Anonymous Shopping: Apology Number Two

Submitted by ‘Emma Biel’, the Mystery Shopper who posted the original post entitled: ‘Anonymous Shopping: How Much Interpreting Agencies Really Charge’.

It seems I have another apology to make. I received a letter at 4:12pm on the 15th of August 2012. The letter was from the legal firm representing appa and they have requested that the inaccuracies in the original blog be corrected so as not to further cause injury to reputation. The remedy for libel is to modify the blog to correct all inaccuracies.

With respect to the fee quoted, which was £50 per hour for an RSLI and £45 per hour for a CSW (2 hour minimum charge) –they would like it known that this was for an ad hoc booking and that appa have a “more flexible cost structure…”. Regular clients are charged at a lower rate.

On the blog, I failed to mention that appa offer a 10% discount to new clients. Therefore the cost for that assignment would have in fact been £45 for an RSLI and £40.50 for a CSW. Not £50 and £45 as was originally stated. I am sorry for the omission.

I also did not state that in respect of travel, appa do not charge VAT. Again, I am sorry. Having looked again at the email chain I can see nothing that relates to travel and VAT so can only excuse my ignorance based on the fact that it wasn’t mentioned.

In the original blog I claimed that appa offered me a level 4 CSW. This was based on the information provided below:

“Has the deaf person asked you for a prefer level of BSL signer?

For a qualified interpreter they have level 6 in BSL

For a communicator they have level 3 or level 4.

There are various levels and it’s always good to ask the deaf client there preferred level of communication support they require. If your unable to get that information I would recommend CSW BSL level 4 but if its for a interview then I would recommend the above level”

I understood “the above level” to mean CSW level 4, but the inference I have taken from the solicitors’ letter is that they actually meant level 6. So to clarify, in the absence of information regarding a deaf person’s preference they would recommend a CSW who has level 4 BSL. But for an interview they would recommend someone who has level 6 BSL.

I mentioned on the initial blog that appa “Offered to help me apply to ATW to cover costs – then their fee becomes all inclusive” They would like it clarified that this is a free service in which they also process all of the paperwork.

I also need to apologise for some further ambiguity. I stated that appa “Offered me an interpreter for the afternoon even though I had requested the morning”, this was based on the information below:

“I do have an interpreter available for next Tuesday 14th august for 4pm

Please let me know if this is suitable for you.”

They later emailed to say “if you would like us to process this request for the morning we can.”

Because they had previously offered an interpreter for the afternoon I was confused and so did not respond. I apologise. I should have taken the time to clarify the information.

And finally, they would like it known that they are in fact ‘appa’ and not ‘Appa’ as I had previously stated.

These amendments have now been made to the original post.

Anonymous Shopping: An Apology and some Additions

There has been a rather strong reaction to the last post which was an anonymous post submitted by a mystery shopper. On the whole there was a good reaction with responses saying how finally there is some transparency as to what agencies charge and whether they provide Registered Interpreters or not.

Before I go on I need to publicly apologise to RAD (Royal Association of Deaf People) and their interpreting service. The original post stated that the mystery shopper had emailed RAD twice and had no response. After a complaint was made by RAD, the mystery shopper was informed. They got back to me after a few hours when they had investigated and found RAD’s original response in the spam folder of the Gmail account that was used. As the spam folder does not automatically show up in the navigation menu the shopper was unaware a response had already been sent. This information has now been added to the original table. Needless to say many people who work with the Deaf community and beyond are aware of RAD’s excellent interpreting service. They state any profit that is made from the service is put back into their Deaf community projects. They had also clearly stated they only use NRCPD Registered Interpreters.

The mystery shopper and I, as publisher of the information, both sincerely apologise for any inconvenience or damage done. When I realised that information was missing I should have flagged this up before publishing the post. It is regretful and I truly hope RAD, its employees and any interpreters that may be affected by this error, can accept this apology.

The mystery shopper has now added a comment on the original blog with the original script of the email and an explanation of why the survey was done in order to clear up any misunderstandings.

