Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance says councils are perpetuating the problem of people not speaking English.
It is a standard PR tactic in local government to blame everything on Whitehall. To be fair to councils, often many things are the fault of central government. Sometimes, though, there are clear issues where waste occurs purely due to flawed local decision making.
One such issue is the absurd practice of translating council documents into dozens of languages at huge cost. A new report released this week revealed that the total cost is now almost £20m a year for translating a wide variety of documents in 75 different languages.
This is a ridiculous situation. Of course, with a large number of business visitors, tourists and temporary migrants, there will always be some need for translation in the public sector. But that should clearly be focused in the kind of services that are required in emergencies rather than across the whole gamut of council services.
By all means the police, ambulance service, fire brigade and social services should have access to translators, but is it really necessary for Manchester City Council to translate advice booklets on how to feed pigeons into Urdu or for Warwickshire County Council to produce “Weight Busters” leaflets in Gujerati?
Given the remarkably low readership of even those council documents which are produced in English, it is hard to imagine that most of the translated copies produced are ever even used. This is clearly a tremendous waste of money.
Just as serious a problem is the impact of those translated documents that are put into use. There are already worryingly large social divides in Britain as a result of some migrants either failing or refusing to learn English, and being cosseted by local councils in this way does not help the problem. It is crazy that while huge amounts of money are being spent on trying to reduce racial tensions in various parts of the country, many councils also spend money on maintaining language barriers amongst the population.
As well as the harm done to social cohesion and integration, it is clearly harmful to the earning power and employability of anyone if they do not have a working knowledge of English. By helping someone to remain unable to use the language, the sad truth is that many authorities are preventing some very poor people from progressing economically.
A particularly ironic case is that of Hertfordshire County Council, who according to the Telegraph spent £10,000 translating 100 school reports – presumably so that parents could read about their children’s education. Instead of spending money to perpetuate the problem of people being unable to speak English, surely we should be encouraging and assisting them to learn the language? That would save the taxpayer money, improve migrants’ prospects and make society more cohesive in one fell swoop.
It is now more than two years since Hazel Blears, then still Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, called for some “common sense” to be applied and for the amount of translation to be reduced. When even this obsessively politically correct Government are willing to acknowledge it, then it must be a real problem.
So why are councils still spending so much money? Why do so many newsletters and forms still have a hefty list of alternative languages on the back? According to the Local Government Association, the cost of translation has fallen from around £25m to the £20m that has just been revealed. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s time we stopped spending taxpayers’ money on a policy which keeps the different elements of our society separate rather than bringing us together.