MoJ outsourcing: here we go again
I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees parallels between the bungled MoJ language services framework and the current proposals for cutting the legal aid budget. Indeed, could one say that the language FWA was the forerunner for the more ambitious projects that MoJ has up its sleeve, such as the reforms to legal aid, and the eventual privatisation of all court and tribunal services? If anyone is comforted by Chris Grayling's assurance that no one needs to have concerns about the quality of allocated legal aid solicitors because the contracts will ensure 'robust quality standards', then ask yourself this question: 'Haven't we heard this all before?'
The language FWA contract was supposed to deliver higher and more consistent quality standards for interpreters, but the reality is that standards have plummeted since the FWA was rolled out. What Mr Grayling and his lackeys fail to grasp is how to deal with contractors that decide to stick two fingers up to the MoJ and ignore the terms of the contract. 'ALS and Capita paid lip service to the regulatory duties accepted under the Framework agreement' is one of the key conclusions of the Justice Select Committee investigation. The main problem is that MoJ is a soft-touch for smart corporate lawyers, who are able to run rings around them. What else could explain how Capita is now being paid more than was agreed under the FWA contract, even though it is delivering substantially less than the contract requires? It isn't enough just to write conditions into a contract, there has to be the political will to enforce those conditions. Unfortunately, for the public at large, the current crop of Tory ministers place loyalty to their chums in big business as top priority.
Another paradox in the MoJ's thinking is that the legal aid reforms are intended to stop abuses of the legal aid system such as wealthy defendants running up multi-million pound legal aid bills at taxpayers’ expense, when common sense would suggest they are perfectly capable of paying for their counsel out of their own deep pockets. This sounds all well and good, Mr Grayling, but why don't you apply the same principal to wealthy MoJ suppliers as well? Why not stop the likes of Capita taking the taxpayer for a ride?
Whenever a Capita linguist fails to turn up for a court assignment or makes errors leading to collapsed trials, the cost to the taxpayer starts at a few hundreds of pounds, but could rise to many thousands of pounds, depending on the circumstances. Why does MoJ choose to exercise a service credit of only £3-10? After all, it's not as though Capita can't afford to compensate the taxpayer for losses incurred as a result of its failure to deliver what it promised. In 2012 it made an operating profit of £341 million, is there really a good case for why the MoJ needs to wrap Capita in cotton wool to insulate it from the consequences of its failures?