It's been gratifying to see widespread condemnation of Chris Grayling's recent gagging instruction to all probation staff and if anything it's served to re-energise the campaign to keep the Service public. When you are so obviously losing the argument for a policy, it's outrageous and completely counter-productive in a democracy to attempt to silence critics and I'm pleased to say it's helped restore NAPO's mojo.
Regular readers might recall that a week or two back I highlighted what appeared to be a sneaky government plan to begin privatising the Fire Service by means of encouraging some Service's like Cleveland to mutualise.
Probation staff will be very familiar with this concept as it's being continually talked about in relation to probation privatisation. In some quarters it's being seen as a more preferable alternative, but as we all know, at some point mutuals can de-mutualise, especially if they prove successful and the beneficial owners are seduced by private sector loot and are persuaded to cash-in. It leads to privatisation, but via a more circumlocutory route.
Anyway, 38 Degrees mounted a massive petition against privatisation of the Fire Service and interestingly it's had the desired effect. Recently Eric Pickles, the minister responsible, was forced to categorically rule out any privatisation of the Fire Service in response to widespread public concern. He even went as far as confirming that he would ensure that regulations did not make it possible for any Service to become a mutual, thus scuppering Cleveland's plans.
So, what do we learn from this? First off, that campaigning and public awareness does affect government policy. Secondly, that u-turns happen all the time in government policy - another recent example is the back-tracking on minimum unit-pricing of alcohol - and thirdly that the public has absolutely no appetite for privatising public services.
Here's hoping that the ham-fisted attempted gagging of probation staff will continue to bring well-deserved reputational damage upon the Ministry of Justice and its Ministers for many more weeks to come and that the campaign to save probation continues to gain momentum!
Sign the No10 petition here.