News story

Time's up for costly town hall translation

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles calls for an end to unnecessary translations.

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In new government guidance to councils out Monday (11 March 2013) the minister is calling for an end to expensive, unnecessary translations “once and for all” to help encourage migrant communities to learn English and generate vital savings for the taxpayer.

Exorbitant translation services are costing town halls nearly £20 million a year, according to independent research. Mr Pickles believes there is a misinterpretation of equalities legislation, wrongly believing it is a legal duty to translate documents into foreign languages.

That bill is footed by taxpayers, and Mr Pickles is concerned that; “Britain misses out and our country is poorer if people can’t speak English.” Translation services have an unintentional, adverse impact on integration. Ending unnecessary translation will increase the incentive communities have to learn English, which forms a basis for their ability to progress in British society.

For example local authorities should not be translating in-house magazines. Last year Crawley Borough Council spent over £600 publishing its glossy 12 page quarterly ‘Homelink’ lifestyle magazine into Urdu after a single resident complained they couldn’t read English. Mr Pickles has already called on councils to scrap town hall Pravdas which undermine an independent local press.

Additionally cases like Southwark Council’s full and free interpretation and translation of services into over 70 languages can have an adverse impact on integration by reducing the incentive for some migrant communities to learn English.

Eric Pickles said:

“Automatically translating endless documents wastes taxpayers’ money and undermines communities - town halls should halt it once and for all.

“This is putting people, particularly migrants, at a disadvantage because speaking English is fundamental to the ability to progress in British society and to contribute to the wider economy.

“The government is committed to helping people learn English which helps to promote cohesion and better community relations.”

Last month Mr Pickles set out in a major speech on integration why learning English must be a priority.

Ending automatic translation will promote cohesion and better community relations and help councils make sensible savings, at a time when every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the inherited deficit.

The government has launched a new community based language programme that will promote new and creative ways of getting people involved so they have the power not only to get on with people in Britain, but also to get on in life.

Further information

Eric Pickles issued guidance to local authorities in a Written Ministerial Statement on 11 March 2013.

Further information is available in 50 ways to save: examples of sensible savings in local government.

More details on the new competition to enable those individuals with low levels of spoken English to fulfil their potential can be found in the related news story.

84% of local authorities responded to an Freedom of Information request made by Lingo24, a translation agency. The findings revealed that councils spent £20 million on translation in 2009. See The Telegraph website for more information.

Read the transcript of the speech, Uniting our communities: integration in 2013, by Secretary of State Eric Pickles at an event hosted by Policy Exchange and British Future given at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

Published 13 March 2013
Last updated 13 March 2013 + full page history
  1. Linked to the full Written Ministerial Statement.
  2. First published.