Probation Outsourcing Scandal
An extra £342 million has been lavished on the Tory privatisation ‘experiment’ upon the probation service. This is OUR money they’re wasting. The author of this experiment, the Minister of Justice at the time, was Chris Grayling - Failing Grayling. On top of the financial cost to us taxpayers, his failed experiment involves an incalculable human cost.
Grayling announced a £3.7bn Transformation Rehabilitation Programme in 2013. It effectively split the probation service in two. The ‘tricky’ cases would continue to be dealt with part of the National Probation Service. Low and medium risk cases would be handled by private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Note that human beings are being regarded like tick boxes, who can easily be categorised and assessed as risks to themselves and the public. Not so. People who stop taking their medication or relapse into drink or drug addiction can unexpectedly become high risk.
The programme was rushed through before the pilots were even completed and despite the resistance of the National Association of Probation Officers, who might be expected to know a thing or two about how the service worked. Part of the reason for the rush was precisely to shed experienced probation officers from the service. £9m was spent on consultants’ fees, usually a sign of a project about to go wrong. It became known that Paul McDowell, Chief Inspector of Probation, was married to the Deputy Managing Director of Sodexo. Sodexo won more probation contracts than any other firm bidding. What a coincidence!
In 2014 Grayling sold off 70% of the probation service to the CRCs. High risk offenders, the remaining 30% remained in the hands of the National Probation Service. This of course increased the stress on the existing probation officers and has caused increasing sick leave and resignations.
Within a year of the change then Shadow Justice Minister Sadiq Khan commented, “I’ve heard some truly alarming on the chaos privatisation is causing: staff shortages caused by rocketing sickness levels and dozens of unfilled vacancies are crippling the service.”
The 21 CRCs were for the most part the usual companies that bid for public service contracts, with the usual catastrophic results. They were salivating at picking the ‘low hanging fruit’, taking the easy cases and raiding the public purse. It transpires that former offenders were often not actually discussed with face-to-face by the CRCs. All they had to do was ring up once every six weeks. This included former criminals guilty of violent crimes. Part of the purpose of the probation service is of course to protect the public.
Some of the smaller charities who tendered took their responsibilities seriously. One example is Sussex Pathways, which devoted a lot of its time to doing their utmost to rehabilitate former offenders. Inevitably by taking up the ‘difficult’ cases Sussex Pathways was not taking it easy like the majority of CRCs. We did benefit from their efforts. They claim, “The stupidity of asserting that a tick box or a phone call can deal with the complexities of a person’s return to the community is unfathomable. What we do works. It costs less than £1,000 per person per year, as against £40,000 for return to prison.”
Unfortunately Grayling did not implement an incentive system in the privatisation process to do ‘what works’. He chose Payment by Results. In consequence CRCs could claim to have got a result if former offenders went straight, despite the fact that often happened though their own efforts, and had nothing to do with the CRC.
Chris Grayling had previously been in charge at the Department of Work and Pensions. The DWP was running a Work Programme to get claimants into jobs, mainly run by private firm A4e. Grayling chose to ‘incentivise’ it by offering Payment by Results. The outcome was massive fraud as claimants found their own way into work and the private firms claimed the reward. Contractors picked up the easy cases, the ‘low hanging fruit’, as they later did in the probation service. A Channel 4 expose noted, “Participants with health conditions and disabilities are being seen less often and being offered less support than other groups.”
The CRCs were consistently missing targets on the probation service. More former criminals have been reoffending. The CRCs were losing money - £443m. So what happened? They were rewarded with a pay rise of £342m for failure.
NAPO General Secretary Ian Lawrence said: “Ministers were warned that privatisation would damage an award-winning service, and standards would deteriorate. This is now becoming reality and having a negative impact on public safety, staff well-being and the ability of people who have committed offences to turn their lives around.”
In June Parliament’s Justice Committee reported that the part-privatisation of the probation sector spearheaded by Chris Grayling during his time as Justice Secretary is a “mess” and may never work. Chris Grayling has moved on. Now he’s the Minister of Transport, making a mess of the railways. his career has cost us hundreds of millions of pounds so far.
· We can’t afford Chris Grayling.
We can’t afford this Tory government.
Above all We can’t afford the outsourcing and privatisation of our vital public services.
(Much of the background for this article comes from Alan White’s Shadow State: inside the secret companies that run Britain, published by Oneworld.)