E-mail to Public Accounts Committee
Dear Committee members,
My attention was brought to the Oral evidence session: Implementing reforms to civil legal, held on December 4th. In particular, the following exchange:
My final question is to Peter Handcock, about the work we did on interpreters. You told us in January that the independent assessment on the quality of interpreters’ standards, provided through Capita, would be complete by April. I understand that it has not yet been published and that, in response to an FOI request in September, you said that you could not disclose it because it had been prepared for this Committee and will be published once we had considered it.
Peter Handcock: I will have to undertake to come back to you. I cannot immediately answer that question, I’m afraid.
Chair: It’s the sort of thing I should have thought you might have thought about in preparing, given the wonderful hearing you had on that issue. Can I have an answer by Monday, please?
Peter Handcock: You can.
As the person who instigated the FOI request I would be interested to know whether Mr. Handcock did respond to the Committee before Monday 8th as promised. I believe the MoJ was incorrect in asserting that the report was being prepared for the Public Accounts Committee, I think it was prompted by a recommendation of the Justice Committee. At an oral evidence session on October 24th (HC658), the following exchange took place:
Q62 John McDonnell: There was going to be a review of the tiering system brought forward to ensure that we got the right professional standards.
Dame Ursula Brennan: I think that is part of the same thing.
Q63 John McDonnell: Wasn’t that meant to be by the end of this year? Is that on course?
Dame Ursula Brennan: Yes, that is due to complete this year.
Q64 John McDonnell: Is it by December?
Dame Ursula Brennan: Yes.
Q65 John McDonnell: That will address the tiering system and you will then adjust accordingly.
Dame Ursula Brennan: Yes.
Q66 Jeremy Corbyn: You mentioned independent assessors to assess the work of Capita. How much do they cost and who pays for them?
Dame Ursula Brennan: I cannot tell you that, I am afraid. We can let you have an answer on that.
Q67 Jeremy Corbyn: My point is that, if they require independent assessors because of their less than satisfactory performance, surely that should be charged to Capita and not to the taxpayer?
Dame Ursula Brennan: I am not sure that this is wholly about a less than satisfactory performance. One of the things that we now do across all our contracts is consciously invest money in ensuring that we are getting exactly what we need on a risk-based approach. We factor that into the costing of the contracts that we make going forward.
May I request that the Committee ensures that the MoJ does make good on its promise to present the findings of the review, and that this is published as a matter of urgency for the benefit of the professional Interpreting community? Although Dame Ursula was unable to provide an answer to Q66, I can state that the cost of this review was £54,760 and was paid for by the MoJ. Given that the final payment was made on 17th April, it seems to have taken an inordinate length of time to produce this report. My own belief is that the MoJ is trying to drag out publication of the report, and the subsequent implementation of any recommendations. This is because the MoJ has no interest in the quality of service being provided, it's only concern is to be able to tick a box to say that an interpreter (of sorts) was provided, at the lowest (apparent) cost. Of course, the MoJ makes no effort to quantify the consequential losses to the taxpayer of the failure on the part of Capita TI to provide interpreters, as the Committee has pointed out on numerous occasions.
I further believe that the MoJ intends to extend the current FWA with Capita TI - without inviting potential competitors to tender for the contract - and that it hopes to do so on the same terms as the existing contract. This means that whatever measures are put in place to toughen up quality standards will arrive too late to be applied to the extended contract.
I trust that the Committee will examine the review in some depth and determine whether it really has been an impartial, independent review, or whether it has been written by MoJ/Capita TI to endorse the existing arrangements. It may be interest to the Committee to know the current composition of Capita TI's linguist workforce. In response to another FOI request, I was advised that on 30th September 2014, there were 1183 Tier 1, 781 Tier 2,and 945 Tier 3 linguists. The growth in the number of unqualified Tier 3 linguists is far greater than the growth in Tiers 1 and 2. One may wonder what Capita TI does with so many Tier 3 linguists, given that, as defined by the MoJ itself;
Tier Three: the interpreter can provide an interpreting service, but not to the standard that would be required for court, tribunal or other evidential requirements; this may be used, for example, in community-based settings.
The obvious answer is that it is most profitable for Capita TI to fulfil assignments with linguists that a) live closest to the assignment location and b) are in as low paying a tier as they can get away with. Capita TI would not have so many Tier 3 linguists if HMCTS was not prepared to turn a blind eye to their inappropriate usage.