Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Orsolya Mance

I was very pleased to hear that a new inquiry is being conducted regarding the Applied Language Solutions Contract and the provision of Interpretation and Translation services.

I am writing in a personal capacity as a Registered Public Service Interpreter (RPSI), and I would like to make the following submission regarding some of the questions raised by the inquiry.

In my view, the MoJ’s Framework Agreement with ALS turns back the clock on decades of policy development. The scrapped National Agreement on Arrangements for the use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings within the Criminal Justice System, as revised 2007 was introduced to address concerns raised by Lord Runciman about the difficulty of obtaining good quality interpreters in his report on the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in July 1993, and Lord Justice Auld’s Review of Criminal Justice in 2001. In 2006 a Home Office Circular (17/2006) reinforced the importance of the National Agreement and the quality of interpreting services, and subsequent amendments were made to strengthen the National Agreement, ensuring only registered and qualified interpreters could practise in the Criminal Justice System.

The Rationale for Changing Arrangements for the Provision of Interpreter Services

1. The MoJ informed stakeholders on 6 July 2011 that “collaborative authorities” had “concerns that NRPSI registration does not necessarily guarantee quality. The evidence is anecdotal, but consistent enough to warrant action”. The monumental and costly changes to interpreting provision were made on the basis of “anecdotal evidence”, not facts or an actual assessment of the situation and problems.

2. Mr Blunt himself made the following statement in Parliament on 13 March 2012: “Some of the problems, strangely enough, came from the interpreters who, on finding that under the new payment regime they could no longer earn six-figure salaries, as they could under the previous administration.”—demonstrating that months into the new Framework Agreement he had no idea how the previous system had worked. Interpreters never earned salaries (we are all freelance, without pension provisions, holiday entitlement or any other benefits that come with employment), let alone six-figure ones.

The Nature and Appropriateness of the Procurement Process

3. Interpreters repeatedly expressed their concern that, as was apparent from the annual financial accounts of ALS Ltd, the company was not sufficiently large or financially secure to handle a contract of this magnitude. ALS’s highest turnover was £6 million, with which the company booked a profit of only £76,000. The company also had significant loans and charges.

4. ALS seems to have been awarded the FWA based on the lowest promised cost—but I believe that the Company’s ability to deliver at this cost was never scrutinised. It seems that ALS was aware from the outset of its inability to deliver a contract this size at the prices promised—this is why Mr Wheeldon sold ALS to Capita as soon as the FWA was in place (and subsequently left the Company).

5. On 15 March 2012 Mr Blunt stated on the Radio 4 Today programme that ALS was “the best” company to apply for the contract and that it had since been taken over by professional services firm Capita and so had “substantial resources behind them to make sure this works”. This suggests either that Mr Blunt was aware of the takeover plan before the FWA was awarded, in which case it would not have been a fair process, or that he admitted that ALS needed substantially more resources than were at its disposal, which should have been taken into consideration before it was awarded the FWA.

The Appropriateness of Arrangements for Monitoring the Management of the Contract, including the Quality and Cost-effectiveness of the Service Delivered

6. ALS allows unqualified and inexperienced bilinguals to practise in the CJS. The lowering of minimum standards for CJS interpreters is the consequence of introducing a system that places interpreters and interpreting assignments into different Tiers according to the score given in ALS’ compulsory assessment. The flawed design of the Tier system does not reflect the realities of the work, and in practice the provider, ALS, will be supplying unqualified persons drawn from the lowest Tiers.

7. It seems that no data is being collated about the overall cost of adjournments and retrials where this was a result of a failure to provide an appropriate interpreter, nor the cost of interpreters that were booked directly by the courts or other agencies. Without this data it is impossible to assess the overall cost-effectiveness of the service.

Both as an interpreter and as a UK taxpayer, I am convinced that the MoJ’s Framework Agreement with Applied Language Solutions Ltd does not serve the interests of justice and that the procurement process was seriously flawed.

September 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013