£200,000 taxpayers' money lost in translation
PUBLISHED: 11:45 19 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:16 07 September 2010
Josie Hinton WESTMINSTER Council spent more than £200,000 of taxpayers' money translating pamphlets into 10 different foreign languages last year. Town Hall officers ensured documents were translated into Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Portuguese, Kurdish, Alb
WESTMINSTER Council spent more than £200,000 of taxpayers' money translating pamphlets into 10 different foreign languages last year.
Town Hall officers ensured documents were translated into Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Portuguese, Kurdish, Albanian, Polish, Farsi, Somali and French - at a cost of £230,000 to the public purse.
The revelation comes despite a call in 2007 by Hazel Blears, then the communities secretary, for councils to think twice before translating documents. She said the money should be spent teaching immigrants English to aid immigration.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, has criticised the council's policy as wasteful. He said: "Spending taxpayers' hard-earned cash on translation services that no one will ever use is shocking.
"If they have surplus money, ordinary families need it back. It shouldn't be wasted on pamphlets people clearly neither want nor need."
The revelations came to light after an investigation by More4 News, which was broadcast on Monday night (June 15).
The programme's producers sent Freedom of Information requests to all councils, hospital trusts, police forces and government departments in the UK.
The five biggest spending councils in 2008 were Glasgow (£433,470), Haringey (£386,665), Birmingham (£361,096), Southwark (£360,999) and Sheffield (£360,000). Of the 218 local authorities that provided figures, 126 - or 58 per cent - said they had increased their spending on translation since two years ago.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Our 2007 guidance calls for a common-sense approach to be taken - translating only where it is necessary, such as information relating to emergency medical treatment or vital public safety.
"It is up to each organisation to decide, based on the guidance, what information they translate."
Adult and Community Services boss Cllr Ed Argar said Westminster's unique status as a global city with a diverse population, meant it was necessary to translate material into a number of languages.
"Many of our residents come to the city from other countries and speak almost 150 languages while as many as a quarter of children in our schools come from a refugee background," he said.
"Westminster is clear about the importance of the use of English in promoting an integrated society and we spend around £5million a year on teaching English to people from around the world through our Adult Education Service (WAES).
"While we are doing everything we can to ensure our residents have the language skills to access our services, we recognise many people in the community are still unable to communicate fully, or even at all, using spoken or written English.
"It is essential that we provide appropriate resources to enable these citizens, who can include members of vulnerable groups including recent arrivals from overseas, the elderly and people with hearing and seeing disabilities, to access and use the vital services offered by Westminster City Council.