The privatisation of the probation service must be one of the worst decisions ever taken by Government. The hard work of committed probation staff has been totally undermined by the Government’s “Transforming Rehabilitation” reforms, which in 2014-15 broke up the probation service and part-privatised it. Driven solely by political dogma, this failed, dangerous experiment has wasted £467 million of taxpayers’ money. It has failed to reduce reoffending and led to a huge increase in people on short-term sentences being recalled to prison. Reoffending rates for serious offences such as murder, rape and manslaughter are soaring, and our public are now less safe because of the Tories’ profit motive.
The privatisation of the probation service has been roundly condemned. The chief inspector of the probation service, Dame Glenys Stacey, the National Audit Office and the Justice Committee have been critical. The state of the part-privatised probation service is, to quote Dame Glenys Stacey, “irredeemably flawed”. It should be abandoned, with the service taken back in-house.
The privatisation was rushed through by the then Secretary of State, splitting the probation service into two. High-risk offenders were to be dealt with by the national probation service, with the rest dealt with by privatised community rehabilitation centres. Public money is now sucked into private profits, causing damage to the service, staff, users and local communities. The number of probation professionals has dropped to a critical level, forcing them to cut corners, and the profession of probation has been downgraded.
Napo has warned that the reforms have created a two-tier workforce between the CRCs and the NPS for pay and conditions and professional standards, with an average pay gap of 4.5% in favour of NPS staff and worse terms and conditions for CRC staff. Service users need a relationship of trust with the probation service to reduce reoffending. However, the current state of the probation service forces offenders to share personal information about their lives with strangers each time they see a probation officer, hindering their willingness to engage.
Staff are committed to delivering vital work in probation, but working conditions are putting undue pressure on the workforce. The underfunding of CRC contracts has led to a scaling back and to cuts in specialist support for offenders leaving prison, which, as we heard this morning from Dame Glenys Stacey in her report to the Justice Committee, has resulted in more than a fifth of offenders released from prison being released with no fixed abode and many suffering from substance abuse, both of which are high-risk factors that lead to reoffending.
As Simon Hoare mentioned, many services provided by the voluntary sector have been cut as a result of the CRC contracts. We have seen a loss in services provided for substance abuse and for housing resettlement for prisoners, following the awarding of CRC contracts, which many CRCs have claimed were badly drafted, although it should be pointed out that their successful bids were based on the MOJ’s specifications.
The CRC contracts were granted to monolithic private sector providers that, like the Titanic, were too big to fail, yet this year we have seen two of the providers—Working Links and Interserve—announce that they have called in the administrators due to financial problems. Having thrown good money after bad, the Government need to stop this charade that the CRC model is anything other than bust. The National Audit Office has said so, the Justice Committee has said so and the chief inspector has said so. When will the Government get the message?
Labour has opposed the privatisation of our probation service from the outset. This once award-winning service, now in the hands of private companies, is crying out to be brought back in-house and devolved to new local probation services with proper local, democratic control and accountability. Both Napo and Unison, representing thousands of members in the probation service, endorse this model of public ownership and local control.
The privatisation of our prisons gives us further evidence of the failings caused by running public services for profit. In October 2018, I visited HMP Birmingham following the serving of an urgent notification by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons after the major disturbances at the prison in 2016, which resulted in severe damage and four wings being taken out of use. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons carried out an unannounced inspection of the prison in August 2018. The inspectorate found that the prison had been so badly run that it initiated an urgent notification protocol, saying there had been a
“near total failure to address…previous recommendations” and
“an abject failure of contract management and delivery”.
The next day, the Secretary of State for Justice issued a contract notice removing the prison from G4S’s control and placing it under the leadership of a governor from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. This was a shocking outcome for G4S, and few will have had confidence in its ability to run prisons, but, lo and behold, the Government have allowed it to bid for the right to run more prisons.
As my hon. Friend Richard Burgon said, a Labour Government would take the running of prisons back into the public sector. Time after time we have seen the failures of privatisation in the prison and probation service, only for the Government to reward failure by ploughing more public money into the pockets of private contractors. It does not work and will not work in the future. It all needs to be brought back in-house. If the Secretary of State does not heed the warnings, he risks wasting more public money, making the public, staff and prisoners less safe and rewarding failure. This has to stop. We need to bring it back in-house.