30 October 2012
Applied Language Solutions boss Gavin Wheeldon blames interpreters for company's failures
The former boss of a company lambasted over the way it ran a lucrative contract for providing court translation blamed interpreters for failures in the service.
Gavin Wheeldon claimed translators resistant to new working conditions "assaulted and spat at" colleagues to intimidate them into turning work down.
The former CEO of Applied Language Solutions admitted he knew there would be "problems" with the contract to provide court interpreters across England and Wales before the system was introduced in January and admitted his company had relied on "extrapolated" figures to draw up its plans.
But he accused interpreters, unhappy with dramatic pay cuts under the new contract, of big gaps in provision.
In the month after the five-year deal, which has since been taken over by Capita, began the company only fulfilled 65% of service requests and over the first quarter faced 2,232 complaints.
Mr Wheeldon told the Justice Select Committee: "The main issue was the level of interpreters that were agreeing to work for us. There was an awful lot of intimidation around this contract and strong encouragement for interpreters not to do the work even where they had registered or even taken some assignments and then decided not to work.
"I think there's plenty of police reports of interpreters that have reported these incidents to the police. There have been interpreters that have worked for us that have been assaulted, been spat on, been threatened. The list of things that went on were quite horrendous.
"Honestly, I think if we had not seen the level of resistance we had seen in interpreters I think the other issues, which were probably much smaller, would have been the teething problems of any contract."
Mr Wheeldon said the company extrapolated figures because there was a "serious lack of management information" from the court service about its needs.
"None of the courts really recorded any information at all so all we were able to do was use what was available from certain parts like the tribunals and try and extrapolate out what we thought it would look like across the court system," he said.
Asked by committee chairman Sir Alan Beith whether the company knew it was "flying blind" Mr Wheeldon replied: "Obviously we pushed and tried to get as much management information as we could but if it just doesn't exist there is very little you can do to make it appear.
"Once we got into the contract and were able to look at some of the management information it obviously provided a lot of insight that had we known prior would have allowed for better planning."
The new system has been accused of leading to courtroom chaos following complaints about proceedings being held up or collapsing because interpreters have failed to show up on time or have the necessary competence.
MPs were told the cost of an ineffective magistrates' court case was around £650 while the bill for crown court was £1,500.
Justice minister Helen Grant, who worked as a family lawyer for 20 years, said: "We are going to have to work creatively and carefully and cleverly to get this to the standard we all want.
"My honest opinion is that it's considerably better than it was in February.
Complaints have dropped, performance has gone up and the National Audit Office has recommended that we fully implement the contract."