22 January 2014
Court interpreting firm Capita fined thousands
A private company which provides court interpreters in England and Wales has lost thousands of pounds in penalties for its poor performance.
Capita had £46,319 of payments withheld by the Ministry of Justice between May 2012 and November 2013, according to a report by a public spending watchdog.
Judges filed orders of £7,229 to cover the cost of translators failing to turn up, the National Audit Office added.
Capita says its performance has improved significantly since last May.
Capita took over Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which had been awarded responsibility for the interpreter service, at the start of 2012. Staff shortages at that time meant that courtroom trials were disrupted.
The National Audit Office's report said progress had been made since the end of 2012, when MPs accused Capita of causing "total chaos".
However, it warned that the company was still not meeting its target of fulfilling 98% of requests for interpreters.
The report said performance dipped at the start of 2013 because Capita reduced mileage rates paid to interpreters, resulting in a shortfall.
But after the Ministry of Justice and Capita agreed to an improved package for interpreters, more bookings were fulfilled.
In the last four months between 94% and 95% of bookings were honoured, according to the report.
The work of interpreting in courts was outsourced by the Ministry of Justice to private firm ALS in 2011, in a bid to cut costs. ALS was sold to Capita before the contract began.
Labour's Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said she was "unimpressed" that Capita was still not meeting its targets.
"This is a vital service for ensuring that people who do not speak English as a first language have fair access to justice," she added.
Conservative justice minister Shailesh Vara said that there had been "dramatic improvements over the life of the contract so far" and it had saved taxpayers £15m in its first year.
Record numbers of bookings were now being made and fulfilled, and complaint levels were very low, Mr Vara said.
But shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said: "It's a disgrace that ministers have still failed to get a grip after two years."
Capita said in a statement: "After reviewing the overall service with the MoJ and improving the terms and conditions for interpreters in May, we have seen a significant increase in fulfilment rates.
"They are now tracking to the target level of service required."