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Probation privatisation risks public safety, Commissioners warn

Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping has joined calls for further debate on the future of the Probation Service.

The Commissioner agrees with colleagues that rushing the introduction of plans to privatise the Probation Service could pose serious risks to public safety.

Mr Tipping is one of 13 Police and Crime Commissioners to have written to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to outline serious concerns over the plans to outsource the vast bulk of probation’s work.

Urging the Justice Secretary to take time to think again, Mr Tipping said: “Quite clearly, I welcome moves to cut crime and reduce reoffending rates, but before sweeping changes are introduced such as those currently on the table, I would like to see some evidence that they will indeed deliver the desired results.”

Probation Trusts will be abolished under the plans – sweeping away the constructive relationships the trusts have built with voluntary groups, the private sector and public agencies such as the police.

The day–to-day management of 200,000 offenders who have been released in the community will be handed over to private companies, which could include corporate giants such as G4S and Serco –currently accused of overcharging the Government tens of millions of pounds on electronic tagging of offenders.

Today (30October) MPs will debate the plans, a move called by Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan - and the first time that Parliament has had a chance to scrutinise the proposals.

Mr Tipping continued: “Any new arrangements must be in the best interests of the public and all those who work in criminal justice in Nottinghamshire to reduce crime. They need to be tested, trialled and proven before wide-scale change is implemented. Too much speed at this stage will only lead to problems later on.

“I strongly urge Chris Grayling to listen to the deep concerns that have been raised about these plans and work with police, Probation Trusts and other agencies to look at innovative ways to lower reoffending that do not endanger the public.”


The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary of State

We write to you as 13 of the Police & Crime Commissioners in England & Wales.

It is important to state up front that we fully accept that more needs to be done to reduce reoffending if we are to cut crime and make our communities safer. Therefore, we welcome plans to extend supervision of offenders to those in sentences of less than 12months. However, we have grave concerns at your plans for dismantling the Probation Service, which we do not believe will lead to better outcomes and could, in fact, have major consequences for public safety. There are four major reasons for our concern.

First, losing Probation Trusts that know and understand their local areas would be a mistake. Trusts have built constructive working relationships with voluntary groups, the private sector and public agencies such as the police. Trusts are best placed to commission the services that are appropriate to the needs of their area. Some genuinely innovative work has been led by Probation Trusts, including the intensive alternatives to custody (IAC) pilots. By abolishing trusts and commissioning services direct from Whitehall crucial local knowledge and important networks will be lost.

Second, fragmenting the service on the basis of an offender's risk level will introduce dangerous and artificial barriers between providers. This fragmentation fails to take into account the way risk levels fluctuate in up to a quarter of cases of those under supervision. Given it is also not clear where day to day responsibility for offenders lies, we believe this over complicates a system where too much bureaucracy and unclear lines of command could see dangerous offenders walking our streets unsupervised.

Third, we are unhappy at the outsourcing of the day to day supervision of almost 200,000 offenders. While we support the involvement of other providers in delivering specific projects, we believe that it is less bureaucratic and safer for the public if Probation Trusts maintain day-to-day responsibility for offenders, commissioning in those they see fit.

In particular, we are alarmed that companies currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and the National Audit Office for discrepancies in other Ministry of Justice contracts may be awarded the work. The public will rightly be alarmed at the prospect of companies that have failed elsewhere being in charge of supervising serious and violent offenders in their communities.

Fourth, we are concerned at the speed at which this is being implemented. The plans represent a considerable upheaval - abolition of trusts, privatisation, imposition of a payment by results model - all done without any piloting or testing to see what works and what doesn't.  In addition, although we welcome the extension of supervision to those on sentences of less than 12 months, it is not clear how this considerable increase in workload will be funded, thus we have concerns existing funds will be spread more thinly.

By rushing ahead at a fast pace the risks of failures is increased, again putting public safety at risk. This was all highlighted in your department's own internal risk assessment. We are particularly alarmed that this is being done without seeking the explicit approval of Parliament but is instead hiding behind the 2007 Offender Management Act, which was intended for an altogether different use. This looks to some as avoiding scrutiny, which is an important part of any policy making process, and helps to avoid poor implementation and mistakes. 

We are therefore calling on you to halt the process, step back and work with the police, Probation Trusts, and all the other agencies involved to deliver lower reoffending rates in a way that does not put public safety at risk.

We look forward to hearing your views.

Yours sincerely

Tony Lloyd – Greater Manchester
Bob Jones – West Midlands
Mark Burns-Williamson – WestYorks
Alan Charles – Derbyshire
Jane Kennedy – Merseyside
Clive Grunshaw – Lancs
Ron Hogg – Durham
Vera Baird – Northumbria
Paddy Tipping – Nottinghamshire
Shaun Wright – South Yorks
Olly Martins – Bedfordshire
Barry Coppinger – Cleveland
Alun Michael – South Wales 

Posted on Wednesday 30th October 2013
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