Agencies behaving oddly? Contract negotiations are under way

emails on laptopInterpreters… How do you know a large new government contract is in the process of being tendered and awarded?

Answer: Those weird emails from agencies offering new services, asking you to fill out a survey or asking you to confirm you want to stay on their books i.e. bump up the numbers of their suppliers (you) even though it’s possible you never registered with them in the first place.

What examples have we seen recently?

Sign Solutions put out a survey of freelancers about their fees and terms and conditions. They’ll have been tendering for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) second generation contract and the National Framework by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). Let’s hope they do not get either as a contender for worst ‘BSL specialist’ agency, who have tendered for contracts below which interpreters are willing to work. This has resulted in boycotts. Which have worked.

Pearl Linguistics and The Big Word have created some wonderful 10 minute online CPD courses on subjects such as safe guarding. Clearly a tick box exercise designed to fulfil some contract specification. If only government departments would listen to organisations like NUBSLI, NUPIT and PI4J when they’ve told them that CPD is individual to the interpreter and fees must be commensurate to enable the interpreter to source good quality CPD according to their individual needs. Makes a mockery of safe guarding procedures, doesn’t it?

Wales Council for the Deaf, (I can’t comment on their services as I do not know), suddenly emailed those in the South East and South West last year to see if interpreters would register with them. Why? Despite protests from NUBSLI, the Crown Commercial Service refused to change their regional contract structure into one that was more reflective of geographical areas and market conditions and lumped in Wales with the whole of the South of England. As a result Welsh providers were chasing interpreters in Kent.

Last year, Capita were fishing around via their various subsidiaries to see if interpreters would work for one hour for Access to Work users. Alledgely Action on Hearing Loss have been quoting for blocks of one hour. They already hold DWP contracts despite advising the DWP via UKCoD and other meetings. Separation of supply and advice? Not with these organisations. These queries will be coming from the DWP who is considering its options. National Framework or bust for Access to Work then.

All those requests for ID even though you are registered and have already provided these? The contract will state a requirement for a BPPS (Baseline Personnel Security Standard) check. Ever more bureaucratic hoops for interpreters to jump through.

So if you receive any strange requests, you can bet there’s an agency chasing some public sector business and seeing how much it can get away with before it sticks in a low tender and screws its suppliers: us.

Be careful how you reply, get behind your union, (NUBSLI or NUPIT), and get ready to stand strong.

The announcement of suppliers for the National Framework will be out later this month for an April start and is open to most public authorities in the UK. The MoJ contract notice is also due in March for start in October 2016 when the cuurent contract expires.

Further reading:

Revealed: Capita Charges for Interpreting Services

NUBSLI members this morning received leaked information about Capita’s charges under the Ministry of Justice contract. It reveals that Sign Language Interpreters, as usual, are talked about as being expensive yet do not receive anywhere near the money that is being charged for their services. A quick breakdown below…

capitas charges

A half day job with 1 hour travel each way
Capita charge:             £172.80 minimum charge + £80.00 Travel time
£252.80 TOTAL

Interpreter’s fee:           Less than half this amount (using Clarion and Sign Solutions rates outside of London).

Interpreters have been taking a pay cut under this contract for years and not getting travel time/expenses resulting in chaos. I am not the only interpreter I know that refuses to work under this contract due the dodgy practices of the contractors and its sub-contractors.

And I will not work for less than NUBSLI fees guidance. With information like this leak, it is about time ALL interpreters learnt how to negotiate the lies told to us by disreputable agencies and toughened up a bit. If you are not sure how to do this and you need support, there is strength in numbers, NUBSLI is the place to go.

Court and police work should demand the best interpreters in the country and pay accordingly. What a sad, sorry state of affairs that this contract is. We all knew that five years ago when it started, let’s not allow this situation to continue. It isn’t just sign language interpreters who have had the wool pulled over their eyes, the situation for spoken language interpreters has been far worse. It is time to stop it.

MoJ interpreting contract: quarter of all BSL bookings cancelled

The government would have us believe the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) framework was a good thing, because it saved them £38 million pounds. This does not accurately reflect what has happened on the ground. A quick trawl of blogs and social media will reveal the MoJ framework (#MoJFWA) has failed. Money saved on the contract has caused untold, incalculable waste in court delays, mistrials and maladministration.
And what of Sign Language interpreters? There are some that would have it that there is no evidence of a fall in standards despite there being plenty of anecdotal evidence that there is. One problem is confidentiality. No one, for example Deaf professionals and interpreters, wants to report sub-standard interpreting in courts when a) they may know the interpreters and b) this means they have the break the confidentiality of the Deaf clients in the court room.

