Leeds-based language service provider (LSP), thebigword, has landed a three-year extension to the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) interpretation contract it was awarded in 2016, according to a February 3, 2021 press statement. With the extension, the contract has reached its maximum duration and will go back to tender at the end of the three years, Josh Gould, CEO of thebigword (TBW), told Slator.
The same statement noted how TBW has never fallen below a 97.6% fulfillment level over the last 12 months.
A key metric of the MoJ interpreting contract is a 98% fulfillment rate. TBW first hit 98% in Q2 2017 after taking over from previous supplier Capita TI in Q4 2016, which finally hit the performance target just before handing the contract over to TBW.
By 2018, the Leeds-based LSP had succeeded where Capita failed — making the MoJ contract profitable. (At the time of handoff, the MoJ pegged the contract value at GBP 232m or about USD 300m, while news sources set the value at roughly half.)
Today, over 70,000 people work for the MoJ and, technically, the majority are potential requesters of the LSP’s service, Gould pointed out. For video and telephone interpreting, requesters go through the WordSynk platform where, he said, they are served in under half a minute.
According to Gould, “The number of bookings has been broadly stable across the period of the contract. However, the interesting thing has been the channel shift to remote interpreting” due to Covid.
Just how big of a shift? Gould told Slator, “On average we are carrying out 24 million minutes per month of distant interpreting services. With that said, users including the MoJ continue to require face-to-face interpreters — and, last month, over 18,000 face-to-face interpreting assignments were booked through our platform.”
TBW’s tech unit, Gould Tech Solutions, invested some USD 20m over five years to develop the WordSynk platform, Gould said in a 2019 interview. WordSynk comprises systems for translation management (TMS), interpreting management, and contract management, as well as a virtual call center and chat tools that focus on security.
The CEO said the “HMCTS [Courts and Tribunals Service] are the largest users of the contract. However, the other commissioning bodies enjoy the same services.”
On which languages are in most demand, Gould said, “Interpreting demand is dynamic and largely driven by immigration over a significant period of time. Polish remains the most requested language, closely followed by Romanian. However, there are a number of languages that have closed the gap in recent years. Outside of the Ministry of Justice, one of our fastest growing languages is British Sign Language (BSL). More BSL is procured through the WordSynk platform than from any other provider.”
As for the challenge of maintaining the MoJ’s 98% performance target, Gould singled out a wait list of over 60,000 linguists, which they are “working our way through.” The linguists are on standby to gain access to the Linguists Network App of the WordSynk platform. Gould is optimistic that, despite the pandemic, they will be able to “increase supply [and] continuously improve both overall quality and fulfillment.”
We also asked the CEO about the company’s Covid-19 safety measures. Aside from ensuring that their interpreters have the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and feel safe to perform the work, he said, “thebigword has worked with the MoJ to provide courtrooms around the country with custom headsets, which enable interpreters to communicate with limited/non-English speakers from a distance. This allows the court proceedings to run smoothly without interpreters disrupting the flow of the hearing.”
He added, “I believe that we all owe our first-responder linguists a debt of gratitude […] It is not lost on me that many of our team members are taking risks in order to deliver vital services and I am deeply grateful for the work that they do.”