In today’s Daily Express (12th February), the Conservative Party are outraged at the cost of translation and interpreting to councils in the UK. The Tories, and I guess the Daily Express too, argue that that money should be spent on teaching people to speak English and not on translators and interpreters.
Well, that’s a fine aim, but what they miss is that teaching any person a new language from scratch so that they can converse well enough not just to visit the country, but to become a fully functioning citizen who can add value to the economy, culture and community, takes several years.
Councils, by making translation and interpreting services available to all who need them, can ensure that those entering the UK can contribute immediately – that they can find housing, work and friendship, and begin to integrate fully with the British way of life.
To be fair, the Conservatives do have a point: immigrants to the UK should be given English lessons. But if the translation and interpreting services are cut off, how would an immigrant even know that these lessons were available, let alone take part in them?
Where local authorities could make savings on translation and interpreting costs is by not centralising all the purchasing for the services, but by allowing local companies to supply the services. Government departments all too often award contracts to large language organisations, who control the costs and make the service less efficient.