I also need to notify readers of the blog of one more addition to the table, with a very late response, which was K International. They quoted £250 + VAT for the mystery assignment lasting an hour. No information was given about standards or registration.

On the whole both interpreters and Deaf people have been overwhelmingly positive about the survey. There has been much talk of agency standards and even regulation over the years which has not come to anything yet. This is, in the main, because it is not in the interest of most agencies to be regulated. This needs to come from an external body. Work has been done on publicising the registration process to Deaf people who are better informed than ever about their rights to a Registered Interpreter. It is the most vulnerable who would be unaware or unable to ask to see an interpreter’s registration badge on arrival and these are the people who need protecting.

What I am also aware of is that some agencies have said they only use Registered Interpreters but I have know them to use CSWs and signers on occasion. Until we have regulation and more accountability there are agencies that will continue this practice.

It is worth noting that a cheaper price often reflected the fact that an agency had in house interpreters who they were able to provide at a cheaper cost or the agency required freelancer interpreters to work at a much reduced rate than the published average from ASLI’s Fees and Salaries survey indicating that profits were more important than quality of interpreter or standard of service. It is hard to tell as a consumer of interpreting but interpreters will find this information useful as they will know what they are being asked to charge.

What the survey has cleared flagged up is:

– many agencies are using unregistered and untrained interpreters and charging hundreds of pounds

– some of the bigger agencies are charging over double the amount a freelance interpreter would quote

– some parts of the Deaf community are still vulnerable to the unethical practices of some of these agencies

– many of the interpreter and some of the Deaf-led agencies came out favourably with the interests of Deaf people at heart

– people booking interpreters are being given wildly differing and sometimes completely inaccurate information about interpreters and the registration system i.e. being told someone with level 3 is ‘good enough’ for an assignment

– we need to set up regulation of agencies urgently

– we need to stop the use of CSWs being used for any assignment and agencies should not be allowed to decide on behalf of the consumer as to whether or not this is acceptable

– we need to protect the title of interpreter to ensure anyone who is not a Registered Interpreter can not legally work as one to safeguard all involved

Again, I would like to thank the mystery shopper. It really wasn’t me. I am merely the messenger. Please do not shoot me.

The MoJ Interpreting Contract Fiasco: Is It Over?

Anecdotal reports over the past few weeks have pointed to continued failures of provision of interpreters to the MoJ. Interpreters are still travelling from Birmingham to London for a morning’s work then failing to stay for the afternoon leaving courts stranded as the only way a ‘linguist’, i.e. untrained interpreter, can make a living is by increasing their travel expenses.

The ‘linguist’ who caused a collapsed trial to the tune of £25k was seen working in courts again despite the collapse being in the papers.

West Midlands Police are letting suspects out on bail as it is taking days to get someone to come to the station, once this reportedly included witnesses in a murder case.

Criminals who have not been CRB checked are working in courts as ‘linguists’ and are reportedly ‘helping their mates stay out of jail.’

Other reports suggest some courts have given up using the national framework agreement (FWA) altogether and are back to sourcing their own interpreters. This would be one reason that would explain, amongst others, why many more court bookings are coming through a variety of agencies for Sign Language Interpreters.

Key ALS executives, David Joseph and Richard Loyer, amongst others, who were in charge of interpreting have reportedly left and joined a translation company called Language Wire and Gavin Wheeldon no longer has ALS as current on his LinkedIn profile and is now working for a catering company.

The misinformation that has been coming out from Minsters, namely Crispin Blunt, that interpreters earned six figure salaries, that the old system was a complete mess and that the new all-singing, all-dancing systems were going to save millions was always going to be hard to counteract.

The problem for government has always been that the figures the proposed savings were calculated on were created out of thin air. This is why FOI’s have gone unanswered. There are no figures. The only figures we have were created by the company themselves. Rather than proper research, a comprehensive scoping exercise with well thought out recommendations, what really happened was the contract was given to the lowest bidder and we were left with a mess.

