On Monday we saw Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speaking at Nacro and giving his full support to the government's probation privatisation plans and in the process announce a package of financial assistance for 'entreprenurial' probation staff to form mutuals. I may be old-fashioned, but 'probation officer' and 'entrepreneur' strike me as mutually exclusive. If I wanted to go into business, I wouldn't have chosen public service would I?
Politicians ignorance about our work is legendary and I notice light-weight Clegg irritatingly kept talking about 'young men' coming out of prison, thus in my view confirming his lack of any real in-depth knowledge of the subject. He was heckled apparently by Napo members and I notice former disgraced Tory Minister, prisoner and now reformer Jonathan Aitken has been moved to point out 'yawning gaps' in the plans.
There has been much talk about 'mutuals' and views differ significantly on their merit, and not least on what form they might take. Many, including myself, feel they are nothing more than a cunning intermediate step before full privatisation. Unless they are very carefully constituted, there is nothing to stop them being subsequently gobbled-up by the big boys when the beneficial owners are offered piles of cash.
Talking of the big boys, G4S have announced that CEO Nick Buckles of Olympic security omnishambles fame is finally falling on his sword. I guess the £1.2million payoff helped him decide, along with embarrassment that shareholders now know that the fiasco caused profits to fall from an expected £170milion to a paltry £48million. Apparently Home Affairs chairman Keith Vaz is 'astonished'.
Things don't seem to be going too well generally for G4S, or Serco for that matter. According to the Financial Times, prison support function outsourcing has had to be put on hold due to the on-going investigation into both companies for over-charging on the electronic tagging contracts. On the subject of tagging, this story in the Telegraph may produce a chuckle and remind us that many of our clients are quick-witted and not without a cheeky sense of humour.
There's an interesting blog post here on the OurKingdom website detailing how G4S and other similar security service companies are beginning to feel the heat of international boycotting due to their involvement in the West Bank and Israeli prisons. It's further evidence that reputational damage can and does hurt these multinational behemoths.
Ian Lawrence, the acting General Secretary at Napo, seems to be raising his profile a bit and in his most recent and lengthy blogpost confirms that a replacement for Harry Fletcher is being sought. In the meantime Harry is working 'pro bono', doing what I don't know because as far as I'm aware he hasn't appeared publicly anywhere in recent time.
Finally, we must record that their Lordships gave the government's probation privatisation plans a thorough and critical 'going-over' the other day. All the usual suspects, including Lord Ramsbotham, will continue to cause trouble for the Bill in the Upper House I'm sure and once more put the Lower House to shame. As I've said before, an effective HM Loyal Opposition does not reside in the Commons, but rather the Lords.
The No10 petition can be signed here.