Danish Police Urges Calm as Row Over Interpreting Contract Intensifies

Nationwide public sector framework contracts for interpretation are an unlikely object of passionate public debate. But after the Ministry of Justice saga in the UK took years to resolve, Denmark now appears to be following suit as it grapples with the fallout from awarding the country’s entire justice system interpreting volume to a single vendor.

In a statement sent Slator dated April 11, 2019, EasyTranslate Co-founder Frederik Pedersen wrote, “The new cooperation between EasyTranslate and the Danish National Police regarding interpretation services has gotten a reasonably successful start as expected. We are satisfied with the achieved delivery rates considering the contract has only been active for 9 days.”

EasyTranslate landed one of the language industry’s biggest public sector contracts of 2018, an USD 80m (DKK 520m) four-year contract that combines all language requirements from Denmark’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Immigration and Integration. The Danish National Police led the tender process.

Even before the contract’s official start date on April 1, however, the Danish LSP already drew some heat. Back in December 2018, we reported that more than 400 linguists signed a petition in protest over the lower fees offered them under the new contract. The petitioners said they would refuse to make themselves available under the new terms; of those who signed, 300 linguists reportedly provide interpretation and translation services to the National Police.

As of press time, the number of petitioners had risen to 684, and some appear to have made good on their threat.

Member of the Danish Parliament Kristian Pihl Lorentzen, in a letter dated April 10, 2019, asked the Minister of Justice to explain why “driving schools and their (foreign language) students experience major problems with the use of interpreters for driving tests.”

In the letter seen by Slator, Lorentzen enumerated the following problems: the interpreter provided often speaks a different language than what is required; the interpreter’s qualifications are “significantly lower than before”; previous “well-functioning interpreters can no longer be used for tests”; and, often, the interpreter does not make the driving test at all.

Meanwhile, news reports out of Denmark over the past few days highlighted a couple of incidents. In one, a court interpreter did not show up making everyone wait for hours at a hearing over an organized crime case. In another, the police released a shoplifter because they could not get an interpreter.

“On Tuesday, delivery rate on interpretation was at 95%,” noted EasyTranslate’s Pedersen in his April 11 letter to Slator. He was quoting Thomas Østrup Møller, Commissioner for Corporate Management at Politiet, who Pedersen said also pointed out that, “any interpretation job that is cancelled has consequences, no doubt about it. But there are a lot of interpretation jobs that are carried out successfully. My point is we need to stay calm.”

Pedersen said over 750 interpreters have already joined EasyTranslate’s ranks, and “458 of these are from the list of interpreters used by the authorities prior to the start of the new contract.”

He admitted though that they had indeed “experienced some challenges.” According to Pedersen, “Former police interpreters have contacted interpreters working under the agreement on the job, during breaks or after court hearings in the hope that these interpreters would stop working under the contract.”

He also said some interpreters would sign up for work and accept a job only to deliberately not show up, while others “booked under the previous agreement for interpretation jobs in April have then cancelled very late, which has forced us to urgently assign other interpreters.”

As for the petitioners’ complaint over lower fees, Pedersen said, “As a natural part of a competitive tender process, prices have been reduced, which has resulted in a reduction in interpreter fees.”

According to Pedersen, “EasyTranslate won the tender because its bid contained the best combination of quality and price. EasyTranslate’s bid was not the cheapest.”