Swindon Borough Council Slashes Translation Costs by 99.96% Using Amazon Translate

Swindon Borough Council uses AWS to cut translation costs from £159.81 per document to just £0.07, with translation times reduced from weeks to just minutes. This means that the council can communicate more easily and offer more content to citizens with limited English skills.

99.96% cost saving

from £159.81 to £0.07 per document.

Praised for supporting inclusion and accessibility

99.94% time reduction

from 15.9 days to 14 minutes.

Open source solution

ready for use by other organizations.


Swindon Borough Council had two problems with translating content to support citizens who find it difficult to communicate in English. First, it was slow. The internal process required manual inputs from many different people. On average, that process took up to 12 days, and the time required by the translation agency was 3–5 days. That meant total translation time for a document was up to 17 days.

Second, it was expensive. It cost Swindon an average of £159.81 per document. Budgets were allocated per department, and some were reaching the limits of what they could spend. A solution from Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped the council solve both issues, cutting costs to just £0.07 per document and reducing translation times to an average of 14 minutes rather than days.

Swindon Borough Council Cuts Average Translation Costs from £159.81 to £0.07

Swindon Borough Council provides services for 220,000 people. Its citizens speak over 30 languages, so making sure the right information is available to all communities is a challenge. The council needed to find a cheaper, quicker way to translate documents to support citizens who have a limited understanding of English. Using Amazon Translate—a neural machine translation service that delivers fast, high-quality, affordable, and customizable language translation—the council cut the average translation cost per document by 99.96 percent, from £159.81 to £0.07. There are also plans to use a hybrid human/machine translation for difficult translations requiring human oversight with the potential for additional savings. Such dramatic savings mean that it’s no longer limited to translating only documents it is legally required to provide—it can offer citizens wider access to content for minimal extra cost.

Swindon Borough Council’s Paediatric Therapy Service is a team of physiotherapists and occupational therapists that supports children and families across health, education, and social care settings. The department needs to be able to translate letters and therapist reports into parents’ first languages. Regulations require the council to translate documents such as child assessment reports if the parents have a limited understanding of English. But the department also wanted to translate more general advisory content to help parents manage their children’s conditions. “So they came and asked us for the impossible—a faster, cheaper, better way to do this,” says Sarah Peña, emerging technologies lead for enabling and operations at Swindon Borough Council. “The AWS Solution Incubator, and solutions architect Philip Whiteside, were highly engaged in the whole process and helped us build an amazing solution.”

The AWS Solution Incubator supports a range of open-source digital business solutions, designed and built by local government organizations, that can be shared with their peers. Across Europe, local government delivers around 1,050 citizen services such as social care, pothole repair, and library services, most of which could be enhanced with a digital solution. As local authorities are inclined to collaborate and share best practice, rather than compete, those that have the vision and resources to design and build software solutions, are open to sharing those solutions, licence free, with their peers. AWS Solution Incubator supports this spirit of collaboration with AWS providing the expertise and resources to help towns and cities with further support available from an ecosystem of partners if necessary.

The council ran small-scale trials with the main digital translation providers that can support the different languages spoken by Swindon’s citizens. It recruited local bilingual volunteers to assess the quality of the machine translations against their first languages, and Amazon Translate came out on top. Having worked with AWS on other projects, Peña was confident that it could provide both the technical and business support the project needed. She was also confident that AWS would support the open-source principles to make the eventual solution freely available to other organizations.

Serverless, On-Demand Solution Using AWS Reduces Translation Time from 16 Days to 14 Minutes

Based on Amazon Translate, the system uses AWS Lambda, which lets you run code without thinking about servers. The council collaborated with AWS to simplify the interface for non-technical users. “We worked with AWS to make an on-demand service that would be usable by anyone in the council, and we customized the interface to make it more user-friendly,” says Peña. “Using Amazon Translate, we’re supporting our ambition of making translation not just more affordable, but also more accessible across the entire council.”

Because of its confidence in the solution and the huge cost savings achieved the team was able to remove authorization processes to accelerate internal processes. The previous process required multiple sign-offs by different people. With such significant savings to be made, there was little resistance, so reorganizing was straightforward.

The Paediatric Therapy team was pleased with the impact of the new system. “It’s fantastic to find such a great solution when I thought I was asking for the impossible: a cheap, effective, and easy-to-use system to make our resources accessible in lots of languages and improve outcomes for children and families,” says Liz Wiltshire, specialist community health services manager at Swindon Borough Council.

The service has also been praised by regulators. “Inspecting bodies such as the Care Quality Commission, Ofsted [the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills], and His Majesty’s Inspectors expect to see evidence that services are supporting inclusion and equity in access to services,” says Wiltshire. “The use of digital translation helps services translate information at minimal cost, improving the accessibility of resources, ensuring that service users can access information in their first language which ultimately improves understanding and outcomes.”

Although the cost savings are large, the speed of translation is also transforming how Swindon Borough Council can communicate with the 3,000 citizens who don’t speak English as a first language. The council was recently contacted by a parent who couldn’t read a letter from school about a trip the following day. Using Amazon Translate, it was able to send a translated letter in minutes. It’s also helping deliver a more responsive service to Ukrainian speakers, for instance.


“It’s amazing to find such a great solution when I thought I was asking for the impossible.”

Liz Wiltshire
Specialist Community Health Services Manager,
Swindon Borough Council

Exceeding Expectations for Savings, Speed, and Quality

Swindon Borough Council wants to extend use of its translation service and also wants to develop it beyond static content toward real-time translation tools. This could include translating transcriptions of video and phone calls. Amazon Translate could also support how the council deals with incoming communications in any language by offering almost instant translations across departments.

At least 15 other local authorities are already considering adopting the open-source solution, and two have begun to repurpose the solution to support their citizens. There has been interest from local governments in France and Spain too. “We’re so pleased with how this project has turned out. We’re increasing access to council services for all our citizens, and also building a blueprint that can be used by other councils and third-sector organizations,” says Peña.

About Swindon Borough Council

Swindon Borough Council in Wiltshire serves a population of 220,000 people. It needs to translate information to support citizens whose first language isn’t English. Having successfully developed an open-source solution, it is eager to help other councils benefit from it.

AWS Services Used

Amazon Translate

Amazon Translate is a neural machine translation service that delivers fast, high-quality, affordable, and customizable language translation.

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AWS Lambda

WS Lambda is a serverless, event-driven compute service that lets you run code for virtually any type of application or backend service without provisioning or managing servers. You can trigger Lambda from over 200 AWS services and software as a service (SaaS) applications, and only pay for what you use.

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Amazon DynamoDB

Amazon DynamoDB is a fully managed, serverless, key-value NoSQL database designed to run high-performance applications at any scale.

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