National Audit Office Report on the MoJ’s Interpreting Contract

There was a hearing by the Public Accounts Committee on Monday 15th October following the recent publication of a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the Ministry of Justice’s contract for interpreting and translation which was damning. Firstly comments on the NAO report dated 10th September.
Spoken language interpreters have done an impressive job in collecting a dossier of evidence to present to the NAO and the Justice Select Committee, whose hearing is due on 23rd October.
The NAO has done its own research into the contract and thought the failings in the contract were apparent. Those in the know from the reality on the ground, know it is much worse than the already awful picture portrayed by the NAO’s report.
Other have commented on the report already. Here are some more including links to other reports:
It is stated that on the 22nd Feb the MoJ threatened to rescind the contract (a mere 22 days into it). Why it was allowed to continue is a mystery. The mayhem continues and this includes BSL with no interpreters provided, bookings at short notice and a multitude of agencies now being used to fill the contract. ALS/Capita have continued to throw money at it including having to pay wasted cost orders issued by judges. Those fines do not include the obvious costs of having to haul your Barristers in front of a bench quite regularly. Do not think wasted costs have stopped. They continue.
The report quotes (section 3.8) that interpreters had a pay drop of 8%. This rather modest figure has been checked and recalculated. It’s not true. If it were 8% why would linguists have been travelling the country accepting assignments just to make a profit on the travel? Klasiena Slaney has worked out the figure is actually in the region of a 60-80% drop leaving interpreters earning below the minimum wage.
Stats of 98% fulfilled bookings had been quoted for ‘some days’. This begs the questions: filled with what kind of quality of interpreter when only 13%, some 300 NRPSIs are working for this contract (3.18). The MoJ say ALS are currently filling 95% of bookings. The overall 98% target seems to have been forgotten by the MoJ. It could be claiming service credits worth thousands but is not because it is not holding the contractors to account.
A particular favourite was section 3.12 – payments for linguists could be entered on the portal by the linguists themselves. Considering this was allowed by people employed without CRB checks, coupled with reports of ex-criminals working as interpreters to help get their partners-in-crime let off, it is a serious matter.
ALS/Capita now says it can not assess some languages as set out in the contract, section 3.16. The interpreting organisations did forewarn the MoJ.
Overall apart from these findings, the NAO report appears to still support the contract. It states (2.17) that Capita’s review in July of ALS shows that there is now less risk. That is a given. It could not be any worse than it was.
The report excuses the MoJ: they just were not aware of how interpreting was arranged and the true costs involved. Indeed. There should have been proper research done before awarding a national contract on the basis of guesstimates to a relatively small company.
At the end of the day the MoJ were given a report stating they should award a contract to ALS of no more than £1 million as this posed a risk. The MoJ wanted to award them a contract worth £42 million. The NAO criticises the MoJ for a lack of due diligence on this point. It is quite clearly outsourcing gone mad. Even thatcher wouldn’t have done that.
For further analysis of the NAO report see the excellent and often quoted

The MoJ Interpreting Contract Fiasco: Is It Over?

Anecdotal reports over the past few weeks have pointed to continued failures of provision of interpreters to the MoJ. Interpreters are still travelling from Birmingham to London for a morning’s work then failing to stay for the afternoon leaving courts stranded as the only way a ‘linguist’, i.e. untrained interpreter, can make a living is by increasing their travel expenses.
The ‘linguist’ who caused a collapsed trial to the tune of £25k was seen working in courts again despite the collapse being in the papers.
West Midlands Police are letting suspects out on bail as it is taking days to get someone to come to the station, once this reportedly included witnesses in a murder case.
Criminals who have not been CRB checked are working in courts as ‘linguists’ and are reportedly ‘helping their mates stay out of jail.’
Other reports suggest some courts have given up using the national framework agreement (FWA) altogether and are back to sourcing their own interpreters. This would be one reason that would explain, amongst others, why many more court bookings are coming through a variety of agencies for Sign Language Interpreters.
Key ALS executives, David Joseph and Richard Loyer, amongst others, who were in charge of interpreting have reportedly left and joined a translation company called Language Wire and Gavin Wheeldon no longer has ALS as current on his LinkedIn profile and is now working for a catering company.
The misinformation that has been coming out from Minsters, namely Crispin Blunt, that interpreters earned six figure salaries, that the old system was a complete mess and that the new all-singing, all-dancing systems were going to save millions was always going to be hard to counteract.
The problem for government has always been that the figures the proposed savings were calculated on were created out of thin air. This is why FOI’s have gone unanswered. There are no figures. The only figures we have were created by the company themselves. Rather than proper research, a comprehensive scoping exercise with well thought out recommendations, what really happened was the contract was given to the lowest bidder and we were left with a mess.
It may seem quiet. It isn’t. It is just that the media is waiting for the outcome of the political fight which is happening behind closed doors and about to come to fruition. Hats off to the Professional Interpreters for Justice, Unite the Union, the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, APCI, SPSI and all the interpreters who have held firm and boycotted the contract at risk of losing their livelihoods, their homes. What we have now is stalemate.
MP Magaret Hodge took the concerns of interpreters to the National Audit Office and the contract is being investigated. Dossiers of the many failures observed by interpreters monitoring the courts when they had no work have been produced as evidence. The Public Accounts Office have been alerted. So too the Justice Select Committee. A parliamentary event for MPs is being organised.
In the contract, failure to supply results in penalties. Judges who are minded to do so when cases have been adjourned have charged ALS with wasted costs orders. The barrister costs for each time a wasted costs order is brought must be substantial. The other penalties in the form of service credits as stated in the FWA can not be profitable. The proposed figure that Capita is losing on this contract that I have heard from three difference sources is a hefty sum. Per week. Capita can afford to take the loss but why keep a contract that does not and cannot perform?
The original business model was to supply language speakers within a 25 miles radius cheaply to courts having made these potential ‘interpreters’ pay for their own assessments at £125. That got dropped within weeks of the start of the contract to ‘free’ when noone would work for this company, then the assessment was dropped altogether. ALS are reportedly now saying that they will insist their interpreters are properly qualified and they should have passed the DPSI exam. The weekly updates of proposed service improvments mean that the original business model barely exists. It can not be profitable any longer and with growing political pressure it is surely only a matter of time before talks with interpreting associations will resume and alternatives to this fiasco will be tabled.
We are looking at a real opportunity. No longer do the media label interpreters as scroungers, the courts can recognise an interpreter of quality and work can be done with government on ensuring trained, registered interpreters are in court working for fair pay, and being respected for it. And the government could save money if it learns its lesson and works with the interpreting associations rather than against. They’ll be a lot of people soon saying I told you so.