It may seem quiet. It isn’t. It is just that the media is waiting for the outcome of the political fight which is happening behind closed doors and about to come to fruition. Hats off to the Professional Interpreters for Justice, Unite the Union, the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, APCI, SPSI and all the interpreters who have held firm and boycotted the contract at risk of losing their livelihoods, their homes. What we have now is stalemate.

MP Magaret Hodge took the concerns of interpreters to the National Audit Office and the contract is being investigated. Dossiers of the many failures observed by interpreters monitoring the courts when they had no work have been produced as evidence. The Public Accounts Office have been alerted. So too the Justice Select Committee. A parliamentary event for MPs is being organised.

In the contract, failure to supply results in penalties. Judges who are minded to do so when cases have been adjourned have charged ALS with wasted costs orders. The barrister costs for each time a wasted costs order is brought must be substantial. The other penalties in the form of service credits as stated in the FWA can not be profitable. The proposed figure that Capita is losing on this contract that I have heard from three difference sources is a hefty sum. Per week. Capita can afford to take the loss but why keep a contract that does not and cannot perform?

The original business model was to supply language speakers within a 25 miles radius cheaply to courts having made these potential ‘interpreters’ pay for their own assessments at £125. That got dropped within weeks of the start of the contract to ‘free’ when noone would work for this company, then the assessment was dropped altogether. ALS are reportedly now saying that they will insist their interpreters are properly qualified and they should have passed the DPSI exam. The weekly updates of proposed service improvments mean that the original business model barely exists. It can not be profitable any longer and with growing political pressure it is surely only a matter of time before talks with interpreting associations will resume and alternatives to this fiasco will be tabled.

We are looking at a real opportunity. No longer do the media label interpreters as scroungers, the courts can recognise an interpreter of quality and work can be done with government on ensuring trained, registered interpreters are in court working for fair pay, and being respected for it. And the government could save money if it learns its lesson and works with the interpreting associations rather than against. They’ll be a lot of people soon saying I told you so.

BBC: See Hear Interpreting Special

In the face of growing threat to the Sign Language Interpreting profession in the UK and the lack of access Deaf people are experiencing in the light of budget cuts, the BBC’s Deaf community programme, See Hear, has produced a special about Sign Language interpreting. Since 2010 the interpreting profession in the UK has been threatened with changing market forces, BSL agencies being squeezed out of that market and the subsequent loss of expertise. The changes have now filtered through to the rest of the UK with more devastating effects.

The programme features, in no particular order, an interview with me as owner of this blog; Kate Furby, an interpreter based in London; ASLI representatives: National Chair, Sarah Haynes and Working Group Chair, Bibi Lacey-Davidson; Paul Parsons from the NRCPD explaining interpreter registration and the complaints process; interpreting students from Wolverhampton University who are concerned about rising debts and whether they will be able to find work once they graduate; Terry Riley who is Chair of the British Deaf Association and feedback directly from the Deaf community talking about what they require from interpreters and their views on standards of interpreters.

Much of the focus is on a decrease in the standards of interpreters, the effect of one stop shop contracts with spoken language agencies and how community interpreting and Deaf access is in jeopardy by agencies’ use of unregistered, untrained signers.

The programme was first aired on Wednesday 23rd May on BBC2 at 1pm. It is available on the BBC’s iplayer until the 27th June 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01j8chn/See_Hear_Series_32_Episode_8/

If you have any comments about the programme that you would like to share here please leave a comment on this blogpost. The effects of outsourcing have been affecting Deaf people’s access for over two years and interpreters are starting to leave the profession as some can not earn an income. The subsequent affects could make access even less likely. This is certainly an issue we all need to talk about more.

PIA Meeting for Interpreters: Why you should Join the Boycott

I attended the PIA (Professional Interpreters’Alliance) meeting today in Birmingham along with seven other Sign Language Interpreters. We made an interesting little cohort at the back and everyone was pleased to see us. It felt a little bit like we came to the party late but at least we had finally turned up. I’m going to join too as it is only a tenner.

