Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Capita

Further to your call for written evidence on the provision of interpretation and translation services provided by Applied Language Solutions (“ALS”) to the Ministry of Justice (“the Ministry”), I am writing to you on behalf of Capita plc. Capita plc acquired Applied Language Solutions on the 23 December 2011.

The Ministry’s contract was designed to address the weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs of the previous service and was awarded to ALS in August 2011. The rationale and the procurement process which led to the award of the contract to ALS pre-dated Capita’s ownership and it is therefore not possible for me to comment on these aspects.

ALS’ proposal for providing interpreters under the framework agreement offered the Ministry the following benefits:

(1)Standardised approach to establishing skill level of interpreters by way of a tier based system.

(2)Standardised interpreter pay and conditions for all interpreters working as part of the framework agreement.

(3)Creation of an on-line portal through which bookings are made, administered, invoiced and through which payments to interpreters are made.

(4)Implementation of a robust complaint procedure ensuring any complaints raised by the Ministry are dealt with quickly and effectively. This would include the removal of interpreters from the supplier base who were deemed to be of insufficient quality—something that was not previously possible under the previous arrangements.

(5)Availability of management information on a nation-wide basis, again, something which was not previously available. Ahead of the contract start date the Ministry was unable to share with ALS any statistics on usage, language requirements or otherwise.

The national roll-out of the framework contract took place on the 30 January 2012 and significant issues were experienced by the Courts, Tribunals and Police Authorities immediately after this date. The Ministry’s decision to roll-out nationally was based on an earlier successful roll-out of the North West Courts, Tribunals and a number of Police Authorities in November and December 2011.

The roll-out of the new service was affected by a combination of factors including; a low level of awareness and pre-engagement with stakeholders, a resistance to the new service by interpreters and difficulties in an immediate scaling up of service delivery at ALS.

Immediately when the service delivery issues at ALS were identified, Capita took firm and responsive action to correct these as soon as possible. All responses and initiatives were made without commercial consideration as both the Ministry and Capita recognised both the importance of addressing the difficulties being experienced by users of the service and shared the view that, despite initial setbacks, the new arrangements could be made to work and thereby deliver the intended quality and commercial benefits when compared with previous court based arrangements.

As soon as problems first surfaced, Capita enabled and encouraged ALS to draw upon Capita’s wider resources, skills and track record to enhance and strengthen its service delivery. We do not believe ALS would have achieved the service delivery improvement without Capita’s operational expertise and financial backing. In particular, Capita has:

Mobilised and deployed an experienced management team.

Significantly increased back-office resources (75 FTE).

Mobilised a team of experts to support the operation on process implementation, project management and management information.

Absorbed costs in relation to increased interpreter payments, bonuses and incentives.

Absorbed increased travel costs incurred by interpreters.

Invested in the IT system.

Rectified inadequate processes and procedures.

Received positive feedback regarding improved performance from the Police Authorities and a number of Courts and Tribunals nationwide.

Capita has to date invested in excess of £3.5 million to rectify service delivery issues and none of these costs were foreseen at the time of acquisition.

Capita has also now replaced all of the ALS senior management team that were involved with the contract as, in my and my board colleagues’ opinion, there was insufficient experience and capability to handle and address the issues being faced by service users and the Ministry in its capacity as the commissioning public authority. We were not satisfied with ALS management’s attitude to business process adherence, implementation planning, audit management and service delivery. I believe such management change was necessary to deliver the contract as originally envisaged and realise the service improvements and cost savings..

Statistics released by the Ministry concerning the contract show an improvement month on month in fulfilling requests for interpretation services (nearly 3,000 bookings a week) rising from 65% in the first month of the contract to more than 90% in April. This performance is continuing to improve, which will be demonstrated in the next set of official statistics likely to be released during September. These will demonstrate overall performance is at around 95%. Capita is determined to get the service running at full efficiency, providing transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supporting the Ministry, police and court service. The overall objective remains to work in close collaboration with the Ministry to ensure that a more efficient and effective service is in place than previous arrangements.

Should the Ministry’s users of the service not be satisfied with the service delivered by ALS, an issue can be logged on the “portal” (the on-line interpreter booking tool) which will be dealt with by a dedicated team of Relationship Co-ordinators. This team of Relationship Coordinators is also directly available by telephone or email should the Ministry have a particular question or complaint. The team of Relationship Coordinators has been set-up specifically to support the Ministry, not only with issues but also with day to day service requests which cannot be dealt with through our on-line portal. All issues are currently dealt with in a timely manner, whereas this was not always the case. The support service is now fully functioning providing the Ministry with the opportunity to feedback on the service received, something that was previously not possible.

All issues received are investigated as appropriate and the Ministry is able to review an update on their issue via the on-line portal. We welcome feedback from the Ministry as this is a good way for us to achieve continuous and sustained improvement to the service.

In addition to the Relationship Coordinators, who are office based, ALS has a team of Relationship Managers who are field based and visit all of the Ministry’s premises periodically.

The Ministry and ALS hold regular Project Board meetings to monitor the execution of the framework agreement and the Ministry and ALS now work closely together to further optimise service delivery. The Ministry is in receipt of daily and weekly Management Information which enables it to clearly monitor the performance of ALS.

Capita has ensured that the Ministry’s business model can work and that expected savings will ensue. Whilst the journey has been challenging for all parties, Capita is in a position operationally deliver the contract successfully using a robust and sustainable service delivery platform.

Capita has fully engaged with the National Audit Office (NAO) team that has been reviewing the Ministry’s contract with ALS. We expect the NAO’s memorandum to be published shortly and, having had sight of the draft report, we anticipate that much helpful and relevant background, data and analysis regarding the contract and ALS and Capita’s specific conduct since acquiring ALS will be made publically available.

August 2012

Prepared 4th February 2013