Exclusive: Councils spend £1.5m on language services

Councils are spending fortunes on translation and interpretation services
Councils are spending fortunes on translation and interpretation services
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COUNCILS in Yorkshire are still spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on translation and interpretation despite renewed warnings from Whitehall to curb the practice, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Some of the region’s local authorities have more than doubled their expenditure on such services in the last three years while their budgets have been squeezed by Government funding cuts.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information request show close to £1.5m was spent in total across Yorkshire and the Humber last year.

Spending in Sheffield rocketed from nearly £93,000 in 2009/10 to just over £200,000 in 2011/12 – an increase of 125 per cent.

Meanwhile, Doncaster’s expenditure rose by nearly a third from just over £22,000 to nearly £29,000 despite a 2009 election pledge by the town’s mayor to stamp out the practice.

And North Yorkshire’s spending rose to more than £12,000 from just over £7,000 while Bradford’s increased by a fifth from just over £240,000 to nearly £300,000.

The highest percentage rise was in Harrogate, which last year spent nearly five times what it did in 2009/10 – although its expenditure remained the second-lowest in the region at just under £500.

Councils insisted they had clamped down on unnecessarily translating documents – which Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles last month ordered must stop “once and for all” – and used translators and interpreters mainly when they had a legal duty to do so.

The Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, said: “Some of the increase in usage of the translation and interpreting service over the last financial year can be attributed to a rise in the number of complex children safeguarding cases we have managed and our statutory requirement to support these cases.”

The former English Democrat said the council’s total expenditure on such services over the last three years had fallen by 57 per cent since the three years prior to his election, saving nearly £94,000.

Sheffield City Council said its spend on document translation had not risen as sharply – by 19 per cent – as its overall translation and interpretation expenditure had.

“There has been a move away from the general translation of leaflets towards only translating documents where there is a specific service need,” a spokeswoman said.

“Many of the documents translated relate to children’s issues, such as individual safeguarding cases, or individual social care services for adults.

“There has been a significant increase in the city’s non-English speaking community over the last few years, especially the European Union migrant community, which explains the increase in demand.”

Bradford Council said it did not generally translate newsletters and information leaflets other than to make them available in formats such as audio, large print and Braille on request.

Janice Simpson, interim strategic director for adult and community services, said: “However, where people cannot speak English or speak English well, the translation and interpretation of foreign languages plays an important role in circumstances like debt recovery or child protection cases – for instance, initial visits by social workers, supervisory visits, court visits, etc.

“The district does have an
increasing population and this inevitably leads to a greater demand for our services overall. Many different languages are spoken in Bradford which adds to the overall costs of interpretation and translation because of the need to source specialist translators. For example, while the greatest demand is for Urdu/Punjabi translations there have been recent increases in the need to interpret and translate European languages.”

North Yorkshire County Council put its apparent rise in spending down to accountancy work it had carried out last year to better identify its translation and interpretation costs and admitted it was likely the previous two years’ spend had been understated.

Harrogate Borough Council said its rise appeared high because of its very low spend in 2009/10, but spending remained extremely low compared to its population statistics and was monitored on an annual basis.