There is much worth repeating here for the benefit of those that could not make it and perhaps for Sign Language Interpreters this will help in being able to make an informed choice about whether or not to boycott the MoJ’s contract for interpreting and translation awarded to ALS now owned by Capita.

Firstly there was a reminder about how far court interpreting had come and how this contract has returned us straight back to a time when interpreting did not have rigorous standards in place.  The case of Iqbal Begum was quoted. She was a Pakistani woman who since arriving in the UK had suffered a torrent of domestic violence at the hands of her husband. One day when she could take it no longer she hit him over the head with an iron bar and killed him. Having learnt little English, she required an interpreter. This was in 1981. She had only answered one question to say she understood the charge against her. She had pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced accordingly without understanding the term manslaughter. She served four years in jail before an appeal. The details of which were only released in 1991 after pressure from the local community in Birmingham.

Whilst trawling the internet I found news of two publications released in 2004 highlighting standards within interpreting: An Equality Handbook for Judges and a guide to commissioning excellent interpreting services published by CILT. A mere eight years later and they may as well have not been written.

We then heard how David Cameron whilst speaking to voluntary associations, before the Coalition government came to power, said in a speech that they would distance themselves from large companies, that ministers would be encouraged NOT to outsource but rather that they should be more innovative and award contracts to smaller companies. The CEO of Capita, Paul Pindar was said upon the news that the Conservatives were in power that this was a good opportunity for them. They have since increased their turnover by 17%  to £2.6 billion. That is £325 million in pre-tax profits.

We heard that many linguists have been out of pocket by the time they have travelled and paid for petrol on the payments they have received. One man was even more out of pocket after non-payment.

We heard how the previous system may not have been perfect (what system is?) but that at least there was a system: courts could book direct using the NRPSI register of interpreters who had been trained and assessed through the Institute of Linguists and where the courts and associated services adhered to the National Agreement which was in place. What we have now of course is one company who has become the regulator, the trainer and assessor (though not many ‘linguists’ seem to have gone through any assessment at all) and there are few standards being upheld. There are many stories of ALS personnel sitting in the dock and not speaking a word to the defendant. There is clearly no interpreting involved here.

Next up we discussed how interpreting associations have not suggested a boycott but rather informed their members of the information and options available to them. Judges and solicitors have reportedly been impressed by the will of court interpreters to continue the boycott. This is impressive when you realise that many have been without work for over three months since this contract begun. That is the strength with which they fight this contract and the refusal to be denigrated into accepting less and having their profession torn apart.

So what of the future? We were urged to contact our MPs, to get questions asked in the Houses of Parliament. FOI requests are being ignored and the excuse used is that there are no centrally held records. As the cost would be prohibitive in collecting the data the FOI can then be dismissed. Getting your MP to ask questions is the only way.

We talked about the figures due to be released by the MoJ on Thursday which will cover the first three months that the contract was in place to the 30th April. Of course these are not the MoJ’s statistics. They are being collated by ALS. The stats are hardly likely to be unfavourable. How is that for public accountability?

The options for interpreters were discussed. As many now know, ALS are not filling this contract alone. Bookings are being farmed out to agencies (this is true in the case of Sign Language too with no less than four other agencies being handed out bookings, there maybe more).

Let us be clear, if you work for ANY agency doing a court (or police, or probation) booking you are helping this contract survive.

Courts are also now allowed to book interpreters direct. This is also true for Sign Language. There was much discussion about whether we should all boycott courts too. Although it is true that a contrast can be seen in quality when a properly trained and registered interpreter attends a booking it was whole-heartedly agreed that the boycott should continue.

The words that have been used are that this contract has created a ‘mixed economy’. It hasn’t. This contract is nothing more than a dangerous monopoly. Dangerous as it leaves a non-specialist in control of market conditions i.e. OUR terms and conditions. And do not think you are safe. In 2010 Sign Language Interpreters were hit by a tidal wave of outsourcing when the North West procurement hub handed over contracts to ALS thereby creating a local monopoly. Talk to any interpreter there and they will tell you what happened to standards, what happened to their terms and conditions.

