Previous court interpreting system needed a few tweaks, not the lump hammer
One thing that the National Audit Office report could not cover, because if I am correct it is not in the remit of the NAO, is a dissection of the rationale for the change in the court interpreting arrangement in the first place. The report seemingly had no other choice than to consider the contract as it is, with the premise being that the reasons for the changes to the system were correct.
Fortunately, the first of the six points that submissions to the Public Accounts Committee were to be based on was exactly that: the rationale for the change.
I have long believed that the rationale was a set-up, a gross exaggeration and distortion of the supposed problems of the old system. In as brief a manner as I can, the key issues were said to be supply of rarer languages and the time spent by end-user staff (court listings/payroll staff and Police custody sergeants, mainly) in sourcing and paying interpreters. An example given was the need to sometimes call three or four interpreters before getting one. That may well have happened on some occasions but another method used by some court staff was to email several interpreters at once, with the first to respond getting the job.
The problems that happened on some occasions (but not all occasions, by any stretch of the imagination) were portrayed as the complete norm. An insidious and sly trick, whitewashing the entire profession as elusive, even insinuating we were unwilling to take on jobs. Interpreters cannot be expected to know when a call will come in – I had to dash from social occasions, break from translations, all sorts of short-notice need for my services and in general, I reacted – something is seriously missing between the MOJ’s version of events and my daily and weekly reality over eight years before these changes came in.
Payroll? Well, yes, each court paid me individually and if this was a problem, the MOJ had a potential solution to both sourcing and payroll that was rolled into one, and it was sitting right under their own noses, and they chose to ignore it.
Whereas for Police and also the criminal courts, the sourcing was done by the staff and pay was taken care of by the finance sections, for the family/civil courts, from around 2006/7 (can’t remember exactly), the MOJ had its own in-house central booking team based at Petty France, with payment taken care of by Liberata, a specialist company. It worked brilliantly – they would call me at 4pm on a Thursday for court hearings the following morning at 10am, and even sometimes on the very same day as a hearing.
The MOJ could have looked at that and expanded it to a national booking system. They passed up that opportunity.
Does anyone think the time spent by listings getting through to ALS-Capita’s call centre and in sorting out no-shows has saved any time and freed up their staff for whatever else they were going to be doing when freed from the arduous toil of finding interpreters?
My final point is the vile assumptions made about our rates – read my piece in The Justice Gap and you’ll get a full picture from our side of the story: a rate considered perfectly reasonable in the early 00s is now, twelve years on, considered ‘overgenerous’. Are you joking?
When I heard the MOJ was considering this absurdity, not only did I round up interpreters to protest, I also took the IOL’s Diploma in Translation in both of my languages, so that I had a boat to jump on. I passed both diplomas.
I can translate 4000 words on a good day, as long as my mind is clear and I am working solidly and constantly with MS Word (PDF is more time-consuming). That, at the rates I command, particularly if it’s an urgent and very technical job, earns me double what a full day in court used to pay.
Same for private sector interpreting – you share the duty with another person and usually command a rate that is no less than double the rate paid for a full day in court before Wheeldon slunk up in his Lambo offering up his impossible dream to the eager beavers from the MOJ and, I should add, Capita.
The message to the MOJ is that people like me are dropping off at a hellish rate, going to other countries, doing other jobs and the longer it continues, the precious resource that the NRPSI database represented is dwindling. We have to be tempted back in and halving our rates is simply not going to tempt anyone to drive off to a Police station on a Tuesday night or spend all day in court.
It could have been so different. It was a system that needed a few tweaks, nips, tucks. It needed a scalpel and delicate surgery. The MOJ opted for the lump hammer.