(This is not satire – it’s ALS!)
Have you heard the one about the Delboy character who set up a firm in his bedroom and then persuaded naive government ministers to award him with a £300 million contract – a decision which has now become so disastrous, in some cases it’s brought Britain’s criminal justice system to a halt?
Yes I know it’s getting difficult to keep track of all the unbelievably incompetent fiascos happening as a result of the government’s attempts to cut costs by farming essential services out to whichever Delboy character they come across – but you’re really going to have to keep up.
First some background.
Crime is an international business. Police and courts on a daily basis need to be able to communicate internationally – not just to deal with foreign criminals operating here but for witness statements and expert opinion as well as vital cooperation with police and courts around the world.
Essential to these needs are legal interpreters. These are not just people who can speak another language well enough to interpret simultaneously* but are experts on legal and crime fighting terminology in both languages – and because international crime never sleeps they must be available to the police and the courts 24 hours a day – sometimes at extremely short notice. In short they are professionals who are as essential to the successful running of our legal, court and crime fighting system as police, lawyers and judges.
Last year, in a bid to save money, ministers gave a £300 million contract for providing all legal interpreters to courts and police to one company – Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which promised to cut the annual translation bill by a third. The firm was owned by a smooth talking, slippery salesman by the name of Gavin Wheeldon, whose own mother described him as a ‘small Arthur Daley‘ (a 1970s TV character version of Delboy).
The problem is that Gavin isn’t an interpreter, in fact doesn’t even speak any foreign language at all and he started ALS from his bedroom in Manchester.
These are his own words from an article in the Times, well before he won the government contract:
I was ringing up and pretending I was this huge translation company when really it was just me in the back bedroom with a phone and PC. I won the contract and then thought: oh my God, how on earth do I deliver this?
And here he is on The Dragon’s Den five years ago, the dragons of course saw through him immediately, in a way our government ministers unfortunately did not.
And what has been the result of the government’s decision to hand over this vital service to Gavin ‘Delboy’ Wheeldon?
Another complete and utter omnishambles of course, which has so far resulted in the collapse of important court cases including murder trials, the denial of the right to a fair trial and even foreign suspects being allowed to walk free from police custody.
Up to 60% of the professional legal interpreters previously employed by the courts and police have unsurprisingly refused to work for Gavin’s company, especially after he announced he would be cutting their salaries by as much as half and refusing to pay them travelling expenses.
This in turn has resulted in ALS employing unvetted and incompetent interpreters, which in turn has resulted in a catalogue of disasters. In one case, a cat called Masha was accepted and registered as a legal interpreter by ALS.
And what has been the savings to the taxpayer for reducing our legal system to a laughing stock in the eyes of the world?
Last month, the government admitted the projected £12 million annual savings from the contract will probably not be achieved.
Yes, that’s right. None. Nothing. Zero.
You’re probably also wondering if we’re going to be getting our £300 million from Gavin back.
Not likely I’m afraid as he’s already sold ALS on to another company, Capita, for £7.5 million.
By the way, if you’re as cynical as I am and wondering if there were any connections between Gavin ‘Delboy’ Wheeldon and government ministers, Tory or Liberal Democrat donors, I did check but as far as I can tell there doesn’t seem to be any at all.
So probably not a case of conspiracy – probably just another good old government cock-up.
If you think more people should know about this, please share it.
*If you don’t think accurate translation is important, have a look at this fascinating (and worrying) article:
6 Mistranslations That Changed The World
And here are some useful links if you want to know more about ALS and this latest government omnishambles:
ALS’s Gavin Wheeldon: A Case Study in Cheap Translation
Numerous news stories about problems with ALS
BBC – Court chaos follows interpreter change
The court interpreting fiasco
ALS – lies, damned lies, and statistics
Professional Interpreters’ Alliance
Registered Public Service Interpreters (RPSIs)
By the way, if you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a huge favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks:
Even for this government, this is astounding!
Tom Pride said:
Maybe the government should watch all back episodes of Dragon’s Den before they hand out any more contracts to private firms?
So presumably the person responsible for this cockup has been sacked, or will they be knighted in the new years honours list for services to international relations.
Tom Pride said:
At least we’re providing some light entertainment to the rest of the world.
Tom Pride said:
I think !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! just about sums it up. Although I suppose we could also ask ?????????????????
