Council fights back against Pickles' translation cost criticisms
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Local Government
Eric Pickles 'too fat and old' to become Prime Minister
Southwark Council has angrily defended its translation service costs after its spending was singled out for criticism by Eric Pickles.
The communities secretary yesterday called for an end to "expensive, unnecessary translations once and for all” in a bid to help encourage migrant communities to "learn English and generate vital savings for the taxpayer".
A government press release identified Southwark Council's translation services as an example, saying that its "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".
But the council's cabinet member for finance and resources has hit back.
Councillor Richard Livingstone said that the council had reduced its spend on translations by almost half in the last two years, adding that leaflets are not printed by the thousands by default, but by request.
"You need to be pragmatic about this. Sixty-nine percent of our translation costs go on social services, particularly in relation to safeguarding vulnerable people," said Cllr Livingstone.
"If a social worker needs to communicate with a mother over the safety of her child, that social worker can't say 'go away and learn English and I’ll come back in six months'. That issue needs to be dealt with immediately, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t find a way to communicate with that parent."
And the councillor rounded on the government for cuts to funding.
"Like all councils, we’re obviously trying to cut costs wherever we can as we've already lost £249 in government funding for every person in Southwark.
"We do think it's beneficial for all residents to speak English for the good of the community and so that those individuals can live full lives here, and we fund English lessons through our adult education service.
"However, like all our services, these have suffered from government cuts. If the government wants more people to speak English they might want to think again about the severe cuts to funding for English courses," he said.
According to the government, translation services are costing local authorities nearly £20m a year.
Mr Pickles believes a misinterpretation of equalities legislation on the part of councils has led to them wrongly thinking translating documents into foreign languages is a legal duty.
Mr 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.”
Crawley Borough Council was also singled out for criticism.
According to the government, the local authority spent over £600 publishing its 12 page quarterly ‘Homelink’ lifestyle magazine into Urdu after a single resident complained they couldn’t read English.