Letter to National Union of Students at Middlesex University
The following is an e-mail I sent to the President of the National Union of Students at Middlesex University. That was 2 weeks ago and I've had no response. If anyone else wants to try, maybe copy and paste it into a global e-mail to all members of the Union executive, perhaps even the National President of the NUS.
Dear Mr Iyer,
It is possible that you may have noticed stories in the media about the Ministry of Justice framework agreement with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) for the supply of interpreting services to the UK Justice sector. This includes Courts, police, prisons etc.
The reason this has made the news is the chaos which has ensued since the framework came into effect at the beginning of February, principally caused by the inability of ALS to supply interpreters, and the reduced quality of those linguists (interpreter is an inappropriate word to describe them).
The most celebrated case thus far was at Snaresbrook Crown Court on April 10th , when a trial collapsed due to mis-interpretation by an ALS-supplied linguist. Amidst the furore around the recent arrest of Abu Qatada, one detail that didn’t make the headlines was that an interpreter booked by the Court did not turn up.
The reason for the chaos is that ALS has slashed the rates of pay for interpreters, with the inevitable consequence that most qualified interpreters refuse to work for them. Prior to the framework, court interpreters had to be on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and were booked directly by the courts, and paid at fixed rates. Having been given a monopoly of supply by the government, ALS is trying to drive down the payments to interpreters to maximise its own profits.
What is disturbing is that ALS claims it will qualify all of its linguists by having them assessed by Middlesex University, and is presenting this process as being ‘independent’. Of course, it is nothing of the sort, and ALS and the University are working closely as business partners. Middlesex University is providing a semblance of respectability to ALS by acting as a supposed independent body, and in turn, the University benefits by making money out of providing training to the linguists qualified by them.
The overall effect on the Interpreting profession within the UK is to turn it from a profession into a business staffed by casual semi-amateurs. I’m sure most of the students at the University are working hard towards earning their degrees in the expectation that they can enter a respected profession with rewards commensurate with the skills, dedication and commitment required to attain this status.
It is sad, therefore, to see staff at Middlesex University being instrumental in the destruction of a profession, especially one that is so vital to the administration of justice within the UK. I expect that amongst the student body at Middlesex University there are many foreign students who would appreciate having a qualified and experienced interpreter available for them in the unfortunate event that they arrested and questioned by the police.
When I was a student at Leicester, we used to have general meetings where debates were held on the hot topics of the day, and if a similar thing still takes place at Middlesex, I’d like to explore the possibility of having such a debate at Middlesex on the motion that ‘…this student union deplores the role played by Middlesex University in the outsourcing of Interpreting services to the UK justice system…’ or something along those lines. Another option to be considered is to invite those members of the University academia that are responsible for the collaboration with ALS, to engage in a debate with professional interpreters so that both sides of the argument may be heard.
I should point out that both ALS and the University are highly reticent about their collaboration, so I would not expect any co-operation from the University if it is likely to expose the shameful actions of their staff.
Against the publicity machine of a government with a strong ideological commitment to privatisation, and the business interests of those companies that benefit from such privatisations, the body of professional public service interpreters are at a great disadvantage by virtue of their relatively low numbers (approx 3000), and that the vast majority are foreign.
It is only by seeking the support of organisations such as your own that the justice of their case can be publicised, and their struggle for a fair deal given the prominence that it deserves.
I look forward to your positive response.