Cafcass's response to incerased demand for its services - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-59)

David Bell, Permanent Secretary, Department of Education and Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive, CAFCASS, gave evidence.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Q40   Chair: Mr Bell, I just want to ask you this question, though, because we can continue to have an argument about the impact of Baby P, but what is also clear from the report is that cases are remaining open for much longer; there has been a fantastic increase. Now, I don't know whether data was collected to look at that. What has the Department done, as well as the organisation, to ensure that there is proper capability within CAFCASS to deal with the fact that cases do remain open longer?

David Bell: The whole point of the change programme that CAFCASS has taken on, which has been funded by the Department, is to deal with that and a whole range of other aspects.

Chair: And are you confident that they can?

David Bell: I am confident that CAFCASS can, in those circumstances, but perhaps on this specific issue, Mr Douglas, Madam Chairman, may want to comment.

Anthony Douglas: If I may Madam Chairman, just as the Permanent Secretary said, we have had 766 care applications in August, as of one week ago; that is compared to 687 in last August. The increases we are looking at are of the scale of about 30% to 35%. For all of the planners in the Department, the Ministry of Justice, its predecessor organisations, the worst scenario planning was on 3% to 4% increases, because that's what it had been for a decade.

Q41   Chair: Can you answer about cases remaining open for longer?

Anthony Douglas: I'm trying to say simply say what has happened because it has come up as a question—if I can beg your indulgence. There has been a lot of research through the Local Government Association and ourselves—

Q42   Chair: The question that I asked is that there is a 40% increase in the length of time in which cases now remain open. That impacts on your work. Have you got proper systems in place now and capability to deal with that trend? It's a trend; it's not God suddenly hitting us. If you look at the stuff, it's absolutely a trend over time.

Anthony Douglas: Much more than we had; had we not, we would not have been able to absorb 2,500 more cases; we would not have reduced the unallocated figure to 150. The way we're working is through a series of local agreements, controlled by judges, within existing legislation, to work more proportionately on cases.

Q43   Chair: You're doing less work on cases as your way of coping?

Anthony Douglas: We've had what could be called "mission creep" over the years, from the time of the Children Act, when a case took 12 weeks to go through the courts, to now when it takes 46 weeks in South Yorkshire and 65 weeks in London. So that expansion of work is becoming, has become, unaffordable and unsustainable. So we are all having to look at ways of working that make a difference; the main way we're working is to get in as early as possible to cases and then to particularly focus on the local authority assessments, the threshold for care and their outline care plan and to, then, cease the involvement with the permission and authority of the court.

Q44   Chair: You're doing fewer section 7 reports?

Anthony Douglas: Well, in private law, that has been a hugely successful programme. The private law system is impacted—

Q45   Chair: Cut by what?

Anthony Douglas: Well, we've absorbed 16% more work and there are more cases closing in private law than—

Q46   Chair: How many fewer section 7 reports, proportionally?

Anthony Douglas: Percentage-wise, we're now down to only 10% in the best areas of applications to courts and 40% in the worst areas. And we have the new model of single issue reporting, which is also controlling costs and time. So the president's guidance on private law has been hugely successful. Public law work is much more complicated to get right. And, in relation to your question, of all the indicators, not just for us, but everybody else, they remain a problem; after previous tragedies like Victoria Climbié, the system reverted back to its underlying trends after three to six months; this has now been going on for 18 months. It is not so much a blip, but an underlying trend. In all parts of the country, apart from two or three, there are two or three times the number of new cases as of cases being closed, so that isn't just a CAFCASS problem; it's a whole system problem.

Q47   Chair: The cases remain open because the people aren't doing the work, I would suggest.

Anthony Douglas: They are being open because often we are asked to do more work, sometimes because of the complexity.

