Q: My grandson established a translation service, specialising in Portuguese and Spanish, three years ago and recently gained an accolade for his work. Some of his early customers offer him business which is not sufficiently profitable but, because they helped him to establish the business, he is reluctant to either refuse their custom or ask for increased and profitable rates of pay.

Other more profitable translation work, more demanding of his skills, still commands rates of pay below that which he feels he should have. Yet he is reluctant to increase his charges to these clients for fear of losing the business.

What words of advice do you have towards his goal of expansion and increased profitability, please?

Just as you thought the court interpreting contract was delivering savings... Two unrelated reports from independent sources (a solicitor and a court reporter) resurface:


Case study

But a spokesman for the MOJ said in January: “Since we introduced a new interpreting contract in 2012 we have spent £38 million less on language service fees than was projected to be spent under the previous arrangements.”

A case study at its best...

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Whoever thought public service interpreting was easy or trivial...

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In the case of Hak v St Christopher’s Fellowship the claimant, who had some understanding of English, requested the assistance of an interpreter in advance of the tribunal hearing. Unfortunately there were no interpreters available on the day of the hearing. The claimant was asked at the outset of the hearing whether he wanted to proceed without an interpreter. He confirmed that he did and, when his claim was struck out, he appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The EAT held that a reasonable opportunity had been afforded to the Claimant to have an interpreter as he had been given the choice of proceeding with the hearing, without an interpreter, or waiting until an interpreter could be found. Provided the Judge was satisfied that the litigant understood the choices available, this was sufficient.

It should be noted that, where a litigant’s understanding of English is poor, a choice for the hearing to go ahead without an interpreter should not be given and the hearing should only proceed once an interpreter has been sourced. 

Cost pressures affecting public bodies are risking the quality of translation services, a survey has suggested – potentially creating further costs through medical misunderstandings, delays to court proceedings and other errors.

There is now a “critical shortage’ of skilled language professionals willing to work in the public sector, according to the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), with providers increasingly “walking away from public sector opportunities”. This is because smaller companies especially are struggling to break even as public organisations try to save every penny in their contract negotiations.

Following an in-depth survey, the ATC says: “A near unanimous view is that the procurement of language services is treated too much as a commodity with insufficient understanding of how to assess and monitor quality of service. There is a preeminent over-focus by procurers on the cost of service, with a disconnect in understanding of the quality that can be provided under any agreed budget.”

The public sector as a whole is the largest client for language services providers.

The ATC is particularly concerned at the apparent failure to learn lessons from the Ministry of Justice procurement in 2011, despite an in-depth examination of what went wrong by the Commons Justice Committee in 2013.

The Crown Commercial Service and the Ministry of Justice are currently procuring language services worth hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for government departments, and the ATC is worried that short-term cost savings are again taking precedence over quality and long-term value.