George Osborne has been doing the rounds of the TV studios, deflecting from his failing economic strategy and lack of a Plan B by talking about waste in the system and the great cuts he’s going to be making to sort everything out.
Whilst that may sound a lot, it’s not actually that much in the great scheme of things. In fact, looking at the CPS Annual Report and Accounts 2012 gives a figure of £5.48 million or £3.65 per case. Again, the figure is less as this includes other stationary (although as anyone who has tried to find a stapler in a CPS office can tell you, they’re not spending much on there).
Surely we can save money here though? We’ve been promised paperless working, lets get that up and running and save some money there? Well, there are a few problems.
Firstly, the CPS will always need to print and copy things. There are unrepresented defendants and the secure email system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s so secure it often doesn’t send or receive.
Secondly, turning the Crown Court system paperless is not free. It is difficult to put a figure on it, but given previous IT disasters, the figure is likely to be ‘a lot’.
But the bigger point is that a drive to solve this problem may well be penny wise but pound foolish. A couple of days lost in Court due to IT problems (which will happen) and the savings will begin to evaporate.
Rather than targeting headline-grabbing suggestions, maybe it’s best to start with the basics and do the job properly. That same year, the CPS paid out £385,000 in wasted costs for example.
It’s not very glamorous, but if cases were prepared properly, this would ultimately save far more money. As an example from a recent case I dealt with there was, by my calculation, 500 pages that were copied in a rush that, with proper case management, needn’t have been. I’m certainly in favour of more paperless working, but this has got to be done as part of a wider reform of the system, not a quick fix to get the budgets down.
The lesson from every practitioner is probably the same. The MoJ and the CPS are desperate to cut their bottom line, even when this is far outweighed by an increase elsewhere. If they were more grown up, then there would be an adult discussion about all parts of the system working together to get costs down (which is certainly do-able). Until then, we’ll carry on getting measures that create a cheap headline but don’t work.