MOJ's Contract with Capita to provide interpreting services and parliamentary debate
Dear Ms Featherstone
You may recall that I have written to you on several occasions about the controversial contract awarded by the present government to a company called ALS to provide interpreting services to all courts and immigration tribunals throughout the UK. ALS was, as we know, quickly bought out by the giant Capita, whose record of delivering on government contracts is, as many who have suffered from the company's self-serving incompetence can testify, lamentable. It has been no surprise to those qualified and experienced interpreters who prior to the disastrous contract provided an excellent and reliable service to the courts for a reasonable though far from excessive remuneration that the outsourcing of this demanding work to a profit-motivated provider has been an unmitigated disaster. The MOJ was warned by interpreters and other professionals in the legal field that the radical changes they were planning were not only unworkable but would result in huge amounts of money being wasted rather than saved. These warnings fell on deaf ears, unfortunately, as the MOJ was determined to implement these changes. Indeed, the ministry's almost messianic dedication to this outsourcing policy seems to have effected amongst its senior civil servants and certain politicians a fatal blindness in regards to the confusion, incompetence and waste they were, with their arrogant and ill thought out policies, about to unleash onto the justice system of this country. They calculated that the established base of court interpreters was disunited and fractured and that they would have no alternative but to accept the agency's paltry rates of pay. However, this was just one of the MOJ's many miscalculations and the vast majority of trained and properly registered court interpreters refused to accept the new insulting conditions. This of course left Capita with no option but to drastically lower standards in order to permit them to recruit sufficient candidates (it would be quite inaccurate in many instances to name them "interpreters") so that they could demonstrate to the MOJ that they had the people in place to fulfil their obligations under the contract. Even then they were unable to maintain sufficient people to attend all court bookings and, faced with this failure on Capita's part (for which, let us not forget, they were being handsomely paid) to provide proper interpreters the courts were permitted, as a short-term emergency measure, to book interpreters directly and pay them according to the arrangements that had been in place before the FWA contract went live. That emergency measure, eighteen months into the contract, is still very much in place, with, according to some figures, as much as 40% of interpreter requirements in court being arranged under the previous system.
You will, I am sure, be fully aware of the points I mention above and therefore I will not go into further detail about all of the miserable and costly failings of this contract. Naturally, as one of the professional court interpreters who has throughout been highly critical of the MOJ's and the minister Helen Grant's handling of this shameful affair, I felt vindicated on hearing the wholesale condemnation of the contract by those MPs present in last week's debate at the Westminster Hall. There are, I was happy to see, some honourable members who are taking this matter very seriously and who are determined to call the minister to account for her and her ministry's dreadful mishandling of the situation. You may know that Mr Alan Johnson, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Mr Andy Slaughter and several other MPs from across the party spectrum spoke eloquently and even in outraged tones about the waste and injustice this bungled attempt to put ideology before common sense and fairness has resulted in. The minister was time and again asked to produce evidence of the 15 millions pounds of savings she insists have been made by the implementation of this contract and once again she singularly failed to produce any solid evidence to support her claim. It is a great shame that you were not yourself present to witness the minister's weak and predictable response, in which she once again employed the old and trusted method - of which she seems so inordinately fond - of repeating the ministry's intransigent and frankly illogical position on this matter from prepared notes. Perhaps I am mistaken though, and it is not so much that she is enamoured of this reading from notes but that she simply has not, in the face of such voluminous and convincing evidence against the contract, anything remotely convincing to say in support of it. The point was made during the debate that Ms Grant has had the misfortune to inherit this contract from a predecessor and is now burdened with the unenviable task of defending it come what may. Whether she herself has any longer much faith in the wisdom of this policy we cannot know, but assuming, as we must, that she is a reasonable and intelligent woman, it surely cannot be that she is left wholly uninfluenced by the testimony of so many of her experienced and learned peers.
I do not know whether this matter is of any particular interest to you, but I do recall you appearing to endorse the policy in a response to a previous letter of mine. The reasons you gave for believing the contract to be valid were, I think, that it would save money and improve standards. Now that a plethora of your colleagues has, armed with considerable evidence, publicly challenged both assertions, do you feel ready to revise your thoughts on the subject? There is, as Mr Johnson reminded the minister during the debate, no shame in admitting one was wrong; indeed, there may be times when it is not only the most honest but also the most politically expedient thing to do. It remains to be seen whether Ms Grant will take Mr Johnson's sound advice, or whether her superiors will permit her to do so, and get on with the work of defending and building on our wonderful justice system, rather than systematically dismantling it with the excuse that in doing so a few pennies have been saved.
My thanks to you once again for your kind indulgence in taking the time to read this letter.
John McCarthy MA, BA (Hons), DPSI (Law), NRPSI, APCI.