either the court system or the tribunal system that had made it difficult to assess demand. That is just not an acceptable explanation.
Andy Parker: There wasn’t a way of recording the amount of usage before.
Q460 Fiona Mactaggart: You could have telephoned the people who ran the courts. Sorry to be basic, but that is what I do when I am managing a new system. I find out what happened before by ringing people up.
Aileen Murphie: The particular confounding factors, compared with police interpreting and perhaps with the tribunals, which are booked much further in advance, are extradition hearings, in the magistrates courts’ work. Those two are really quite different, much more demanding, and there is a lot more short notice.
Andy Parker: One of the things that we were certainly taken off guard by was that the level of short-term bookings was far greater than any discussion we had had, so that was a surprise to us.
Chair: It would have been part of your due diligence to know what on earth you were letting yourself in for, and not to depend on the MOJ.
Q461 Mr Bacon: Do you think you were misled by the MOJ in that respect?
Andy Parker: I don’t think we were misled.
Q462 Mr Bacon: Did they tell you things accurately? You just basically said that they didn’t.
Andy Parker: I am not aware of anything they told us that was inaccurate. I do think, in retrospect, that the stakeholder engagement process failed, and that was both on our part and the Ministry of Justice’s. We did not engage with the courts or the tribunals service and that was a failure, because better engagement would have resolved some of the issues, and that didn’t happen.
Q463 Mr Bacon: Can I just ask about the Tier 2 interpreters? Is it a contractual requirement that the Tier 2 interpreters are educated to degree level?
Andy Parker: Yes, so-
Q464 Mr Bacon: Yes it is?
Andy Parker: They either have a degree in linguistics, modern languages, or an MA in teaching of English, other language-related diplomas, or partial DPSI English law option.
Q465 Mr Bacon: Is it a contractual requirement that they have evidence of at least 100 hours prior interpreting experience?
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q466 Mr Bacon: Yes?
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q467 Mr Bacon: Of the 303 Tier 2 interpreters, how many fulfil the first condition of having a degree?
Andy Parker: I don’t know the split between either the partial DPSI or the degree. We could get that information for you-we do have it-but there is an either/or that both fulfil that criteria.
Q468 Mr Bacon: Do you have them all documented?
Andy Parker: Yes. 100% meet one or the other criteria.
Q469 Mr Bacon: Will all the 303 be educated to degree level?
Andy Parker: Yes, or have the partial DPSI English law option.
Q470 Mr Bacon: Can you remind me what DPSI stands for?
Andy Parker: Diploma of public sector interpreting. [Interruption.]
Q471 Mr Bacon: The audience appears to know better than you.
Andy Parker: Sorry, diploma of public service interpreting.
Q472 Mr Bacon: Does your contract say that as an alternative to a degree, they can have the diploma in public service interpreting?
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q473 Mr Bacon: It does. And all 303 will have either a degree or this diploma in public service interpreting-yes?
Andy Parker: Yes.
Q474 Mr Bacon: And you do not know the split-why are people shaking their heads behind you?
Andy Parker: I have no idea.
Q475 Mr Bacon: They think you are not saying something correct.
Andy Parker: We can provide you with the information.
Q476 Mr Bacon: You believe that of the 303 Tier 2 interpreters, they all have either the degree or the diploma-yes?
Andy Parker: For the Tier 2 interpreters-
Q477 Mr Bacon: Yes, I am talking about the Tier 2 interpreters.
Andy Parker: The answer is yes.
Q478 Mr Bacon: Evidence of 100 hours of prior interpreting experience-do they all have that?
Sunna Van Loo: I think there are some instances where we haven’t yet verified whether they all have 100 hours, but I can get back to you.
Q479 Mr Bacon: There are some instances where you haven’t verified whether they all have-
Sunna Van Loo: In terms of what I explained before, as part of the process to ensure that everyone has all the appropriate documentation, there are some references that we need to review to make sure.
Q480 Mr Bacon: How many of the 303 do not have that documentation yet?
Sunna Van Loo: I would have to get back to you to let you know.
Q481Mr Bacon: You don’t know?
Sunna Van Loo: I don’t know off the top of my head, no.
Q482 Mr Bacon: You don’t know what proportion is fully documented and what proportion is not.
Sunna Van Loo: I don’t know specifically the answer in relation to the hours.
Q483 Mr Bacon: Give me a rough feel for it: is it most of them, two thirds of them, 200 out of the 300, or do you have no idea?
Sunna Van Loo: I would just be guessing.
Q484 Mr Bacon: So it is quite possible that most of them do not have documented evidence of 100 hours prior experience. Is that correct? Is it possible-lots of nods behind you at the moment-that, in fact, of this universe of 303, hardly any have documented evidence with you of 100 hours prior interpreting experience?
Sunna Van Loo: I would be guessing.
Q485 Mr Bacon: You would be guessing, so the answer is, "Yes, it is possible"? Yes? It is possible, is it?
Sunna Van Loo: I would just-
Chair: You must know, because you are running this thing.
Q486 Mr Bacon: Is it possible? Just yes or no-is it possible that you do not have documented evidence of 100 hours prior interpreting experience for these Tier 2 interpreters?
Sunna Van Loo: Yes.
Q487 Mr Bacon: Yes, it is possible?
Sunna Van Loo: It is possible. I would like to get back to you on that.
Q488 Mr Bacon: Could you send us, in relation to the first criterion that I mentioned of having a degree or, as you say, this diploma, how many have the degree and how many have the diploma-the total, hopefully, will add up to 303-and, in relation to the second, how many have evidence documented with you of 100 hours prior interpreting experience? If they do not, you are not meeting the contract, are you?
Andy Parker: That is correct.
Q489 Chair: You are not meeting the contract now-you have admitted that-even at present, because you are not doing the assessment and marking. How much have you been fined?
Sunna Van Loo: I do not know an exact number.
Q490 Chair: About? I cannot believe you are running this show and you do not have that figure somewhere in your head.
Andy Parker: I think it is about-
Sunna Van Loo: It is somewhere between £2,000 and £3,000.
Q491 Chair: That is all?
Sunna Van Loo: That is my understanding, yes.
Q492 Chair: If you had a much harsher financial punishment for providing untrained and unqualified interpreters, would you have bought the business?
Andy Parker: I would just be speculating. I can say no; I can say yes-I would just be speculating. I do not believe it would have made a difference to our decision.
Q493 Chair: Did you think, when you bought the business, you had a sort of free ride at the beginning to be able to make mistakes, pick up the profits and not deliver the service?
Andy Parker: Absolutely not.
Q494 Chair: But it is almost cheaper for you, isn’t it, not to deliver the service and face the fine, given the level of fines? Even now, you are not delivering 100% or 98%. You are not delivering 98%. We heard from the MOJ that a number of courts and tribunals are using their own routes to find interpreters, so you are not delivering what was in the contract. You are not delivering interpreters who are qualified and assessed. It is cheaper to do that and take the profits than to be fined, isn’t it?
Andy Parker: I do not believe that that is the case. On the basis that we only get paid by doing the work, if we do not manage to fill an interpreter, we do not get paid anything, so we do not receive-
Q495 Chair: But you also do not get fined for not delivering the contract, so it is cheaper not to deliver the contract. I accept that you only get paid for what you deliver. Rather than making sure, as Meg was saying, that you pay properly to get people into courts or you do some deal with interpreters that you have failed to do for the last year that you have been running it, it is cheaper not to because there is no fining.
Andy Parker: No, because if we wilfully did not deliver, then we run the risk of having a court order against us, so I do not believe that that is the case.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you for coming.