There were problems in performance during the first seven months after the launch of the Criminal Records Bureau but, following joint action by the Bureau, Capita and the Home Office, the Bureau is now delivering reliably each week over twice the number of Disclosures of criminal records undertaken by the police under the old arrangements. The Disclosure service offered by the Bureau is now more comprehensive and consistent than that which existed before it was set up.
Today’s report to Parliament by head of the NAO Sir John Bourn covers the setting up of the Bureau, a Public Private Partnership between the Home Office and Capita, and the problems which it experienced during part of 2002. The Bureau’s objective is to widen access to criminal records so that employers can make better informed recruitment decisions to protect children and vulnerable adults. The Bureau can constitute only one source of information and risk management for employers making employment decisions.
The Bureau was intended to begin operations in September 2001 but problems in finalising the process requirements , IT system, and other issues, including additional testing delayed the start until March 2002. By June 2003, nearly 95 per cent of both Enhanced and Standard Disclosures were being issued to the required timescale; but the issue of Basic Disclosures has been delayed until at least the end of 2004 pending consultation with stakeholders and evaluation of demand and, hence, the service being offered to the public is narrower than planned.
The key findings of today’s report are as follows.
- Weaknesses in the business assumptions made at the start of the project and in the delivery of systems to process all types of application were key factors in the Bureau’s problems. In particular, the then Passport and Records Agency assumed, without sufficient market research, that between 70 and 85 per cent of people would apply by telephone to a call centre and others would apply online, both application channels designed to be customer friendly and consistent with the Government’s modernisation agenda. In practice over 80 per cent of applications came in paper form, and instead of being submitted separately by individuals (another of the Agency’s assumptions), many were submitted in bulk by Registered Bodies. These outcomes required fundamental changes when system and process design was well advanced and problems were compounded by the high level of error in applicants’ forms. The telephone application process also did not work as envisaged or specified. The NAO report emphasises the importance of consulting potential service users at the earliest opportunity.
- The timetable proved ambitious with twelve months for both the Agency and Capita to develop systems and processes, recruit and train staff, market the service and set up financial arrangements.
- There were significant differences between the final three bids received on timescale, price and proposed mix of application channels. The Capita bid was much lower than those of competitors. One of the competitors’ bids raised questions about the realism of the timetable, while another assumed a different application channel mix.
- The partnership between the Agency and Capita did not operate as initially intended. Both parties began the development of the business processes and systems in a constructive way although the relationship came under stress as problems mounted. Matters were complicated by the lack of single operational ownership of the whole process. The turnaround in the Bureau’s performance once a Service Improvement Plan jointly instigated by the Bureau and Capita was put in place, however, shows that the key to running a complex, new start operation with a private sector partner is to work together as a team to solve operational problems. The Service Improvement Plan began to yield results within six weeks and the situation was stabilised in six months.
- The Bureau’s problems have impacted adversely on the intended level of service for customers which is not yet as extensive as the Government had planned. Checks on social care and health care workers, due to commence by 31 March 2003, did not start until October 2003. The Government also intended that, from early 2003, the Bureau would undertake checks against the Department of Health’s list of persons considered unsuitable to work with vulnerable adults, provided for in the Care Standards Act 2000, but implementation of these checks has also been deferred until June 2004. The issue of Basic Disclosures has been delayed until at least the end of 2004.
- The Bureau will not break even until 2005-06, a year later than originally planned. The taxpayer is funding residual deficits for 2002-03 through to 2004-05 which are forecast at £68.2 million in total.
In addition, Sir John Bourn has qualified the Criminal Records Bureau’s accounts for 2002-03 owing to irregular payments to police forces by the Bureau; errors on income and debtors; together with income and debtors not being supported by adequate accounting records during part of the year.