MORE than one million pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on foreign language interpreters in Dorset by police and the CPS in just five years.
From defendants, prosecution witnesses to victim support, the cost of translation in the county can now be revealed by the Echo.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than half of this huge amount was spent in between 2008 and 2011.
The Echo has been told that high but declining costs fall in line with the changes in the way interpreters are hired by police and the CPS as well as the expansion of the European Union and waves of immigration into the county, in those years.
Dorset Police’s highest spend in the past five years was £224,696.35 in 2009/10, while the CPS spent the most in 2010/11 – at £16,987.
Translation costs have declined in the past two years, totalling £76,290.28 for Dorset Police in 2013/14 so far and just £9,741 by the CPS in 2012/13.
The most requested interpreters to help defendants, witnesses and victims were for Polish translation.
Translation costs also includes interpreting legal documents.
It is not only visitors from overseas who get help.
Huge sums are also paid to provide translation for long-term residents.
Among the criminals who have used the service is killer Danilo Restivo originally from Italy, who is serving a 40-year minimum life sentence for the murder of Dorset mum Heather Barnett in 2002.
A spokesman for Dorset Police said that this case demonstrated that the cost was dependent on case and crime.
In 2011, the Ministry of Justice outsourced interpretation work to private firm Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in a bid to save £18m a year.
ALS was sold to Capita, an outsourcing and recruitment company, before the contract began, and is now run as Capita Translation and Interpreting.
Dorset Police has contracts with LanguageLine Solutions and Deafinite (British Sign Language) concerning interpreters and translation work.
But those behind The Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign are calling for change.
One of the campaign’s three aims is to bring back the direct employment of freelance interpreters by the courts and police services.
The Dorset Police spokesman said: “The cost of interpreters is case and crime dependant- if, for example, it is a murder trial like that of Heather Barnett it could run on for years.
She added: “The regional contract which Dorset Police is involved with has seen a decrease in translation costs.”
The Race Relations Act simply says that all parts of the community should have access to services.
The Human Rights Act only requires translation if someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence.
What they spent
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the amount spent on foreign language interpreter and translation costs for each financial year over the past five years.
Overall total for police spend: £1,001,820.93
The Crown Prosecution Service
Overall total for Crown Prosecution Service spend is £63,203
Overall spend: £1,065,023.93
‘Lamentable’ state of our police and courts
“It is a lamentable situation that the courts and police find themselves in,” says the chief executive of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.
Paul Wilson spoke about his concerns following on from the Ministry of Justice outsourcing interpretation work in 2011.
He said that since this move many ‘good people have left the industry due to the derisory pay and conditions’.
He said: “It is a lamentable situation that the courts and police find themselves in.
“Good advice and information was ignored by the government procurement service when the contract was provided to a single supplier and that since outsourcing many good people have left the industry due to the derisory pay and conditions.
“The public ultimately suffer through poor cost control which can compromise the justice system overall.”
Although Dorset Police is part of a south west regional contract, Mr Wilson added: “Some police forces are included and some not.
“Those that are not are still using the old system or have developed their own – this is just another crazy outcome of the outsourcing framework agreement and lack of consultation at the outset.
“It is good that the police forces have resisted the government pressure to fall into line however the situation is not necessarily ideal and The Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign is working towards what that might be.”
TaxPayers' Alliance blasts waste of money
Robert Oxley, campaign director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “It is ludicrous that such a huge amount of money should be wasted on interpreters and translation costs.
“The CPS will occasionally need to engage interpreters for visitors needing help in the UK but the amount spent on interpreters suggest that regular residents may be asking for translations services as well.
“Those living in the UK but needing translation are placing an extra burden on taxpayers.
“Cutting the amount spent on translation is an easy way of cutting waste without affecting front-line services."
‘Interpreters also saving public funds’
A former Dorset Police interpreter says it is ‘unreasonable’ to consider these high translation and interpreter costs alone.
Svetlana Savrasova, of Weymouth, who worked to translate Polish and Russian for the county’s force, told the Echo that there is more behind the figures.
She is urging people to consider the money that interpreters save the taxpayer through their work and also to consider the benefits brought in by those who have moved here from other countries in terms of employment and multi-culturalism.
She says patterns in the figures, whereby the cost is much higher between 2008 and 2011, correlate with the expansion of the EU and waves of Polish immigration to the UK.
She told the Echo: “If you look at these figures alone it is unreasonable.
“Interpreters are assisting in an understanding people who have come into a new country and are settling into a new culture and getting used to the laws such as driving regulations which may be different to their own country.
“When I worked for Dorset Police all interpreters were freelance and paid £30 an hour for a minimum of three hours.
“For the first five years that I worked I earned £600 a year because there wasn’t a need for Russian or Polish translation.
“When more immigrants appeared, which you can see in these figures, we were dealing with a lot of small crimes which occurred due to cultural difference like driving offences.
“They are not people who normally broke the law but had moved to a new country.
“At my best time I was earning £40,000 a year before tax and expenses but this was when more the Polish immigration wave hit the UK five years ago and these people were settling into the country.
“If I had a job now I would earn around half of this because those who moved here in the immigration wave have either settled into the culture with their children going to the local schools and acting as their translators – or they have gone back to their countries.”
The Russian-born 53-year-old said: “It is well and good to look at the overall cost of translation but it is also important to consider the money that interpreters save by communicating between prisoners, victims and those accused – and making it so they can be understand and potentially prevent further long to term costs or even going to prison – which costs the taxpayer £80 a day.”
She added: “What struck me most about my former job was the lack of support for interpreters – I dealt with a murder case and I needed psychological support after that – it cost me £35 a week.
“We deal with the evilness of police work and were not supported.”
The former interpreter was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer four years ago. She said: “Polish people are the most hardworking people – so instead of looking at the cost of interpretation in the police or the CPS we should consider the benefits they have brought to this country such as hard work.
“Many Dorset companies would go under without them, they work the longest hours and weekends for the same rates. You will always find they are the last to leave the factory floor.”
CPS: Costs of translation necessary in giving evidence
The costs of translation are necessary to ‘allow victims and witnesses the best opportunity to give their evidence’, according to the CPS.
A CPS spokesperson said: “The CPS spent £63,203 over a period of five years for the use of translation cost or foreign language interpreters.
“The CPS requires the uses of language interpreters for victims and prosecution witnesses only when they give evidence at court hearings.
“We need to be able to allow the victims and witnesses the best opportunity.”