South Lanarkshire Council meeting suspended after sign language interpreters have to leave

Councillor Grant FergusonCouncillor Grant Ferguson
Councillor Grant Ferguson
An “administrative error” saw a South Lanarkshire Council meeting suspended yesterday (Wednesday) when sign language interpreters had to leave midway through.

Two BSL interpreters had been arranged for just two hours by South Lanarkshire Council to allow Councillor Grant Ferguson to participate in two council meetings which were “always going to be long”.

Provost Ian McAllan apologised to members and said: “We need to learn from this experience and certainly on my watch, it will not happen again.”

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Executive director Paul Manning “profusely apologised” to members after the meeting for the error and inconvenience as a result.

Councillors had been debating a motion from Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Robert Brown which would have committed the council to becoming pesticide-free.

The council had arranged for the two interpreters to be present between 11.30am and 1.30pm for the two scheduled council meetings which ended up lasting four hours.

As the council meetings ran on, one interpreter had to leave for another job at 1.30pm while a second continued until the last possible minute before being forced to leave half an hour later, leaving Councillor Ferguson – the only BSL councillor in Scotland – with no way of participating in the meetings.

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Council leader John Ross called for the meeting to be suspended, however, Provost McAllan, with “regret”, elected to continue.

Councillor Ross said: “Councillor Ferguson’s interpreters are no longer in the meeting, they had to finish at 1.30pm so he has no way to participate in this meeting now.

“I would ask that in fairness to a full participation and access that this meeting be adjourned until such time we can get an interpreter in to be able to make sure that Councillor Ferguson can fully participate in the meeting.”

Provost McAllan responded: “I regret that this has happened. This is excluding Cllr Ferguson but, to be honest, I am not minded to suspend at this time.”

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However, Councillor David Watson could not allow the meeting to continue without an interpreter.

The independent councillor said: “Provost, I would ask you to reconsider the position you have just taken.

“I think it is totally inappropriate that we continue with this meeting when somebody is unable to participate because of the lack of an interpreter.

“The fact is, we have a councillor in the council who requires the use of an interpreter. I feel we cannot preclude one of our members because an interpreter is not available.

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“If you are going to continue with the meeting I’m going to have to give my apologies and not continue as part of the meeting because I feel quite strongly about it.”

Following unanimous agreement from councillors, the meeting was suspended to see if an interpreter could be located on short notice.

Provost McAllan added: “Could I apologise to you as members that this has happened and most particularly to Councillor Ferguson.

“We absolutely must not let this happen again. He needs to participate fully and we need to look at our procedures and the fact that an interpreter was not booked up for what is always going to be a long meeting.”

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The meeting was reconvened 25 minutes later after one of the original interpreters had a late cancellation and a second was found.

Paul Manning, executive director for finance and corporate, said: “The council provides BSL signers to interpret proceedings, as needed, during committees and other forums.

“Due to an administrative error, the period the interpreters were hired for came to an end before business was completed during the council meeting.

“The meeting was able to continue, with a BSL signer present, after a short suspension of 25 minutes. We profusely apologise for any inconvenience caused to elected members and other meeting participants.”

It is understood that having two interpreters allows for one to have a break while the other can take over and continue to interpret the meeting.

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