As a matter of urgency the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), the sector’s leading professional body, is calling on the government to take on board its recommendations in its report 'Recommendation for the future procurement of language services in the public sector', which is published this week and follows an in-depth survey of its members.
It comes at a time when the Crown Commercial Service and the Ministry of Justice are in the process of procuring language services worth hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for government departments.
It acknowledges that, while public sector agencies such as local authorities, the NHS and the Ministry of Justice are under pressure to reduce costs, achieving value for money should not be at the expense of ensuring a high quality service.
The report points out that failure to provide satisfactory language services – translation, interpreting and signing – can cause extra cost to the public purse, for example, through medical misunderstandings or delays to court proceedings.
According to the ATC, a focus on saving money at the expense of service quality has also led to a ‘critical shortage’ of skilled language professionals willing to work in the public sector, meaning the government may struggle to meet its future language service requirements.
For the same reason, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggle to break even when working in the public sector and, increasingly, are walking away from bidding for public sector contracts. This undermined the government’s stated ambition to have placed 25 per cent of public sector contracts with SMEs by the end of 2015, a target it is likely to have missed.
The ATC’s recommendations include ensuring public sector organisations reduce waste by assessing the genuine needs of their local community, improve cost efficiency by developing shared services and checking that Language Service Providers are suitably qualified and work to recognised standards.
Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary of the ATC, said: “The government has a legal responsibility to ensure fair access to its public services, and Language Service Providers play a critical role in fulfilling that responsibility by ensuring access to people who may not speak English.
“But our survey has revealed that procurement of language services is in urgent need of an overhaul. It is clear that these services are treated too much as a commodity, with insufficient understanding of how to assess and monitor their quality.”
The report states that the public sector is one of the largest users of language services in the UK and that such services are essential for millions of people.
It continues: “The ATC does not underestimate the challenges that the public sector faces to reduce costs where it can, to find efficiencies in the way it operates, while at the same time improving the quality of service provision.
“It is in the spirit of increasing quality and value for money that this report has been drafted and the ATC is committed to supporting the government in its agenda to get the best value for the taxpayer.”
To see the ATC’s full report, go to https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4b4256b6f1096630775f1cb12/files/ATC_Procurement_final.pdf