MPs 'appalled' by court translation contract

14 September 2012

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14 September 2012 | Adam Leach

MPs are appalled the Ministry of Justice let a contract for interpretation and translation services to a company that missed its delivery targets by 40 per cent.

Margaret Hodge, Labour MP and chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts promised an inquiry into the deal with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) following a critical report by the National Audit Office.

“It is appalling that the Ministry awarded ALS a £90 million contract to provide a service essential to ensuring the proper administration of justice that was clearly beyond this company’s ability to deliver. The Ministry overlooked its own due diligence process which showed ALS was simply too small to shoulder a contract of this value,” she said.

The NAO's report concluded while the procurement for the contract was appropriate, the evaluation of the company was lacking. “The Ministry ran a fair and competitive process, but in our view its due diligence on ALS’s successful bid was not thorough enough,” it said.

The contract, signed in August last year for an estimated value of £90 million over five years, was for the provision of interpretation and translation services for court proceedings. The company was given a target of providing services for 98 per cent of proceedings. But the NAO found the business delivered services for just 58 per cent.

Another criticism of the ministry was it had awarded a national contract to ALS, when previously the company had just provided services on a regional basis. But the report did give credit to the department and outsourcing provider Capita – which subsequently acquired ALS - for intervening and raising the performance of ALS.

A spokesman for the MoJ said it was confident the expected savings of £15 million from the deal would still be made. "The NAO is clear that the MoJ had strong reasons for changing the old interpreter booking system, which was inadequate in several respects. We accept that there were problems at the start of the new contract in January but we have now seen a very significant improvement in performance and are confident that this trend is continuing. Figures in the NAO report show that 95 per cent of bookings are now being filled, while complaints have fallen dramatically and we are continuing to push for further improvement.

A statement from Capita said: “What [the NAO report] clearly demonstrates is that ALS has been able to draw upon the resources, skills and track record of Capita following its acquisition by Capita. This has helped ALS to enhance and strengthen the delivery of its service, with over 96 per cent of booking requests now fulfilled, compared to 65 per cent in the first month of the contract. This performance is continuing to improve. We acknowledge that, as with the old system, there have been challenges. We are determined to get the service running at full efficiency, providing transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supporting the MoJ, police and court service.”

The NAO recommended the MoJ work with Capita to ensure adequately qualified interpreters are used in future. In addition it called for the department to examine what it needs to do to ensure that proper due diligence is carried out on future contractors.

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