back to article G4S call centre staff made 'test' 999 calls to hit performance targets

Five former Lincolnshire police employees have been suspended today from their jobs at G4S after allegedly calling 999 during quiet periods to improve their performance ratings. It has been alleged that the staff made more than 600 "test calls" to 999 for the purposes of improving their performance ratings, which The Guardian …

  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Criminals can go straight-

    Why can't bent ex-cops? (rental or otherwise).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Criminals can go straight-

      Read the article. They're not cops, they're ex-Police staff. I.E. Civilians hired by the Police who were then outsourced to G4S.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Criminals can go straight-

        Read the post- 'ex-cops' is a clue to the clueless.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Criminals can go straight-

          They're not cops, or ex-cops. (Seeing as you like clues, search the article for the word "cop").

          As mentioned by another AC, they're ex-employees of a Police force. That doesn't make them cops (ex or otherwise), any more than it makes the cleaners cops.

  2. Joefish
    Holmes

    It seems to me that the real criminals

    are the ones who keep awarding public contracts to Group 4...

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Targets Vs Cost

    Anytime you have a performance target, people will try to achieve it the cheapest/simplest way, which may not be the way you intended. The NHS have discovered this on numerous occasions with hospitals fiddling waiting lists.

    1. Rol Silver badge

      Re: Targets Vs Cost

      Yeah, when I worked for the NHS, they had a "waiting list" for patients to go on THE waiting list, thus ensuring no one on THE waiting list, waited so long that the hospital incurred penalties.

      That these waiting lists and the apparent success rates fed into the statistics that govern where resources urgently need directing, must surely be accountable for tens of thousands of preventable deaths.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Rol Re: Targets Vs Cost

        I had a relative who was on a waiting list for major surgery. There wasn't a hope in hell of the hospital making the waiting list target, so they just removed the patient from the waiting list.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: @Rol Targets Vs Cost

          Except the hospital was still treating as many people as physically possible. It was just cooking the books to avoid cuts due to not meeting political targets,

          This is like leaving people who need emergency surgery waiting ,while while you perform unnecessary easy surgeries to make money

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Targets Vs Cost

        @Rol; "they had a "waiting list" for patients to go on THE waiting list, thus ensuring no one on THE waiting list, waited so long that the hospital incurred penalties."

        Wouldn't that require whoever was in a position to judge or penalise them to go along with *their* obvious fiction that the "waiting list for the waiting list" somehow didn't count as part of the waiting list proper?

        Even if they did, aren't they required to put people on the waiting list regardless? If the "waiting list for the waiting list" doesn't count as "THE waiting list" then it's irrelevant.

        But even pandering to it on that level is probably more than you'd expect most courtrooms to put up with. As I said, any unbiased overseer with the power to do their job properly should be able to slap down such crude and transparent self-declared legal fictions with the contempt they deserve and fine the trust regardless. So either they were in cahoots with the hospital or their power was hobbled to the extent they couldn't do their job properly...?

        1. Skoorb

          Re: Targets Vs Cost

          @Rol; "they had a "waiting list" for patients to go on THE waiting list, thus ensuring no one on THE waiting list, waited so long that the hospital incurred penalties."

          Yeah. In England that doesn't happen any more, and hasn't for some time now. The 18 week Referral to Treatment (RTT) target, and the Two Week Rule (2WR) for suspected cancer are measured from referral to the start of treatment.

          - There is no provision to pause or suspend an RTT waiting time clock under any circumstances.

          - The percentage of incomplete pathways seen within 18 weeks (92%) has become the sole measure of performance

          - The financial penalty for incomplete pathways breaching 18 weeks above the threshold of 8% is now £300 per breach (£5000 if any single patient waits more than 52 weeks), and the regulator, NHS Improvement, coming and breathing down your neck.

          Finally, if you cannot be seen within the maximum waiting time the organisation that commissions and funds your treatment (CCGs or NHS England) must investigate and offer you a range of suitable alternative hospitals or community clinics that would be able to see or treat you more quickly. However, you will need to contact the original hospital, clinic or commissioner first before alternatives can be investigated for you.

          1. Rol Silver badge

            Re: Targets Vs Cost

            Good to know, such despicable practises have been reigned in. Thanks for the info.

            It's still the same management team though, thank God, none of them have a say in triage.

