Probation workers reject government privatisation plans



UNISON members working in the probation service are today making their overwhelming opposition to government plans to break up and sell-off probation services clear, with a massive 99% vote against the plans.
Underlining their strength of feeling, 85% are willing to take industrial action if necessary to protect their jobs, terms and conditions and pensions.

In light of the vote, UNISON is calling on Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling to reconsider his plans. The union is deeply concerned that selling off probation will hit services hard, impacting on the rehabilitation of offenders and on community safety.
Only last week, UNISON called for a halt to all pending privatisations to allow for a thorough review to make sure contracts are working in the interests of taxpayers and service users.
The call followed a report by independent think tank Institute for Government which highlighted costly failures of outsourcing and privatisation and found that private companies repeatedly cut corners to boost profits. This involves ‘parking’ difficult cases and only taking on easy wins – an attitude that is particularly worrying for the future of the probation service and the payment by results model.
The report also identified the public sector as a poor contractor, focussed on “getting the deal out of the door and not thinking about how it will work in the long term”.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has already experienced serious problems with outsourcing and privatisation. Earlier this month Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was forced to refer G4S to the Serious Fraud Office for apparently charging the MoJ for tagged offenders who were dead, in prison, or who had never been tagged.
Ben Priestley, UNISON national officer said:
“This is a massive vote of no confidence in the government’s damaging and potentially dangerous plans to break up and sell-off the probation service. The plans are thoroughly untested, and probation members care too much about the protection of communities to see their jobs sold off to the private sector.
“Recent costly failures of privatisation have proved that the system is no longer working in the interests of taxpayers and service users. We want Chris Grayling to drop these plans to privatise this important service and work with staff and unions to deliver improvements in-house.

“We also want a halt to all other pending privatisations to make way for an urgent and thorough review. Recent scandals of privatisation have exposed serious, potentially fraudulent, and often dangerous failings. How much more has to go wrong before the government takes action?

The government’s plans for the probation service

The government is planning to abolish the 35 existing local Probation Trusts; replacing them with one small national public probation agency and 21 government companies which will be sold off to the private sector. The government will prevent probation trusts from competing with the private sector for the services they currently run and pay for the contracts with an untested payment-by-results system.
The union is concerned that plans to sell off probation services to the private sector and introduce a payment by results system have not been properly tested, and that the new set up will be complicated and bureaucratic. As this ballot proves, the reforms do not have the support of probation workers, and this concern is shared by the wider justice community.

UNISON carried out a confidential full postal survey of all our members in Probation to reach these results.