Wheeldon left ALS and Capita by “mutual agreement”, but the contract is still in place and the ministers and civil servants are still holding on to their seats waiting for an absolution. The National Audit Office has started investigating and the Justice Select Committee is collecting written evidence until 3rd September 2012.
Tom Pride said:
By past experience I doubt the government will do anything. They just don’t care. In the similar case of G4S, even after the Olympics debacle, the company is still being given massive security contracts.
Very entrepreneurial! he saw an opportunity and took it – can’t really blame him for that. However this is a lesson for the Government as if they need another that private is not always best. In this case they simply took the option to reduce cost without any thought as to how it might work in reality (see G4S Olympics fiasco) and we are now paying the price in botched cases etc as you describe above and as several interpreting tweeters have been sharing in increasing numbers.
Tom Pride said:
I agree – the villain here isn’t Wheeldon – it’s a government hell bent on shifting public services into private hands. They know people like Wheeldon and companies like G4S aren’t capable of providing the services but they also know in the long term it doesn’t really matter because once the publicity has died down everyone will have forgotten and they will have accomplished what they set out to achieve.
G4S, for example, is already getting new government contracts even after the Olympics debacle.
Marc Starr said:
I’m replying to Tom rather than Yelena: I’m hoping your past experience isn’t repeated here whilst taking on board what you’ve said with some consternation.
I am still convinced this will be the usual path. Government does nothing. Then something goes tragically wrong, beyond anything that has happened so far. Then everyone will be clamouring for action, recriminations, investigations, inquiries – the lot. Locking the gate once the horse has bolted.
My particular concern is that if it is true that Kenneth Clarke is under some pressure to quit, if he does, his replacement might come in all guns blazing and, as misinformed by conniving civil servants as Beavis & Butthead (aka Crispin Blunt & Nick Herbert), instead of scrapping the contract, tries to make the unworkable work.I won’t repeat the epic-length list of reasons why a third-party intermediary will never work in this area.
If there is a new Justice Minister, if he/she comes in under the misguided impression that sorting this out will gain some brownie points off Dave, and plays the tough guy, I can’t speak for others but I’ll continue to do other work and refuse public service work through agencies.
It’s not just about me. I’m not a defendant, witness or complainant. People will be denied justice and a system that took more than 20 years to build up will continue to decay, with the qualified, trained professionals who used to do the job all drifting into other areas. Everyone loses.
You cannot replicate the skill of people who took a Krypton Factor Assault Course of a qualification with people who speak a smattering of whatever language is required.
If the government thinks another company is the answer, this is what will happen. The company will look in the same online databases and will try to entice the same people. It’s a dead end.
There are 2300 NRPSI professionals. In a FOI request made not long ago by John Leech MP, Crispin Blunt informed him that only 301 NRPSI interpreters were signed up with ALS/Capita, in wild contrast to the propaganda that emanated earlier this year from the MOJ and the ALS/Capita itself, playing mind games by crowing about the amazing rate of take-up among professionals. Not that I believed it – a wild lemming-like rush to take a 75% pay cut? Are you sure, Minister?
I might sound angry, arrogant, bitter, twisted and defiant. I’m only the last one of those things; I was getting on with my job when this all started. I was minding my own business. They threw the first punch. I claim self-defence and the more than 90% of interpreters who won’t work for ALS Capita aren’t even having to use ‘reasonable force’ – it’s more a case of passive resistance.
I remember a phrase used to attack either the Thatcher or Major administration in the 80s or 90s. Can’t remember who said it or when, but the quote has always stuck in my mind: “Not rotten to the core. Rotten from the core”.
The Olympics debacle has been and gone, it was sorted by the Army etc. The court interpreting fiasco is on-going with faults exposed all the time and courts still in chaos. It is a little more serious than security, It’s actually security and people’s lives who are supposed to get justice.
As well as G4S, Capita is getting new contracts all the time, but ALS is a stand alone business within Capita, the contract with the MoJ is based on ridiculously low margins and at the moment it shouldn’t bring Capita anything but losses as they are paying some travel expenses which they are contractually not supposed to pass on to the MoJ. They regularly fly their “linguists” 400-500 miles away to do assignments and pay for it.
The new court interpreting system is widely hated by all court users: staff, lawyers, defendants, witnesses. Some courts have given up on ALS and call out interpreters direct at the “old” rates. If no interpreters came out to work direct, the system would grind to a halt within days as it did in the first 2 weeks of February. It was then that the MoJ allowed to use other sources to attract interpreters for short notice bookings. ALS is supposed to be the sole supplier.
