Sheffield Council blasted for spending £700,000 on translation

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
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Sheffield Council has been accused by a Government minister of ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’ after spending almost £700,000 on translation services in three years.

Communities’ Secretary Eric Pickles said the authority should stop and use cash saved to protect front-line services and keep council tax down instead.

The figures, obtained through The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign, show around £555,331 was spent by the authority on face-to-face and telephone interpretation.

Documents were also translated into 44 different languages between 2011 and 2014, at a cost of more than £131,785.


Star Opinion: Making sense of translation

The figures come after Sheffield Town Hall chiefs agreed a budget which includes £63 million of savings to meet Government cuts and the first council tax rise in five years for residents.

A council spokesman said most of the costs were linked to services it had to provide ‘under law’, costs of interpretation had been reduced ‘significantly’ in recent years it did not print leaflets in different languages as standard.

But Mr Pickles, who in 2013 told all councils in the country to stop translating documents into foreign languages as it was rarely necessary, said: “The Government guidance I’ve issued is crystal clear – councils should stop wasting taxpayers’ money by translating into foreign languages.

“Translation holds people back from integrating into British society – if they can’t speak English, they’re not going to get on in life.

“This shows how political correctness does more harm than good. The money saved can be used to protect frontline services and keep council tax down.

“Such translation services have an unintentional, adverse impact on integration by reducing the incentive for some migrant communities to learn English and are wasteful where many members of these communities already speak or understand English.”

But Sheffield Council has been spending more on the service – despite the guidance from Mr Pickles.

The council said the increase was partly because Sheffield Homes is now part of the authority and the cost for housing-related translation is counted too.

Last year the council spent £47,633 on providing documents in different languages, compared to £34,302 the previous year.

Interpretation costs increased to £226,280 in the last year, up from £169,871 in 2012-13.

In total, £687,116 was spent on translation and interpretation costs.

A Sheffield Council spokesperson said: ““The bulk of our costs are linked to providing services that the council has to provide under law. Whilst we have reduced the costs of providing interpretation significantly in recent years, under law we are required to ensure that children are safeguarded and where interpretation is needed to do this we have to provide it to ensure we have met our obligations.

“We restrict translation and interpretation services to essential matters, such as sign ups and serving legal notices. We always review how we can reduce our costs and this is something we have been doing for some time.

“We do not print leaflets in different languages as standard practice.”

The full list of languages which documents were translated into is Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cantonese, Chinese, Czech, Dari, English, Farsi, French, Hungarian, Italian, Karen, Kinyarwanda, Korean, Kurdish, Kurdish Sorani, Lingala, Lithuanian, Mandarin, Nepali, Oromo, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Pustu, Roma, Romani Gypsey, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovak Roma, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Tigrinya, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese.

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