New Hearing Announced into Interpreter Contract
Interpreters for Justice: PRESS RELEASE
Tuesday 18th September 2012: The Right Hon. Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has confirmed she will hold a hearing about the findings of the National Audit Office inquiry into interpreting services and the private contractor Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which was published on 12 September.
She says in a letter to the Association of Police and Court Interpreters on 12 September: “The Committee will hold a hearing on the basis of the (NAO) Memorandum in the near future. The NAO inquiry has uncovered some shocking failings which have had a dreadful impact on clients of the Court Services and people who work in the interpretation service.”
Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman, Association of Police and Court Interpreters, who has spearheaded the Interpreters for Justice Campaign in association with the Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI), says: “The NAO report provides the evidence that the private contract given to ALS should never have been awarded by the Ministry of Justice in the first place. The contract is unsalvageable and needs to be stopped.”
Guillermo Makin, Chairman, SPSI, said: “Interpreters’ membership organisations warned the MoJ, in writing, of the certainty of increased costs and chaos in the courts, offering to show how savings of up to 46% y.o.y already secured in Cambridgeshire, Wales and London, could be implemented. SPSI does not for a minute believe the figures on alleged improvement with no independent audit.”
Meanwhile Andy Slaughter MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, commenting on the findings of the National Audit Office report into ALS said:
“The NAO has revealed a web of incompetence and complacency at the heart of the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry knew all along that ALS could not deliver the contract but still allowed it to proceed, unleashing chaos in the magistrates and Crown Courts for months. They have failed to scrutinise or manage ALS – not a single payment was withheld for the failure of ALS to deliver on the contract for four months. They have allowed unqualified and unvetted people to conduct sensitive and complex legal proceedings, and as of now still have no idea what if any savings have been made.
The blame for this debacle lies squarely with Ministers and I am calling on the wholly new ministerial team at the Ministry of Justice immediately to review the contract with the aim of restoring the confidence in our justice system. Not to do so will make the new ministerial team as culpable as their predecessors.”
The NAO report findings state that ‘due diligence on ALS’s successful bid was not thorough enough’ and that ‘ALS had not recruited and assessed sufficient interpreters in line with contractual obligations’ as well as ‘other important contractual obligations with which ALS did not comply; ALS did not alert the Ministry to these until we (NAO) discovered them’.
On the Ministry of Justice’s controls, it says: ‘On the control environment, the Ministry’s framework and contract provide it with appropriate rights to inspect ALS, but the Ministry has been too reluctant to do so’.
Recommendations of the NAO report to the Ministry include: examining its processes for due diligence; commissioning an independent assessment into whether its quality standards are adequate and completing checks on all interpreters so it is certain they have the appropriate qualifications and criminal records clearance and are properly assessed.
It also recommends ‘thinking creatively’ with other parties to the framework, about a strategy to implement the contract fully and ‘about how to attract additional, adequately qualified interpreters to the work’.
Meanwhile independent surveys commissioned by Interpreters for Justice (APCI and SPSI), the most recent in August 2012, show that nine in ten professional interpreters who worked under the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (the system used before 30th January this year) continue to refuse to work for ALS due to their lowering of standards and low rates of pay.
The full NAO report is at: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1213/moj_language_services.aspx
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