At last the subject of probation privatisation got an airing on this premier current affairs programme, but save for a spirited defence of our work by Paris Lees, the contributions from other panellists was somewhat lack-lustre to say the least. It can be viewed here on i-player, 40 minutes in.
The extraordinary thing is, the longer this omnishambles rolls on, the weaker the proponents case for it seems to become, as ably demonstrated by the Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians both last night and during the Commons debate the other day. Many comments on this blog have highlighted muddled-thinking and policy seemingly being made up 'on the hoof' by government ministers as they go along. For something so important, this is certainly very worrying indeed and there are signs of the unease spreading, as this comment indicates:-
Jim and friends - after several tel calls today it seems that a number of Trust Chairs and/or Board members are unhappy with the situation that we are left with but are afraid to fly solo for fear of Grayling & co are picking them off - the consensus seems to be they'd feel happier & safer as a flock of Trusts; a murmuration, perhaps, given the season.
Indeed, many wished that the vote had been closer (Lib Dems, take note) or even that the opposition motion had been upheld. They feel this would have allowed for a rollback from the need for industrial action - and would have preferred that outcome. The potential damage within Trusts is something they fear will ultimately damage service delivery.
The overwhelming view amongst this unscientific poll was that there is a sound case for delaying matters for at least a year whilst relevant & appropriate pilots are undertaken & evaluated; but that the Secretary of State's undue haste is unhelpful at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
Buoyed by the global trend towards outsourcing, G4S has grown into an organisation of 620,000 people. Some of its past failings – including the fiasco of its failure to provide the security guards it had promised for the London 2012 Olympics – may reflect the difficulty of managing a company on this scale. But there is also a broader problem with the industry’s business model. Tenders are often won by companies that over-promise on quality and bid low on price. When performance disappoints, there is little redress. It is difficult to know what is going on in a closed facility such as a prison, and revoking contracts can be costly even when the company is clearly to blame. Politicians are often reluctant to suffer the embarrassment of tearing up their own agreements.
An infusion of commercial rigour can bring down costs and improve the quality of public services. But outsourcing can go too far. Politicians’ responsibility to taxpayers is matched by a moral obligation to ensure that prisoners come to no harm.
The patchy record of private providers should weigh on politicians as they consider whether to outsource the UK’s probation service. If it opts to hand over the keys, the government should make sure it remains firmly in control."
I notice that the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan had an article published in the New Statesman and he highlights the issue of risk that the Ministers seem to be struggling with:-
Most worryingly, private companies with no track record of work in this area - some currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for irregularities with other Ministry of Justice contracts – will be in sole charge of 80% of offenders. Amazingly, the government claims these are only 'low' and 'medium' risk offenders. Yet these are people who have committed crimes such as domestic violence, robbery, violence against the person and sexual offences.
That is what the shifting criteria means.
But - if you are half decent at your work you'll have put the controls in place to make sure the high risker is provided with the opportunity not to be an imminent danger to your community and can therefore be managed as a medium risk offender (sorry, client). Therefore, if you are half decent at your job, you'll score fewer points than colleagues who are more risk averse.
I wonder if they realise that when they divide the caseload on 31st March next year loads of medium risk offenders (who are actually high risk offenders that were being managed by a public service who had good in mind rather than profit) are actually high risk clients who will morph into high risk offenders and start to cause damage (from which recovery is unlikely).
Finally, here's a thought for those companies and outfits currently refining their bids for probation work. When it all goes wrong, as indeed it will, you will have to consider how you manage the inevitable damage to your reputation. Russell Webster has handily flagged-up a 'Webinar' on 15th November that might offer some help from experts in the field:-
The Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme offers unprecedented opportunities for new providers to play a role in the vital work of rehabilitating offenders – but it also presents major reputational risks. Successful bidders will be providing a front-line public service for the first time, in a sector where mistakes can have very serious consequences. All bidders will come under a high degree of scrutiny from an early stage of the competition, from the media, politicians, trades unions and campaign groups.