Ministry of Justice axes plan to outsource collection of court fines

MoJ will not seek single supplier for debt collection – and department confirms it will keep enforcement in-house

By Matt Foster

15 Oct 2015

The Ministry of Justice has scrapped a plan to outsource the collection of court fines to a single supplier, saying it will instead focus on building in-house capability.

In the latest shift by the justice ministry under Michael Gove – who this week shelved a controversial deal to provide prison and probation advice to Saudi Arabia – ministers confirmed that the MoJ had abandoned its procurement competition for the collection of fines and fixed penalties.

Court debt collection is currently carried out by the National Compliance Enforcement Service (NCES) on behalf HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS). Synnex Concentrix UK Ltd was the preferred bidder for a plan to privatise enforcement, but a written statement to parliament published on Thursday confirmed the MoJ’s change of tack.

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“In the last financial year HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) collected over £550m of fines, other financial impositions, fixed penalties and orders, and that money has helped to fund vital services for taxpayers,” justice minister Shailesh Vara said.

“To build on this work, in July 2013 my department began a procurement competition for a new provider of criminal court compliance and enforcement services, and a preferred bidder was identified in January 2015.

“Following re-consideration of the department’s requirements, we have decided that outsourcing these services to a single supplier is not the best option for HM Courts and Tribunals Service. This decision is based on the need to ensure that any contract we let completely meets our requirements, provides best value for the taxpayer and complies with procurement law.

“Ministers have set out the importance of reforming HMCTS to provide a modern and efficient service for society. Improving compliance and enforcement services will continue to form a key part of that work. We believe that in house modernisation is the best option for HMCTS.”

When asked whether the MoJ was still considering outsourcing services but under a different model, a spokesperson told CSW that enforcement would now be kept in-house.

When the tender for the five-year contract was published in 2013, HMCTS said it believed involving a commercial organisation would “bring in the necessary investment and technology needed to help increase fine collection, reduce enforcement costs and importantly ensure more criminals pay”.

But ahead of the summer parliamentary recess, 27 Labour MPs including leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell – then backbenchers – signed an early day motion attacking the proposals.

The MPs praised the National Compliance Enforcement Service for having “continued to improve collection rates despite cuts to staff and resources” and urged ministers “to listen to the concerns of staff working within the NCES to make certain that this vital part of the justice service is not put in the hands of a private company who will put profit before justice”.

The MoJ's move has been welcomed by the Public and Commercial Services union, whose members include NCES staff.

“While PCS welcomes the realisation by HMCTS that a private provider will not meet ‘completely’ their needs and will not provide best value for the taxpayer, it is disappointing that our members were put through years of uncertainty, when this is what we were repeatedly telling ministers from the outset," the union's general secretary Mark Serwotka said.

He added: "The MoJ squandered in excess of £7m of taxpayers’ money during the abandoned privatisation process, while PCS maintained that these services should continue to be carried out by public servants and that the proposals were rooted in Tory ideology."

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