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Loss in translation

Councils who waste taxpayers’ millions on unnecessary translation have been heavily criticised by a senior government minister.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles ridiculed the amounts spent on translation services and bemoaned a culture that could spend £600 on translating a glossy magazine into Urdu for a single complainant.

He went on to heavily criticise what he sees as a money-frittering reluctance to simply provide documents in plain English, which would ‘…promote cohesion and better community relations. And it will help councils make sensible savings, at a time when every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit left by the last administration.’ ‘Stopping the automatic use of translation and interpretation services into foreign languages will provide further incentive for all migrant communities to learn English, which is the basis for an individual’s ability to progress in British society.’

There is a suggestion that councils may have misunderstood equality directives. Pickles, in reiterating that councils must adhere to such directives, emphasised the point that ‘…this is not a legal duty to translate documents into foreign languages’.

Pickles went on to say that those unable to speak English could instead refer to ‘easy read versions of documents and using pictures instead of translation’ and added that his department would be ‘practising what we preach’ with English-only leaflets as part of a ‘Fire Kills’ safety education campaign.

Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign, welcomed the comments.

‘If all the documents in question were produced to our plain-English standards in the first place, this might not be such an issue. Yes, we need to promote our language, culture and integration, but if we can’t expect someone with English as their first language to understand a document, we should not expect those with English as a second and third language to be able to understand it either.’
‘We need easy-to-understand English documents as the foundation for all information in the public domain.’

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