Q48   Chair: To be honest, given the paucity of data, you don't know whether they're more complicated, you're being asked to do more work, or actually because you're not doing the work, and therefore they remain open and they create work. So you may be in a terrible downward spiral because the inefficiency of the organisation keeps cases open and therefore requires more work. With the data that we've got—because you're so bad at collecting data—I don't think either of you can with your hand on your heart say, "Actually, it's all to do with the complexity of the cases. No, it's nothing to do with the inefficiency of the organisation."

Anthony Douglas: As with every complex issue, Madam Chairman, we have some inefficiencies still to get to grips with. Many cases are complex; we're often asked to stay in them, not just by courts but sometimes by solicitors.

Chair: I don't believe it's down to increasing complexity of cases. I believe it is also to do with the inefficiency of the organisation.

Q49   Joseph Johnson: Okay, I just wanted to address some questions of governance within CAFCASS and the Department for Education. In the private sector, this litany of failure against key performance indicators and the general underperformance of CAFCASS would have led to management change. Mr Douglas has been in the post since 2004, during which time you've been paid, as Stephen mentioned a second ago, some pretty substantial sums by any standard: £168,000 salary, including performance pay in 2008-09; £157,000 in 2009-10; and you have accrued a bonus pot of £1.7 million, if this is correct—CETV, cash equivalent and transferrable value. I think that is the bonus pot—pension pot—that you've accrued. Those are pretty chunky numbers. I support exceptional pay for exceptional performance, but, in your words, would you say that you have delivered exceptional performance to warrant that level of pay?

Anthony Douglas: I would, relative to the salaries for directors of children's services, chief executives, in my line of work. Now, there are changes afoot, as you well know, and that may change in the future; there is always an option for Minsters or Permanent Secretaries to change the management at the top of the organisation. What I have achieved, I think, has been to put in place a viable and sustainable organisation which, at the point the Chair was involved, was not there.

Now, we've had lots of achievements and we've made lots of mistakes. We're still a young organisation. We may or may not continue with our present remit. I suspect that will change because you have seen the pressures and, of course, everything is changing at the moment. I do think, to answer your question bluntly, whilst of course others put a value in terms of my salary, I don't either set it or award myself any benefits. I do think, as has been said by many people, it is a pretty tough job and one that I do believe needs stability at the top of the organisation. We've made huge numbers of changes.

Q50   Joseph Johnson: You've had a lot of stability: 2004—you are getting on; you're entering your seventh year in this organisation. It doesn't look from the reading of it, despite the comments from the Permanent Secretary that things have been improving in recent months, as though you're making a dramatic impact on it. I wonder, turning to the Permanent Secretary, whether the senior management of this organisation still commands your confidence?

David Bell: Yes, is the answer to that question. It is also fair to repeat the point that Mr Douglas is not responsible for setting the salary; that is a decision that is made ultimately by the Department and I believe that the salary set, at that time, was appropriate and, to some extent, probably slightly under the market rate, as Mr Douglas said, for directors of children's services. Who knows what the future will bring? But this is a very tough and complicated job, and I don't underestimate at all the kind of pressure that has been there. Mr Douglas and I would have both, I'm sure, wanted a kind of magic, quick, corporate turnaround of this organisation; it was, frankly, not susceptible to that kind of overnight transformation. Actually, it is the sort of organisation, given the nature of it and its history, that was going to take time to improve. So the answer is, yes, I do have confidence in Mr Douglas, and I have to say I have even greater confidence now that we have with CAFCASS a transformation programme which will bring, I'm absolutely certain, the next change and improvement within the organisation.

Chair: Right, I've got a list of people—Ian, Richard, Stephen, and Anne.

Q51   Ian Swales: I would just like to talk again about key performance indicators. We've heard that the list has been changing. Are you satisfied now—and this is particularly from the Department's point of view—that you have got a list that will stand year by year, and therefore can be monitored continually? Is it sufficiently long? And above all, are the targets that are within it for achievement those that would describe a world-class service? I often say to people, "If one is making parachutes, what is the right failure rate in terms of manufacturing?" It's not an entirely flippant comment because we are obviously, sadly, talking about matters of life and death sometimes in this area. I would like to hear you describe how challenging and aspirational the key performance targets are.

