Meanwhile the same MoJ spin doctors are telling us that everything is also just fine with the bidding process that will see the CRC's providing probation work divvied out to the likes of Sodexo, Interserve and A4E. But I've been led to believe that the majority of the bids are 'crap' and this is why the hopefuls have been sent away and told to 'try again'.
One of these hopefuls is A4E, but in today's Guardian we have a graphic example of why privatising vital public services like probation is such a stupid and dangerous idea - because the privateers can walk away anytime they like:-
The welfare-to-work provider A4e has prematurely pulled out of a £17m contract to deliver education and training to prisoners in 12 London prisons on the grounds that it was unable to run the contract at a profit. The decision was criticised by prison charities as likely to cause significant disruption for inmates.
Announcing that it would be terminating its contract, the company said delivering the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) had become "extremely challenging" in the past two years because of "a number of constraints" which had "a heavy impact on learner attendance, completion and achievements"."We have concluded, in order to not continue to deliver the contract at a loss, to terminate our provision of [the contract] in London," it said. "This has been a very hard decision to make because A4e and its employees are passionate about the delivery of education services to offenders and believe education is critical to an offender's long-term rehabilitation."
The company, which was due to continue providing training until July 2016, employs 400 teaching and support staff within London prisons. A4e runs another teaching contract in prisons in the east of England which it has decided not to terminate.A4e did not specify the constraints it cited in its statement but prison charities said access to education in a number of prisons had been impeded by staff shortages which had hampered prisoners' ability to get to lessons. The company is paid according to the amount of training it provides.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "It's difficult to know precisely why A4e finds itself running this contract at a loss but it is clear that prisoners are spending more and more time locked down in overcrowded cells in understaffed prisons. Wasting time rather than doing time is a far cry from the rehabilitation revolution. Withdrawal of prison education calls into question both this government's capacity to award contracts for delivery of essential services and its commitment to rehabilitation. Our prisons are being reduced to warehouses – nothing more."
Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners Education Trust, said: "The delivery of education for prisoners across the country is being seriously affected by overcrowding and staff shortages which are leaving people locked up for longer, so they can't get to class and providers struggle to meet their targets. These pressures are having a negative impact on safety and rehabilitation. It may be that this latest decision by A4e to stop working in London's prisons is a result of these problems."But this is not the first time A4E has thrown in the towel:-
The start of A4e's prison education contract was complicated by a delay of several months as the company underwent an extra level of auditing, amid fraud allegations in its welfare-to-work contracts.
This is not the first time that A4e has prematurely terminated a prison education contract; the firm ended a similar contract providing education to eight prisons in Kent early in 2008, citing huge losses.
The decision to terminate service provision then was criticised by teaching unions, as evidence that outsourcing education contracts to private providers was not a reliable way to guarantee a good quality service.
Sadiq Khan, shadow secretary of state for justice, said: "This is a vote of no confidence by the private sector in the disastrous way the Government have allowed our prisons to descend into crisis. Providing good training and skills to offenders in prison is crucial in rehabilitation to stop them reoffending on release. Leaving prisoners to fester in their cells or on landings as a result of this shambles is no good for anyone."This comment nicely sums things up:-
This is just another fine mess within the shambles that is the prison system under Team Grayling. Prison education - which has always been seen as a key element in rehabilitation and reducing re-offending - has been severely undermined over the past two years. No courses above Level 2 are now provided by prison education departments (anything higher now has to be funded by the prisoner, either using their own resources or a loan).
Since payment under these OLASS contracts is by results (eg prisoner attendance in class and completion of course hours) if sessions have to be cancelled because there are insufficient staff to escort prisoners to and from education departments, then of course providers are going to lose money. It all comes down to Mr Grayling's complete and utter inability to manage the prison system. He is totally out of his depth and unqualified for this role.
Having closed prisons and cut front line staff numbers, he and his team have brought many prisons close to the verge of collapse. The number of people incarcerated is now at an all time high and overcrowding, at a time when there is a lack of experienced staff, is leading to a surge in violence, self-harm and suicide. Healthcare provision in prisons is a national disgrace and the latest crisis in education and training is just one more example of Team Grayling's collective failure.
It's high time for Mike Spurr, the head of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), to stop parroting Mr Grayling's denials that a complete meltdown is imminent and to start being honest about the current crisis and its causes: mismanagement of resources; ideological grand-standing; political interference in the day-to-day running of prisons and undermining of staff morale.