Latest from ATC: ‘Fair access to public services at risk from poor procurement of language services’

Ensuring fair access to essential public services within healthcare, local government and in the justice system is at risk for people who do not speak English and depend on interpreters and translators, according to a new report from the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) and launched today at its annual conference held at Manchester United’s stadium. The report, based on research with ATC members supplying the public sector with language services, found that the procurement process is causing areas of strain in the efficient provision of those services.

The public sector is one of the most significant users of linguists in the UK, offering an essential service for millions of people who don’t have adequate English language skills. Yet there is considerable work to do in improving service quality and access. Key recommendations include:

  • That quality of service and cost need to be reconnected in the procurement process
  • The need to take a citizen-centric approach where language needs are tracked through and between public sector organisations
  • That the administrative burden is reduced and supplier criteria updated to not exclude the many SME language suppliers available in the market

The report also follows a recent consultation from Crown Commercial Services (CCS), which is pushing through a new framework that, if enforced, will cut off the ability of many language service providers to operate in the public sector.

The use of language services plays an essential role in the functioning of public services and any failure in provision leads to lengthy and expensive delays. A key example would be the ability of the courts system to function. In the event that victims, witnesses or those being prosecuted do not have an interpreter to understand what they are being asked, then proceedings will be adjourned, leading to huge cost escalations. Similarly, medical appointments are often missed or need to be rescheduled because of breakdowns in communication between doctor and patient.

Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary of the ATC comments:

“The UK encompasses a broad demographic of people and languages and because of this, language can be a divisive issue. However, not getting languages right leads to inaccurate communication and social exclusion, so the provision of language services is an area of concern that the government must seek to address.

“This is not only about ensuring fair access to services for all people living in the UK but one of cost to the taxpayer. The problems that we saw on a large scale with the failure of the Ministry of Justice contract in 2011 led to serious delays and costs throughout the justice system that took years to recover. We need to make sure that the same mistakes do not happen again.”

About The Association of Translation Companies

The Association of Translation Companies (ATC) was established in 1976 by a group of leading translation companies to ensure the quality assurance and accreditation of translation and interpreting companies in Britain. It is one of the world’s oldest organisations representing the interests of translation companies and currently has 170 members. For those seeking to source translations, the ATC acts as an impartial guide to assist in sourcing those members most suited to their requirements. ATC members must carry professional indemnity insurance cover and adhere to an agreed Code of Professional Conduct, which has now become the profession’s standard. The ATC is a founding member of the European Union of Association of Translation Companies – a pan European grouping of translation company associations.

About Comtec

An award-winning, full service translation agency, Comtec has over 30 years’ experience in providing fast, accurate and high quality translations in more than 200 languages . We’re the trusted language translation partner for many companies who call on our knowledge of international business and expert translation services to help them expand into new markets overseas. If you’re a UK-based SME considering expanding your business abroad and would like some advice on translating and localising your business materials, please get in touch on or call us on + 44 (0) 1926 335 681. We’re here ready and waiting to help.

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