22 January 2014 | Gurjit Degun
Capita has been fined £56,368 for its poor performance in providing interpreters for courts.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) withheld £46,139 from the company between May 2012 and November 2012, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO). Judges also fined Capita £7,229 to cover costs to the court after the company failed to supply interpreters at 11 cases. The five-year contract to supply interpreters is worth £90 million.
The NAO’s progress update on the MoJ’s language services contract found Capita is still not meeting its target to fulfil 98 per cent of requests for interpreters. Performance fell temporarily by 8 per cent between December 2012 and April 2013 “as a result of Capita’s reducing mileage payments to interpreters”.
The report follows an inquiry in December 2012 by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which found that the procurement and implementation of the contract was “an object lesson in how not to contract out a public service”. The contract was originally made with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which was acquired by Capita at the beginning of 2012, just before the contract was signed.
Today’s report from the NAO also accused the MoJ of being slow to implement some of the PAC recommendations. “The work the Ministry has undertaken has not established whether, and if so to what extent, there is an ongoing problem with the recording of customer cancellations, although it has just introduced 100 per cent checks of these bookings," it said.
A spokesman for Capita Translation and Interpreting said it had improved terms and conditions for interpreters in May, and has seen a “significant increase” in fulfilment rates. The company is continuing to make improvements. “We expect future figures to demonstrate an improvement to fulfilment rates and a continued reduction in complaints as well as continually delivering significant savings to the MoJ,” the spokesman said.
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 £15 million in its first year.”
A statement from PAC chairman Margaret Hodge MP added: “While I am pleased that progress has been made on implementing many of our recommendations, I am unimpressed that over a year later, Capita are still not meeting their target of fulfilling 98 per cent of bookings. This is a vital service for ensuring that people who do not speak English as a first language have fair access to justice.”
Today’s report will inform a PAC hearing next week which will consider the progress of the contract.