IMHO the new arrangement has no future in practical or financial terms. Professionals will not work under the new system, no savings are or will be made, chaos continues. Something will have to give somehow.
Derek Robinson said:
The Tories care little for Justice. The have no grip of any right & wrong, only what they think benefits them.
fisherprice sirens said:
So so so true I have nearly daily battles with them. Wrong language.wrong times and locations utterly incompetent bunch. I date say Dell boy would have provide a better service.
Tom Pride said:
Marc/Yelena. Thanks for your comments. I think the first thing to realise is that the decision to give contracts to ALS (and G4S for example) is entirely a political one. It has nothing to do with how efficient, cheap or whatever the resulting service would be. That’s why it’s pointless trying to change this government’s minds by citing examples of inefficiency, cost or whatever.
This government believes services should be in the hands of private firms, private individuals even, for complex political reasons I don’t even want to go into.
It’s a matter of ideology, nothing more.
The G4S debacle by the way is far from over. Police investigative powers, including powers of arrest, are about to handed over to G4S by several police authorities as we speak. In a few months we will all – our families, property etc – be under the ‘protection’ of a private firm with a proven record of incompetence.
I’m afraid to say you shouldn’t expect any change back to the old system where interpreters are employed directly – not under the present government anyway – no matter what conclusions are come to about inefficiency or cost.
It just isn’t going to happen – not voluntarily. The best you can hope for is a change of government in 2015.
Nazism was an ideology. An ideology only exists until the facade is still in place…
Reblogged this on Representing the Mambo and commented:
Astonishing article detailing the consequences of the out-sourcing and cost-saving mania of our political class. Scary stuff. Pride’s Purge is a valuable blog.
NRPSI interpreter said:
Please submit your concerns to the Justice Select Committee:
New Inquiry: Interpretation and Translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract
The Justice Select Committee is launching a call for written evidence on the provision of interpretation and translation services since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) began operating as the Ministry of Justice’s sole contractor for language services in February 2012.
The deadline for submissions is Monday 3 September 2012.
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Patrick Stenson said:
Wheeldon’s ‘entrepreneurship’ initiated the destruction of an entire profession, eventually leading to the livelihoods of thousands of people being lost. Those people spent years working hard to qualify as interpreters. Yet you believe his actions aren’t deserving of blame? Entrepreneurship is not an unstoppable force of nature – Wheeldon made a deliberate choice, one borne out of pure selfishness and greed, and was handsomely rewarded for it. He pocketed millions and walked away, leaving behind an utter disaster, livelihoods destroyed and a total mess of a system that will take years to fix. If it IS ever fixed. The suggestion that we ‘can’t really blame him’ for all of this, simply because he was ‘entrepreneurial’, is absolutely staggering to me.
Tom Pride said:
Patrick – I think you’re forgetting the government’s role in this. They were too keen to ‘offload’ as many services as possible onto whichever private company was willing to take it on. If it hadn’t been Wheeldon – it would only have been someone else.
Patrick – Wheldon is an example of how business operates every day, it is all about quick profit at any cost. The fact that our government encourages this is where the real blame lies. There is no ethics, no thought given to the outcomes of reducing costs- which are as you describe above for interpreters repeated every day across every business.
He saw an opportunity and took it – the Government failed to consider the consequences in their rush to offload it, Capita came along saw the opportunity for another quick buck and failed to consider the consequences in their rush to acquire it from Wheldon and I hope that both reap the consequences at some point.
You are right to point out the harm this has done to people and I accept that that is a direct consequence of this disastrous piece of outsourcing. It is the human stories that get lost in the profit & loss accounts but it is those that really count. Thanks for reminding me of that.
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From what you have shone a spot light on recently Tom is, IF you were a foreign criminal gang, wanting to commit a serious crime in South Wales, making your escape by sea, With the cracks in the CJS, the Coast guard and the Police flying around in a Piper Cherokee, you’d be odds on to get away with it?
Fantastic! Pants on Head, Chips up Nose and off we go to war!
I’m going to have a lay down in a darkened room now…..
Tom Pride said:
Blimey – you’re right. Maybe a foreign criminal gang paid a big donation to the Tory Party and it’s payback time…..?
What, apart from, Unum, Atos, G4S, Serco, Met-Life etc?
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