At least we can rely on Mark Leftly of the Independent to pick up on what's happening:-
A privatised part of the Probation Service could be brought back into public hands after the French catering firm chosen to run it in a significant English region failed a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) audit.
The South Yorkshire region comes under one of six Community Rehabilitation Companies [CRCs] that Sodexo, previously best known in the UK for feeding school pupils and the military, was chosen to run last December.
A document detailing Sodexo’s failures in South Yorkshire has been passed toThe Independent and reinforces fears that privatisation could pose a risk to the public because offenders are not being properly monitored. The document noted “a lack of contact with offenders, ineffective enforcement and little or no evidence of any offence- or risk-focused work”.
It also found “serious gaps in obtaining domestic-abuse and safeguarding information at the start and throughout the sentence”. There were “shortcomings” in recording information, incorrectly recorded appointment dates, “no proactive and systematic quality assurance”, and “an absence of regular supervision and team meetings”.
The shadow Justice Secretary, Lord Falconer, said the decision to appoint Sodexo showed that former justice secretary Chris Grayling had been too keen to push through his privatisation programme.
Lord Falconer said: “The Tories went too far when they privatised the Probation Service. This decision was incompetent and shows just how misplaced their priorities are. Labour warned from the start of the risks to public safety of the Tories’ rushed and reckless sell-off of the Probation Service and sadly many of our fears are already being confirmed.”
Sodexo has been asked to draw up a remedial action plan, a draft of which was submitted to the MoJ earlier this month. A second audit will take place in February but the document warns “failure to achieve remedial action-plan targets within agreed timescale [is] likely to result in contract termination”.
Mr Grayling was determined to introduce commercial nous into probation under his Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme to save costs, even though the service won the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal for Excellence only four years ago.
He privatised about 70 per cent of the service through CRCs, with only the highest-risk offenders overseen by the state despite warnings about the firms’ lack of experience in probation. Sodexo has already been criticised for making hundreds of redundancies across its CRCs.
Probation officers have also been infuriated by Sodexo’s insistence on consolidating the probation estates in the CRCs. One officer complained of having no internet or landline telephones a week after moving into new premises, while meetings with offenders were taking place in a church and in a property next to a pub. Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “This confirms that our predictions and concerns since the outset of TR are in fact a reality.
“More concerning is that Sodexo are still going ahead with massive job cuts. We urge the government to review all the CRCs as a matter of urgency with a view to taking them back into public ownership before the public are put at any more risk.”
A spokesman for Sodexo said: “We are disappointed with the results of the recent audit at South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company. We take this very seriously and have implemented an action plan to address the concerns raised.”
A spokeswoman for the MoJ said: “We hold providers rigorously to account for their performance and take action wherever they are falling short. Following an audit by the MoJ, South Yorkshire CRC has now developed an improvement plan. We will continue to monitor the CRC’s performance closely.”
Also Voices from the Independent:-
When the Government flogged off 70 per cent of the probation service to the private sector earlier this year, the then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, who was the driving force behind this change, insisted it was “great news”. The public, he said, would “finally benefit from the best of the private and voluntary sectors, working together with the public sector, to cut reoffending”.
That assertion was widely contested, and with good reason. There is no sign of reoffending rates falling; the prisons minister, Andrew Selous, makes only the modest claim that the reforms are still “bedding in”. Meanwhile, as we report, part of the service may be taken back into state hands after Sodexo, the French firm running the South Yorkshire region, flunked a justice ministry audit. The report is a catalogue of shortcomings on Sodexo’s part, noting gaps in terms of safeguarding information, recording appointments, supervising offenders and more. It gave Sodexo until February to up its game, warning that its contract may be terminated.
It would be easy to focus on the tragi-comic absurdity of choosing a company best known for supplying catering services to run a probation service but this would be to miss the point. The real problem with Mr Grayling’s changes is not which companies were chosen to run the probation service but the fact that it was privatised at all – without good reason, without pilot schemes and in the teeth of opposition not just from the unions but from almost every expert in the field. All the evidence points to this being privatisation of the worst type – driven by an obsession with free market principles and the belief that every department of national life can be turned into a money-spinner.
The sell-off might have been justified had the old probation service been a vastly expensive system of Byzantine complexity, but it was not. In 2013, the Ministry of Justice rated all 35 probation trusts in England and Wales as good or excellent. The old trusts also had the virtue of simplicity and clear lines of accountability, all of which have become blurred since Mr Grayling pressed on with divvying them up, handing 70 per cent to 21 private community rehabilitation companies, or CRCs, while keeping 30 per cent in state hands as the National Probation Service, the NPS.
From the start there were concerns that the private contractors would be unprepared for the task. Even supporters of privatisation, such as the former prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, said Mr Grayling was “moving too fast” with a national rollout. The arbitrary 70-30 per cent division of assets has created a muddle, establishing two services delivering similar services where there had been one. CRC staff have complained that they are not able to see the files of offenders allocated to the NPS. Morale in the CRCs is dismal. No surprise there. One of Sodexo’s first announcements on getting the job in South Yorkshire was that it intended to axe hundreds of jobs. Union surveys show more than half of those working for CRCs are looking for new employment.
The shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, recently said Labour should renationalise the probation service by getting out of the contracts “as quickly as we financially and legally can”. This would be hard to do because Mr Grayling agreed lengthy contracts with the contractors that would be very costly to scrap.
Almost everyone can see the damage that was done to the railways by privatisation. Because the work of the probation service affects only a minority of the population, there is far less interest in what has happened to it. This is unfortunate because if the probation service does not work we are all at risk in terms of rising crime. The current Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, is making a name for himself as a determined reformer of our broken prison system. He would do well to try to undo at least some of the damage that his predecessor inflicted on the probation service.