Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Probation Review

With the clock ticking fast towards Friday's deadline to get responses in to the Ministry of Justice as part of the consultation on privatising the Probation Service, I thought it might be helpful to reflect a bit, especially as I don't intend to dignify the sham by wasting time in making a contribution myself. 

Feedback from others who attended different consultation events tend to confirm my own experience, namely that although lots of third sector participants arrived bullish, their enthusiasm quickly evaporated as most came to realise that the whole concept is in fact a slow motion car crash. The civil servants involved have been given an impossible task and the scope for creating a disaster knows few bounds. 

I notice from twitter that at least one senior academic simply 'lost the will to live' during proceedings and this is a view I've heard echoed in other places. By the way, I have reluctantly registered a twitter account, but still remain unimpressed with it's utility and effective use of time.  The medium is clearly well-suited to others, for example Ben Gunn for whom it could have been specifically designed as a method to wind people up and spread as much heat as possible rather than light. I'll stay a twitter voyeur I think.

Talking of Ben, he makes no secret of his disdain for probation and is clearly well-flattered by the attention of the likes of 'prime-in-waiting' G4S. He is of course thoroughly enjoying his progression round the celebrity prisoner debating circuit, pouring scorn on all parts of the criminal justice system, but having little in the way of constructive suggestions to make. 

Apart from some disgruntled former prisoners and some probation clients (but not Roger from 'Out of Prison and on the Streets'), big corporations like G4S, right wing think tanks such as Policy Exchange, the CBI and charities 'on the make', who else thinks privatising the Probation Service is a good idea? Well, Sir Stephen Bubb speaks for a significant number of the latter and I continue to be utterly bemused by his self-serving blog that regularly catalogues dining arrangements and assiduous name-dropping. Not a particularly attractive or convincing group of protagonists I would suggest.

Meanwhile Payment by Results, the wonder mechanism by which privatisation of probation will supposedly be delivered, continues to attract scorn and scepticism. Here on Russell Webster's site, Toby Eccles of Social Finance handily outlines 'eight ways of mucking up outcomes based contracts.' This should serve as a perfectly timed and handy checklist for those poor civil servants down at the MoJ as they continue to burn the midnight oil in a desperate bid to make their political masters happy.

The track record is not good at the MoJ though. They have an uncanny knack of engineering disastrous contracts, like the one for interpreters, tagging, IT, bail accommodation, hostel facilities management to name but a few. The Department even has difficulty getting it's books signed off by the auditors and the House of Commons Select Committee is regularly highly critical of management. They are very aware of 'reputational' damage and there's bags of scope for this down the privatisation route.     

It just won't work guys! It's just not worth the hassle. Instead, now would be a good time for aspirational civil servants to come up with a Gove-type reason why going down a slightly different avenue would be much more sensible. Not a u-turn obviously. More a smarter, nuanced, multi-agency, partnership, Big Society sort-of-approach. You know the sort of thing. 

Meanwhile 18,871 citizens have registered what they think of privatising probation and have signed the No10 petition.


  1. Bankers bonuses are payment by result and they still persist with this scheme.

    1. Old Codger - A very good point - and just look what effect it's had!