Jul 11 2012
Government admits controversial ALS interpreter contract will not save £12m
The Government has admitted a controversial scheme to provide interpreters to the courts and West Midlands Police is unlikely to save £12 million.
The national cost-cutting scheme, run by Applied Language Solutions (ALS), has been plagued by reports of translators failing to turn up or making mistakes.
The Mail revealed in March that foreign crime suspects had been allowed to walk free from police custody before questioning because of huge shortages.
The West Midlands force signed up to the Ministry of Justice-backed agency last November in a bid to slash £750,000 from its annual bill of nearly £2 million. But officers had to ship in linguists from as far afield as Leeds and Manchester to meet the shortages.
Justice minister Lord McNally said ALS had made “a very poor start to this contract” but there had since been big improvements.
He added: “I presume some of the original estimates of a £12 million saving in this first year will probably not be achieved. “But this isn’t a solution just for this year but a long-term solution.”
Retired senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, a crossbencher, asked Lord McNally: “Are you aware of the extent of disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting which is not only leading to very considerable cost but also concerns have been raised by judges across the country, particularly in London, Birmingham and Leeds?”
Baroness Coussins, an independent crossbench peer and vice president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, said she understood the company was “supplying performance data to the Government which suggests they are doing a good job”. She added: “These figures come without any independent verification or audit and they tell a very different story from the complaints we are hearing daily from judges and others about the failure to provide interpreters or the sending of unqualified, inexperienced people.”
Lord McNally said the Ministry of Justice had a “massive interest in making sure ALS provides the quality of service for which it is contracted”. He added: “There has been improvement and we are talking about a system where there are some 800 requests a day for such interpretation – in the first quarter of its operation some 26,000 requests in 142 languages. “One has got to get complaints about performance into perspective.”