UK Public Sector Translation Services in a Pickle

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UK councils using translation and interpreting services are wasting your time and money to help them communicate with residents. If it’s up to Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles, this practice will end tomorrow, if not today!

Pickles’ biggest objection to the practice is the fact that it is a ‘very expensive and poor use of taxpayers’ money.’  According to the Telegraph, Eric Pickles told the House of Commons that he feared human rights and equality laws were the reasons being the use of translation services. In addition, he believes that translations do not help unite communities but divide them instead.

Research has shown that local councils annually spend almost £20 million on document translations. As Mr Pickles believes this is an absurd amount of money, he has issued a Written Ministerial Statement that urges councils to stop translating.

“Some local authorities translate a range of documents and other materials into languages spoken by their residents and provide interpretation services. Whilst there may be rare occasions in which this is entirely necessary – for instance in emergency situations. I am concerned that such services are in many cases being provided unnecessarily…” states Pickles.

To give an extreme example, Crawley Borough Council paid translation services more than £600 to translate a glossy ‘Homelink lifestyle magazine’ of 12 pages into Urdu after one resident complained they did not read English. He also points to Southwark Council which provides free translation services in over 70 different languages.

According to Mr Pickles, a number of these translation services had an ‘unintentional, adverse impact on integration by reducing the incentive for some migrant communities to learn English and are wasteful where many members of these communities already speak or understand English.’ Even though he admits equality laws must be obeyed, it is not a ‘legal duty’ to have documents translated.

Refraining from automatically translating documents into English will also encourage immigrants to learn English, Pickles believes

“Stopping the automatic use of translation and interpretation services into foreign languages will provide further incentive for all migrant communities to learn English, which is the basis for an individual’s ability to progress in British society. It will promote cohesion and better community relations. And it will help councils make sensible savings, at a time when every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit left by the last administration.”

What do you think? Are public sector translation services are a waste of money? Should we completely stop translating information for residents of the UK on the basis they live here and should speak the language? Or should we just be a bit more sensible in what we translate, how we translate it and when we translate it?

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