Police Procurement: Obtaining Less Value for Money for Interpreting Services

The deadline for the Home Office consultation is today. It is entitled Obtaining Better Value for Money from Police Procurement. This is the second consultation following on from the first which closed in September 2010. I did not necessarily have the knowledge I needed to fill out a consultation of this kind 18 months ago. I suspect many interpreters feel the same about this consultation. I suspect some interpreting agencies are too busy to consider responding to a consultation about the police when the tendering process for the framework agreement has long passed. And they may be trying to work out how to stay in business or whether to bother going for a NHS tender with a ridiculous unit cost per hour for interpreting services.
The consulation summary states that it will only be of interest to police authorities, unions and staff and businesses who contract to the police so has not been widely publicised. That sums up the attitude for me of a government ‘consultation’. It has become a byword for lip service, for pretending to listen, for ignoring the results whether it has been held locally or nationally.
Back to the consultation. There is already a framework agreement, there has already been pressure for police authorities to sign up to the agreement and many already have. The danger we have here is the consultation is about updating legislation. The proposed amendments to Regulations under Sections 53 (equipment) and Regulations under Section 57 (services) of the Police Act 1996 that would require specified equipment and services to be provided for police purposes through the use of specified framework agreements.
Translation and interpreters come under updates to the services part of the act. Other services include: some utilities, customer surveys, certain training services and certain consultancy services. Nothing else is so specialised as interpreting and no other involves ignoring other pieces of legislation namely: The Equality Act 2010, Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and EU directive 2010/64/EU 2010 on the right to interpretation in criminal proceedings. These laws state registered interpreters should be used, that no delays in provision should occur and interpreters should be of a sufficient quality or they must be replaced.
I have entered this legal argument into my consultation response alongside the explanation that this framework agreement does not obtain better value for money but rather reduces it. We have seen adjournments and delays in the courts and at tribunals. This is hardly going to improve no matter what precautions are put in place. It is an unsustainable contract and that is the simple fact of the matter.
Even though there is a perception that court work is the most important of all types of interpreting it is a myth. Interpreting at a police station is far more important. It has been drummed into me that ‘it all happens at the police station’. Having now done a smattering of police jobs and a lot of court work (before I started my boycott) I understand why the police station is far more important. It is where it all starts. It is where evidence is collected. It is where for cases it is make or break. If the interpreter makes mistakes at the police interview, whether this is for victim or suspect, it can mean abandoned court cases and expert witnesses being employed – do you really want another interpreter scrutinising your work and potentially having to agree in court that your work has been sub-standard.
Interpreting for the police can be the most important work you will ever do as an interpreter and where it has to be the most accurate. The proposed amendments to legislation means that the police have to use an agency which has not provided quality interpreters in courts and quite regularly does not manage to source one at all.
This is going to mean even more wasted public money. No, the Police Act 1996 should not be amended to regulate that police authorities should procure interpreting services. There is plenty of good practice and money savings initiatives by the forces who have resisted pressure to go over to the framework agreement, namely the London Met and Cambridgeshire Police forces.
What we need are best practice models, initiatives involving local interpreters, liaison with existing regulators – NRPSI and NRCPD. We need a way to future proof this profession and uphold standards in the face of a government who wishes to procure everything including specialist services to the now proven non-specialists and in the process waste millions of public money.

MoJ Interpreting Contract: Parliamentary Questions Update

Parliamentary questions that were being asked by the MP Andy Slaughter were published on a few forums this week. The answers by Minister Crispin Blunt were sent around today and are published below. The contract started on 30th January. Two weeks in, the MoJ were made aware of the difficulties in service delivery.
Mr Blunt uses an interesting word here: safeguarding. The very nature of this contract does in fact the opposite by renegading on a National Agreement that was previously in force to use only registered interpreters. Allowing a private company to set up their own register was folly. Many spoken language interpreters are saying their names are on the ALS database even though they never agreed to it giving the agency a falsely elevated figure of interpreters willing to work for them. The stories on the ground illustrate the fact that the rights of those needing a vetted, qualified interpreter were quashed with this contract.
Mr Slaughter: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) when he was made aware of problems with the provision of translators to the courts service by Applied Language Solutions; and if he will make a statement; [96653]
(2) whether (a) he, (b) other Ministers in his Department and (c) officials in his Department had any involvement in the acquisition of Applied Language Solutions by Capita; and if he will make a statement; [96654]
(3) whether providers of interpretation and translation services to the courts are required to undertake Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks on their employees; and whether Applied Language Solutions undertakes CRB checks on its interpreters; [96655]
(4) what long-term measures he plans to implement to ensure that Applied Language Solutions provides qualified interpreters to the courts service. [96656]
Mr Blunt: The information is as follows.
(1) Ministers were made aware of difficulties with the service provided by Applied Language Solutions on 14 February 2012. We are committed to ensuring that the rights and needs of those who require interpreters are safeguarded and we have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance. I am receiving regular reports on progress.
(2) Neither the Secretary of State for Justice, nor Justice Ministers or Ministry of Justice officials had any involvement in the acquisition of ALS by Capita.
(3) The contractor is required to ensure appropriate Criminal Records Bureau checks are undertaken.
(4) The Ministry have made clear to the contractor that the problems must be addressed immediately. The contractor is taking urgent steps to improve performance including providing additional staff to deal with bookings, further targeted recruitment of interpreters
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in key languages and improvements to the call handling and complaints process. The Ministry is monitoring performance on a daily basis.