Framework Fantasies: back-to-back assignments
When Applied Language Solutions were bidding for the MoJ interpreting contract even before they were bought out by Capita plc, they promised the government extensive savings by abolishing the three-hour minimum payment and only charging for the actual work done (Page 117 of the Framework Agreement). They go further to say that interpreters “have been extremely flexible, understanding the new economic environment and pushing themselves forward for more professional development and more assignments”.
On Page 136 of the Framework Agreement ALS make the following claim: “We work to assign maximum volumes of work to interpreters within their catchment area which benefits our interpreters who work on a freelance basis, as they can maximise their workload within a period of time. They can, in fact, earn a higher income than before simply because of the volume of work that we can offer from CJS, Local government and NHS contract assignments in their area”. Effectively, they are talking about back-to-back assignments, which their super efficient job matching system would provide, removing the necessity to pay their linguists a three-hour minimum as they would be busy working non-stop all day long anyway.
Let’s see how this wonderful principle is working in practice now that the courts have signed up to the scheme. At the end of June a colleague kindly reported from a Magistrates’ Court in London that before lunchtime an interpreter simply left the trial for another job, in another town, another county and the court had to struggle to find another interpreter for the afternoon to continue the trial. Of course, the court did not bother wasting their time with ALS and decided that NRPSI was the only way out of the mess for the day.
Back in May another colleague in Snaresbrook Crown Court was observing a case with three co-defendants appearing for their sentence. A pre-sentence report had been prepared. An interpreter had been booked for the morning in advance, however, the linguist booked was on another job in a court in St Albans that morning. He managed to get to Snaresbrook Crown Court in London just before 12 pm. At 12.45 pm he informed the Court that he could not deal with the case after lunchtime as he was going to yet another Court. He effectively came for an hour. He left and the case had to be adjourned. He didn’t even bother going to the cells to see the defendants with the lawyers to explain to them why the case had to be adjourned.
This is happening daily these days, we know it from colleagues’ observations, solicitors, court staff and even Twitter. ALS interpreters just do not care about disrupting court proceedings. All they want is a few jobs piled up every day and they are apparently encouraged by ALS to take on as many jobs as possible. Of course, ALS are the ones interested in getting as many jobs fulfilled as possible, regardless of the assignment start time. It improves their figures, forget about quality. And improving figures is already proving very difficult, if not impossible, considering the limited number of people they managed to enrol.
I remember reading an article last year in the run-up to this fiasco when NRPSI interpreters were being portrayed as scammers abusing the system and accused of “stacking” jobs. Isn’t this what ALS are promoting? How do they know in ALS when each assignment is going to finish, be it a court hearing, a trial or a police interview? Have they designed a crystal ball along with their famous geo location software?
It looks to me that a great idea of saving money by stacking up assignments doesn’t seem to be so great in reality and shatters yet another Framework fantasy…