Yesterday‘s damning report by the chief inspector of probation should be the final nail in the coffin of the failed privatisation of the service under former justice secretary Chris Grayling.
Dame Glenys Stacey’s report did not mince its words about the system, following the split of probation in England and Wales into a National Probation Service for “serious” offenders and 14 private “community rehabilitation companies”, or CRCs, to handle all other probation services.
She called the system “irredeemably flawed,” adding: “Above all, it has proved well-nigh impossible to reduce probation to a set of contractual requirements.
“Professional probation work is so much more than simply a series of transactions and, when treated in that way, is distorted and diminished.”
She highlighted a number of specific issues, including:
- the number of probation staff has dropped to a critical level with a national shortage, particularly of probation officers;
- the profession of probation has been downgraded;
- learning and development arrangements for probation are not working;
- high workloads and performance targets have led to professional standards being compromised;
- probation has lost its professional leadership;
- probation premises are dated, shabby and, in some cases, not secure;
- IT interconnections between the national service and the private companies, promised by the Ministry of Justice, have failed to materialise;
- there is no national strategy to provide enough local specialist services;
- there is no coherent national workforce strategy;
- there is no coherent national estates strategy.
UNISON national officer Ben Priestley said the report “confirms what UNISON has been saying for many years: the privatisation has totally failed.
“That is why UNISON is calling again on the government to end the private contracts and reunify probation as a locally run and locally managed service.”
The service was also the subject of a damning report from the National Audit Office at the beginning of March, and UNISON says “it is very difficult to see that there is any life left in the 2014 plan, which went under the name of Transforming Rehabilitation”.
The government was forced to end the current CRC contracts early and carried out a consultation last year on plans to re-let the contracts in 2020.
But UNISON notes that ministers have yet to respond to that consultation, “so there is still time for them to reflect on the devastating criticisms in the two reports.
“UNISON believes that the plans to re-let the CRC contracts are now totally lacking in any credibility.
“We are calling on the justice secretary to do the right thing and to bring all probation services back into the public sector in a reunified and locally run service.”