Leeds council bidding to slash interpreting costs

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CHILDREN in Leeds have been found to be taking time out of school to provide interpretation for their non-English speaking parents, a report to an internal council watchdog has revealed.

The levels were high enough that council bosses have now ordered a review of policy, as they try to decide to what extent children can be allowed to aid their parents.

Various concerns were identified as part of an overall review of interpreting and translation services, which cost Leeds taxpayers £127,000 for the six month period from April to September last year. The authority is trying to slash its bill for language services as part of wider cost-cutting measures.

A new report presented to the Resources and Council Services scrutiny panel, which will report back to decision-makers, says: “There is a need to reduce the costs for interpreting and translation services. We must give due regard to equality for residents accessing council services.”

The report adds: “There are concerns with the use of children as interpreters. Although it is not usual practice to use children under 18 as interpreters, it is recognised professional discretion can be used. It should not be viewed as usual practice but...emergency situations may allow professional discretion to ensure immediate safety and welfare.

“Discussions have taken place with other local authorities and although they don’t have a policy stating whether children should be used a interpreters, the general rule is children are not used a interpreters apart from passing on short messages.”

The watchdog committee carried out an inquiry into interpretation and translation services after concerns were raised about the efficiency of the service and whether it provided value for money. Its work includes telephone and face to face interpreting and document translation.

Freelance interpreters can charge the council £18 per hour from 7am to 7pm, and £27 per hour after 7pm and at weekends. Telephone interpreting can cost £13 per hour and translation work is a minimum of £19 based on word count

From April to September last year, the authority was billed £67,000 for face to face, £12,000 for telephone interpreting and £48,000 for written translations

Councillor Rod Wood, who sits on the watchdog committee, said the key was to make the service “run more efficiently”. “We want to see a fair, consistent policy that provides assistance where needed, but which ultimately also encourages people to learn English and feel part of the community they live in,” he said.

Speaking of the review, councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said a decision on interpreting and translation policies and procedures will be made “at the appropriate time”.