To be fair, by the hon. Gentleman’s standards that was quite a warm welcome for this policy announcement. I thank him for that.
Let me pick up some of the points he made. He talked about the costs and about the squandering of vast sums of money; the House should be aware that we have spent considerably less with the community rehabilitation companies than was anticipated when the business plan for the transforming rehabilitation programme was put together. The issue is not the squandering of billions of pounds; it is about how we improve the service, and that is the intention behind my announcement.
On returning to the past, which was a sort of theme in the hon. Gentleman’s comments, we do not want to do that. I do not think that simply to return to the days of 35 probation trusts is the right course of action. There are things that we can learn from what was done well with them, as well as what was not done so well, just as we can learn from what has happened over the past four years or so, post the transforming rehabilitation programme.
On the £280 million and how it will be spent, as I said there will be regional directors for each of the 11 regions, and they will make decisions based on commercial considerations in terms of the nature of the bids. I am keen to do more to ensure that the voluntary sector can get in and play an important role.
I want to encourage work at a devolved level. For example, I want to do everything that we can to ensure that police and crime commissioners can play an active role.
We are already recruiting staff. Probation has an absolutely key role to play in how we tackle crime and reduce reoffending, and I want to make sure that it is properly resourced.
Finally, there was a lot of criticism about the role of the private sector in probation. The hon. Gentleman highlighted Lord Ramsbotham’s report, which was produced yesterday. I have looked at his report, and it says that when it comes to probation, the private sector has “a part to play”. I am not sure that I quite picked up that tone from the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he had not read that bit, or if he had, whether he had forgotten it—that is also perfectly possible—but the fact is that even his own party’s report recognises that the private sector has a part to play. I will of course happily meet the hon. Gentleman, and if he wants to bring along Lord Ramsbotham, that will make the occasion all the more convivial. I thank him for his comments.