08:30, June 11 231 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-11 08:30:04
Probation services to return to public control after Grayling disasters

Probation services in England and Wales will be fully restored to public ownership and control, the justice secretary has announced, marking the final nail in the coffin of Chris Grayling’s disastrous privatisation reforms.

Under Grayling’s widely derided shakeup in 2014, the probation sector was separated into a public sector organisation, the National Probation Service (NPS) managing high-risk criminals, and 21 private companies responsible for the supervision of 150,000 low- to medium-risk offenders.

The Ministry of Justice previously announced that all offender management, about 80% of all probation work, would be brought under the state-run NPS.

The remaining services, such as rehabilitation and the provision of unpaid work, will no longer be offered up for private tender, the justice secretary said, marking the complete return of probation services to the public sector.

About 2,000 workers at the private providers, known as community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), are to be brought over to HM Prison and Probation Service.

Robert Buckland told the House of Commons: “The delivery of unpaid work, behavioural change programmes will be brought under control of the NPS alongside offender supervision when current CRC contracts end in June next year.

“This will give us a critical measure of control, resilience and flexibility with these services which we would not have had were they delivered under 12 contracts with a number of organisations.”

The NPS will take full responsibility for sentence management, interventions and programme delivery and will at some point in the future be able to commission specialist charities to offer additional support services for offenders. This broadly mirrors the arrangements that existed prior to Grayling’s so-called “transforming rehabilitation” reforms several years ago.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the probation union Napo, said: “Our members across the whole of probation, and especially those who have been working tirelessly against the odds to maintain services in the private sector, will breathe a huge sigh of relief that Napo’s relentless campaigning has at last helped to bring certainty over the future of the service.

“Ministers have taken a courageous decision to fully reverse the earlier reforms that we opposed from the start and which have also been widely and continuously criticised by parliament and HM Inspector of Probation.

“We will now be urgently engaging with ministers and employers to ensure that all staff currently working in a CRC are guaranteed a future offer of employment in a publicly owned probation service.”

Grayling ignored significant warnings from within his department to push through his reforms in 2014. MPs on the public accounts committee said the changes were rushed through at breakneck speed, taking “unacceptable risks” with taxpayers’ money. The justice committee described the overhaul as a “mess” and warned it might never work.

In 2017, the then chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, revealed that the Grayling shakeup had led to tens of thousands of offenders – up to 40% of the total – being supervised by phone calls every six weeks instead of face-to-face meetings.

Since the reforms were introduced, the government has had to bail out the private providers by more than half a billion pounds.

The shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, said: “The opposition welcomes this U-turn the government is announcing today. It’s a U-turn we have been calling for for many, many years in this House.”

Lammy added it was “such a shame” Grayling was not present in the House of Commons for the announcement. He said: “Since the reforms reoffending rates have climbed up to 32%, that is members of the public, victims across the country, who have been subject to offenders and to crime that would not have been subject to the trauma that they were put through had this privatisation not been brought in in the first place.”