The following conclusions and recommendations come from the Public Accounts Committee report on the Ministry of Justice‘s language service contract. They make disturbing reading for all tax payers, are there lessons to be learned for all business leaders?
1. The Ministry lacked management information on the previous use of interpreters and therefore did not have a clear understanding of its requirements under the new system. The Ministry did not know how much it was spending on interpreters, or how many interpreters it required or in what languages. As a result, the system it selected was driven by bidders’ proposals rather than its actual requirements. The Ministry should ensure that it understands the services it needs to procure thoroughly and its cost before commencing future procurement projects.
2. The Ministry did not conduct thorough due diligence checks on Applied Language Solutions (ALS) before signing the Framework Agreement. For example, it commissioned a credit rating report, which suggested that ALS should not be awarded a contract valued at more than £1million. The Ministry did not act on its findings and although it consulted with stakeholders, including interpreters, it did not take their concerns into consideration. The Ministry should collect all available information on a bid and bidder, and consider the full data set at an appropriate level of seniority, before making final decisions on future contracts.
3. Despite very poor performance, the Ministry only penalised the supplier £2,200 and failed to penalise it at all for the first 4 months, when performance was at its worst. Risible levels of penalties and low expectations of performance allow private companies to get away with over promising and under delivering. The Ministry should draft and implement future contracts so as to minimise transitional problems, for example through piloting and rolling-out new systems gradually and incentivising contractors to meet contractual requirements from the outset; for example, through robust use of the penalties available.
4. The Ministry estimated that it would need access to 1,200 interpreters to meet its requirements; however, the contract went live when the supplier had only 280 interpreters ready to work under the terms of the contract. The Ministry believed that many more interpreters were available to work, in line with contractual obligations, than was actually the case due to over-optimistic assurances from Capita-ALS and confusion over definitions of what important terms such as ‘registered’ actually meant. When implementing future contracts, the Ministry should not rely solely on contractors’ assurances that they are ready and able to deliver the service but should conduct its own thorough testing and have a detailed transition plan to ensure that the service will be delivered before going live.
5. The Ministry was unable to confirm that all interpreters working under the contract had the required qualifications, experience and enhanced CRB checks. Capita was unable to assess and mark all interpreters as required by the Framework Agreement and could not be certain that all interpreters had the required experience. The Ministry did not have sufficiently robust processes in place to ensure that Capita-ALS had checked and recorded qualifications, evidence of experience and enhanced CRB checks. The Ministry should ensure that Capita-ALS now has procedures in place to guarantee that only interpreters with the correct skills, experience and character work under the contract, including agreeing and putting in place an alternative to the assessment regime. It should test the effectiveness of these procedures through a programme of audits and spot checks on individual interpreters.
6. Capita-ALS is still unable to provide sufficient numbers of interpreters to meet all of the Ministry’s language requirements. By October 2012, the Ministry was still using the contingency plans to source some interpreters. The Ministry is responsible for all aspects of the efficient administration of the courts and must work with Capita-ALS to develop a more creative approach to recruiting interpreters across all required languages and geographical locations.
7. The Ministry was unable to provide information on the additional costs to the department of the delaying of trials because of the failure to provide interpreters. There has been an extra cost both to the courts and to prisons caused by the postponement of judicial proceedings. In the future, the Ministry must undertake comprehensive cost and benefit analysis of its new policies.
Fortunately, these issues are similar to those in the other Government ministries (Transport and the CPS) so they can comfort each other. As an executive of course, share value would crash and you would be out on your ear!
You can read the full report here