Wisbech-based translator says she has been left thousands of pounds out of pocket

Shire Hall Cambridge.

Shire Hall Cambridge. - Credit: Archant

A translator working on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council says she remains unpaid for her work- even though the agency that employs her has been paid.

The Wisbech-based interpreter says she is owed more than £3,500 by Convocco for services she provided to the county’s children’s services last summer.

The woman worked for the council after being contracted by Convocco because the work required her high expertise.

“Convocco needed a fully qualified interpreter,” she said.

“But since then I have been fighting to get my money. I have obtained a county court judgement but as I can’t find a proper address for Convocco I have so far been unable to do anything with it.”

MP Steve Barclay says he has since discovered the county council ended up paying Convocco more than £50,000 last year for translation services even though the company had previously gone bust.

The NE Cambs MP says he wants to know the full extent of the council’s dealings with Convocco Ltd, a Birmingham-based company that appears to have gone through at least four name changes since 2008.

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Mr Barclay said: “It is shocking that tax payers funds have continued to be paid to a firm which appears to operate like a revolving door.

“It appears one company goes bust or is wound up and then relatives set up another company in order to continue to receiving payments from the county council but to avoid paying workers the money they are due.

“Serious questions need to be asked internally over the controls that were in place over these payments which clearly have gone wrong.

“More importantly I want to know why a deaf ear was turned to the pleas that were made by my constituent when she first raised concerns over her lack of payment.

“There is also a wider concern beyond Cambridgeshire as to why this firm, that appears to operate unethically in failing to pay translators, has received funds from a number of councils after earlier companies were shut down. “

Mr Barclay said he has written to the both the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Local Government “to alert them to these concerns so that any existing loopholes can be closed”.

The Wisbech translator says she has been to Birmingham, where Convocco are based, to try to track them down.

“I have found a lot of information on the internet but all the addresses appear to be just places for mail to be sent,” she said.

“I wanted to know how such a company could be used by Cambs County Council but my investigations have shown it is used by lots of different authorities and there are other interpreters, not only locally but from around the country who are in the same position as me and owed money,” she said.

She added: “I want to know why the council uses a company that does not pay its staff. Surely they should carry out proper checks?”

Jo Luck, the council’s corporate contracts manager for admitted there had been confusion over Convocco as its predecessor ALS (UK) Ltd did have a contract with the council.

However, when ALS went into liquidation on May 1 2013 the contract did not get transferred to Convocco as it was a separate trading company.

Mrs Luck said staff was notified in an email later that month that the company no longer had an agreement with the council. A second email was sent in July to clarify that the ALS contract had not been transferred to Convocco.

It is possible that Convocco have contacted users directly and it is possible that their services were paid for by a purchase order.

Mrs Luck has investigated those officers who have used Convocco in the last 12 months and will be writing to all relevant heads of service to remind them of their obligations under the contract regulations.

“I will also make them aware of the information we now have regarding Convocco’s treatment of the interpreters working for them,” she said.

A county council spokesman said: “Translation services can be vital to ensuring that children are safeguarded. The Council paid this company for the services that it’s employee provided and would expect the employer to honour its contracts with is employees as it does of all its suppliers.

The Council has recently tendered a new contract for interpretation and translation services which will ensure that value for money achieved. Staff have been made aware that only suppliers appointed under this contract should be used.”