Saturday, September 06, 2008

News From Two Old Friends

The new agency staff

Thanks to BOM correspondents for the latest news from two old friends:

First Old Friend - the Learning and Skills Council

We've blogged the hopeless £11bn pa Learning and Skills Council many times (start here). It is yet another shambolic quango that costs plenty and spreads misery throughout the land (eg see here and here). When the Public Accounts Committee probed it, they discovered a bureaucratic quagmire of 500 (yes 500) separate bodies and organisations, even including a specialist "Bureaucracy Review Group". As we've argued before, it should be closed down asap.

Well, guess what - they've flucked up again. They appointed a private sector subcontractor, and er...

"The company hired to distribute Education Maintenance Allowances reported problems with an on-line application system and telephone helpline.

It means only a small number of the 16 to 18-year-olds eligible for the £30-a-week payment have received it. One college is even using its own money to give students emergency loans, fearing many will drop out because of the backlog. Up to 150,000 applications are believed to be affected...

The Learning and Skills Council said a telephone helpline used to handle queries had crashed, recording a busy signal even though operators were available to take calls. A computer programme, due to be used for the first time this year, which would have allowed students to apply online, also had to be abandoned because it was not ready. There were also issues with a computer system designed to process applications."

The subcontractor in question is Liberata, who were awarded an £80m contract after previous suppliers Crapita were terminated (we're guessing you need a Latin sounding name to break into this biz).

Who Liberata? They began life as a spin-off from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, and after a period of ownership by Deloittes, are currently 76% owned by private equity firm General Atlantic. They belong to that vast pack of outsourcing suppliers which has been gorging on the Simple Shopper.

Were Liberata remotely qualified to do this job? As it happens, one of their employees, EMA Worker, has posted his own experiences, so we can get a coalface assessment. It's well worth reading.

To start with, EMA Worker - like many of his co-workers - is not a direct employee of Liberata:

"The agency I am with is acting as a secondary agent and are finding people for another main agent and then passing them onto Liberata, so many feet in the trough."
In effect, EMA Worker is a subcontractor working for a subcontractor working for a subcontractor working for a subcontractor. Like the sound of that?

"The agency staff is made up of kids, foreigners, and a few people like myself who are looking for a full time job."

Sounds about right. And training?
"The induction is taken by a team leader, who was incredibly downbeat about the job... Induction included a tour of the building and then set to work... I was trained by another agency worker who had been there three weeks before. The job itself was not taxing, but still various questions were left unanswered and many mistakes were made by myself and others, owing to the fact we did things which we had not been told were wrong...

They have three scanners one of which can not scan blue ink, so that has to be either photo copied and the proofs put seperately in a clear folder, or left for the scanner which can scan blue items. This I did not know so certain applications get pulled by the black scanner and put to one side, all this slowing the process up. When people's proofs do get put to one side they do not always get back to the application..."

Gah! Enough already. You'll have to read the rest yourself.

Time and time again we come across the Simple Shopper hiring subcontractors who simply do not have the capability of handling the work. A commercial operator would not survive such incompetence: in the public sector it's par for the dismal course.

(HTP Tiny)

Second Old Friend - the Crown Prosecution Service

As BOM readers will know, the £0.6bn pa CPS is a total shambles (new readers start here). Headed by a convicted dope fiend, it is a pit of amateurish working practices, endemic incompetence, and gripless management (see this blog). The Public Accounts Committee was shocked by its incomplete case files, unanswered phones, uncontactable lawyers (never heard of Blackberries), and abysmal lack of urgency.

Now it's managed to cost taxpayers another - and completely unnecessary - £1m+ after losing a race and sex discrimination case against a former employee:
"Asian lawyer Halima Aziz who was suspended after telling a court security guard she was a "friend of Bin Laden's" has received a record £600,000 payout from the Crown Prosecution Service after seven years of legal battle over a race claim...

She won a race and sex discrimination case against them in 2004 on grounds that if she had been a white man she would not have been treated that way.

The dispute continued for seven years - at a cost of more than a million pounds to the taxpayer - because the CPS had remained "in a state of denial" about the case, a new tribunal has ruled. Its ruling said that the behaviour of the CPS had been "astonishing".

The tribunal found that an inquiry into the incident run by the Chief Executive of the CPS, Peter Lewis, was a "whitewash".

Well, isn't that just brilliant. The CPS's abysmal lack of urgency and gripless management we already know about. But state of denial is new. And rather a long way from the assurances the CPS gave the PAC that they'd be going straight in future.

The whole thing is beyond salvation. Dismantle it asap, and make those locally elected sheriffs responsible for prosecutions.

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