David Bell: Well, just distinguishing those different parts of your question, if I may, Mr Swales. I think the number we've got—the seven we've got—now cover the areas that are appropriate to cover. It's always a judgment call: should we have 10; should we have five; or whatever? I do think they do cover the key areas, covering the allocations of public and private law cases, safeguarding and the use of engagement, and so on.

In relation to what should the benchmark be, I guess, in any organisation you would like to think you would have a 100% achievement of any target. I think it does depend, frankly, on the business that you're in. So in some businesses you can't really avoid any failure—the example you gave is a good one—others, I think you have a very high target, but you do recognise that getting to a 100% may not be appropriate. So, to give you a very specific example, if you talk about the 97% target in relation to the allocation of public law-private law cases, that is not to say, "Well, it doesn't matter if you don't reach 100%."

What that, in a sense, reflects is to some extent something that Mr Douglas said: some cases will be so complex that actually achieving the full 100% target will not be possible. And/or, if you're using the triage system that Mr Douglas said, you may have to decide that some cases, on the basis of a first analysis, are not as sufficiently requiring the intervention that other cases might require. So I think if you're talking about targets of this sort, it seems to me this is about right, and I suppose the whole theology of targetry is to have something that is stretching but not completely impossible. I think we've got that about right, but we'll have to keep that under review.

Q52   Ian Swales: The reason I raised the question is really to say if the targets are reached, are you satisfied that you have got the right quality of organisation? Because there is a difference between saying that we've reached a certain target and we can breathe a sigh of relief and just deal with doing better, or we've missed a target which we need to reach and we need to talk about what this 3% or 4%, or whatever, actually consists of and drive it out of the process. So there is a very different mindset in terms of the target setting.

David Bell: I absolutely agree, but it would seem to me that if we got into a situation where we were consistently achieving any targets set, inside the organisation and beyond, people would say, "Well, that's not a very demanding target, is it? Because what you've done is just set it at a level where you'll just get to it without too much difficulty". If that is less than 100%, you're bound to ask the question, "Well, why can't it be better?" So I don't have a view that, if you reach the target, all is well; you can tick that box. It seems to me if you get to a position where you're consistently reaching the target, you've probably got the wrong target and you probably do need to increase the demand that you're placing on the organisation.

Q53   Mr Bacon: Mr Douglas, I'd like to address briefly this question of changes at the top, because you mentioned that there have been a lot of changes at the top. Page 53 of your annual report says, "Early termination other than for misconduct would result in the individual receiving compensation as set out in the individual's contract." Given these corporate management team changes that are referred to in the annual report, with various people leaving, how much did you spend on compensation payments?

Anthony Douglas: Altogether last year we had a corporate restructuring and we lost over 50 staff and it cost £900,000.

Q54   Mr Bacon: £900,000, and how many of those were these management team people, corporate management team?

Anthony Douglas: Three were corporate directors.

Q55   Mr Bacon: That is Wooderson, Booth and Malik, is that right?

Anthony Douglas: Indeed.

Q56   Mr Bacon: And how much did they get paid?

Anthony Douglas: Between them?

Mr Bacon: No, I mean each.

Anthony Douglas: One was £166,000; one was—

Q57   Mr Bacon: Sorry, which was which? Who got £166,000?

Anthony Douglas: Ms Wooderson got £166,000.

Mr Bacon: To leave?

Anthony Douglas: Those were her accrued benefits over, I think, 29 years.

Mr Bacon: She was paid £166,000 to leave the organisation. That's right; that's what you're saying.

Anthony Douglas: Indeed.

Q58   Mr Bacon: Okay, and the next one, Jane Booth?

Anthony Douglas: I believe approximately £45,000.

Q59   Mr Bacon: And Sherry Malik?

Anthony Douglas: £43,000, but I would stand corrected on the absolute detail, and I will send you a note if those figures are—

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