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Geoffrey Bowden

Geoffrey Bowden

Geoffrey Bowden is the General Secretary of the Association of Translation Companies. He fulfills the same role with the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies.

It is early days yet, but some of the data coming out of the
Association of Translation Companies' 2016 UK Language Industry research
is looking very interesting indeed.

Our independent researcher, Konstantin Dranch, is reluctant to say too
much at the moment, but when I recently applied the thumbscrews, he
revealed that analysis of completed surveys to date suggests that the
average expected growth for UK LSPs in 2015/16 will be around 11.3 per
cent.  However, he was quick to say that some, especially smaller
companies, are more optimistic.  In that cohort growth is predicted to be
between 20 ­ 48 per cent.

He cautions that it is not all rosy though.  Whether this is a by-product
of the post Brexit uncertainty, he reveals that one in five LSPs is
bracing itself for zero or negative growth in 2016/17.

Other nuggets prised from Konstantin suggest that gross margins for UK
LSPs average 45 per cent, but again he warns that the research has thrown
up a few company performances at either end of the spectrum.  Some LSPs
are showing margins as high as 65 per cent, while others at the other end
of the table are reporting them at 25 per cent.

As I released the thumbscrews Konstantin let slip that the final results
will have some revealing data on earnings before interest and tax (EBIT).
He says findings so far suggest that the average EBIT for UK LSPs is
15.45 per cent.

All of this suggests that the analysis of the research, once it is
completed, will provide UK LSPs with hugely valuable data by which they
can benchmark their performance against their peer group, as well as
start making informed decisions about future strategies.

It is not too late to contribute to the research study.  If you are a
UK-based LSP we want you to participate and you can do that up till 10th
September by clicking HERE.

Happily Konstantin Dranch is going to be far more forthcoming when he
presents a summary of the research findings during the 2016 Language
Industry Summit taking place in London 22/23 September.  I am sure that
you will not need thumb screws to get him to sing like a canary and
elaborate on the findings.  However, if you want to quiz him in person
you will need to move fast.  There are just five days left of the
early-bird discount scheme, you are urged to book your place at the
Summit before delegate rates increase by as much as 30 per cent after
midnight on 31st August.

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Many of us are still in a state of mourning after the shock of the UK's EU referendum result. Others in the language industry have started to look beyond the immediate horizon and can only see more negative consequences facing the language profession.

Most alarming for many has been the posturing of one of the leading contenders in the Conservative Party race for its leadership and the position of Prime Minister.  

Theresa May, the front runner, if she succeeds David Cameron as First Lord of the Treasury, is prepared to use the status of 3.3 million EU citizens currently living and working in the UK as bargaining chips in negotiations with European Union member states.  Not content with that she has pronounced that 1.2 million UK citizens living and working in other EU countries will be thrown into the mix too.  

Setting aside the morality of such a negotiating tactic, it has set alarm bells ringing throughout the UK's language industry.  Ours is a sector heavily reliant on mother-tongue linguists for translation and interpreting. Many thousands of those professionals are resident in the UK and members of either the Chartered Institute of Linguists or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.  Many are practitioners who have gone on to form companies.  Those companies not only rely of the freelance community, but need to have certainty about the ability to recruit in-house linguists too. 

Meanwhile, the vote to leave is creating just as much uncertainty around the development of future linguists too.  UK universities offering translation and interpreting courses are already under pressure with some high profile casualties, such as Westminster and Salford.  With the future of the Erasmus Programme up in the air, the viability of more courses could come under increasing pressure and some may not survive.

The uncertainty being faced by the whole of the language profession demands that all the professional bodies come together to form a united front. We need a strong united voice to speak directly to those who ultimately will lead our negotiations, so they carefully consider the future of the UK's £1 billion language industry, which is the hidden lubricant in UK plc's ability to trade successfully with the rest of the world.

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  • Verónica
    Verónica says #
    i agree completely with you
    i agree completely with you

For the overwhelming majority of the UK language industry leaders the outcome of the referendum vote has been utter bewilderment and disappointment.

Many of us are feeling shame that such a decision should have been taken by the electorate. But, as they say, we are where we are and the UK's £1 billion language industry is now taking stock and thinking about what next for the sector.

Those on the 'Leave' side of the argument branded the warnings from the ‘Remainers’ as "project fear", but, as the Pound tumbles in value and the leaders of the European institutions start pressing for the stopwatch on the UK's exit to begin sooner, rather than later, the sound of turkeys coming home to roost is deafening.

During the long referendum debate there was one televised set piece with leading Outer Michael Gove MP, when a Nottingham-base Language Service Provider (LSP) told him that an exit would result in additional bureaucracy to get paid for her work by her EU customers.  At last week's Association of Translation Companies' Annual General Meeting, one leading member said that she anticipated any work from framework agreements with EU institutions would start to dry up and impact her business and the rest of the UK sector delivering language services in this space. Both LSP owners accurately reflected the ATC member survey published in April, which asked members what they expected if the UK left the European Union.

With one of the largest EU economies heading for the exit door, others have questioned whether English will remain one of the EU's official languages.

Currently, an upside of the referendum decision, if it can be called an upside, is the falling Pound. That could be making UK language services more competitive not only in Europe, but globally too. 

Another upside could be that UK-based LSPs might face less competition from their European competitors, since future mega-sized public sector tenders will, presumably, no longer need to be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union.

However, I feel I am clutching at straws when seeking out any positives, from what can only be described as a seismic and disasterous shift in UK politics.

I feel certain that this issue will be uppermost in people's minds when delegates from all over the world arrive in London for the ATC's 2016 Language Industry Summit on 22/23 September.


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