MoJ admits it didn't consult interpreters over FWA pay rates before awarding contract
Way back on 25 February, I submitted the following request for information relating to the FWA:
Having left my request unanswered for nearly ten (!) months, and only after being prodded by the ICO at my behest, the MoJ has finally deigned to reply, albeit privately by email. My questions concerned (1) the value of the severance fee to be paid by the MoJ if it terminates the FWA, (2) when the MoJ first learned of the rates that ALS (now going under the name of Capita Translation and Interpreting) planned to pay interpreters, and (3) what steps the MoJ took to ensure that the rates paid would be sufficient to retain appropriately qualified and experienced interpreters, and whom it consulted to that end.
In reply to question (1), the MoJ has told me that "Details of the sum(s) payable if the MoJ terminates the contract with ALS are not held. This is because the amount payable would depend on the circumstances in which the contract was ended." However, "the MoJ will take all reasonable steps to mitigate any costs that result." How reassuring that is, given the MoJ's track record when it comes to minimising the burden for the taxpayer of its decision-making! The reply goes on:
"The second and third parts of your request do not relate to recorded information held by the MoJ, and they have been dealt with outside the terms of the FOIA.
Terms and conditions are a matter between the supplier and the individual interpreter. Information on rates of pay were [sic] given by the supplier as part of the bid process, but it is for the supplier to determine if they are appropriate. Some rates have changed since the Framework Agreement was signed, but we cannot comment on these further. No consultation was carried out on this specific point, since it is for the supplier to determine, although a full consultation was carried out by the MoJ in 2011 on the proposals for the Framework Agreement, and other engagement took place throughout the procurement process and since the contract was signed."
Oh dear, oh dear. So the MoJ concedes that ALS did give it details of the pay rates during the bidding process - which, of course, was before the MoJ handed it the contract - yet it (the MoJ) didn't bother to ask interpreters whether they could afford to stay in the profession on those rates. A profession which was not handsomely paid in the first place, and had precious few practitioners who were truly up to the job. And now, thanks to the actions of the MoJ, it has far, far fewer, as court officials have discovered to their dismay!
Here we have yet another ham-fisted attempt by the MoJ to wriggle out of the blame for its own incompetence. By choosing not to assess the likely impact of this fundamental part of its - yes, its - award decision on the profession and the courts, the MoJ made all of the hugely expensive disruption we are now seeing inevitable. To say that the acceptability of rates was a matter for the supplier simply doesn't cut it as an excuse. There are two parties to the contract, not just one. The moment the MoJ learned of the rates that ALS planned to pay, the acceptability of those rates became very much a matter for it too, as it was the MoJ that stood to suffer the consequences of disruption to the CJS. It alone had the power and the opportunity to reject the bid and the proposed rates. Instead, it blithely signed on the dotted line. The buck stops with it.
So, what do we think of this reply, ladies and gentlemen? Are these the actions of a competent, accountable government department which is careful to ensure that procurement contracts run smoothly, that taxpayers' money is spent wisely in a sector where the cost of disruption can be huge, and that requests for information are dealt with transparently and promptly?