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Ministry blasted for translators fiasco

Date published: 14 December 2012


A Delph-based private firm paid to provide court interpreters has been fined a “risible” £2,200 for a series of failures which led to “total chaos” in the justice system, a spending watchdog says.

The Commons public accounts committee demanded tougher punishments as it delivered a withering assessment of Applied Language Solutions (ALS) and officials who handed the company the contract.

Soft penalties meant firms were getting away with not living up to promises, it warned.

Responsibility for providing translators across England was awarded to ALS - later taken over by Capita — from the start of the year, replacing what had previously been a piecemeal system.

But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) failed to carry out proper checks before signing the deal - and had so little understanding of what was needed that bidders were able to run the process, MPs said.

The MoJ failed to check whether ALS could supply the required 1,200 staff — only 280 were available when the system went live — and was unable to confirm they were qualified and security cleared.

“The result was total chaos,” committee chair Margaret Hodge said, adding that it should have been evident the company was “clearly incapable of delivering”.

“This is an object–lesson in how not to contract out a public service,” she said.

She said there has been a “sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials, individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling”.

Fines have totalled only £2,200 so far, and none were levied during the first four months of the contract, when the shortages were at their worst.

The report concluded that “risible levels of penalties and low expectations of performance allow private companies to get away with over–promising and under–delivering”.

Labour justice spokesman Andy Slaughter described the report as “one of the most damning ever on a Government contract”.

ALS was set up nine years ago by Delph businessman Gavin Wheeldon, who sold it to professional services firm Capita last year for £7.5 million.


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