‘Don’t let them dim our lights’

Conference prepares for the organising challenge facing the union as government admits error of its ways on probation

delegates holding up voting cards at the 2019 police and justice conference

“On 16 May this year, the government admitted the error of its ways and faced up to the fact that its Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have failed,” delegates at UNISON’s police and justice conference in Southport heard this morning.

The union welcomed the government’s admission that former justice secretary Chris Grayling’s privatisation of ‘community rehabilitation’ in England and Wales was wrong. The service will be brought back under public management in 2021.

But in the meantime, said Steve Cowley of the national probation committee, “our members have paid the costs of these ‘reforms’ for five years.”

And with staff employed now by the current “community rehabilitation companies” due to be transferred to the national probation service under the government’s plans “we have a major organising task ahead of us,” he told conference.

“We need to make sure we retain all of our rehabilitation members and organise the 50% of staff currently not in any union” after five years of privatisation.

At the same time, the union will be pushing ahead with its own vision for the future of probation in England and Wales.

Conference called for all probation services to be brought back under local democratic control.

As Phil Taylor – “no, not the darts player” – told delegates: “Probation is a local service, but the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have destroyed local connections.” Instead, they tried “to impose a one-size-fits-all model across England and Wales.”

Or as Rodney Williams of Eastern region probation put it when arguing that there is no place for profiteers in probation: “If you don’t understand a single ingredient in the recipe for success, why pretend you do?

“Our secret ingredient is that we understand the job,” he added: “We do what we love – we serve the public. I could list a lot of figures and facts, but we are more than such things.”

The privatisation experiment of the past years has had costs. And, he said, “the casualties are us, our families, the people we serve and the very service itself.

“Don’t let them dim our lights and make us walk to work in the dark.”