    2. nil0
    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Targets Vs Cost

      Anytime you have a performance target, people will try to achieve it the cheapest/simplest way, which may not be the way you intended.

      Yup, that's why rail companies cancel a train that's too late instead of sending it anyway, but later. A delayed train can cause a domino effect of delays, which would incur multiple penalties. Cancelling a train is cheaper - that you end up with massive overcrowding doesn't hurt profits.

      The only way to fix that is focusing the penalty system on throughput of people in relative comfort (read: having a seat), but that would require someone actually admitting that that is a problem. Not going to happen, I think..

      1. theModge

        Re: Targets Vs Cost

        The only way to fix that is focusing the penalty system on throughput of people in relative comfort (read: having a seat), but that would require someone actually admitting that that is a problem. Not going to happen, I think..

        There's plenty of people within the rail industry who care about such things, the problem is that change happens that a pace that makes geology look positively frantic.

      2. Skoorb

        Re: Targets Vs Cost

        Yeah, the rail performance targets are written in a really odd way.

        Did you know that if a train doesn't stop at any one of it's scheduled stops it is as if the train never ran at all? So, if a station is evaculated and closed, every train that passes through the station is now a total failure. This gives the perverse incentive to actually not bother running some trains if everything falls apart so badly that a station has to close.

        Also, the late running targets are only measured at the terminating station, not any intermediate station, so you can be as late as you want everywhere except the last stop without any problem.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          Re: Targets Vs Cost

          Also, the late running targets are only measured at the terminating station, not any intermediate station, so you can be as late as you want everywhere except the last stop without any problem.

          I seemed to recall this was being clamped down on, as train companies were adding unnecessary time on between the final two stations to try and "catch-up". You had the anomaly that the inbound journey could take two or three times longer than the outbound journey due to this padding.

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: Targets Vs Cost

            > ... as train companies were adding unnecessary time on between the final two stations to try and "catch-up".

            Indeed, I've witnessed this in some timetables. Can't remember the details, but one journey I recall having made a couple of times had a change at Wolverhampton one way and Birmingham NS the other. When I looked carefully, the time taken to get from Wolverhampton to BNS by the original train was much longer than for the one transferred to - thus meaning that you could get off a train, wait for another train, and get to BNS before the train you'd got off !

            As you say, padding the last sector of the trip to make punctuality figures better.

            1. theModge

              Re: Targets Vs Cost

              Padding is actually a field in the time table definition or rather public arrival time and arrival time are two different fields, to allow for this.

              Whilst we're talking about Birmingham New Street and improbable time tables the cross city line, between fiveways and new street can't actually meet it's timetable with the rolling stock it's got. For reasons I forget it was easier to leave it this way and let it make up the time later in the journey than it was to change it.

  4. Rol Silver badge

    Seems a shame to let such quality staff go.

    They obviously show ability in the dark arts of screwing the public purse and really need promoting into a sphere where their shenanigans are never investigated.

    Westminster lobbyist, perhaps?

  5. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    'Game Theory'

    Designing 'performance metrics' isn't as trivial as it seems.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. theModge

      Re: 'Game Theory'

      It would be nice if they were picked by someone who knew that though wouldn't it?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Game Theory'

      I expect TuPE staff are were just making the best of the shitty deck they were handed by the outsource process. The other half of the problem is that the police force almost certainly has nobody left with the brains, balls and above all backing to hold G4S to account.

      As someone who was outsourced from a major police force the best part of 2 decades ago to save money I can tell you without fear of contradiction that not a groat was saved. It was commonly whispered that the chief salesman who eventually bought us bought himself an obscenely decent yacht on the bonus though. Fast forward a decade and a half plus and the champagne corks are still fired in salute to his name! Shame about the alleged outsource savings though.

      1. Baskitcaise

        Re: 'Game Theory'

        Re: 'Game Theory,

        This I like,,,,,

        Need I say more?

        No icon because I do not think it needs one.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Make a number a target on which people's remuneration etc is dependent - and they tend to focus on achieving the number by whatever means. Doing the actual work it is supposed to measure can become secondary.

    Law enforcement seems to have become target driven in the last few decades. That has apparently led to an institutional inclination to go for the low hanging fruit - rather than the real criminals.

    A canny operator can give his political masters whatever number they want - but being careful not to degrade the service to customers.

