Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
480. What was that?
(Ms Metcalf) From memory, I think it was seven days.
Chairman: You must never believe my Committee
Members when they say "finally"!
481. Just returning to this issue about nobody
seemed to be taking responsibility for scrutinising the providers,
in answer to a question earlier in this session, a question from
me actually, you are saying that, as far as you were concerned,
and I want to be absolutely clear about this because I have also
raised this issue with the relevant Government Minister, they,
the Government, were responsible for scrutinising providers, as
far as you were concerned, when it came to the contract, so you
had, as far as you were concerned, no real interest in scrutinising
providers, and you were just the recipient of all the applications.
Is that right?
(Mr Doyle) Scrutiny of providers was outside our remit.
(Mr Doyle) It was outside our remit.
483. That was stated in the contract, the contract
with the Department?
(Mr Doyle) I have not got a contract in front of me,
but it was outside our remit.
484. So, as far as you were concerned, it was
the Government's or somebody else's responsibility, and you said
it was the Government's responsibility in answer to a previous
(Mr Doyle) Whether it was the Government's responsibility,
it was outside our remit.
Mr Baron: Having said that, you suddenly had
Mr Turner: I am sorry to interrupt, but Ms Metcalf
was nodding and Mr Doyle was giving a different answer.
Mr Baron: I was about to follow this up in the
sense that I am just getting slightly mixed signals here. One
minute you are saying to me earlier in the session that, as far
as you were concerned, it was the Government's responsibility
and now you are saying it was somebody else's. Whether it was
the Government's or not, I am getting one person nodding and the
other person saying, "No, that's not the case". Can
we have a definitive answer?
485. Nodding is actually not on the record.
(Ms Metcalf) Can I apologise. I agree entirely with
what Paddy has said, that it is not within the remit of the contract.
I am sorry if I nodded in the wrong place.
486. So, as far as you were concerned, it was
the Government's responsibility and you just processed the applications?
(Ms Metcalf) Registrations.
487. What you are also saying is that you were
aware, and you put your hands up here, that it was open to fraudulent
use and what you should have done is spoken up more in your meeting
with the Government.
(Mr Doyle) We became aware.
488. Finally, Chairmanand I do mean finallycan
I pin you down on this point. You became aware, you have admitted,
that you have not done enough to raise it with the Government,
but are there any minutes of any meetings to suggest that you
raised it with the Government at appropriate times, so that we
could certainly use that information to help us to get to the
source of this problem when we came to question the Government
(Mr Doyle) I have been through a great deal of documentation
in the last few days. I am not sure what we have in terms of minutes
and what we do not have. As I said to the Chairman earlier, I
am happy for any of those minutes and records to be made available,
but there are two parties involved here and I think the Chairman
said at the time that "If it was okay with the Department,
it would be okay with you." I repeat that.
Chairman: Perhaps we can now talk about customer
service, to tidy up that point.
Paul Holmes: On customer service, when Denyse
Metcalf was describing the complaints system that you have, there
were a couple of people in the audience behind you, who are training
providers who have given evidence to us in the last few weeks,
who were shaking their heads in disbelief.
Chairman: I do not think you are allowed to
489. All the evidence we have received in this
Committee, in formal evidence and in letters as MPs and so forth,
is that people are very, very frustrated at dealing with the ILA
call centre. There is one here saying that "the turnaround
times from Capita were unacceptable"; another one saying
that "There was no complaints mechanism at all" and
so forth. One that is worth reading is from Dataplus Computer
Services saying, "In the course of our business we have had
occasion to call technical support and call centres and in terms
of usefulness the ILA Centre had to be right at the bottom of
the list." So looking at a range of centres provided by the
different companies, they say you were right at the bottom of
the list, in their experience. They say, "We called often
about a range of topics but nearly always found it a frustrating
experience. It was difficult to believe that they were our contact
into a multi-million pound government scheme." You were saying
earlier that there are bonus and penalty schemes in your contract,
is that right?
(Mr Doyle) Penalty, not bonus.
