According to Alan Travis writing in The Guardian on Thursday, new Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is 'tearing up' Ken Clarke's proposed community punishment reforms and will use his speech at the Tory Party conference this week to prove his credentials as a 'tough' minister. Apparently he intends to 'put some bite' into the proposals, with a more punitive element in the community sentences handed out to 220,000 offenders each year.
Not a great surprise given his track record and always a sure sign that politicians are in trouble when they start 'talking tough on crime.' He is also going to announce an 'acceleration' in proposals to privatise significant chunks of core probation work, together with more prisons. It's widely expected that disgraced G4S and Serco will be the main beneficiaries of this multi-million pound bonanza.
Now the public, and politicians of all persuasions, have come to be very familiar with the short-comings of G4S, but what about Serco? Well interestingly this story has recently emerged about their contract in Cornwall supplying out-of-hours GP services. It has admitted to providing the NHS with false performance data on 252 occasions.
Apparently the commissioning PCT had become concerned following an investigation by The Guardian and triggered by several whistleblowers. I love this bit, the PCT was obviously so concerned that it 'asked Serco to audit itself.' Anyway they decided it was best policy to 'come clean' and admit to the fiddling of the figures. The PCT was so concerned, they asked the Care Quality Commission to investigate and amongst other things found that Serco was failing to meet four key legal requirements to provide enough staff and to ensure its monitoring of its performance was accurate. The CQC also reported staff as saying "data manipulation went back four years or more".
The article states that Margaret Hodge, chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee feels that the issue of fraudulent behaviour is so serious that she has asked the National Audit Office to investigate.
Readers will recall that Serco was the successful bidder for the London Community Payback contract in partnership with the London Probation Trust. They are also destined to be preferred bidders for other bits of probation that Chris Grayling wants to privatise.