The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): Against a background of the need to make economies right across the public sector I announced, in a written ministerial statement on 15 September 2010, Official Report, column 46WS that the Government were proposing to make changes to the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector to cut the cost and make more efficient provision while safeguarding quality.
In pursuit of that aim the Ministry of Justice conducted a competitive dialogue procurement process to explore how these services could be delivered more efficiently, before taking a decision on the way forward. That process resulted in a proposed framework agreement with a single supplier, under which justice sector organisations could contract for language services as needed. Having sought and taken account of the views of interested parties the Government have decided that a framework agreement is the best way to meet their objectives.
The Ministry of Justice will contract under the framework on behalf of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service and the National Offender Management Service. Other justice sector organisations, including police forces, have indicated that they intend to sign contracts under the framework agreement as soon as they can. In some cases this will be when pre-existing contracts come to an end.
The framework agreement will deliver significant administrative and financial savings over the current approach. It will do this by introducing market forces into language services provision and providing a single point of contact available to staff at any time of day for the provision of all language services, including interpretation, translation and language services for the deaf and deaf-blind.
Language services will now be booked through various mechanisms including a secure internet portal, telephone or e-mail. This does away with the current time-consuming and inefficient process of making direct telephone contact with each individual interpreter to check their availability for work. A single request will be all that is required, reducing the burden on staff.
Interpreters’ details will be held centrally on a new register maintained by the supplier, which will be freely accessible to the justice sector and legal practitioners.
The Government have always been clear however that efficiency cannot be at the expense of quality. Clear quality standards specify the qualifications and experience required for interpreters to work in the justice sector. A strict code of conduct sets out the high standard of professional conduct expected of them. A robust, accessible complaints process has also been designed, with effective sanctions to ensure that breaches of these standards are investigated and dealt with proportionately and properly.
The supplier will be obliged under the framework to increase the pool of appropriately qualified, experienced and security cleared interpreters beyond the current limits, and to collect and monitor detailed management information to allow better planning for future needs. Failure to do so will result in the supplier being financially penalised.
Moving over to the framework agreement will result in a more efficient and effective service for the public which is forecast to result in savings of at least £18 million on the current yearly spending in this area of £60 million. It will ensure, through the various benefits it offers, that the Government continue to be able to provide access to efficient, high-quality language services for those in need, while getting value for money on behalf of the public.