Out-of-Contract Spend 20.2.12 to 26.2.12
A response has been received to FOI 79896. This FOI requested statistics relating to out-of-contract bookings processed between 20.2.12 & 26.2.12 at Lowestoft. This Lowestoft office covers the large HMCTS South East region (excluding London). It includes Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Sussex, Essex, Thames Valley, Surrey, Suffolk, and Norfolk
At first glance the figures seem remarkably low. Only 80 claim forms received from 36 courts. Note that a response to a previous FOI (79446) had suggested that an average of 90 forms per week were being received at that office between February and December 2012. Thus 20-26 February was a below average week. Yet it was the week following the implementation of the emergency direct-bookings policy (15.2.12). Perhaps 20-26 February fell between two stools. Most residual pre-contract bookings had probably been processed by then, while the NRPSIs who had begun to fill the gaps in the contract after 15.2.12 had not yet sent in their claim forms.
Nevertheless one should try to extrapolate something from these figures. There are only about 330 magistrates’ courts left in the country since the recent cull (see www.judiciary.gov.uk). It seems from this FOI that £12,011.94 was spent in the SE [South East] on cases at 36 different courts. But the total number of courts in the SE region is 49 if the lists on ‘magistrate-court.co.uk’ are up to date. That suggests the SE deals with 15% of the total countrywide number of magistrate court interpreter cases (49/330). On a previous post (‘What Do They Know’) I suggested that in financial terms the SE region foots 1/6 of the national HMCTS bill (16.66%). The figure of 15% - which we have reached here - is more like 2/13. So, if we take the average of the two, it seems reasonable to suppose that the SE foots 15.75% of the national bill. But if our week was a slack week (only 8/9 of the usual number of claims - see above) we should multiply £12,011.94 by 9/8 to get the average weekly figure throughout the month of February, namely £13,513.43. To get the SE figure for the whole of February we should now multiply £13,513.43 by 4 (= £54,065.72). To extrapolate this onto a national level we should multiply by 100/15.75. This comes to £343,274.41.
This is much less than the £500,000 out-of-contract spend for February claimed by Chris Grayling in a recent letter (see ‘What Do They Know’ post). Granted I have not included short-notice bookings at asylum tribunals or Crown Courts but even so I don’t think you can add more than 5% to the total. An extra £17,163.72 brings the total to £360,438.13.
Leaving aside this discrepancy in the February figures, Grayling claimed that out-of-contract expenditure had slumped to £70,000 a month by September. Is this remotely likely, given that FOI 79446 had expressly said that SE claim forms were being received at the rate of 90 a week up to December? There is no suggestion that there was anything other than a steady stream of 90 claims a week throughout the year. If there were spikes & troughs however, surely February should have seen the biggest spike given its bill was so huge. Yet, as we have seen, one week in February produced a below-average number of claims. Were there other regions then where the number of claims had begun to shrink out of all proportion as the year progressed? One imponderable is that in some areas, such as Cambridgeshire, Listings Offices were (and still are) resolutely against filling the ALS gaps with NRPSI interpreters (see Peter Beeke’s words in his JSC submissions). This seems to be reflected in FOI 79896. Cambridgeshire courts were only responsible for 2 of the 80 claims submitted to Lowestoft in that week of 20/26.2.12. No doubt these claims represented residual NRPSI bookings.
If more & more areas had adopted the Cambridgeshire stance during the course of the year this would have reduced the spend further & further. Furthermore the pilot scheme to return the short-notice bookings to the contract (see FOI 79918 and the ‘Rescoping the Landscape’ post) ought to have reduced spend even more. Indeed Grayling would wish to make it appear that the pilot scheme had been growingly influential in reducing the bill from £500,000 to £70,000 a month between February and September. Strangely enough, the SE contains 11 out of the 20 courts chosen for this pilot scheme. One would expect, then, that the number of claim forms received in the SE since June - when the pilot scheme began - would have fallen proportionately. In other words, if 11 out of 49 courts in the SE was not using the out-of-contract option at all after May, surely the 90 claim forms a week should have slumped to at best 70 a month? Either that or we must suppose that the pilot scheme has made no difference whatsoever to the number of out-of-contract bookings made in the SE. Has the pilot scheme been a complete failure?
Of course there are no statistics for the pilot scheme. Naturally. But if it is going ‘well’ as the MoJ say (JSC submissions CI 77), and if the September out-of-contract figure was only £70,000 for the entire month, then it means that the 90-claims-a-week average must be made up by some of the earlier months (February, March, April, May) producing perhaps as much as 150 claims a week. Yet a February week produced only 80 claims, so this seems unlikely. What is needed is a set of statistics for out-of-contract spend from another sample week from, say September, so that we can get a handle on the developing picture across the year. Note that if the national September figure for out-of-contract spend was £70,000, this would mean the SE share would be £10,990 per month, or about £2,585.88 per week. If each interpreter job cost £150 we must suppose that, in each week of September, there were only 17.23 out-of-contract interpreter bookings scattered around the 49 courts of the SE. Is that credible? Perhaps. But it is nowhere near the average of 90.
Lastly chapeaux to those who had worked out that the average daily cost of an interpreter at court under the old system was £150. From this FOI it seems that the actual cost was £12,011.94/80, namely £150.15. This will be a very useful figure if ever we find out how much a day in the life of a Capita ‘Lingual’ (really) costs. And note finally that, under the old system, the average cost of interpreters to the exchequer per hearing (not per day) was £12,011.94/94 namely £127.79. What a bargain!
 Even more strangely these 11 courts are all in the Thames Valley area