As the Howard League points out out, private prisons are now the worst performing in the country according to the latest report issued by the Ministry of Justice. In particular two new establishments, HMP Oakwood run by G4S and HMP Thameside run by Serco are felt to be causing so much concern that each has been awarded the lowest possible ranking. So much for the private sector doing things better, and yet more reason why these two companies are now completely out of the running for any prime contractor probation contracts. No wonder it's crisis down at HQ!
Just to rub salt in the wound, as luck would have it the MoJ have just published another report into the performance of all 35 publicly-run Probation Trusts with every one achieving either 'excellent' or 'good' status. Frances Crooke of the Howard League sums things up nicely I think:-
"There could not be a more damning indictment of the government's fanatical obsession with justice privatisation than its own performance figures. Last autumn, the Justice Secretary hailed G4S Oakwood as an example of what the private sector could achieve in prisons. We agree. The prison, ranked joint-bottom in the country, is wasting millions and creating ever more victims of crime.
The figures also show that the public sector probation service is turning lives around, protecting victims and keeping costs down. We have the best probation service in the world. So why is the government trying to destroy it by handing it over to private security firms? The Justice Secretary should immediately scrap his politically-motivated privatisation of probation."
The third report published by the MoJ concerns reoffending rates and it's yet more good news for publicly-run probation. As the PCA website states:-
The proven re-offending rate for those starting a court order (Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order) managed by Probation Trusts was 34.3%, down 3.6% since 2000. The average number of re-offences per re-offender was 3.22, down 16.7 per cent since 2000.
In view of all this, a reasonably intelligent person would ask 'so why is the government breaking up probation and privatising it?' Using some classic client-style distorted reasoning, the Justice Minister Chris Grayling says it's because the reoffending rate for those released from prison having been given 12 months or less has gone up - the group that probation doesn't have anything to do with.
I'm sure at least part of the feverish activity down at MoJ/NOMS HQ is to do with making sure there are enough credible alternative bidders for the 21 prime contract packages, now that the two former 'dead certs' are on the naughty step. As we saw on Tuesday, Chris Grayling had a concerted go at schmoozing the voluntary and charity sector, and sure enough the forever self-serving Sir Stephen Bubb (did you know he's looking for a 'decent' publisher for his book on the history of charities?) pops up with this piece in the Guardian.
Writing as the official cheer-leader for the sector's CEO's, he takes the opportunity for some special pleading and attempts to make the point that "the voluntary sector is not a cut-price alternative to state provision." Altogether now, Oh yes they are!
Lets take a look at a very large and well-known charity Turning Point and how they've been making themselves very competitive in readiness for some cut-price bidding in relation to probation privatisation. Last November they basically announced that the entire workforce of 2,300 would be sacked and immediately re-employed on worse terms and conditions. Why I hear you ask? Because they have to be competitive of course. As this Civil Society article
Only this year, the charity had reported an increase in income and the addition of 182 staff to its rota. In the financial year ended 31 March 2012 Turning Point income grew nearly 5 per cent to £79.3m - largely on the back of new contracts. The vast majority of its income comes from grants from local authorities or other agencies.
The charity said that other organisations it competes against for contracts have already made such changes, and that reducing costs is critical to protecting jobs and continuing its work with vulnerable people. Turning Point said it was seeking to protect as many jobs as possible and that the changes would 'move towards a market rate for employees, one that protects their base pay'.
As Turning Point themselves make clear, other similar organisations have taken or will be taking similar action to make themselves 'leaner and meaner', but in this case it's worth noting that the Unite union have lodged 300 claims with Industrial Tribunals.
Meanwhile, MoJ/NOMS HQ are desperately seeking volunteer Probation Trusts to 'road test' various aspects of the omnishambles during August. It's a sad fact of life, but I guess there will be keen takers of such options in order to either enhance their position when the time comes to divvy up posts, or be considered for burnished golden goodbyes.
I notice that Napo in Devon and Cornwall seem to be the first to register a dispute with their Trust employers over the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. Judging by his recent tweets, Harry Fletcher would seem surprised that other's haven't as yet followed suit. In fact to be honest the former Napo Assistant General Secretary seems to be rather more bullish than the present union incumbents.
On twitter he appears to be advocating as many questions as possible being thrown in the direction of employers and the MoJ, for example by challenging the separation of staff into high and low intensity teams. He asks does this raise issues of discrimination, particularly for PSO's? What consultation has there been? What about risk issues?
In response to suggestions of evidence that some staff are being told that those who argue or cause trouble 'will be the first to go', Harry would appear to be firmly of the opinion that such behaviour would be excellent grounds to start grievance procedures for work place bullying either on an individual basis, or in groups. Go for it he says!