Letter to PAC re: Changes to Capita linguist tiering
Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee
1st January 2013
Re: Update on the Ministry of Justice’s language services contract, and NAO follow-up investigation.
I am writing this letter in response to an e-mail sent out by Capita to its linguists in early December. An extract from this e-mail reads as follows;
From 16th December 2013, we will be implementing an important change to the way in which we allocate Tiers to registered interpreters and the corresponding information you will see in your capitalinguistportal.com profile. The change is designed to provide a more transparent breakdown of your supplier profile and the associated skills and qualifications for each language you speak.
What is the change?
Currently, you are assigned an overall Tier incorporating each language included in your capitalinguistportal.com profile. This is based on your level of qualifications for your particular group of languages. In order for us to appropriately align customer interpreting requirements to interpreter skills and qualifications, we are changing our system. You will now be allocated a Tier for each of the individual languages you have listed in your profile, based on the level of qualification you have provided to us for each individual language….’
This e-mail exposes the fact that Capita has – from the start of the contract – been misrepresenting the spectrum of skill levels of the linguists that it uses. For example, a linguist may have passed DPSI in Romanian, and would therefore be correctly assigned as Tier 1, and no-one would question their competence. However, if this linguist also claimed to be fluent in Hungarian, then Capita also classes them as being able to interpret in Hungarian at Tier 1, even though they may not possess any interpreting qualifications for Hungarian language.
This state of affairs was previously exposed in the National Audit Office report of 2012. Figure 3 compared the ALS list of linguists with that of the NRPSI, as it stood in May 2012. The average number of languages per individual interpreter was 1.16 for the NRPSI, and 1.74 for the ALS list. The explanation for this is quite straightforward. The NRPSI requires an interpreter to provide evidence of qualifications and experience for each and every language. ALS and Capita are less discriminating. Returning to our example, our Capita linguist would be eligible to be on the NRPSI for interpreting in Romanian, but would not be able to add Hungarian as an additional language unless and until they passed the necessary tests for interpreting in Hungarian. In contrast, Capita would pass them off as being Tier 1 in both Romanian and Hungarian, whereas they should really be classified as Tier 3 in Hungarian. In the original contract, the intention was that the competence of all linguists would be double-checked by the much vaunted ‘independent assessment’, but like so many other key conditions of the contract, this has been quietly dropped and forgotten. The ability of Capita to misrepresent the true capabilities of their linguists is greatly assisted by flaws in the identification system. The identity card for NRPSI clearly shows the language for which the interpreter is qualified. When presented to court staff, it allows the court staff to verify that the interpreter is indeed competent to fulfil the assignment. Court staff are also able to conduct their own checks by referring to the register at the NRPSI website. In contrast – and this may come as a surprise to the committee – the identity card which Capita issues to its linguists does not identify the language (or languages) for which the linguist is deemed to be competent, nor does it identify the Tier of competence to which the linguist has been assigned. Furthermore, as the Ministry of Justice has acknowledged that no-one within the MoJ or HMCTS has access to the list of Capita linguists, there is no means by which court staff can independently check the credentials of Capita linguists turning up for assignments. In my view, the consequence of Capita’s misrepresentations is distortion of statistical data. The number of assignments being fulfilled by Tier 3 linguists is understated, and the proportion of assignments fulfilled by Tier 1 or Tier 2 linguists is overstated. At this point I refer to the following exchange during oral evidence given to the Committee on 15th October 2012; Q311 Fiona Mactaggart: You say not regularly—how frequently are they used? Andy Parker: Less than 2% of jobs for the courts and tribunal service are attended by Tier 3 interpreters. Q312 Fiona Mactaggart: So one in 50 jobs in a court could be done by a Tier 3 interpreter? Andy Parker: However, that is never done without the agreement of the court or tribunal. Q313 Meg Hillier: Would that be for a whole court case, or would that be for a committal hearing? Is there any threshold above which you do not let a Tier 3 interpreter appear? Andy Parker: We never let a Tier 3 interpreter go to a court or tribunal unless the court or tribunal actually says that they are prepared to accept them. The assurances given by Andy Parker (on behalf of Capita) are meaningless if Capita is able to circumvent the system by presenting linguists as being Tier 1 or Tier 2 when the reality is that their lack of formal qualifications should place them quite firmly in Tier 3. Finally, there is a direct financial cost to the Justice system where the tiering of the linguist is misrepresented. From May 2013, the hourly payment rates for HMCTS assignments was amended so that Tier 1 linguists are now paid £22/hour, rather than £20/hour which is the rate for a Tier 2 booking (which is what the vast majority of HMCTS assignments are classed as). If the Capita-supplied linguist is presented as being Tier 1, when they should actually be considered as Tier 2, then HMCTS is paying £2/hour over the odds. If the linguist is really tier 3 (by virtue of lack of qualifications) then they shouldn’t be doing the job in the first place. Yours sincerely