    The Crosby "Quality" methodology was quite clear that people should choose what aspect of their work they are measuring. However he stressed that the results must remain private to that person - to avoid the social pressure to fiddle them. It is amazing how many implementations made employees put up "progress" charts over their desks - and then wondered why the system didn't give them the improvements they expected.

  7. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    I'm shocked to hear of corruption amongst ex police and outsoucers. somebody ought to do something about it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      More outsourcing ought to.this kind of corruption out. It's worked pretty well so far! Just allow the profit margins to be so damned fat that even the outsource company realises it can't afford to mess up and loose the goose that lays it's golden eggs.

  8. Triggerfish

    Same problem as any helpdesk.

    Anywhere you employ a company to do helpdesk work and make the performance metric how many calls they answer, how long they take etc, versus actual say fixing an issue you have a terrible helpdesk for the customer. I can understand why the company providing the service does it it's easy to game.

    I can't understand why people keep paying for these fecking things though, you'd think someone would have a clue by now.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Same problem as any helpdesk.

      "I can't understand why people keep paying for these fecking things though, you'd think someone would have a clue by now."

      They keep paying for these things because they're easy to measure - the call centre equipment will do the measuring for you. Even excluding test calls, assuming the equipment can differentiate, won't help because the consequence would be hanging up live calls to take new ones.

      Time to answer is probably a good measure if used sensibly. If you get towards the failure limit it tells you you're getting to the point where you need to add resources but, of course, this is going to be resisted by whatever management entity is going to have to pay. Turning into a target makes it useless as a measure (Goodhart's law rather than the Cobra effect).

      Setting targets based on outcomes, which is what should be done, creates a very much more difficult measuring task.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Same problem as any helpdesk.

        > Setting targets based on outcomes, which is what should be done, creates a very much more difficult measuring task.

        When I was at university, I vaguely recall (it was a lot of years ago now) one of our lecturers warning us of the perils of designing a control system to control what we could easily measure, rather than measuring what we needed to measure in order to be able to control what we wanted to be able to control.

        Unfortunately, TPTB don't seem to understand such simple things.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Same problem as any helpdesk.

          A colleague used a story to illustrate this problem to people.

          Late at night a man was obviously searching for something in the vicinity of a street lamp. He told a helpful passer-by that he had dropped his keys. After more fruitless searching by them both - the passer-by said "Are you sure you dropped them here?". "Oh no" - said the man "over there" - pointing to a dark corner. "Why are you looking here then?" - "Because this is where the light is".

        2. Triggerfish

          Re: Same problem as any helpdesk.

          My first post uni job was a helldesk, mostly supporting software on NT servers. Our desk supported similar software on Unix, we had one customer a chain of supermarkets. They tried everything to get them to move to NT because they could sell these call stats, mostly boosted by a restart and the inevitable follow up call a few hours later when it fell over again.

          Our desk had shite call stats we could be a while on them fixing the problem permanently, and low calls because we fixed the problem properly and applied it estate wide. The supermarket IT team trusted us and worked with us well. It was quite amusing watching sales staff get frustrated trying to push their head office visitors over to NT showing them the busy desks and us few in a corner sitting doing nothing. One of the few companies we employed that seemed to get IT staff looking frantic and handling loads of problems all the way through the day means somethings wrong not right.

  9. The Mole

    "The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has also reviewed the evidence and has determined there are no grounds to pursue a criminal prosecution."

    I'm no lawyer but surely this behaviour would count as fraud - or do the targets not actually impact anything financially.

    Lets hope in the future test calls are explicitly excluded from statistical purposes.

    1. getHandle

      You missed the bit about it being the CPS reviewing the evidence...

  10. EastFinchleyite

    Two IFs

    "there are no grounds to pursue a criminal prosecution."

    IF the "test calls" were necessary to enable the G4S staff to meet the contract performance targets

    and

    IF there are financial penalties/rewards in that contract tied to meeting those targets

    then fraud has likely been committed.

    Last time I looked, Fraud was a criminal offence. Whether that fraud would have included G4S or just its employees is another matter.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Two IFs

      Possible elephant in the room of if it was a "test" call they were allowed to contractually make, and they just found a loophole in the metric reporting systems.

      So no legal ground for charges, but could be dismissed on other grounds (found to be using facebook at work?).

      1. The First Dave

        Re: Two IFs

        Surely making 'fake' 999 calls is an offence in itself?

