Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Cintra Ltd


This Memorandum submits evidence under area 2 of the Committee’s Inquiry: “the nature and appropriateness of the procurement process”.

Cintra Ltd is an interpreting and translation company, incorporated in 1997 as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with no shareholders.

Cintra Ltd has supplied interpreters and translators to the police forces of Norfolk (since 2000), Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire (since 2005) and Suffolk (since 2009).

Cintra Ltd also supplies interpreters for first appearance in court for these police forces, and for Probation Trusts in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Cintra Ltd was invited to submit a pre-qualification questionnaire for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) tender in October 2010, and was subsequently one of 12 companies invited to participate in the “competitive dialogue” procedure in November 2010.

Cintra Ltd was not invited to tender or to participate further.

Cintra’s view is that the tender process was well designed in its early stages to engender understanding of interpreting and translation services and potential contract solutions among the partners in the procurement (we are not able to comment on later stages as we did not participate).

Cintra’s view is also, however, that advice given to the MoJ and partners at the dialogue stage—especially on quality of interpreter supply, interpreter pay rates and the benefits of regional provision—was not taken, to the detriment of the final contract currently in place.

1. About Cintra Ltd

1.1 Cintra Ltd offers a complete interpreting and translation service, mainly to the public sector. Cintra’s mission statement is “widening access to public services”, and we have extensive experience in meeting the requirements of public sector organisations for the provision under contract of interpreting and translation services. We manage our contracts to the exacting standards required, in terms of response times, quality of interpreting provision and cost-effectiveness. We are happy to provide additional information to the Committee on our contractual performance if required.

1.2 Every year, Cintra manages nearly 40,000 interpreting and translation assignments, in over 100 languages, on a 24/7/365 basis. We work with professionally qualified, UK-based interpreters and translators who are qualified to DPSI/DipTrans standard, and possess the professional, cultural and interpersonal skills to meet the standards of our clients. All our interpreters and translators are vetted to at least enhanced CRB standard and abide by our Code of Conduct of confidentiality and impartiality.

1.3 Cintra has in-house capacity and experience to train interpreters to Diploma in Public Service Interpreting level, to grow interpreter supply. We also provide coaching for staff working with interpreters and interpreter training for bi-lingual staff. As a social enterprise, we are able to plough back a higher percentage of our income into training and development of interpreters, thus ensuring a higher quality of interpreters.

1.4 Cintra’s contracted clients (won via competitive tender) include the seven police forces in the East Midlands, Norfolk and Suffolk; Probation Trusts in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk; hospitals, Primary Care Trusts and Mental Health Trusts in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire; county and district councils and the voluntary sector in Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Most of these have been clients for at least seven years.

2. Ministry of Justice Tender Process

2.1 This tender was advertised in summer 2010 as an “invitation to dialogue”, unusual in that the clients weren’t sure of what the possibilities and issues were and wanted to explore these with some prospective suppliers.

2.2 We completed the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) in October 2010 and were subsequently advised that Cintra was one of 12 companies that had passed this, out of the 67 that completed the PQQ. Cintra was then invited to participate in the “competitive dialogue” process.

2.3 A supplier open day was held in London on 3 November, which we attended. This was a useful meeting for us as a prospective tenderer, clarifying various points about the potential contract participants, the rationale behind the contract, the probable contract requirements and the procurement timetable.

3. Competitive Dialogue Process and Cintra’s Advice

3.1 Cintra was invited to Wakefield on 15 November 2010 to discuss the tender, and I attended the meeting in my capacity as Chief Executive.

3.2 There were approximately 12 client partners at the meeting, and our discussion, which lasted over 2 hours, was recorded. The key points for discussion had been notified in advance: a) a review of the clients’ requirements; b) an overview of the bidder’s technical solutions; c) an overview of the bidder’s commercial solutions.

We had a wide-ranging discussion around these issues. Three particular issues we discussed are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

(a) The importance of local recruitment and training of interpreters

3.3 It was clear from the beginning of the procurement exercise that high quality interpreters would be a key requirement of the contract. Before the contract with Applied Language Solutions replaced it, guidance for courts, police forces and other criminal justice organisations was enshrined in the National Agreement on the Use of Interpreters in the Criminal Justice System (from the Home Office/Office for Criminal Justice Reform). The key recommended source of qualified interpreters was the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). The key qualification for NRPSI interpreters is the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI).

