Since September 2014, NUBSLI has been in negotiation with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in an attempt to improve the initial drafts of a national framework agreement for Language Services (interpreting and translation). We highlighted many concerns, most notably a lack of standards and safeguards for users of BSL/English interpreting services and the waste of public funds that would occur were this framework to go ahead.
We acknowledge that some improvements have been made. However, we maintain that a large national framework, whereby public authorities can purchase contracts, is not appropriate for our profession. It has the potential to cause many interpreters to leave their careers, as evidenced by our profession exit interview report and our 2015 survey of working conditions (pdf)
In February 2015, NUBSLI launched the #ScrapTheFramework campaign, due to ongoing concerns about this large-scale privatisation of our profession and the damage it would cause to interpreters and the Deaf community we serve.
The framework commenced on 22nd April for up to four years and the suppliers were announced this week on the Government’s website. BSL/English interpreting and other services for Deaf people comes under Lot 4, and is split into regions a-e, which cover Greater London including Overseas, Southern England, Midlands and East of England, North of England and, lastly, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Most suppliers will cover all regions. They include:
- London Borough of Newham (Language Shop)
- Sign Solutions
- Language Empire
- Prestige Network
- DA Languages
From our privileged position as the service providers in this field, and with collective experience and expertise, our remaining concerns are:
- A reduced amount of choice and control for Deaf people.
- Poorer administration – where large agencies subcontract to smaller agencies, mistakes and wastage are more likely in the booking of professionals.
- Poorer access – where Deaf people are provided with inappropriately qualified or experienced people, this has an impact on service delivery.
- Poorer accountability – It is more difficult for Deaf people to complain about poor services.
- Downward pressure on interpreters’ fees and terms and conditions to unsustainable levels.
- Inefficient use of public funds on administration rather than access.
- Large scale privatisation further puts at risk the ability for smaller agencies, with good local knowledge and relationships, to continue.
- Despite a regional structure, none of the suppliers are local agencies.
NUBSLI wish to make it clear that BSL/English interpreters are not prepared to jeopardise the sustainability of their profession by accepting the diminished fees, and terms and conditions set out in the framework. These are not fitting for a workforce of extensively trained and qualified freelancers, and clearly go against market rates falling short of the industry standard. This was made clear to the CCS who have regrettably overlooked the counsel of the profession.
We have already seen the boycott of one NHS contract by interpreters in the South West. Interpreters are increasingly prepared to take a similar position with other contracts which do not meet our basic rates of pay and terms.
We will be continuing to campaign against the framework and will work with individual commissioners wherever possible.
If you are a BSL/English interpreter and are not yet a member of NUBSLI, we urge you to join. We are stronger together.