Daily Telegraph: 'Total chaos' after pet dog counted on translators' database
The Ministry of Justice caused “total chaos” in the court system by giving a £42 million interpreters contract to a small firm which featured a pet dog on its translators’ database, MPs have said.
Cases were delayed, hundreds of translators failed to turn up, and many more refused to work for Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which was taken over by Capita at the end of last year, the Commons Committee of Public Accounts said.
But Capita has only been fined a “risible” £2,200, sending the message that the ministry allows private firms “to get away with over promising and underdelivering”, the report warned.
Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairwoman, said the project was an “object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service” as “almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.
Despite being warned in a credit rating report that ALS was too small to shoulder any contract worth more than £1 million, the ministry handed it a deal worth up to £42 million a year, even though it had only 280 properly assessed interpreters when 1,200 were needed.
Capita also counted anyone who had registered an interest on the firm’s website as a registered interpreter, as opposed to checking their qualifications, experience and suitability first.
“We heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog,” Mrs Hodge said.
The ministry “ignored strong opposition from the interpreter community”, failed to conduct a proper pilot scheme and did not phase its roll-out to ensure a smooth transition to the new system, the report found.
It also started the process without knowing the cost of interpreters or the languages which were required in which locations and at what notice, and still can not provide details of the costs caused by delays to trials.
Between February and April alone, an interpreter failed to attend on 682 occasions, figures showed.
When the system launched in February, the firm was only able to meet two in five bookings and MPs remain concerned that Capita “may not be doing enough to recruit interpreters or to incentivise interpreters to take jobs in rare languages and covering all geographical locations”.
Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the committee, added: “The Ministry of Justice must learn from this debacle and pay far more attention to the basics of contract management in future”.
Helen Grant, a justice minister, said there were strong reasons to change the old, inefficient, interpreter booking system, more than 95% of bookings were now being filled and complaints have fallen dramatically.
“We remain confident the contract will make the expected saving of £15 million a year for the Ministry of Justice,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Capita’s translation and interpreting business added: “We acknowledge that, as with the old system, there have been challenges but we are determined to get the service running at full efficiency, providing transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supporting the MoJ, police and court service.”