3.4 The vast majority of qualified interpreters on NRPSI are based in London and the south east, and there are limited numbers of qualified interpreters outside the south east. Since this was to be a national contract, we advised the MoJ to seek suppliers with the ability to recruit language speakers in the regions with a shortage of qualified interpreters and train and develop them to qualify as DPSI-level interpreters.

3.5 Speed of supply, as well as quality, is a vital requirement for police forces—for example, Cintra’s target for its East Midlands Police contract is to supply 85% of interpreters within 2 hours. Having invested significantly in developing the supply of trained and qualified interpreters in the East Midlands, we are regularly exceeding this target. We advised MoJ that it is therefore very important in a national contract to develop a local supply, for each region, of qualified interpreters.

3.6 As an example, when Cintra first won the East Midlands Police contract in 2005, there were very few qualified interpreters living locally. As a registered examination centre for the DPSI, with in-house trainers, Cintra was able to recruit, assess and train language-speakers new to interpreting, and over 200 have qualified with DPSI in the East Midlands through Cintra since the contract began, ensuring a local, high quality supply of interpreters for the contract.

3.7 Training provision at this level is very expensive, and most agencies don’t do it. Cintra’s mission, as a company without shareholders, is not to drive profit, but to widen access to public services, which means we plough our profits back into developing our linguists and services. We advised the MoJ that without this training provision, it would be impossible to develop a high-quality supply of interpreters in regions where there are few.

(b) Interpreter pay and conditions

3.8 It had been made clear early in the tender process that the National Agreement on the Use of Interpreters in the Criminal Justice System, which set out recommendations not only on how interpreters should be sourced, but how much they should be paid, would be abolished and replaced by the new contract.

3.9 We advised that the MoJ should consider interpreter pay rates (and the ancillary package of minimum payment, travel time and mileage payments) carefully in the context of wanting to ensure a high quality supply of interpreters while also wanting major savings.

3.10 We advised that if there was a race to the bottom on price, and interpreter rates were to be cut severely, high quality interpreters would start to leave the profession. This was a national contract that was likely to change the market, and therefore there was a high risk of losing—and not being able to replace—high quality, experienced interpreters if the rates were set too low. We advised that interpreting is a very skilled, professional and sometimes emotionally difficult job and there needs to be sufficient incentive to retain good interpreters.

3.11 We suggested that suppliers should be required to state the rates they were intending to pay interpreters in their tender response. Our experience in the East Midlands demonstrated that it was possible to recruit and retain a highly qualified interpreter work force, conforming to the sourcing requirements of the National Agreement, while still making significant savings for our clients.

(c) The “one national supplier” option and a region-based alternative

3.12 MoJ had said from early in the process that their preference was to contract one national supplier (a company or a consortium) with a single point of contact. We said, during the dialogue process, that we understood why they wanted this, because it would keep things simple, but it may not provide the best outcome.

3.13 We advised that one company or consortium to cover the whole country might seem attractive, but the companies aren’t used to working as consortia, which may cause problems, and smaller but better companies could be ruled out.

3.14 This is a complex service that requires focused development and an active relationship between supplier and client to tailor the service, which would be difficult on a national basis. In our view there was no current supplier who would be able to provide an excellent service across the whole country, bearing in mind the stringent quality requirements of the Criminal Justice System, from the beginning of the contract.

3.15 There is an equal need for the contractor to develop and maintain good relationships with the suppliers—the interpreters and translators—which we manage through regular meetings, continuing professional development courses etc. This is also harder to manage on a national basis.

3.16 The contract would also require a contractor able to develop new sources of supply at the appropriate level of quality, which could be best focused regionally. This would also mean that there wasn’t total reliance on one supplier.

3.17 For all these reasons, we suggested MoJ consider breaking the contract down into smaller, better defined segments—eg by geographical area, by agreed client list, or by types of service—face to face interpreting, telephone interpreting and translation.

4. Outcome

4.1 At the end of the MoJ’s competitive dialogue process we received a courteous letter with feedback on our discussion, the main point of which was that the MoJ had “determined that the optimal solution will be a national one-stop shop”. As we had made it clear during the discussion that we were unlikely to be able to provide a national solution with interpreters available across the country at short notice from day one, Cintra Ltd was excluded from further consideration.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013