490. From this evidence, it would appear that
there are some penalties.
(Mr Doyle) There are penalties, yes.
491. Will there be any penalties applied, do
you know, and should there be, in terms of what a wide range of
users are saying about the slowness and the difficulty of complaining,
the difficulty of getting any answer other than a yes or a no
on the phone?
(Mr Doyle) As I mentioned earlier, we did go through
some times where we fell behind service levels. They were the
times when we were receiving extremely high, unexpectedly high,
volumes, and we did fall into service penalties, yes.
Chairman: Jonathan, you wanted to ask a quick
question on customer service.
492. Yes. We were advised by one of our witnesses
that she was refused an opportunity to talk to a supervisor or
to customer services. You said, Ms Metcalf, that the majority
of complaints were from learners rather than learning providers.
This witness was a learning provider.
(Ms Metcalf) I cannot comment on individual circumstances.
493. This is a theme on which we have had reams
of evidence presented to us. My desk is bowing under the weight
of evidence which has been provided. This is a persistent theme:
the learning providers are the ones blowing the whistle on the
cowboys. They are saying to us that you were not listening and
you were not passing that on to the Department. What do you say?
(Ms Metcalf) I can only say that that is not the case.
Where a complaint came to our attention in relation to a provider,
we did pass that on to the Department. We had a clear process
which we had had drawn up with them to ensure that they received
for their investigation any names of providers that may be receiving
a number of complaints against them.
494. What has been the turnover of customer
(Ms Metcalf) Our customer services staff turnover
is normally about 8 or 9 per cent, which compares with an industry
norm which is much nearer 20 per cent. We do pride ourselves on
retaining, and ensuring that we keep, our customer services staff.
Obviously that is not the case as we sit here today, because that
was the element that was seen by people who have gone, but during
the period the turnover was not excessively high.
495. One thing we all want in this room today
is the re-launch of this scheme. In your written evidence you
are very specific in listing some of the lessons that we have
learnt. It is interesting that you start with "Prior-accreditation
and verification of learning providers". The first question
I want to ask on that very specifically is, who would do that?
Secondly, you go on to say, "particularly those who wish
to be approved for provision of distance learning". We have
not covered in our discussion specifically distant learners. Therefore,
first of all, who would verify and accredit in your brave new
world, and secondly, have we missed something in perhaps there
being a specific problem with distance learning providers?
(Ms Metcalf) To take the second point first, if I
may, the extra caveat on distance learning providers is that because
they have no fixed premises it is more difficult to pin them down;
also in terms of the investigations or the management information
one might provide, their population is drawn from across the country,
so one cannot easily see a pattern there that might cause a problem
in terms of looking at exception reports. That is one of the reasons
why we have argued that perhaps it is more important that you
do see that they have an establishment and indeed that they can
deliver learning of the appropriate quality.
496. Since you are saying, "This is a lesson
that we have learnt", is this something which you again flagged
with the Government? At what stage did you flag up that here was
an area which perhaps needed more scrutiny than the local providers?
(Ms Metcalf) I think that area emerged in discussions
with the Department. I do not know at this point whether it was
raised by them or by us. We did work as a very, very close team
during the summer months.
497. Are you able to indicate whether this is
the grouping batch which the huge question-mark is over in connection
with the fraud?
(Ms Metcalf) With the abuse of the scheme? I am not
sure. Again, those are matters which will have been pursued by
498. Then can we come back to the first point?
Who are you imagining will do the priorthis interesting
wordprior-accreditation and verification of learning providers?
(Ms Metcalf) I can only offer a personal comment on
that, and that would be an organisation who would understand education
quality. That is not something which, within the remit of our
contract, we were asked to do, but I am sure there are bodies
out there who put themselves forward as being able to make a good
judgement of appropriate education.
499. So are you saying there ought to have been
another contract let; that you are not in fact the educational
expertise which the Government needed, you are an IT provider,
not an educational assessment provider in any way?
(Ms Metcalf) I thought we were talking about the future
in terms of the proposal.
2 Note from Witness: This is the correct figure. Back