Anger over IT flop ahead of HMCTS digital drive
Union flags webinar frustration as 1,000 staff fear for jobs
The Royal Courts of Justice in London Credit: PA
HM Courts and Tribunals Service staff whose jobs are at risk from an IT-driven reorganisation of the way cases are managed and debts collected were shut out of an online consultation event this week because of computer glitches, the civil service’s biggest union has said.
HMCTS last year unveiled plans to consolidate 50 offices into three service centres – in Cwmbran, Runcorn and Leeds, and accepted that the move would result in the loss of jobs among staff that are part of the National Compliance and Enforcement Service.
According to the Public and Commercial Services union, up to half of the staff who had been invited to a January 31 webchat on the plans, which had been organised by management, were unable to take part in the event because of a technical problems affecting recently-installed computers.
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The union said that around 1,000 NCES staff were currently fearful for their futures as a result of the changes, which it said would see jobs moved well beyond daily travel distance for the “vast majority” of staff, and hinder the successful enforcement of court-set fines.
“These proposals are driven by cutting costs and aren’t in the interest of justice being served,” a statement from the union said.
“The best way to improve collection rates is to improve the accuracy of the information provided by the prosecution authorities.
“Too often NCES staff have the impossible task of enforcing payments based on incorrect or no information about the debtor.
“Staff were understandably frustrated that they were unable to have input into controversial centralisation plans which are reliant on the use of technology due to technical issues relating to recently installed computers.”
PCS said the IT problem with the web event had affected computers installed for staff last year.
Then-justice minister Dominic Raab announced the NCES reform proposals on November 1 last year, as part of a bigger strategy that involves the creation of two new data service centres in Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham.
HMCTS said the NCES reforms would “improve efficiency, reduce delays and increase the amount of fines collected”, and free staff from an ICT system created in 1989.
It did not corroborate PCS’s suggestion at the time that up to 500 jobs were in jeopardy, but it did accept that some roles would be lost.
Civil Service World sought a response from HMCTS on PCS’s version of the webchat issues and a clarification of the magnitude of jobs at risk.
It said Wednesday’s session had lasted for one hour and generated 295 comments, with all questions now responded to and a transcript published online for staff. HMCTS added that staff with further queries could also contact the programme for information, as well as senior managers.
“We take the recovery and enforcement of criminal fines very seriously and we are transforming the way we collect them to make it faster and more effective,” a spokesperson said.
“At the same time we recognise the impact of these changes on employees, which is why we are focused on helping our permanent staff find new roles either within the new service or in wider government.”
Although it again did not quantify the number of jobs likely to go, HMCTS said it expected a "significant proportion" of the headcount reduction to come from natural turnover.
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