‘Critical shortage’ of translators willing to work in cash-strapped public sector
Cost pressures affecting public bodies are risking the quality of translation services, a survey has suggested – potentially creating further costs through medical misunderstandings, delays to court proceedings and other errors.
There is now a “critical shortage’ of skilled language professionals willing to work in the public sector, according to the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), with providers increasingly “walking away from public sector opportunities”. This is because smaller companies especially are struggling to break even as public organisations try to save every penny in their contract negotiations.
Following an in-depth survey, the ATC says: “A near unanimous view is that the procurement of language services is treated too much as a commodity with insufficient understanding of how to assess and monitor quality of service. There is a preeminent over-focus by procurers on the cost of service, with a disconnect in understanding of the quality that can be provided under any agreed budget.”
The public sector as a whole is the largest client for language services providers.
The ATC is particularly concerned at the apparent failure to learn lessons from the Ministry of Justice procurement in 2011, despite an in-depth examination of what went wrong by the Commons Justice Committee in 2013.
The Crown Commercial Service and the Ministry of Justice are currently procuring language services worth hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for government departments, and the ATC is worried that short-term cost savings are again taking precedence over quality and long-term value.
Geoffrey Bowden, general secretary of the ATC, said: “The government has a legal responsibility to ensure fair access to its public services, and language service providers play a critical role in fulfilling that responsibility by ensuring access to people who may not speak English.
“But our survey has revealed that procurement of language services is in urgent need of an overhaul. It is clear that these services are treated too much as a commodity, with insufficient understanding of how to assess and monitor their quality.”
The ATC says more than 12,000 people in the UK are employed in the language services industry, which is worth more than £1bn a year.