Other interpreters are bound by the (terrible) NRCPD Code of Conduct to report bad practice, yet it happens rarely because 1) we’d hate it if happened to us 2) how do you prove it? 3) complaints rarely seem to progress. A lot of pain for no eventual outcome.

But I’ve blogged about all this before. Let’s talk MoJ stats. Monitoring information from 2014 has been published and a sorry story it does tell.

There were 161,600 completed requests for all languages. 2.2% were for special services listed as: BSL/English interpreters, lip speakers, Deafblind interpreters, speech to text reporters and SSE interpreting (which at least in the States they have the decency to call transliteration rather than use the term SSE like it was anything real). So a total of 3,555 bookings.

Special services did not get over 95% success rate for fulfilment. This document does not reveal what the success rate actually was. 

The stats look fairly innocuous until you look at the cancellations rate for BSL bookings in 2014. Of these 24.5% were cancelled by customer action – customer did not attend or cancelled by customer), an increase of 6.5% in comparison to 2013. 

25%. A quarter. The £38 million spend on interpreting would be far less if everyone got their house in order. But I can posit a guess as to one reason for the high cancellation rate. Subcontracting.

Court cancels a booking. A court clerk, booking officer, police personnel or whoever is administrating bookings needs to get a message back to the supplier i.e. the agency who holds the contract and an effective monopoly, Capita. Capita then needs to contact the subcontractor who then informs the interpreter. So many layers of administration renders an already over-stretched court service ineffective and inefficient via a contract supposedly designed to increase efficiencies. 

The £38 million savings was only down to cutting the pay of spoken language interpreters from £75 under the National Agreement to £21, and that is an increase from the original offering. The rest of the profits are now shared around in framework management fees and profits for the Contractor.

To go back to cancellations fees. Sign Language interpreters cancellation fees are under threat from, historically, Applied Language Solutions winning the tender. They won partly because they promised to deliver a service without offering them. Capita, who took over, continues to use this practice with the subcontractors paying them in some cases. Interpreters have to fight for them.

With 25% of bookings cancelled on arrival, cancellation fees occur in a QUARTER of all bookings. Attempting to not pay these fees was a fallacy and one that would never work. This is a figure that should be kept in mind by interpreters when negotiating their terms and conditions.

What we do know is Capita try and encourage courts to cancel their bookings. Another reason the figure may be so high. They get paid whereas if a booking is unfulfilled they get nothing. I say let us all start refusing to work with them. Interpreters forget that agencies need us to fill contracts. Capita and its subcontractors. There’s only so many in-house interpreters you can try and source to make up the shortfall in freelancers who are refusing to work under the threat that if they take court work which is cancelled there is 25% risk of losing fees altogether. Why should interpreters take the shortfall for everyone else’s mistakes, inefficiencies in the system and contractors greed? Deaf interpreters report their terms and conditions are being pushed even more than other interpreters when their skills should be valued. 

For specialist services, 6.2% of requests were not filled due to the supplier. 0.5% of all bookings were filled off contract by either direct bookings or other agencies. Let’s see these numbers go up and this contract undermined.

When we see stats like this, it is time we all started showing each other some solidarity, standing up for all of us as a collective and refusing to take this any more. Agencies and the government can not do this without us. 

What we do not know yet is how widespread the effect this contract is having on the deaf people who have a right to access the justice system. Until an effective system is in place what is certain is it is not just interpreters that can not survive under this contract, the access rights of Deaf people are being eroded.

Independent Review of MoJ Interpreting Services Contract

An independent review is being carried out of the MoJ’s dire interpreting contract with Capita. Hopefully this spells this end of the contract which has supposedly saved millions. If there was ever a full cost benefit analysis, it would show it has wasted much more than the purported savings.

The survey invite has been sent to ASLI, NRCPD, NUPIT and NRPSI as the high-profile organisations who represent interpreters in the UK. It is not clear from the invite if the Association of Lipspeakers or any Deaf professionals working in the justice system have been invited to comment (see letter below for contact details). Anecdotally many Deaf people have told of the decrease of interpreter provision and quality although many experienced court interpreters are still working when they can get the terms and conditions they are used to.

