1st November 2012
Professional Interpreters for Justice: Justice Minister invites interpreters to crunch meeting
Following parliamentary hearings where MPs on the House of Commons Justice Select Committee and Public Accounts Committee exposed the unfeasibility of the Ministry of Justice’s £42 million contract for court interpreting, held by Capita; Justice Minister Helen Grant MP has taken up the repeated calls by professional interpreters’ groups for talks and invited them to meet and discuss ‘a way forward’.
Both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Justice Select Committee (JSC) have heard evidence of the botched procurement process and farcical administration of the contract by Capita, who bought Applied Language Solutions at the end of 2011 before the contract was implemented on 30 January 2012.
Whilst the agreement to meet has been cautiously welcomed by ten professional interpreter organisations represented by Professional Interpreters for Justice, Guillermo Makin, Chairman, Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI) has expressed disappointment at the Minister’s apparent lack of understanding of the gravity of the current situation in courts. He says:
“The Framework Agreement (FWA) set up by the Ministry of Justice is unsalvageable and whilst we are pleased that the Minister has accepted our proposal to meet, we are disappointed that, given the compelling evidence of the last two weeks, Ms Grant continues to believe the unverified, self-serving performance figures served up by Capita Translation and Interpreting. These figures are widely regarded as dubious to say the least and thus far remain unverified by the Ministry of Justice, as pointed out by Baroness Coussins in the Lords on July 9th[i]”.
This sentiment was echoed by Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman, Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI), who added: “We will be interested to determine whether this is simply a case of the Minister ‘going through the motions’ because the National Audit Office recommended it or whether the Government is now ready to engage in genuine consultation, which so far they have singularly failed to do.”
He continued; “Ms Grant has expressed a desire and a need to rebuild trust with the interpreting community, yet one meeting does not represent a trust building measure. This contract is not working and everybody knows it. We believe the Minister needs to listen to how interpreters’ organisations can help deliver language services more efficiently and save money in the public interest, whilst serving the interests of justice”.
When faced with a barrage of questions by Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the PAC, on Monday, Capita refused to concede that the FWA should be modified despite openly admitting that they now believed that key performance indicators contained within the contract were “unrealistic” and “unachievable”.
Andy Parker, Joint Chief Operating Officer, Capita, when questioned, said the company was aware of the resistance of professional interpreters to work under the new system but had made no attempt to meet them. He said: “We didn’t expect the amount of interpreters who have refused to work would continue.”
Ms Hodge said “It sounds like chaos, frankly” and when she asked about how many of the 1,000 court interpreters on the company’s books have been properly assessed or had their qualifications checked, which Mr Parker could not answer, she said: “I can’t believe you’re running this show and you don’t have that figure”, adding, “it is frightening”.
As far back as February 2012 a spokesperson for ALS/Capita claimed they already had 3,000 registered interpreters on their books[ii]. The hearings have revealed that in point of fact only 280 of these had successfully completed the assessment process by the start of the contract.