A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded that the outsourcing company Capita, contracted to provide interpreting services for courts, has failed to hit its performance targets after two year by neglecting to meet its 98% performance target.
Andy Slaughter MP, Shadow Justice Minister, commented:
“It is predictable but depressing that two years after Capita took over court interpreting and translating services they’ve still not got the basics right.”
The NAO did find some progress had been made in implementing some of the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its December 2012 report. However, it says a number of areas remain where both the Ministry and Capita still require improvement.
In line with the recommendations, the report notes that the Ministry is now performing checks on the security status of interpreters and on some data generated by Capita. Furthermore it says the number of interpreters available to work under the contract has increased ‘significantly’ rising 102% from 1,365 to 2,705 in November 2013.
Responding to the report, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara, said:
“I am pleased that the National Audit Office has recognised the significant progress made — we have seen dramatic improvements over the life of the contract so far, record numbers of bookings are now being made and fulfilled, complaint levels are very low and we continue to drive further improvement.”
“It is important to remember that the new interpreting contract was introduced to tackle the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the previous system — and it has already saved taxpayers £15m in its first year.”
The report shows the Ministry has penalised Capita for its weak performance, claiming back the maximum contractually allowed after the first three months of the contract. In total the Ministry reclaimed £46,139 between May 2012 and November 2013. In addition to the financial penalties imposed by the Ministry, judges have made some 11 wasted costs orders totaling £7,229 against Capita.
The Ministry initially estimated the contract would save £18m a year from its bill for interpreting services. However, it was forced to provide extra money to enable Capita to increase its rates of pay in order to secure interpreters. The Ministry now estimates that the contract will save £13m in 2013-14.
The contract springs from a framework agreement signed by the Ministry in August 2011, to be worth an estimated £90m over a five year period , with a company called Applied Language Solutions which was later purchased by Capita. The aim of the contract was to improve the efficiency of the service and to save money, but it immediately faced difficulties.
Performance statistics published by the Ministry this month show that from 30 January 2012 to 30 September 2013, Capita received 237,700 requests for interpreters. They show Capita fulfilled the requests for an interpreter in Q3 of 2013 in 94% of cases, up on the 87% completed in the previous quarter, but still below its 98% contractual performance target.
Law Society Chief Executive, Desmond Hudson, commented:
“The Ministry’s slow response in implementing the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee and Capita’s poor performance in delivering the interpreters contract is a cause for concern.
“Delays caused by non-attending, late or poorly trained interpreters have serious consequences for the efficiency of the whole criminal justice system and for defence solicitors in particular who already face the brunt of waste elsewhere in the system, ranging from prisoner transport failings to bad court planning.
“If a defence solicitor showed the same level of errors and failures as Capita has, their contract would have been be terminated. Is this a case of one rule for Capita and a different one for everyone else?”