£100m spent on translation - BBC News investigation
The Government is to review the amount of public money spent on translation and interpretation services each year for those living in the UK who do not speak English.
The review comes after a BBC News investigation identified for the first time that more than £100m is spent annually by public bodies such as local authorities (£25m), NHS trusts (£55m) and the police and courts system (£31.3m). The true total is likely to be significantly higher.
On learning of the BBC research, Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has asked officials to look at the provision of language services across Government.
A spokesman said: "We do recognise that there is an issue here which we need to look at."
Communities Minister Phil Woolas said: "Ruth Kelly has asked the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which reports next year to look at this issue.
"She has already made clear that public services need to give far greater priority to promoting social cohesion and shared values rather than supporting separateness and we are examining the issue of translation in this context.
"We believe that the system may need to be rebalanced to give a greater focus on teaching English and this includes looking at the advice given from Government, public bodies and local authorities.
"But it is essential that we study this issue carefully first as there may be situations, such as access to medical services, where it is important that provision is made in other languages."
Although Government departments refer to an obligation to translate, any legal imperative is far from clear.
The Race Relations Act simply says that all parts of the community should have access to services.
The Human Rights Act only requires translation if someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence.
But many public bodies assume they must translate into an individual's mother tongue.
Peterborough Council translates details of its refuse collection service into 15 languages after concerns that non-English speakers did not understand the three bin recycling system.
Peterborough also translates its residents' parking and pay-and-display schemes into a range of languages.
In an interview with BBC News, Leonie McCarthy, Project Manager at Peterborough's New Link centre says: "What we say to people is if they need it in their language we will make sure they have it because we believe that everybody should have equal access to knowledge of the services.
"Under the Race Relations Act that's what we would want to do to make sure everybody, no matter who they are, where they're from, has equal access."
Islington's NHS primary care trust in London is providing a Turkish woman who has lived in the UK for five years with one-to-one sessions to help her stop smoking translated into her own language.
In Tower Hamlets, an area of east London dominated by an immigrant population originally from Bangladesh, there is a council-run current affairs workshop in Bengali. It attracts around 10 people a week.
The BBC interviews - through a translator - a Bangladeshi woman who has lived in the UK for 22 years and does not speak English.
She is critical of the level of translation in the UK, saying it is a disincentive to people like her to learn English.
She says: "When you are trying to help us you are actually harming. Even before we ask, all we have to do is say 'hello' they are here with their interpreters. We just sit here doing nothing and we don't need to speak in English at all."
The former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, says the cost of translation is simply a feature of globalisation and "we should just soak it up".
Mr Phillips says most people who come to England want to learn English: "Translation is not a disincentive. It allows them to get access to services while they learn English. Translation is a way of helping people in transition into integrating into our society."
Some other examples of translation and interpretation spending include:
Immigration and nationality directorate: £8.5m
Barts and the London NHS Trust: £1m
Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust: £580,000 (a rise of 28% in a year)
Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust: £750,000
Manchester City Council: £800,000
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: £400,000
Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust: £300,000.