Government vetting agency the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) claims to have successfully renegotiated its £400m deal with IT services firm Capita, with the new deal offering "substantially" better terms.
After months of negotiations, Home Office officials and Capita bosses have finally reached agreement on how to get the controversial agency back on track.
The CRB vets applicants to sensitive public sector posts, such as working with children. Negotiations were meant to be completed by autumn 2003 at the latest.
"This revised contract [represents] a substantial improvement over the previous terms," said Home Office minister Hazel Blears in a statement.
The CRB was established in 2001 to provide background checks on prospective job candidates. But systems quickly buckled under the weight of applications.
In 2002, schools and hospitals across the country were faced with staff shortages as they waited for candidates to be cleared by the agency.
A review last year by government trouble-shooter Patrick Carter concluded that an electronic system of applying for a check was necessary to deal with the volume of applications. He advised that the contract needed to be renegotiated.
The CRB and Capita have since been locked in contract talks about how to achieve this.
Vince Gaskell, chief executive of the CRB, said that he was "delighted" with the revised terms.
The new deal is also expected to help the CRB become self-funding within four years.
In order to break even, the agency has to be able to deliver three levels of checks: basic, standard and enhanced.
To date, the CRB has only offered 'enhanced' and 'standard' checks, but the electronic system is expected to speed up the introduction of 'basic' checks.
The CRB has also bumped up its prices. Last year, public sector employers saw the cost of 'standard' checks more than double. The agency now expects to break even by 2005/6.
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