The military would describe the UK’s current governance as a ‘target-rich environment’ with screw-ups following each other at a positively dizzying rate. A recent Channel 4 News report on the Court Translation Service was a doozy. Seeking to save around £18 million per year the Ministry of Justice has given a £300 million contract to provide all translation services for England and Wales to the tiny £7 million company of a failed Dragon’s Den entrepreneur with no apparent evidence that the firm could handle the demand. And, surprise, surprise, it turns out that they can’t - leaving cases delayed, courts in chaos and costs mounting rapidly.
The way this has traditionally worked is that when a court needs an interpreter they would find one through the National Register of Public Service interpreters which currently has around 2,300 properly qualified interpreters on its list. And it’s a system that works very well. As it happens a good friend of ours did regular stints of court work until she moved overseas a couple of years ago and she had told us that middlemen were attempting to move in, sign ‘exclusive’ deals and, in return, help themselves to a juicy cut of the fees for little effort on their part but at the expense of the translators who, naturally enough, are not thrilled. Most are refusing to work with the new system and ALS, the company involved, is accused of providing unqualified interpreters.
There is nothing to like about the MOJ’s bright idea of creating a supplier monopoly making its money by screwing the talent. How many would finish up on income support of some sort offsetting any savings? And do the MoJ really imagine that if a monopoly got established it wouldn’t turn round in a few years and demand higher fees to further fatten its bottom line?
All credit to Gavin Wheeldon, the entrepreneur concerned for being an excellent salesman and, in fairness also to the Dragons who agreed that he would do very well but baulked at the high price he was asking. He eventually got his price by selling out to Capita.
Which raises the question of what should be done to fix the mess.
Well, Capita is a big company with deep pockets that has got rich by feeding at the outsourcing trough and they should not be allowed to run away with the idea that contracting with government is a one way bet where profits are taken and costs are walked away from. In other words they should be on the hook for ALL the losses, both the costs of delays and the loss of promised savings. Does the contract say that is what will happen – and if not why not? I don’t know but Capita depends for a very large part of its revenues on government. In such circumstances the customer is ALWAYS right irrespective of whatever the contract might say.
I’m not holding my breath but I live in hope.