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£35 million plus on digital court reform consultants in eight months

Penelope Gibbs
20 Dec 2018

“It really is not reasonable to expect court staff, judges or court users to attend court buildings which are in a terrible state: water coming through the ceilings, for example; jurors having to wear hats and coats in the winter; lifts that do not work; air conditioning that does not work so that courts have to be stopped in the heat of the summer”. The Lord Chief Justice, who complained last week, must be pleased that the Treasury has granted an extra £15 million for the repair of court buildings. But this is not enough. And there is unlikely to be a magic money tree for court buildings while the digital court reform programme marches on.

At the recent summit on online courts a Dutch Judge told a cautionary tale about a big digital court reform project in his country which failed. It had cost 80 million euros all of which was lost. He advised against big bang projects which are implemented across all jurisdictions. I think HMCTS would say their digital court reform programme was different because it is iterative ie each new digital product is tested and adapted at every stage.

But they sure are spending in a big bang way. The other day I was surfing the net and came across a website which lists all HMCTS spending over £25,000 every month (January-August 2018). A quick look and I realised just how much HMCTS were doing and spending behind the scenes. At the beginning of the year I discovered that PWC were to be paid £30 million to be change consultants for the programme. At the end of the year I discovered a whole host more consultancy companies are being paid eye watering sums to work on the digital court reform programme.

PWC were paid between £408,561 and £4.4 million each month (except June!) totalling £11 million for 8 months of work (this presumably is all part of their £30 million contract)

Solirius Consulting were paid even more – £12.7 million for 8 months work

Methods were paid £3.5 million

Engine were paid £2.9 million

PA consulting were paid £2.7 million

Veracity consulting were paid £1.4 million and

6Point6 £1 million

That is £35 million on big consultancy contracts in 8 months. There are many more consultancy payments on the spreadsheets but they are pretty difficult to collate.

There are also large sums being paid to consultants (in July £52k to Arcadis, £47k to Mott Macdonald and £27k for “estate rationalisation”to GVA) to work out how to remodel the courts estate, which I think means working out which courts could close/amalgamate.

And there are really large sums being paid to companies to help HMCTS test the “user experience” of the new digital processes. They have spent at least £457,770.40 on “Costs for User Experience Capabilities and Business Architecture development capability”. This is a little bit galling because at every stage HMCTS have said they do not have budget for academic research. Yet with the budget they have spent on user research (and lots of in-house staff are working on it too) they could have commissioned some great academic research, which would’ve done the essential ground work which we are still missing.

A few more observations

–         There is no detailed published plan for the digital court reform programme but a plan must exist for so much money to be spent every month on IT and consultants. And the consultants researching what courts to close must have been given a brief detailing he costs they need to save. Could we see the overall plan? And understand what each consultant and supplier is being paid for?

–         Consultants have been organising, preparing for and holding meetings with stakeholders and they have been paid generously for that work, but no payment has been offered to “stakeholders” such as defence lawyers who spent hours attending the stakeholder meetings.

–         I still don’t understand quite how the stakeholder engagement and “consultation” activity fits with the expenditure detailed. You would expect very little expenditure on IT consultants until after the “consultations” had finished and conclusions been reached, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

–         Big sums were spent on a project to improve the collection of court fines, which has now been abandoned. £1.478 million was spent on “Provision of consultancy support and advice to review TCEP service model and user journeys and insight to industry best practice”. Its difficult to work out quite what this means but I presume it means advising on who doesn’t pay court fines and why. And that’s just one or many expense lines for this project.

–         Managing contracts needs a huge amount of expertise and time. HMCTS has so many live contracts and invoices for the digital work, it must be really hard to manage them all actively. It would be great to know how they are doing so.

–         At the same time that a lot of money has been spent on IT and consultants, the courts have been crumbling. Its impossible not to wonder whether just some of this money couldn’t be diverted to mend the roofs and boilers. £15 million will not cover it.

–         Three judges sit on the board of HMCTS. They presumably monitor this expenditure. Are they OK with so much going on consultants and IT while the courts need so much money for repairs and refurbishment?

Anyone who wants to escape Christmas shopping, and is proficient with spreadsheets, please do some analysis yourself and feed back any findings.

NB By the way I have nothing against consultants who do excellent work. My concerns are about whether what they are doing will contribute to better access to justice.

NNB The best update on the reform plans is here