Targets missed in Translation: Who’s really to blame?

The Courts Minister calls it a significant improvement whilst the Law Society deems it to be shocking. These are two polar opposite views about the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that show the outsourcing of courtroom interpreting to a single supplier has consistently fallen short of hitting its 98% performance target but who’s right?

Capita’s experience shows that translation and interpreting is not just another business process outsourcing service. It’s probably fair to say that Capita under-estimated the complexity of the market and the supply chain when it bought Applied Language Solutions (ALS) and like the MoJ that awared the contract, it probably didn’t do sufficient due diligence either. This hasn’t done the reputation of either Capita or the MoJ any good but, even worse, the service still isn’t working for the Courts planned resulting in Judges awarding some significant costs when interpreters fail to turn up.

The supplier base in the language services market is highly fragmented and there are very few companies that could scale up to providing the service levels required across the whole country. Capita’s experience in recruiting call centre workers or low level support staff isn’t of much use in such a specialised field and it’s clear they failed to maintain quality as they scaled up. The result is embarrassment all round and the Justice system slowed and rendered less fair.

They would have been better forming a consortium of translation companies and using the experience and resources of their partners to meet the demand far more efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, that would have exposed the usual UK Government procurement failure – using consolidators to get smaller companies to provide services to the public sector and paying them to do it. In this scenario, smaller suppliers inevitably get their prices pushed down to break even point or below, their invoices are paid months late so the big players can use them as banks, and the government pays far more than it needs for the service.

It’s a pity the MoJ is sticking to the line that the service is working when it’s clearly not. It’s unlikely that Capita will admit failure and withdraw from the service that has generated so much animosity.

If UK Government can’t see that its approach to using smaller and more innovative suppliers by making them work through the dinosaurs isn’t working we’re probably going to be stuck with poor quality service being delivered at too high prices through a small number of dominant players. That’s not good for anyone – in this case probably not even Capita’s shareholders.

You can read the full judgement of Sir James Munby by clicking here