It would seem that we are rapidly approaching the end game, as indicated by the latest statement from Napo today:-
Probation Union Anger as Secretary of State Ignores Dangers
Today Chris Grayling the Secretary of State for Justice has announced that he will proceed to the award of contracts for the Probation Service despite evidence that it is unsafe to do so. Napo, the trade union and professional association for probation staff has repeatedly provided evidence to the Secretary of State that his newly tested reforms are placing the public at risk and believes he is ignoring the unions concerns to pursue an ideological plan that is running to an election timetable rather than in the public interest.
Napo has issued Judicial Review proceedings against Mr Grayling which are due to be heard in the High Court on 10th December. The union’s argument is that the reforms are unsafe and the Secretary of State should not proceed to the next stage (awarding then signing contracts to preferred bidders) until it is safe to do so and the huge flaws in the system such as staff shortages (through increasing sickness since reforms were introduced in June - up over 60 % in space of 4 months), inadequate IT systems and the loss of offender records have been resolved.
Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary, said: "we cannot believe that in the face of the evidence, Grayling is still planning to proceed. His own testing processes have highlighted that there are still significant areas that need to be improved to make these plans anywhere near safe. To award contracts now is irresponsible and clear evidence that this is purely about ideology and not about public safety. He continues to ignore the expertise of our members who are absolutely clear that the service is currently in chaos and that handing over the management of offenders to the private sector at this time represents a danger to the public."
Napo understands that the contracts are due to be signed off later this month with new providers taking control in February 2015. ‘Poison pill’ compensation clauses in the contracts mean that they cannot be cancelled by incoming governments without the tax payer having to fork out 10 years’ worth of profit in compensation.In addition, the following Press Release was issued by Napo on Tuesday:-
Secretary of State tells parliament he will proceed to a decision on selling the probation service despite being unaware of serious safety concerns
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, was questioned by the Justice Select Committee (JSC) this morning about the safety of his proposal to sell off parts of the probation service to private companies – a decision he is due to make tomorrow.
Having spent £15million on private consultants, Mr Grayling insisted that he would proceed to make the decision tomorrow, before the High Court considers the safety of the proposal (at a hearing on 10-12 December 2014) and despite serious risks to public safety raised by Napo (including two recent murders committed whilst offenders were inadequately supervised).
Napo, the Union for Probation Officers, has four important concerns about Mr Grayling’s evidence to the JSC.
First, Mr Grayling told MPs on the JSC that he had only just heard of the two murder cases, even though Napo sent him the details on 20 October 2014, again on 22 October 2014, and again on 6 November 2014.
Second, in making his decision tomorrow, Mr Grayling plans to rely on the
unpublished report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, Paul McDowell. Mr Grayling plans to do this even though he recognised before the JSC that Mr McDowell is married to the managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, which stands to be awarded 6 of the 21 probation contracts. Napo considers that it is wrong for Mr Grayling to rely on confidential evidence produced by the husband of the Managing Director of a company which stands to make hundreds of millions of pounds from the sale.
Third, Mr Grayling has sought to keep secret the evidence collected by the Ministry of Justice. He has obtained a confidentiality order which prevents the test results from being published. Napo has applied to the High Court to lift the confidentiality order.
Fourth, the Government’s tests – insofar as they are in the public domain - clearly show that the new system is unsafe. For example, the Government’s evidence shows that:
- There is a serious shortfall in the number of qualified Probation Officers, with significant vacancies across every region of the UK. This means that the supervision of dangerous offenders is being allocated to under-qualified staff with unmanageable workloads.
- The Government¹s new probation computer system is not working. Because of data protection concerns, probation officers working for the new companies will not routinely receive risk assessments for high risk offenders and sex offenders. This puts probation officers and the public in serious danger. For example, Napo has notified Mr Grayling of a female Probation Officer who was recently seriously sexually assaulted when she met alone with an offender. Computer records identified that offender as someone who should not be left alone with women, but she was prevented from accessing that record and did not receive the warning. She has suffered serious ongoing psychological harm.