MPs anger over 'shambolic' handling of translation deal

6 February 2013

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6 February 2013 | Paul Snell

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) did not understand the complexity of interpretation work in courts before they went to market to find a new supplier, according to an excoriating report by MPs.

The review by Parliament’s Justice Committee into the contract between Applied Language Solutions and the MoJ said concerns over the deal were ignored and unheeded, the procurement process did not produce a working model, and problems with the suppliers capacity to deliver on promises were not anticipated or dealt with.

“The Ministry of Justice’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic,” said Sir Alan Beith, chairman of the committee and Liberal Democrat MP.

“It did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned, and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts.”

The four-year framework deal with ALS (who were subsequently taken over and renamed Capita Translation and Interpreting in December 2011) started in January 2012, but experienced operational problems from the outset, including a boycott of the contract by professional interpreters.

The report said the consultation with the interpreting profession, which raised significant doubts and complaints, was limited because the use of the competitive dialogue procurement process had already determined the way forward.

It added the boycott had contributed to some of the operational problems with the contract, but did not explain them all and accused both the MoJ and the supplier of “burying their heads in the sand”, as many of the concerns and issues were “utterly predictable, and should have been properly considered at the outset”.

The committee also concluded there had not been any fundamental problems with services if they were properly sourced previously, before the new model was introduced.

It also said the MoJ was only saved from having to terminate the deal, because Capita was prepared to invest heavily to salvage the contract.

In a statement responding to the report, justice minister Helen Grant said: “There were significant issues at the start of the contract in early 2012 but we took swift and robust action and have seen dramatic improvements, as the Justice Select Committee highlights. The vast majority of interpreter bookings are now being completed and complaints have fallen considerably. The changes we have made have led to major savings for taxpayers, totalling £15 million in the first year, and we continue to monitor the contract on a daily basis and demand continuing progress."

However, the committee report said these savings are “essentially being secured at the company’s expense”.

A statement from Capita said: “Processes have been put in place to get the service running efficiently and effectively, which means that the vast majority of booking requests are fulfilled and the volume of complaints has fallen. Capita is committed to fully supporting the requirements of the MoJ, police and court service and providing opportunities for interpreters.”

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