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Two IFs

          They were "test" calls, so not "fake". They were allowed to make the calls, just not allowed to fake the stats. For example, they were allowed to make as many test calls as they wished. However test calls were not to be included in the reporting. They included them in the reporting. They faked the reports to the management.

          As they are allowed to make the calls, they broke no legal rules. The stats were internal checks and performances. And as far as I know, it is not illegal to fail at work, just you may get sacked for it.

          (Though that is based on my limited knowledge from what the article posts)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Takes me back...

    To the fond (Fucking horrible) times in the early 90's being a student and working for a contractor who supplied the 192 Directory Enquiry service, After being in the job for a few weeks and learning the proper way of doing it, we were told that:

    A: It cost the company money every time we conducted a search

    B: It was far easier to keep the caller waiting, not do a search, and then cut them off

    Net result was high call volume as people redialled, low call handling times and minimal charges to the company that had to be deducted from any money paid by BT at the time (I think?)

    So yeah.... everyone was brought on board, across the entire floor, and everyone would do it, because it all meant bonuses for everyone. No integrity.

    Still, I'll never forget one call I took.

    "192 Directory Enquiries, what name do you require?"

    "The Samaritans...."

    "One second Sir."

    "I'm a woman....."

    I cut the line out of sheer shame and embarrassment. I wonder if they called back.....

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: Takes me back...

      You could be forgiven, up to the point where you cut someone off needing the samaritans...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Takes me back...

      Upvote for confessing your sins on the internet.

  12. Graham Marsden
    Flame

    “There is no place...

    "...for any organisation which behaves in this way"

    FTFY

  13. The Nazz Silver badge

    It's only going to get worse.

    If only a fraction of what the sister-in-law, a teacher, tells me then most of the current state education system is engaged in gaming the system (for higher self reward) and producing a whole load of future operatives for such underhand tactics.

  14. Fatman Silver badge

    Fucking PHB's

    From the article:

    <quote>In October, however, the number rose to 139, and then to 236 in November, before reaching its highest at 349 in December. According to The Guardian: "The figures show that without the extra test calls the control room would have missed its target of answering 92% of calls within 10 seconds in November and December."

    The 349 test calls of the 8,153 total that were received in December raised the office's 89 per cent target to 93 per cent. The five suspended officers are believed to include the control room manager.</quote>

    PHB: "Did we make our performance targets?"

    Beancounter: "Yes, we did!"

    PHB: "Good, bonuses all around, excellent work!"

    PHB's perfect at managing the numbers, not the problem.

    The bigger question? "WHY aren't these assholes under investigation for fraud?" I bet some bureaucrat doesn't want to have to explain some less than honorable dealings.

  15. raving angry loony

    Metrics?

    What kind of a fucked up metric is "x% calls answered in X seconds" for an emergency service? That implies that the people there are asleep at the switch rather than busy as hell during actual emergencies. Are they supposed to hang up on the the people whose lives depend on the service so they can answer calls within an arbitrary time limit?? The fact that they CAN answer within 10 seconds "during quiet times" means that the rest of the time it's not quiet. The fact that they felt they needed to says more about the (lack of) management than anything else.

    The only people who need to jailed and caned are the goat felching managers who came up with those metrics in the first place. And the PHB who insisted on implementing them.

    Just when I thought PHBs couldn't get any more stupid and corrupt they set the bar lower.

    1. wyatt

      Re: Metrics?

      An example: you have call handlers each with a 999 skill and a 101 skill. Calls come in and are routed to a free operators. If all are busy with 101 calls then that call is placed on hold and a 999 call is answered. The 101 call is recovered within a certain time if able to be or the caller told to call back (automated message).

      If all handers are taking 999 calls then the call 'should' reroute to a free contact centre within another force. If this is happening constantly then you're under staffed. Infrequently can be explained by a specific event/emergency.

      Staff can be on wrap up from the last call before they can answer/be ready for the next. Better to hold the call in a queue than present it and lose details of either call.

      Is it right to have requirements for answering calls within a specific time? That depends on the reason for the metric.

      1. raving angry loony

        Re: Metrics?

        @wyatt writes: If this is happening constantly then you're under staffed.

        Actually, that's a valid point that I hadn't considered. Mainly due to previous experience.

        If the metric is to determine correct staffing levels, fine and dandy. I can see that it's actually a valid metric.

        Sadly, I've never seen a metric like that used for that purpose. Ever.

