Better Value for Government Translation

This article is a consolidation of the report entitled “Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications” published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in June 2009. This in turn was based on the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s final report, Our Shared Future.

Details have been added about the pan-Government agreement for translation services 05/GEN/25, established by the Office of Government Commerce to allow all Local Authorities to use a low cost translation service.

Our Shared Future

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion is a fixed term advisory body, announced by former Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, on 24 August 2006. The Commission considered how local areas can make the most of diversity while being able to respond to the tensions it may cause.

In their report (Our Shared Future) they set out a new framework for local cohesion, this was based around four key principles.

  1. Shared Futures. Showing items that bind communities together as opposed to what differences divide them.
  2. Rights and Responsibilities. That provide a clear sense of citizenship at a local and national level.
  3. Mutual Respect. For all groups of society is essential to the issues of integration and cohesion.
  4. Visible Social Justice. Transparency and fairness build trust in-between groups in local communities.

Recommendations for Translation

Speaking English is of central importance to what the majority of ‘average’ English people consider what it is to ‘be English’ (Source MORI). It is always important to be able to converse in English for successful inclusion within the labour market (Journal of Population Economics) and speaking English will lead (on average) to a higher wage (Economics of Education Review, vol. 22).

It is also apparent that whilst new migrants into the UK are learning English (such as the ESOL programme) there still remains some that are not. This is due in part to English being a complicated language that takes 2 years hard study to master, there is also a considerable waiting list for the language training programmes and they are not available in all areas.

In light of this the report suggested that the provision of linguistic support is needed if someone needs to understand their legal rights, needs medical advice, financial help and other responsibilities explaining.

It provided the following five reasons why Local Authorities should translate their material into community languages.

  1. To ensure that non-English speaking residents are able to access essential services such, e.g. the police, education services and safety campaigns.
  2. To enable people to take part in the democratic process, e.g. registering to vote or to take part in local consultations.
  3. To support local community groups or intermediaries working directly with new migrants or non-English speaking communities.
  4. To enable people to function effectively as citizens in society and be able to get along with others, by ensuring that they understand local rules and appreciate local customs eg, rubbish disposal, parking restrictions and common courtesies.
  5. To ensure compliance with the Race Relations Amendment Act, ensuring that no one is disadvantaged in accessing services because of their inability to communicate verbally or non-verbally.

To help local authorities to understand when they are obliged to provide documentation in a non-English language the Commission produced a checklist. This was later revised by the DCLG and has been listed in its entirety below (comments from K International are included in brackets).
Translation Checklist

  • Is it essential that this material be translated?
  • What is your evidence of a need or demand for this translation?
  • What is your evidence that people will be disadvantaged without this translation?
  • Who is the target audience? – for example is it young mothers, pensioners, workers etc and do those target audiences include people who don’t speak English?
  • Are speakers of particular languages being targeted?
  • Are you using the right data to select the languages to translate this material into?
  • Have you got information about who cannot speak English locally, and is it being updated as intelligence comes in about local changes?
  • Does the document need to be translated in full?
  • Are you confident that people across all communities will have the literacy skills to understand this document?
  • Should it first be simplified into a plain English version? (This often makes the translation process easier and therefore more cost effective)
  • Would a short summary do with signposting to further information? – or could it be translated on request rather than proactively?
  • Could this message be better delivered by engaging with community groups directly or through credible partners, or by using alternative media?
  • Have you considered the cost/benefit analysis for this translation?
  • Will these materials be used in full, or is it likely that this form of communication will sit on the shelf?
  • What would be the cost of not translating these materials – would there be an additional burden on public services?
  • Have you explored whether other local agencies might already have these materials available in translated form?
  • Have you networked with other authorities to share leaflets?
  • Might the police or other partners already be translating similar things? (if you check this with us we’ll be able to tell you)
  • Is there any national best practice?
  • Are there practical ways you can support people to learn English even while producing this translation?
  • Can you use pictures?
  • Is there an English summary at some point in the document?
  • Could you include adverts for local English lessons?
  • Could the whole leaflet be bilingual or multilingual?
  • Are there practical ways you can keep up with changes within the community?
  • Have you got a welcome pack for new migrants that can be updated based on their experiences – is produced electronically, or in a format that is easy to update?
  • Does translation form part of a wider communications strategy?
  • Are you translating something that is about specific services to one community? – have you considered whether they will feel alienated from mainstream provision by having to have this?
  • Have you considered whether other communities might feel disadvantaged by not having access to similar materials?
  • Does this material fit well with your communications strategy to all residents, both settled and new?

Examples of Money Saving

In 2006 the Office of Government Commerce established a pan-Government agreement for the procurement of Translation Services. This was called 05/GEN/25. K International were placed onto this agreement as a key supplier and have since supplied many Government Agencies with a method of producing their documentation in a language other than English.

The benefits gained by the Government for centralising their spend on translation services were briefly as follows;

  • Economies of scale and scope used to reduce the cost to translate, with the Government acting together to procure means that price negotiated to supply this level of service is a lot lower than each Local Authority would achieve acting on its own.
  • Money saved on the tendering and competition procedure. The agreement is fully OJEU compliant and is open to all Government, which means that your Local Authority does not need to run a tender exercise for translation services.
  • Centralised purchasing provides robust management information, letting each Local Authority to tightly control budgets and forecast spending effectively.
  • Improved service levels, including an urgent same day service for the emergency and security services.
  • All documents held centrally, with copies of all (non sensitive) documents held centrally at K International discounts will be given for documents that are similar in content to previously translated material.
  • Increase in capacity to cope with the new community languages spoken today, with investment from the OGC we were able to improve the translation service on offer from new languages spoken within the UK.
  • Real cost savings achieved. Numerous examples are available on this website, one recent case was highlighted by Ken Cole in a presentation at the LCSG annual conference. In it he stated Local Authorities and Councils who are using the pan-Government agreement for translation services are experiencing a 30% saving.

In Conclusion

Your Local Authority has the autonomy to make its own decisions about what to translate. This article (along with the ones it references) are here to aid the process. In most cases common sense will tell you which documents you should make available in community languages.

Both Communities and Local Government and the Commission on Integration and Cohesion recommend that translation is carried out, whilst it is true that everything does not need to be translated some documents provided in alternative languages and formats will provide real value to your constituents and may even save money on other items such as face-to-face interpreters.

The Office of Government Commerce has established a framework for you to use to procure translation (and related) services. This should be used as it offers real cost savings and makes available an expert partnership previously established; details of the agreement (and how to use it) are available on K International’s website > Government Translation Services.

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