18 September 2014
Lost in translation: it’s time that outsourcers were brought to justice
[…] But here’s one issue and it relates to most of our most strategically important companies, given outsourcing’s role in essential services: Capita.
Deep within a 70-page policy paper to be put before the Liberal Democrat conference next month is a call for the party to “undertake an urgent review of procurement within the Ministry of Justice with the aim of improving the process of procurement, the nature of suppliers selected, and the structure of the contracts”.
Senior grass-root Lib Dems note that the Justice Select Committee, which is chaired by the party grandee Sir Alan Beith, was “scathing” about a number of contracts, in particular one involving the provision of court interpreters.
The paper argues that under the contractor, Capita, the interpreters “appear to be costing more money and yet [have] reduced service delivery to an unacceptably low level”. For example, the cost of hiring translators to help non-English speakers at crown or magistrate courts nearly doubled from £7.9m in 2012 to £15.5m a year later.
Post-outsourcing fiascos included the bizarre instance of an “interpreter” at a murder trial in Winchester, who admitted he was standing in for his wife after a fair few linguistic blunders. Ministry of Justice procurement is a “car crash”, grumbles a Lib Dem lawyer.
Payments totalling a little more than £46,000 were withheld from Capita’s translation and interpreting arm between May 2012 and November 2013 – a tame penalty for a series of serious failures on a contract that was supposed to save the taxpayer £18m a year.
The Lib Dems blame many of the Ministry of Justice’s procurement problems – which also include Serco and G4S charging fees for tagging non-existent offenders – on the Conservatives and also the civil servants who oversaw botched contract negotiations under the last Labour government. But in coalition, the party has always had a minister in the department and they can’t escape a degree of culpability. If passed, an urgent review would become party policy, but would not necessarily be included in the manifesto.
Even if it does, let’s hope that the current Lib Dem justice minister, Simon Hughes, presses for that review to get started now. It would be wrong to save this as an election pledge on the off-chance that lightning will strike twice – in a row – and the party gets another shot at power-sharing.