        Instead, all I've ever seen then used for is to punish the people on the front line who actually work in the understaffed department.

    2. Skoorb

      Re: Metrics?

      I have actually had the pleasure of reading the unreacted "Public Emergency Call Service Code of Practice" a few years ago.

      The Emergency Operator (EO) who answers the 999 call asking for which service you require had a target of answering 95% of 999/112 calls within 5 seconds. "Under the Policing Pledge, the Police Service aims to answer 999/112 calls within 10 seconds; the recommended response time for the Ambulance Service is to answer 95% within 5 seconds; and the Fire and Rescue Service and Coastguard aim to answer 95% within 10 seconds."

      If the EO cannot connect the call (including if no one answers) there is a fall back process:

      "In circumstances where the CHA emergency operator receives no reply on the primary number after 60 seconds, the operator will connect the call to a secondary number provided by the EA, except where call queuing is used". If a queueing system does exist, the operator will only sit in a queue on the primary number for a maximum of 2 minutes before falling back.

      And, if no one answers on the second number after 30 seconds, they fall back to an alternate number, normally a different service.

      Although it may not sound like much, in an emergency waiting 10 seconds for someone to pick up the call, then another 10 seconds to be transferred to the right service can seem like an eternity. Sitting in a queue for 2 minutes must be terrible.

  16. inquisitive2014
    Happy

    15 years ago a Royal Commission into the failure of the new computerised Ambulance Dispatch system in Victoria, Australia, reported that the staff had done exactly the same thing - made many internal calls to the emergency number which were responded to very quickly so as to improve the reported call answering statistics

  17. Kane Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Absolutely...

    ...fucking despicable.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to work on these systems

    One day I was in the control room of a UK police force. The supervisor came to find me and told me that calls were being diverted to a neighbouring force (which is what happens by design when the control room you call is too busy).

    My colleague checked the system and found nothing wrong. In the end it transpired that they simply didn't have enough bums on seats - too many operators were on Not Ready, or away from their desks making tea.

  19. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Improving their performance ratings

    'staff made more than 600 "test calls" to 999 for the purposes of improving their performance ratings'

    This is what happens when you put spyware on the system and give people impossible performance targets.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Performance Targets to the wrong People.

    As it's objectives time for most people right now, this story is very apt, and to me shows the massive difference between a goal for a company and an objective for an individual. In my opinion the people to blame are the objective setters, for making a financial incentive (I.e. pay rise / bonus) for the operators to hit this target. I don't know about anyone else, but when i phone the police, yes I want a quick response on the phone, but more importantly I want the quick response from the time I contact to the time the police arrive at the crime.

    The measure of is the call answered in 10 seconds is a group measure and so is not the responsibility of the individual, but of the team leader. Can the individual get contractors in? Can the individual enforce a lunch rota? No, it's up to the Management team, and therefore it's there objective, not the operator's.

  21. ukgnome Silver badge

    Who hasn't used this method to help the helpdesk with their stats in return for chocolate ;-)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One should careful not to appear to exceed a target which is beyond your control. It often will only be used to ratchet up the target for next time.

    A colleague used to manage a PHB imposed "magic" figure that was about the number of bugs closed in a week. There was a problem in that it did not really take into account the severity or difficulty of the problems.

    However - the team avoided the obvious temptation to fix all the easy ones which were usually not causing customer's major problems. What they did do was to avoid formally closing bugs when they had already achieved the "magic" number for the week. The customers were happy with the timely fixes - and the team had some slack to allow for nasty bugs in the future. They also avoided the "magic number" being ratcheted up by the PHB after an unusually good few weeks.

    One day there was a senior management "walk round" to visit the workers at the coalface. The senior man asked my colleague "What is the number this week?" - to which my colleague honestly replied "What would you like it to be?".

  23. Curtis

    Not Surprising

    Anyone who has any experience at any level in a call center has seen similar behavior. Internal, Outsourced, Off-Shored. Every single call center does something similar to this.

    One reason is that the metrics are set based on profitability numbers. Either "take more calls" or in the case of a Service Level Agreement, balance the staff to the workload. This often means that centers will be understaffed for call volume, to try to balance cost vs performance.

    Using the "Service Level Model" where XX% of calls must be answered in XX seconds, it almost requires this behavior for "fiscal responsability", at least if you believe the PHBs.

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