PAC/JSC hearings: the contradictory logic behind the "Big Bang approach"
PAC/JSC hearings: the contradictory logic behind the “Big Bang approach”
The decision to roll out the FWA nationwide rather than regionally at the end of January 2012 was touched upon during both Monday’s Public Accounts Committee hearing and Tuesday’s Justice Select Committee hearing. On Monday, Andy Parker (Capita) explained to the PAC (at 16:29) that the decision to implement the FWA nationwide rather than regionally, as had originally been planned, was made on the basis that regional implementation could have led to boycotts: “I think, 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.” And what a Big Bang it was! I’m not sure the Criminal Justice System is something you want to inflict a Big Bang on, but moving on...
Peter Handcock (HMCTS) confirmed during Tuesday's hearing (10:37) that the decision to implement the FWA nationwide was motivated by a belief that regional roll-out might spur interpreters to avoid working in the relevant region(s). This belief is also mentioned by the National Audit Office in its report on the contract (Section 2.2). In Section 2.3, the NAO report states that “the Ministry wanted to show a clear commitment to the new arrangements, when many interpreters and translators were still strongly objecting to them publicly. Switching to the new system in a single step, it felt, would oblige more interpreters and translators to accept it.” (my underlining)
However, Mr. Handcock also argued during Tuesday's JSC hearing (10:29) that the FWA does not create a monopoly as interpreters working for Capita/ALS are “independent individuals who are free to work either within that framework or anywhere else across the whole demand for language services.” At 10:11-10:12, Messrs. Parker and Wheeldon agreed that the FWA does not give Capita/ALS a monopoly over interpreting services. That being the case, the rationale for national roll-out instantly falls flat on its face. Whether the FWA was rolled out nationally or regionally, interpreters would always - according to the logic of both the MoJ and Capita/ALS - have had the option of choosing to work elsewhere in the market. So how would “switching to the new system in a single step… oblige more interpreters and translators to accept it”? Either the FWA does force interpreters to work under the new arrangements or it doesn’t, so which is it? The MoJ can’t have it both ways. Did the disastrous consequences of that glaring contradiction for the CJS, the public purse and British justice – a thing we’re rather proud of in this country – never flash across their minds? I do hope the committees will consider that point.
Oh, and let me end with a throwaway remark from Peter Handcock that particularly tickled me. When it was put to him at 10:39 that problems with service quality had been anticipated prior to roll-out, particularly in the light of the reductions in interpreters’ fees, he quipped that “no plan ever survives, does it, engagement with the enemy? That’s the way that these things always work.” Whom do you regard as the “enemy”, Mr. Handcock? Is that really your attitude towards a profession without whose dedicated and professional service the courts cannot fulfil their duty?