Interpreter firm fined thousands

Bicester Advertiser: The Ministry of Justice withheld 46,139 of payments to Capita between May 2012 and November 2013 The Ministry of Justice withheld 46,139 of payments to Capita between May 2012 and November 2013

A private firm paid to provide court interpreters has been hit with thousands of pounds in fines and penalties by judges and government officials over its poor performance.

The Ministry of Justice withheld £46,139 of payments to Capita between May 2012 and November 2013 - the maximum amount possible, according to a report by a public spending watchdog.

Overall, judges have filed 11 wasted cost orders against the company totalling £7,229 to cover the bill to taxpayers caused by interpreters failing to turn up, the National Audit Office said.

Responsibility for providing translators across England was awarded to ALS, which was taken over by Capita, at the start of 2012 but staff shortages meant trials were disrupted.

The company has made progress since MPs accused it of causing ''total chaos'' in 2012 but the company is still not meeting its target to fulfil 98% of bookings, the NAO said.

Performance dropped significantly over a four-month period when the company cut the amount it pays in mileage, but since interpreters were offered an improved package it now reaches about 94%-95%.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: " Whilst I am pleased that progress has been made on implementing many of our recommendations, I am unimpressed that over a year later, Capita are still not meeting their target of fulfilling 98% of bookings.

"This is a vital service for ensuring that people who do not speak English as a first language have fair access to justice.

"I look forward to discussing this with the Ministry of Justice when they come before us next week."

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said: "I am pleased that the National Audit Office has recognised the significant progress made - we have seen dramatic improvements over the life of the contract so far, record numbers of bookings are now being made and fulfilled, complaint levels are very low and we continue to drive further improvement.

"It is important to remember that the new interpreting contract was introduced to tackle the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the previous system - and it has already saved taxpayers £15m in its first year."

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said: "Our courts are busy enough places already without the extra chaos and costs resulting from Capita's underperformance in providing interpreting and translation services.

"There are wide variations in their performance, and they are still not hitting their targets.

"Too many Capita interpreters continue not to turn up or turn up late. This all leaves question marks left hanging over the quality of justice being delivered.

"It's a disgrace that ministers have still failed to get a grip after two years.

"If the Ministry of Justice can't do translating contracts properly, how can we have any confidence in their ability to do prison and probation contracts?"

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