What we had today was a room full of passionate interpreters who care about standards and access. Who have earned very little money in the last three months. Who understand that to work for this contract is to put nails in the proverbial coffin of our profession.

If you are a Sign Language Interpreter do not think you are safe. You are not. It is not that we are next, it has already happened. Our T&C’s are all ripe for the eroding now we have a monopoly and BSL and other spoken language agencies chomping at the bit to stay in business. One of whom stuck an unregistered signer in a courtroom.

Last week as I was a solicitors’ interpreter in court a BSL interpreter turned up for the first time. On the previous five occasions since this contract started… no interpreter. I could not bring myself to talk to her.

If you are an interpreter reading this, if you had been in that room today and you were aware of just what this contract has done, how the government has devalued interpreting, you saw the passion and commitment of the interpreters present and heard what the risks are of working for this company… No. You would be boycotting the framework agreement and any agency associated with the contract too.

Police Procurement: Obtaining Less Value for Money for Interpreting Services

The deadline for the Home Office consultation is today. It is entitled Obtaining Better Value for Money from Police Procurement. This is the second consultation following on from the first which closed in September 2010. I did not necessarily have the knowledge I needed to fill out a consultation of this kind 18 months ago. I suspect many interpreters feel the same about this consultation. I suspect some interpreting agencies are too busy to consider responding to a consultation about the police when the tendering process for the framework agreement has long passed. And they may be trying to work out how to stay in business or whether to bother going for a NHS tender with a ridiculous unit cost per hour for interpreting services.

The consulation summary states that it will only be of interest to police authorities, unions and staff and businesses who contract to the police so has not been widely publicised. That sums up the attitude for me of a government ‘consultation’. It has become a byword for lip service, for pretending to listen, for ignoring the results whether it has been held locally or nationally.

Back to the consultation. There is already a framework agreement, there has already been pressure for police authorities to sign up to the agreement and many already have. The danger we have here is the consultation is about updating legislation. The proposed amendments to Regulations under Sections 53 (equipment) and Regulations under Section 57 (services) of the Police Act 1996 that would require specified equipment and services to be provided for police purposes through the use of specified framework agreements.

Translation and interpreters come under updates to the services part of the act. Other services include: some utilities, customer surveys, certain training services and certain consultancy services. Nothing else is so specialised as interpreting and no other involves ignoring other pieces of legislation namely: The Equality Act 2010, Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and EU directive 2010/64/EU 2010 on the right to interpretation in criminal proceedings. These laws state registered interpreters should be used, that no delays in provision should occur and interpreters should be of a sufficient quality or they must be replaced.

I have entered this legal argument into my consultation response alongside the explanation that this framework agreement does not obtain better value for money but rather reduces it. We have seen adjournments and delays in the courts and at tribunals. This is hardly going to improve no matter what precautions are put in place. It is an unsustainable contract and that is the simple fact of the matter.

Even though there is a perception that court work is the most important of all types of interpreting it is a myth. Interpreting at a police station is far more important. It has been drummed into me that ‘it all happens at the police station’. Having now done a smattering of police jobs and a lot of court work (before I started my boycott) I understand why the police station is far more important. It is where it all starts. It is where evidence is collected. It is where for cases it is make or break. If the interpreter makes mistakes at the police interview, whether this is for victim or suspect, it can mean abandoned court cases and expert witnesses being employed – do you really want another interpreter scrutinising your work and potentially having to agree in court that your work has been sub-standard.

Interpreting for the police can be the most important work you will ever do as an interpreter and where it has to be the most accurate. The proposed amendments to legislation means that the police have to use an agency which has not provided quality interpreters in courts and quite regularly does not manage to source one at all.

