The UK Now Has a National Register of Public Service Translators

Public sector translators in the United Kingdom will soon have their own national register.

Registration for the National Register of Public Service Translators (NRPST) will open later in 2020, 25 years after its counterpart for interpreters, the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), was established. NRPSI Executive Director and Registrar Mike Orlov announced that the NRPST website was live in a January 6, 2020 letter to registered interpreters.

Originally a project of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), NRPSI became its own independent, not-for-profit organization in 2011, “to separate the registration and regulatory aspects from membership issues,” Orlov told Slator.

“Not all members of the CIOL wish to be regulated or sign up to a code of conduct to enable them to work in the public sector,” he said.

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Today, NRPSI comprises approximately 1,800 interpreters working in 100 languages throughout the UK. NRPSI is now launching this “sister” register to provide “the same degree of regulation, accountability and support” to the translation sector.

Promoting Professionalism, Protecting Translators

Orlov explained that the idea of the new register began to take shape in 2016 in response to a demonstrated demand for registered translators specializing in public services. Research showed that some users were sourcing translators through NRPSI (as some registered interpreters also hold translation qualifications). In a separate NRPSI study, 25% of language service users reported experiencing “poor professional conduct from translators in the last two years.”

The need for professional translators in the public arena goes back much further than that, of course. So why the long wait to establish a corresponding register for translators?

“Perhaps the demand for interpreting professionalism was much more obvious 25 years ago,”  Orlov said, adding that NRPSI came into being “following miscarriages of justice caused by use of inadequate, ersatz and pseudo interpreters.”

Orlov suggested that pressures on supply and price resulting from austerity measures set in 2012 may have “held up what is an inexorable drive for greater regulation in public service translation and interpreting.”

The organization states that its goals in maintaining two distinct national registers include promoting the reputations of both public service interpreting and translation; educating users and potential users about the disciplines; and encouraging the use of professionals in both fields.

Although the registers will be separate, “there will be links between the two registers to make it easy to identify those language professionals who are registered in both disciplines.”

The past few years have seen various public sector buyers in the UK and elsewhere experiment with framework agreements for language service contracts, most recently in Norway, and with less-than-stellar results in Denmark. Orlov told Slator that although the public access element of NRPST is very important for buyers who choose to work directly with translators, the new register is not part of a strategy to remove outsourcing from the equation.

“Those public services which outsource need to ensure agencies are complying with the protocols and processes in the frameworks,” he said. “These frameworks should ensure we never have to face another debacle such as the collapse of Debonair in 2019 where professionals deliver a service for the public sector but did not get paid because of poor oversight.” 

Showcasing Translators’ Qualifications

NRPST has invited qualified translators to notify the organization of their interest to register, and will in turn inform those candidates when registration opens later in 2020. Those who meet NRPST’s criteria will be able to register free of charge for the first year.

NRPST’s registration fees are similar to those charged by NRPSI, which relies on such fees for funding.

As with NRPSI, translators will need to renew their registration annually for a fee of GBP 232 (USD 299). The organization offers an incentive to NRPSI registrants who also register with NRPST from the start: a 50% reduction in their NRPST annual fee beyond the first 12 months, “as long as they also remain registered with NRPSI.” (For both registers, linguists must pay an additional fee to add more than one language to their records, and a reinstatement fee to rejoin the register after a lapse in registration of three or more months.)

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Orlov told Slator that the response to NRPST has been positive so far — 500 translators have already expressed interest in registering.

The UK Association of Translation Companies (UK ATC) was not involved in the creation or launch of the new register, but communicated closely with NRPSI / NRPST while working on its January 2020 manifesto on public sector translation and interpreting.

Raisa McNab, CEO of UK ATC, told Slator that NRPST will allow “professional translators specialising in public sector work to showcase their qualifications and competences, and to ensure that their expertise is visible to their clients.”

“Vendor management and vetting translator qualifications and competences is one of the most involved activities in a language service company,” she said. “Having an established, respected authority maintaining a register of professional translators will undoubtedly benefit ATC companies involved in public sector work.”