Humberside Magistrates' Courts
"The triumph of PPP is that it delivers at cost, as stated and on time. This compares with capital schemes which have overspent and have been late in delivery."
Eric Twigger, project sponsor for Humberside Courts
Humberside Magistrates' Courts were one of the first ever PFI new build courts projects and certainly the first complete scheme to commence services. Modern Courts is responsible for the building of the courts and the provision of service operation to the courts committee for a 25 year service period. There were three courts built; the largest of the facilities is a four-storey courthouse in Hull, with two smaller courts at Beverley and Bridlington.
The PPP Forum interviewed Eric Twigger, project sponsor for Humberside Courts.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, said at the opening of Beverly and Bridlington, that the courts "illustrated how PPPs enable the public and private sectors to work together to improve standards of service, enabling a balance of control and allowing Humberside Magistrates Courts' Committee to continue to operate the courts." Do you feel the balance of control is right?
"Yes and it's very important. With the onus on the concessionaire to ensure that facilities are available and there is a system of deductions for any unavailability, giving a method of control to ensure that performance is met. If there is a water leak for example and we feel that a room is unusable, the concessionaire will wade in with everything to ensure the room is made available as soon as possible. This is in sharp contrast to the arrangement in our old building. Things are now done rapidly to avoid deductions."
The PPP covers security. Do you think that the concessionaire adequately provides this service?
"I think it's better than we've ever had and we've tried both 'in house' and contracting out. I believe that it is essential that in the Facilities Management contract that security is given a very high priority with provisions for points deductions that translates into real cash if the concessionaire defaults on any aspect. We have a policy of 100% 'no excuses' service regarding the detection of detectable offensive weapons for example.
There have been concerns that staff would feel better if there were more guards. However, I believe that the Modern Courts approach is right. There is no point in guards patrolling for its own sake. When there is cause for concern, the concessionaire ensures that the level of staffing is adequate. The discrepancy between the right method and public conception needs to be bridged and people need to appreciate that we measure by results and not just feelings. It's just a gap between looking at results, not methods."
All services will be market tested every 7 years to ensure that standards and value for money are maintained. Do you think that this is an incentive to the concessionaire to uphold good standards throughout the 25 year contract?
"Benchmarking is absolutely essential but whether the concessionaire will uphold the standards, I can't really say yet! Benchmaking is set at 7 year intervals and has not yet arisen."
It has been found practical to collect several court buildings on different sites within a region for execution under one building and operating contract, providing economies of scale. Do you believe that PPPs give rise to innovative ways in which to provide value for money?
"Yes, collating projects can be economically efficient, but it was not possible for some projects to be grouped together. For instance, it became essential to separate the PPP from rural court closures. This topic is politically sensitive and the private sector cannot judge/price court closures as it's not normally something they do! And they have no method for pricing political risk. To include this would have meant the concessionaire would have placed a heavy premium on this unquantifiable risk."
It has also enabled a unified approach to design and service operation. The consortium worked closely with East Riding of Yorkshire council and Humberside Magistrate Courts Committee. Do you feel the end result is satisfactory?
"Yes, design was more unified, but it hasn't provided a national blue print. It's given what we wanted and provided something that is available nationally but used on a very local level and meets our needs. It was difficult, the design guide at that time was very out-dated and in some parts, contradictory. For instance, it recommended that cells doors must open outwards but elsewhere in the document, it would stipulate doors to open inwards."
Courtrooms and personnel necessary to ensure proceedings is said to represent the 'tip of the iceberg'. There is a requirement to accommodate the need for legal advocates to consult with those they represent in private. Defence and prosecution advocates often need to review matters at the 11th hour and consult with clients and may need to do so again during the course of the trial/hearing. When suitable facilities are not immediately available, delays creep into the process and a valid case for adjournment gains momentum. Do the new facilities adequately provide for this?
"Yes, definitely. There are now 5 custody rooms in Hull, 3 in Beverly and 2 in Bridlington. This compares with our previous arrangements of 3 in Hull, 1 in Beverly and none in Bridlington.
In terms of interview rooms, there are 5 in Hull, 3 in Beverly and 2 in Bridlington compared with a previous regional total of one."
Modern Courts provide separate and secure waiting facilities for all, separating waiting areas for family, youths and adult defendants, secure custody areas and secure circulation routes for staff around the building. How does this compare to the old facilities?
"In the old building, youths and adults shared the same waiting areas and staff had to cross the public area as part of their circulation routes, often facing abuse from those waiting. The magistrates would pass waiting vans of prisoners and would also be confronted with verbal abuse. The new facilities are a 100% improvement.
We have to report to the Lord Chancellors Department if there are any cases of violence but there have been none since we moved to the new building."
In modernising courts, a specific issue of concern relates to the growing use of video taped evidence and its availability at the first court hearing. Humberside Court Area have estimated that 10 cases per day in an area hearing about 213,000 cases a year are unnecessarily adjourned because video evidence has not been disclosed. The cost/case in initiating preparation for trial is calculated at £1,420. On assumption of courts sitting 20 days each month, this has a collective cost of £3.4 million a year in Humberside alone. Does the new building provide for this?
"The TV link is provided by the prison authorities but Modern Courts provided the infrastructure. Virtually all courts now have video links and it does work well. The facilities management are involved in setting it up on the day of use. The new building also has a discreet entrance for vulnerable witnesses to come in and give evidence without the fear of intimidation by defendants."
Humberside has one of the highest crime rates in England/Wales. It is estimated at 15,000 per 100,000 population. Do the new courts enable cases to be heard as expeditiously as possible?
"I think they do. For instance, in Hull, we were previously based in more than one site. Now that the courts are based in one location, we can list cases more flexibly. There will always be a number of adjourned cases and if, for instance, the family court is not being used, we can hold a criminal case there instead. This is also down to the improvement in security. Our usage of the court is now in the region of 85% of planned use and is beyond previous achievements of about 65%."
English and Welsh magistrates courts are some of the most attractive and interesting buildings in the country. CABE, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, has commented on the lack of attention to design in PPPs. What are your views?
"You can argue that the buildings are more utilitarian, given that the facilities management have different priorities and they want to meet their performance targets. For instance, the architect designed the skirting in a way that eliminates shadows, but they have been a problem for those trying to clean it.
Opinion on design is also very subjective. I don't believe that functionality and design are mutually exclusive, but an element of the lack of attention to design is due to the focus on the bottom line and meeting the output specifications. If there were two identically performing bids with one more expensive due to better design, there is pressure to elect the cheaper but equally functional design."
How well do you work with the concessionaire?
"I meet with the facility managemer on a daily basis and as issues occur. We meet on a formal monthly basis to review performance and the results are fed into the invoicing system.
My relationship with the concessionaire is not adversarial and if things go wrong, as they do, things get put right. However, I believe it's important that the relationship does not become too cosy and that the concessionaire is kept on their toes.
An element we looked at in choosing a consortium was how close they worked together - some didn't seem to have spoken to each other at all! But Modern Courts appear to be as close as you get. The elements - FM, Security, Building Maintenance and Cleaning are all provided under one umbrella group, John Mowlem PLC."
What would be your thoughts about PPP?
"The triumph of PPP is that it delivers at cost, as stated and on time. This compares with capital schemes which have overspent and have been late in delivery. Criticism of PPP has often been from those in the public sector have had a vague understanding of PPPs before they got involved. We experienced none of those problems encountered in the pathfinder at Hereford and Worcester. We had excellent advisors, which came at a cost, but this meant we now have a contract that is value for money and facilities we are pleased with."