This is going to mean even more wasted public money. No, the Police Act 1996 should not be amended to regulate that police authorities should procure interpreting services. There is plenty of good practice and money savings initiatives by the forces who have resisted pressure to go over to the framework agreement, namely the London Met and Cambridgeshire Police forces.

What we need are best practice models, initiatives involving local interpreters, liaison with existing regulators – NRPSI and NRCPD. We need a way to future proof this profession and uphold standards in the face of a government who wishes to procure everything including specialist services to the now proven non-specialists and in the process waste millions of public money.

How to save money on Court Interpreters: Don’t book them

We are approaching the end of April, the time at which the contract between ALS and the MoJ for provision of interpreting and translation is due to be reviewed. To mark this occasion the spoken language interpreters have organised another London demo.

Without monitoring information being made public we do not know the real effect of this framework agreement. In fact neither do ministers. A recent question in the House of Commons to the Attorney General highlighted this problem. When asked what the cost was of delays and adjournments due to late or non-attendance of interpreters the answer was the cost of collecting data would be disproportionate.

This lack of centralised data is, of course, why the contract was awarded and why savings are not materialising in the way they should have been. The figures the government have used were based on estimates and extrapolations. The result has been an unworkable agreement and a refusal by NRPSIs to work under the contract. Interpreters are being sent miles to work (the promise was interpreters would come from a 25 miles radius, the reality is up to a 564 round trip, 366 miles, you can find many more examples on LinguistLounge.org). And the personnel are not necessarily, also as promised, qualified interpreters either but anyone who says they can speak another language with speakers being sourced from the streets outside of court, pizza delivery boys and Google Translate being used in emergencies.

The more worrying trend is that due to this debacle courts have just given up trying to book an interpreter. An irony as the new system was supposed to make it all easier. A Sign Language Interpreter sent in this experience:

‘I attended a Crown Court the other day having been booked by the defence. I have already, last month, been to a family court where I was the only interpreter booked when there should have been four and had strong suspicions that there would be no court interpreter present.

On arriving in Crown Court I discovered quickly there were indeed no court interpreters and I was expected to interpret all consultations outside of court for the defence as well as the court proceedings. In my previous experience the court books interpreters and for a pre-sentencing hearing such as this a court interpreter can interpret consultations for defence too or there would be two interpreters present, especially for a difficult case such as the one I was there to do. After five hours of interpreting inside and outside of court the defendant was sentenced. The judge addressed the defence Barrister and thanked him for the use of his interpreter and explained to the court that since the new contract had come into force the court was finding it was nearly impossible to get an interpreter through this new system. The judge then thanked me for my hard work and left the court.’

With the three month review period approaching and a government who is only concerned about cutting costs it would not be surprising if the MoJ states how the new framework has saved them rather a lot of money:

– When interpreters are booked by Counsel, rather than by the courts, the cost is covered by Legal Aid. These are still funds from the public purse but as the costs will not show up under the framework agreement the MoJ will assume they are spending less.

– When court cases go ahead with Google Translate there is no cost to the public purse. But unlikely a fair and just result will occur.

– When speakers of other languages are dragged in off the street, are they paid? Probably not.

– When adjournments and delays occur there is great cost to the public purse. As these are not centrally recorded there will be only anecdotal and no statistical evidence. And, again, they will not be reflected as costs under the framework agreement.

– There are reports that the booking system which is supposed to provide a one-stop shop is not working and courts can barely get through to talk to someone. Oh and the call centres are in various parts of the world where they do not understand geographical distances. If courts can not use a system to book an interpreter the MoJ, again, saves money.

In reality this framework agreement maybe appearing to save the MoJ costs but this is unlikely to be the case. Instead of making interpreter bookings more efficient it has made more work for court staff, reduced efficiencies for court personnel including barristers and judges and has taken away good quality access by trained and registered interpreters in favour of a hodge-podge of workarounds when a qualified interpreter is not sourced. Which is more frequently than not. No, this framework agreement is surely saving the MoJ money. They are no longer booking Court Interpreters.