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Privatised Probation Contracts Scrapped

Friday, July 27, 2018

GMB RESPONDS TO MOJ DECISION TO SCRAP PRIVATISED PROBATION CONTRACTS

More of the same will lead to more of the same – probation service must be brought back into public ownership says GMB Union

GMB, the union for the probation service, has responded to the government announcement that contracts of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Councils that provide the bulk of probation services in England and Wales will be terminated early. [1]

After the contracts are scrapped, a consultation called ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence’ will try to identify how the current service can be improved in the light of the continued poor performance heavily criticised by a recent Justice Select Committee report. [2]

The contracts will expire in late 2020 rather than February 2022 and the consultation will seek to replace on the basis of re-contracting to a lesser number of new or better providers with a performance payment mechanism that works.

GMB welcomes the wide acceptance the current system is not working for offenders, for the public or the staff  - but the union is not convinced a revamped and rebooted outsourcing model will fare any better.

GMB shares the view of the Justice Select Committee report, which was ‘unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service”.

George Georgiou, GMB National Officer, said:

“It’s time to revert to the tried and tested - bring the probation service entirely back into public ownership.

“The existing system of outsourcing, just as in the NHS, in prisons, on the railways, does not serve the public interest - it serves the shareholder at the expense of the taxpayer.

“For the public, the probation model is a flawed system that has increased reoffending and poured public money into private coffers. It makes no sense to tinker with a model that most experts agree needs replacing entirely.

“Similarly, fragmenting the service has moved us away from a coherent national workforce strategy for the entire probation service.

“This is having terrible consequences as a tired, ridiculously overworked and demoralised staff - who have not had a pay rise for 7 years  - struggle to cope with increasing workloads and contractual bureaucracy.

“More of the same will just bring more of the same - increased reoffending, increased risk to the public, increasing disillusionment of a hard working dedicated, unrewarded workforce and falling confidence in the justice System

“As the system fails, the privately owned providers simply run back to the taxpayer for an increased hand out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds yet they retain any profits for themselves. They have privatised the profits but socialised the losses – at our expense.

“The UK must end this ideological obsession with privatisation and do what works for everyone.”

ENDS

Contact: GMB press office on 07958 156846 or at press.office@gmb.org.uk

Notes to Editors:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/27/private-probation-companies-contracts-ended-early-justice

[2] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/transforming-rehabilitation-17-19/

Recent History of England’s probation service

The Government introduced major structural reforms to the probation system in 2014 and 2015. These reforms were known as Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) and they sought to:

Extend statutory rehabilitation to offenders serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months;

Introduce nationwide ‘Through the Gate’ resettlement services for those leaving prison;

Open up the market to new rehabilitation providers to get the best out of the public, voluntary and private sectors;

Introduce new payment incentives for market providers to focus relentlessly on reforming offenders;

Split the delivery of probation services between the National Probation Service (offenders at high risk of harm) and Community Rehabilitation Companies  (CRCs) (low and medium risk offenders);

Reduce reoffending.

This effectively privatised the Probation Service and passed a large chunk of it into the hands of 21 Community Rehabilitation Councils owned by 8 private sector providers

The system proved to be inefficient and costly, offenders did not receive the support they required and the risk of reoffending increased with a consequent increased risk to the public. The matter became the subject of a Justice Select Committee report that concluded

The Ministry of Justice  (MoJ) was reluctant to challenge overoptimistic bids

Greater transparency is required on the changes made to the Ministry’s contracts

The MoJ was wrong to constantly renegotiate CRC contracts

CRC performance in reducing reoffending, particularly the number of times an offender reoffends, has been disappointing and

We do not think that the payment by results mechanism provides sufficient incentives to providers to reduce reoffending

The MoJ was not applying the financial penalties (service credits) as envisaged in the contracts with CRCs

It remains unclear to us how the Ministry of Justice is tackling underperformance on a day-to-day basis.

The split between the NPS and CRCs according to their risk of has complicated the delivery of probation services and created a “two-tier” system.

The Rate Card (the list of available specialist services and programmes that CRCs offer and which the NPS can purchase from the CRC) processes are cumbersome and create barriers for the NPS to use these services.

The Government have failed to open up the probation market

Staff morale is at an “all-time low” and staff have high caseloads, in some instances they are handling cases for which they do not have adequate training, and they feel de-professionalised.

Confidence in community alternatives to short custodial sentences is so low; particularly as the latter have worse outcomes in terms of reoffending…the Government should introduce a presumption against short custodial sentences.

The introduction of a 12-month post-sentence supervision to all offenders lacks the flexibility to meet the varying needs of offenders.

Some current provision merely signposts offenders to other organisations and does not offer continuous support from custody into the community. This is wholly inadequate.

Some CRC providers supervise their offenders remotely, over the telephone. [This is] never likely to be appropriate

Only one in two individuals are supervised by the same officer throughout their case

Some offenders were required to do meaningless unpaid work that did not contribute to the local community now was it linked to education and training.

Most tellingly the Committee stated 

“We conclude that we are unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service”.

Today’s announcement that calls for the contracts for the provision of probation services to be terminated early and retendered must be set in the context of the above.

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