Hidden cost of translation and interpretation to the UK Government,

Dec. 19, 2006 – Applied Language Solutions, a UK based translation agency who work closely with Government, argue that the estimated figure of £100 million for translation and interpretation services to the UK Government is greatly underestimated, and that the actual cost is likely to be as high as £500 Million.

Gavin Wheeldon, Managing Director of Applied Language, said: “Cultural and language diversity is part of society and translation will not go away; only grow due to increasing immigration numbers and EU expansion. Europe’s translation industry is worth £3.5 billion, with UK the biggest player. The top translation companies in the UK alone collectively provide £146.87 million worth of translation per year. Although it is difficult to put an accurate figure on UK Government’s spend, it is certainly possible to recognise that the report’s figures are conservative.”

“The report only specifically outlines translation use by just five key government departments. This doesn’t take into consideration a huge number of government funded bodies outside of these departments who regularly purchase translation and interpretation. Further to this, translation and interpretation is quite often a hidden cost deep within other budgets, such as legal and marketing or disguised as project costs, rather than funds specifically allocated for translation.”

Applied Language provide translation and interpretation services to many different local governments, public and emergency services, educational establishments and many other public bodies and quangos, and agree with Ruth Kelly that a review of money spent on language services is required, especially as it is set to further increase by 5%.

Gavin said: “The Home Office alone spends an estimated £50 million a year on translation and interpretation. One local council based in the South informs us that they spend £500,000 a year on translation and interpreting services. When you consider that there are 650 local councils in Britain who require translation and interpretation to varying degrees, it is possible to see that spend by local councils alone easily amounts to £150 – £300 million per year.”

“This extends further down the line to a whole host of Government funded bodies and quangos, such as Citizens Advice Bureau, Refugee Councils and Housing Associations, of which there are 3,000 who each regularly purchase translation and interpretation to communicate with non-English speaking tenants.”

It is therefore possible to see how difficult it is to estimate the actual cost of translation. However, if we consider the scope of government departments and funded bodies who purchase translation and interpretation, it is justifiable to state that at least £500 million is spent on these services, which would account for just 0.1% estimated spend of the £522.8 billion by the HM treasury in 2005/2006.

Applied Language highlights that most of the information authorities have translated is the same; yet they continue to purchase translation separately. The amount spent could easily be reduced if the Government looked to using advanced translation memory technology, such as Applied Language’s system ‘Govmem’, which is used by their clients within the UK Government. This system remembers, stores and re-uses translation. The stored translation could then be accessed by all public sector bodies without paying full cost again, which could reduce costs by up to 70%.

Gavin agrees that more funding should be allocated to teaching English to the non-English speaking communities, but emphasises that the UK Government must carefully review translation and interpretation costs: “Translation is a way of helping the non-English community to integrate into our society and grasp an understanding of our culture whilst they are learning to communicate in English. In the meantime, they must also be able to access services, such as health and medical, again raising the necessity of translation and interpretation. Therefore, it is important that the Government begin the provision a more cost-effective translation scheme, with technology offering the potential answer.”

The company have approached Government, both nationally and locally, with the need to share translation memory across all departments, and have come up against a brick wall in trying to get authorities to agree to it.

Finally, Gavin commented: “A huge amount of Public Sector money could also be saved on Interpreting services. We have developed a new instant telephone interpreting service to provide those in the Public Sector a more cost-effective service than those already available. Plus our interpreters are available in minutes rather than hours, which is a very beneficial element for the Emergency services who regularly have to urgently deal with non-English speaking people.”

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