16 March 2012
Communication breakdown: why we are protesting
Analysis: The decision to award Applied Language Solutions the contract for court interpretation services has met with fierce criticism – yesterday interpreters demonstrated outside the House of Commons. Marc Starr, an interpreter from Manchester, explains why they are protesting below.
When I had my first inkling of the changes the led to the current crisis over court interpreter services – back in 2009 when several local police forces indicated an intention to outsource language services to Applied Language Solutions – I gathered 100 fellow professionals in a room in Manchester, together with my MP John Leech. I told them that our strength lay in the rarity of our skill and the quality of our qualification, the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting.
I argued that this, coupled with the protection, albeit a half-baked kind of protection, afforded by the national agreement (the next best thing to statutory professional status and which compelled the criminal justice system to use us) would make it difficult to force us to work under a monopolistic single supplier.
We knew we would not be easy to replace and we could stand our ground.
Someone at the MOJ must have overheard me. As part of the procedure, in a move parallel to outsourcing, the national agreement was withdrawn. By throwing the doors open to new, watered-down criteria for what makes a person ‘an interpreter’, the MOJ must have believed they had found the way round the inconvenient truth that the skill we have is special and impossible to replace overnight.
They have succeeded in achieving the exact opposite of their aim, as the stories over the last six weeks demonstrate. The idea that moving the goalposts would not affect quality has been rubbished.