Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent have been chosen to house the country’s first Courts & Tribunals Service Centres, but a decision also to centralise the collection of criminal fines has sparked a warning from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) about the wider impact of court modernisation on staff.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said the aim was “to bring together expertise in managing court and tribunal cases as they transform from traditional paper-based processes to modern digital systems”.
The two centres will employ more than 300 people each, in roles ranging from processing cases, and issuing court orders and hearing notices, to answering telephone and web enquiries.
HMCTS dealt with over 4.1 million cases last year and it said that many of the enquiries relating to them will be channelled through the centres as more open.
“Bringing knowledge together means a better service. The Loughborough HMCTS contact centre, which deals with telephone calls from many county courts, has improved the speed and reliability of responses, and has very good feedback from those using it”
Justice minister Dominic Raab said: “These new administrative centres will make sure we deliver better services for those using the courts system, whilst delivering better bang for the taxpayers’ buck.”
HMCTS said it also planned to consolidate the 50 bases from which the National Compliance and Enforcement Service operates into three – in Leeds, Runcorn and Cwmbran. The service collects criminal fines.
“Our hard-working staff have been hampered by an ICT system which was created in 1989. The new operating model will improve efficiency, reduce delays and increase the amount of fines collected,” it said.
But the PCS has pledged to fight the move, saying that 500 people could lose their jobs as a result.
It said HMCTS has agreed that the PCS would be able to make the case against closures: “The union has a clear view that HMCTS must make decisions based on people, their lives and expertise. All of which are at risk if this proposal goes ahead unamended.”
In a statement, the PCS said: “This decision… is a taste of what will happen across the whole of HMCTS as functions are centralised and jobs are cut as a result of the digitisation of the courts and tribunals service.
“The HMCTS also plans to privatise the work of the civilian enforcement officers where work will be transferred to private sector bailiff companies and will no longer be directly answerable to the judiciary.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka added: “We are opposed to work being centralised and our members’ jobs being put at risk. We will, in consultation with our members, produce strong cases against office closures which we expect the employer to listen to and act upon.
“Failure to do so will give us no alternative but to actively consider all other means to stop the closures including industrial action.”
An HMCTS spokesman said: “We are transforming the way we collect fines to make it faster and more effective.
“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.”