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.

Advertisements

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.