Capita still holds the contract for interpreting for the courts and police despite further and regular failings. The contract was originally awarded to ALS in August 2011 and the company was bought by Capita a few months later just before the contract went live in January 2012. This five year contract, worth £75 million, has cost the public purse more than it has saved in mistrials, adjournments and wasted time.
The contract is now two years in but despite frequent and disastrous failings the Ministry of Justice still states the contract has saved the taxpayer money. There have been frequent reports about spoken language interpreters or rather those that are unqualified but work as interpreters. There is still little reported about sign language apart from what can be said on this blog.
Meanwhile… the National Audit Office investigated and reported on the contract in September 2012. A further report was released last November into the role of major contractors in the delivery of public services. A frightening half of £187 billion of total public spend, national and local, is on contractors. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily been privatised. A large percentage of that £187 billion will be going to shareholders rather than development and reinvestment in the UK’s economy.
Any argument to say that they are creating employment does not hold when the jobs provided are at a much lower quality than the ones that were available before the contracts. Capita has since eroded the quality of spoken language interpreters provided for different assignments by lowering the tier of available interpreters for certain types of work. We have seen what has happened to employment under this government: zero-hour contracts where those ‘employed’ live in an insecure world of waiting until 5pm to know whether they have work the next day and a living wage currently unsupported. With the cost of living continuing to rise, the minimum wage does not cover daily expenses. A Capita paid interpreter often does not even receive the minimum wage once travel and other expenses have been factored in.
The NAO report states that three quarters of the £4 billion central government spending went to the big four contractors: G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita. As is typical with large companies there is tax avoidance. The treasury and the tax payers loses out again. The Linguist Lounge provides a good summary of the report.
Reports of spoken language interpreter failings were numerous as soon as the contract rolled out. As UK sign language bodies had campaigned successfully for a minimum standard of RSLI, stories of a drop in standards were few and far between though most Deaf professionals and experienced interpreters were aware that the sign language interpreting agency providing most of the interpreters were actively recruiting those with little or no legal experience.
We know that sign language interpreters have been paid less, agencies are still vying for work with the agency originally favoured losing out and more work is going out direct to the interpreters who market themselves as available to the courts. There is still a lack of sign language interpreting stories hitting the news as the community sticks to its tenet of confidentiality. For those not in the Deaf community, confidentiality is taken very seriously in a community where even nationally everyone knows someone who knows that person. Nevertheless, hearsay and gossip continue under the radar and they tell us standards have fallen, interpreters have not been booked for hearings and where booked, standards are generally not as good as they were. This too with several high profile cases being investigated and held concerning government access to work funding fraud.
So what now? Capita continues, badly. The Public Accounts Committee is still asking the NAO to continue investigations. And the excellent Professional Interpreters 4 Justice campaign continues. Let’s hope for a watershed moment and soon. The importance of proper interpreters was highlighted recently with viral reporting of Mandela’s memorial service interpreter with all watching and reporting hoping it would make a difference for everyone in raising standards. Perhaps those that have stories about Deaf people being denied interpreters in courts or being provided ones of a lower quality could find some way to get permission or report them for the benefit of us all.