Rescoping the landscape (Pilot system for short-notice work)
An answer has been received to an FOI (79918). This relates to the pilot scheme to which Lord Ahmad of Wimbedon referred in his answer to Baroness Coussins on January 14th. Lord Ahmad had said ‘bookings for hearings with less than 24 hours' notice were temporarily descoped from the contract in mid-February … I can report to the House that a pilot to return these bookings has begun in selected criminal courts across England and Wales’. The noble Lord was later mocked by the Daily Mail for his use of the word ‘descoped’ [meaning DEtached from the SCOPE of].
(a) The FOI shows that the pilot scheme had begun in June 2012, yet Lord Ahmad presents the pilot as fresh news in January 2013 (‘I can report…a pilot has begun’). Meanwhile Lord McNally had known nothing of this pilot in his now infamous July 9th 2012 answer to Baroness Coussins. Good to see the noble lords with their eyes on the ball.
Are we to assume that NO short-notice bookings were fielded by ALS from 16th February to 31st May?
(b) The courts involved were (are?): in the South East
· Slough Magistrates’ Court
· Newbury Magistrates’ Court
· Reading Magistrates’ Court
· Bracknell Magistrates’ Court
· Maidenhead Magistrates’ Court
· Oxford Magistrates’ Court
· Banbury Magistrates’ Court
· Bicester Magistrates’ Courts
· Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court
· High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court
· Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court
in the South West
· Plymouth Magistrates’ Court
· Southampton Crown Court
· Neath Magistrates’ Court
· Merthyr Magistrates’ Court
· Isleworth Crown Court
· South Western Magistrates’ Court
in the Midlands
· Birmingham Magistrates’ Court
in the North East
· Sheffield Magistrates’ Court
· Doncaster Magistrates’ Court
Note that the entire Thames Valley area is chosen as the sole representative of the South-East. Is this because that area has fewer cases requiring interpreters, but, at the same time, is in an area commutable to & from London (where a lot of interpreters live)? Similarly is the Clapham court in London particularly representative of the problems involved in short-notice bookings? Imagine if they had chosen Westminster for the pilot. In any case, the FOI does not give any statistics for the pilot except to say that Capita relayed to the MoJ the number of booking requests & the resulting fill rate. The MOJ ‘compared [these figures] with data submitted by each court in the pilot’. What data? Data specific to short-notice bookings? Let’s hope so.
(c) The return of all short-notice bookings to the contract throughout the Midlands & North-West areas was scheduled to start on 22.10.12 (see the JSC supplementary submissions from the MoJ). In fact, according to the FOI response, this happened on November 5th. The FOI insists that the Midlands & North-West have been using the contract ‘exclusively’ for all short-notice bookings since 5.11.12. The two Immigration & Asylum Tribunals at Birmingham & Harmondsworth ‘have commenced’ a short-notice pilot ‘since’ November 5th. All other tribunals, bar Immigration & Asylum, use the contract for short-notice bookings.
It would be interesting to know if any interpreters have been contacted for short-notice bookings by any of the original 20 courts since June 2012, or by any other court in the Midlands & North-West since 5th November 2012.
Most odd is the choice of the Midlands & North-West as the areas for the regional extension of in-contract short-notice bookings on 5.11.12. Only one court in these two areas (Birmingham) had participated in the original pilot. The MoJ claims that the ‘number of interpreters available in [these] regions was one criterion for the decision [to choose them as the areas for the regional extensions]’. I presume by this they mean that ALS/Capita had a pre-existing armada of interpreters who had been recruited under the police contracts (Staffordshire, North-West, West Midlands) who would ‘do just fine’ for short-notice bookings for court the next day. In other words the two types of contracts (national HMCTS and local police) would be servicing the regional roll-outs. The statistics for which contract did what would therefore be irretrievably entangled (as is admitted in section 2 of CI 77 of the JSC submissions). The FOI response also claims that using non-pilot courts for the extension ‘would provide a good test for short notice bookings’ or ‘a test of the system’. The MoJ doesn’t seem to realise that it is the original pilot scheme that is supposed to ‘test the system’. The regional roll-out is supposed to be based on the findings of the pilot. Why is the MOJ rolling out into uncharted waters? Why don’t they just admit that they are feeling their way in the dark? They have to give the impression of having a plan (‘the pilot’), but the reasons for the extension of the plan are effectively, by their own admission, to do another pilot. Of course the reality is that they know that the dice have been loaded in the North-West & Midlands to more or less guarantee a positive set of statistics for the roll-out (notwithstanding the fact that these statistics won’t be distinguishable from others).