Image from Police and Justice conference

99% of probation workers oppose the government’s probation reforms


UNISON is campaigning to protect the probation service in England and Wales.

The government proposes to break up the service and privatise the essential public protection work that our members carry out.

Probation must remain a public service, working with other local public sector providers and being democratically accountable to local communities.


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Probation workers survey slams government privatisation plans

A survey of more than 1,000 probation workers has delivered a damning verdict on the government’s decision to break up the probation service

The facts

UNISON is campaigning to stop the privatisation of the probation service and to keep it as a local service.

Campaign aims

UNISON is opposed to the government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ plans which on 1 June 2014 led to the break-up of the unitary Probation Service into the National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Our campaign aims are to:

  • Stop the proposed sell-off of the CRCs to the private sector before the 2015 general election.
  • Reintegrate the NPS and CRCs into a unitary probation service again, based in local communities and locally accountable.

Before 1 June 2014, the Probation Service was a single service, delivered locally by 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales.

The trusts were high performing and award winning; they linked well to other local delivery partners like the police service and local authorities.

However, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) decided in 2012 to break up the service in an attempt to deliver services to prisoners leaving jail after short sentences. No-one could disagree with this aim, but the MOJ plan to deliver these extra services with no additional money, so cuts have to be made.

These cuts will be delivered by privatising the CRCs and allowing private companies to run local probation services more cheaply at the same time as allowing profit to be siphoned off to shareholders. It does not take a genius to work out that this means less money will be spent on local delivery.

The first stage in the privatisation plans was the split of the service into the NPS and 21 CRCs on 1 June 2014.

Complicating Rehabilitation

The reality of the government’s plans is that the organisational split has led to chaos! In many cases the assignment of staff to the NPS or CRC was arbitrary and based on incompetent data. But it was rushed through to meet the privatisation timetable.

This has led to staffing shortages in key occupations, the recruitment of expensive agency and temporary staff, stress for probation workers and not surprisingly a crisis in delivery.

UNISON has put together a dossier of these problems, which we have called ‘Complicating Rehabilitation’ and which you can read here:

Download ‘Complicating Rehabilitation‘ (Word doc)

The reality is that 35 high-performing probation trusts have been replaced by two poorly performing ones! This has actually led to higher operating costs, more bureaucracy and a huge fall in staff morale.

Stop the Sell Off

With only a few months left in which it can close the deals to sell off the 21 CRCs to the private sector, the Ministry of Justice is rapidly running out of time! There is a crisis of confidence among the bidders for the CRCs (TBC) relating to poor information about what they are actually bidding for.

A number of key wannabe CRC owners have withdrawn from the competition for this reason. The MOJ is trying to manage confidence in a process which is fundamentally flawed, because of the uncertainty over the staffing split and the cost of the services which the MOJ wants the companies to provide. UNISON is working with sister unions Napo and GMB to oppose the sell-off by:

  • Writing to the bidders to make them aware of the expectations of the unions regarding the terms and conditions, and bargaining machinery, that the companies will inherit if they win one of the CRC contracts
  • Submitting FOI requests to the Major Projects Authority (MPA) ,which is over-seeing the CRC competition, to get disclosure of its analysis of the botched procurement process
  • Lobbying MPs and opinion formers. See ‘How to Get Involved’
  • Supporting online campaigning
Payment by Results (PBR) model for private contracts is a con!

Information available on the MOJ website makes it clear that private companies will not have to submit to the MOJ’s payment by results model for most of the offenders they supervise.

Unaccountably, the offenders most likely to re-offend are the ones which the MOJ has presumably buckled to private sector pressure to remove from the payment regime!

UNISON representatives in the CRCs are incredulous at the level of exclusions from the PBR regime; they calculate that these exclusions will take out up to 40 – 50% of the offenders supervised by the CRCs from the PBR regime. These are the very offenders who are most likely statistically to re-offend, and completely removes any credibility from the proposed PBR regime.

The companies bidding for the CRCs are essentially taking on a system of payment by results with most of the risks removed! Not very good for the public purse.

Here is official confirmation, in the form of the CRC contract, of this bizarre accommodation between MOJ and the private sector. 

How will reoffending be measured?

1.1 PbR measurement will be based on a series of offender “cohorts”. These are the groups of offenders whose reoffending will determine the CRCs’ success or otherwise at reducing reoffending rates. Cohorts will be built up on a quarterly and annual basis and will include:

  • all offenders released from a custodial sentence (including those sentenced under legislation that does not include statutory supervision following a sentence of under 12 months);
  • all offenders who begin a community order (CO);
  • all offenders who begin a suspended sentence order (SSO).

The cohorts will exclude:

  • offenders who do not receive one of the above disposals;
  • offenders allocated to the NPS (ie offenders deemed as “high risk of harm” in the initial risk assessment, current MAPPA-eligible offenders, a small number of public interest cases, foreign national offenders subject to deportation);
  • persons on remand;
  • offenders sentenced to stand alone Community Payback;
  • offenders sentenced to stand-alone electronic monitoring;
  • offenders sentenced to electronic monitoring and Community Payback only;
  • fine defaulters subject to attendance centre orders.

ie: the majority of offenders to be supervised by the private sector CRCs!

Probation privatisation breaches International Labour Organisation (ILO) forced labour convention

Earlier this year, UNISON, Napo and GMB referred the UK government to the ILO which adjudicates on breaches of international labour regulations. We argued that privatising community payback breaches the ILO forced labour convention which only permits public sector supervision of these community sentences.

The ILO has confirmed that our referral is competent and has appointed a committee to undertake an examination of the facts of the case.

 UNISON’s alternative

UNISON wants to see the reunification of the Probation Service as a local service under local democratic control. We have worked with the Local Government Information Unit to promote ‘Primary Justice’ which advocates the devolution of MOJ budgets to local democratic control.

Probation is a local service which should be run in the interests of local people, not multi-national outsourcing companies.

Primary Justice Reloaded: A model for localised probation services (PDF)

Get involved

Here’s how you can get involved in our probation campaigning.

1 Sign the e-petition

If you support our campaign against the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, then please sign the parliamentary e-petition:

2 Write to your MP

You can also write to your MP with the following text:



House of Commons



Probation Reform: Stop the Sell Off

I am a probation worker who previously worked for…………………………..Probation Trust. On 1 June this year, I was transferred to ………………………………………………… a result of the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms.

The immediate impact of this change is that a previously high performing organisation has been split into two poorly performing ones! We now face additional bureaucracy, delays and cost, because two organisations now do the work of my old Probation Trust. I hasten to add that this is in no way the fault of probation staff who are working under very difficult circumstances to keep communities safe. The fault lies very squarely with the Ministry of Justice and its botched probation reforms.

Since the staff transfer, my working life has changed out of all recognition for the worst.


Despite all these problems, the Government is still pressing ahead with its plans to sell off the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to the private sector later this year. This is being done despite major concerns over public safety, the departure of some key bidders from the procurement, concerns over the quality of some of the bids received and the likelihood that most of the contracts will eventually be let to four or five of the big public sector outsourcing companies. All this adds up to a very risky procurement which is clearly not in the public interest.

As my MP I would be grateful if you could contact the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to ask him to lay before Parliament the Major Projects Authority project assessment review and assurance action plan in respect of the CRC sell off, before any contractual arrangements are entered into. This is in line with the government’s commitment to transparency and opening government major projects to public scrutiny for the first time.

I hope that I can rely on your support.

Yours sincerely



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