Please do fill out the survey if you have worked in court or experienced the MoJ’s interpreting contract on the ground. We look forward to the results and whether this will change anything.

 

Dear Madam/Sir,

Matrix, an independent consultancy, has been tasked by the Ministry of Justice to carry out an ‘Independent Review of Quality Assessment within MoJ Language Services Framework’.

This project is a review of the quality of interpretation and translation services provided in the justice sector under the MoJ Language Services Framework. To this end, Matrix seeks to gather evidence of and stakeholder input on the current state of play regarding the quality of interpretation and translation in the justice system, the relevant quality / experience requirements for interpreters / translators and current procedures for monitoring, evaluating and maintaining the quality of interpretation and translation. In this context, we are targeting all interpreters working in the UK justice system.

We would therefore highly appreciate it if you could fill in an online questionnaire, indicating your perceptions and views, by accessing the following link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XGZRCGK

Filling in the questionnaire should not take longer than 15 minutes. The survey will be open until Friday, 11th April 2014. All results will be anonymised for the final report.

Thank you very much in advance for your input and time.

In case you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us on Mirja.Gutheil@matrixknowledge.com.

Aurélie Heetman
Consultant
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Courts, continued chaos and confidentiality

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.

 

Government Committee to quiz MoJ about Interpreting Contract

The Public Accounts Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise spending of government funds by government departments, will again question MoJ representatives about the
contract for interpreting services.

The contract now owned by outsourcing giant, Capita, has not improved despite reports to the contrary and large investments by the company. Failings of the contract appear in the news nearly every day.

You can see the PAC meeting live this afternoon at 2.15pm where the CEO of Capita will be questioned.

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14238

You can read previous comment and analysis of the contract, previous Public Accounts Committee meetings and National Audit Office reports here.

Court interpreting update…

The latest instalment of the largest interpreting contract ever awarded in the UK and its disastrous consequences:

As a result of the Justice Committee Report last year Capita announced that from 1st May rates would be raised for:

Cancellations – an interpreter, rather than receiving nothing previously, will be paid £21 for a cancellation of up to 24 hours. This includes multi-day bookings.

A mileage payment of £0.20 (twenty pence per mile) for the entire distance travelled per assignment including the first ten miles (which was not paid previously).

The minimum payment of one hour is unchanged: £16 for a tier 3 interpreter. (check!!). Extra payments will be made for 15 minute blocks which amount to an extra 7 minutes pay or £2.56.

An incidental fee of £7.50 to cover any additional costs. In Capita’s announcement there was no explanation to what this may cover and when it would be paid.

In a parliamentary announcement by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), it was stated that these incentives would increase the take home pay of interpreters by 22% but the feeling is too little, too late.

How have this incentives been paid for? From savings of £16.7 million the MoJ have stated they are reinvesting £2.9 million back into the contract. This neither makes sense nor is practical. Were the contract working it would not need further investment by the MoJ. Essentially this is taxpayers’ savings that are being reinvested, except the supposed savings still do not add up when you factor in the costs of delays, adjournments and mistrials. One figure suggests it costs £110 per minute to run a courtroom with a jury. Any interpreter delay, and there are many, makes a mockery out the purported savings.

Has this reinvestment worked so far? Quite simply, no. Direct calls from courts to interpreters with training, i.e. NRPSI registered interpreters still remains high. This is the true indication of the appalling nature of awarding a contract via a competitive bidding process where the lowest bidder wins regardless of quality. Capita are only filling 80% of bookings when the contract target is 98%. Still MoJ is not dishing out penalties and courts are filing few wasted costs orders. It seems that when it comes to this contract, Capita can do what it likes.

The interpreting contract is now 18 months in and whilst this mess has continued, lawyers are now in the firing line. The MoJ has proposed price-competitive tendering (PCT) for legal aid work, the ultimate aim of which is to slash budgets along with consumer choice and quality of work.

Where are British Sign Language Interpreters in all of this? Reports suggest one agency involved is attempting to slash rates even further despite original recommendations. Key personnel have left leaving court work more bereft of the most skilled and those doing the work are, also reportedly, not the best anymore. With no consistency in how BSL interpreters wish to move forward, NRPSI interpreters and campaigns are left without little representation from us. Meanwhile government decisions effecting NRPSI are having a knock on effect on BSL interpreters with many of us being none the wiser. It is time we took more notice of what is going on in the wider field of interpreting as it affects us all.

Recent Commons debate on 20th June 2013

Analysis and comment from spoken language interpreters