NUBSLI public statement on CCS framework agreement

imageReblogged from NUBSLI’s website. This statement was published on 28th April 2016 shortly after the Crown Commercial Service send out the contract notice.

Since September 2014, NUBSLI has been in negotiation with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in an attempt to improve the initial drafts of a national framework agreement for Language Services (interpreting and translation). We highlighted many concerns, most notably a lack of standards and safeguards for users of BSL/English interpreting services and the waste of public funds that would occur were this framework to go ahead.

We acknowledge that some improvements have been made. However, we maintain that a large national framework, whereby public authorities can purchase contracts, is not appropriate for our profession. It has the potential to cause many interpreters to leave their careers, as evidenced by our profession exit interview report and our 2015 survey of working conditions (pdf)

In February 2015, NUBSLI launched the #ScrapTheFramework campaign, due to ongoing concerns about this large-scale privatisation of our profession and the damage it would cause to interpreters and the Deaf community we serve.

The framework commenced on 22nd April for up to four years and the suppliers were announced this week on the Government’s website. BSL/English interpreting and other services for Deaf people comes under Lot 4, and is split into regions a-e, which cover Greater London including Overseas, Southern England, Midlands and East of England, North of England and, lastly, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Most suppliers will cover all regions. They include:

  • Clarion
  • London Borough of Newham (Language Shop)
  • Sign Solutions
  • Language Empire
  • thebigword
  • Prestige Network
  • DA Languages

From our privileged position as the service providers in this field, and with collective experience and expertise, our remaining concerns are:

  • A reduced amount of choice and control for Deaf people.
  • Poorer administration – where large agencies subcontract to smaller agencies, mistakes and wastage are more likely in the booking of professionals.
  • Poorer access – where Deaf people are provided with inappropriately qualified or experienced people, this has an impact on service delivery.
  • Poorer accountability – It is more difficult for Deaf people to complain about poor services.
  • Downward pressure on interpreters’ fees and terms and conditions to unsustainable levels.
  • Inefficient use of public funds on administration rather than access.
  • Large scale privatisation further puts at risk the ability for smaller agencies, with good local knowledge and relationships, to continue.
  • Despite a regional structure, none of the suppliers are local agencies.

NUBSLI wish to make it clear that BSL/English interpreters are not prepared to jeopardise the sustainability of their profession by accepting the diminished fees, and terms and conditions set out in the framework. These are not fitting for a workforce of extensively trained and qualified freelancers, and clearly go against market rates falling short of the industry standard. This was made clear to the CCS who have regrettably overlooked the counsel of the profession.

We have already seen the boycott of one NHS contract by interpreters in the South West. Interpreters are increasingly prepared to take a similar position with other contracts which do not meet our basic rates of pay and terms.

We will be continuing to campaign against the framework and will work with individual commissioners wherever possible.

If you are a BSL/English interpreter and are not yet a member of NUBSLI, we urge you to join. We are stronger together.

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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: