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

3  Improving Cafcass's performance

17.  Cafcass has not collected and retained all the data on cases it needs to properly manage the organisation.[56] Both the NAO and Ofsted had found problems with the quality of data held by Cafcass, a situation which was confirmed by Cafcass's own data audits.[57] The Department told us that data quality was, however, showing signs of improvement.

18.  The NAO report found that data quality could be further improved by better Information Technology (IT) systems.[58] The Chief Executive of Cafcass confirmed that upgrading IT and improving its reliability was a big issue for Cafcass.[59] Its main office IT system, the Cabinet Office sponsored 'flex' system (run by Fujitsu), was yet to show significant benefits. Cafcass had introduced initiatives to make its IT systems fit for purpose, thereby improving management information.[60] For example, one of the projects aimed to provide practitioners with tools to record information while out in the field and store it more quickly on Cafcass's Case Management System. Cafcass argued it could achieve a 10 per cent improvement in productivity with better IT.[61]

19.  The Department had struggled to find the right set of performance measures it needed to oversee Cafcass. The range of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) had changed year on year. The Department was confident that the range of seven KPIs it now had in place provided the information it needed for effective oversight of Cafcass, and that the targets were pitched correctly. However, it was also committed to keeping the range of indicators and associated targets under review.[62] As part of the agreement with the President (paragraph 7), in future combined Cafcass and Court Service performance data will be provided quarterly to local areas and Designated Family Judges.[63]

20.  The efficiency and quality of the casework done by the local authority social worker has a big impact on the amount of work required on each case from the Cafcass family court adviser, and therefore on their productivity. Where the family court adviser concludes they can accept the work done by the social worker, the case can proceed relatively smoothly, but if not, the family court adviser may decide to investigate further or be asked by the judge to provide a second assessment. Different local authorities have radically different demands upon them, with much greater pressures in areas of high social deprivation. Even so, all local authorities are obliged to follow the Public Law Outline. The Public Law Outline expects the local authority social worker to properly prepare each care case before it gets into the court system, when it starts to become expensive.[64]

21.  In mid-2009 the Department commissioned a review by external consultants (at a cost of £253,000[65]) to assess the gap between Cafcass's capacity and that needed to meet the increased demand.[66] The review highlighted a number of productivity and business process improvements to make better use of its staff.[67] Subsequently, Cafcass brought together eight current and new initiatives into a single Transformation Programme, for which the Department provided an additional £10 million in 2010-11.[68] The Department paid the consultants a further £216,000 to support Cafcass in developing an effective plan for responding to the issues identified in the review.[69] The Programme to transform Cafcass was planned to take until 2011, by which date the Chief Executive informed the Committee that he believed Cafcass would be a transformed organisation.[70] The Permanent Secretary expressed confidence in the current Chief Executive. He told us that his confidence was greater now the Transformation Programme was under way, which he was certain would bring the required change and improvement to the organisation.[71]

56   Q 7 Back

57   Q 9; C&AG's Report, para 28 Back

58   Qq 9 and 84 Back

59   Q 84 Back

60   Q 84; C&AG's Report, para 3.9 Back

61   Q 84 Back

62   Qq 9-10 and 51 Back

63 Back

64   Qq 96-98, 103-105; C&AG's report, para 1.1 Back

65   Ev 24 Back

66   Q 1; C&AG's Report, para 24 Back

67   Q 6 Back

68   Q 6 Back

69   Ev 24 Back

70   Q 73 Back

71   Q 50 Back

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Prepared 11 November 2010