I notice that the recent scathing Public Accounts Committee report on TR, where the chair Meg Hillier said the MoJ 'had bitten off more than it could chew', has prompted this interesting analysis on Facebook of how we got to where we are now:-
Privatisation of the probation service in England and Wales was based on the false premise that reoffending rates had remained pretty much the same for some time, were unacceptably high, resistant to change, and therefore radical and disruptive action was necessary to start bringing them down. This was however just an excuse to pursue a neoliberal agenda which, in Graylings limited and simplistic understanding of these things (he has never pretended to be an expert but relies on his gut instinct when considering what to do), involves the privatisation of as much of the public sector as he can get away with as quickly as possible.
There is good evidence that initially Grayling's plan, supported by David Cameron and other ministers, was to privatise the entire probation service. However, he was apparently advised by probation folk in NOMS that this was a bad idea and at the very least he should retain some of the work with high risk offenders, prisons, the courts, and the APs in the public sector as there were significant fears - gained from the experience of prison privatisation and the privatisation of CP in London - that wholesale privatisation would simply be too risky and would inevitably expose the government to charges of recklessness with regard to public safety and accountability should anything major go wrong. Grayling was fully aware and had been briefed that companies such as Serco and G4S were not safe bets by any means (and fast becoming too toxic even for the usually, in his eyes as a former BBC Producer and PR company manager, gullible public to accept) so one of the main tasks of the Transformation Team was to find and encourage bidders to have a punt.
It is however the split between NPS and the CRCs that is the source of most of the concerns about risk and there were those in senior positions in the Trusts who urged and lobbied Grayling not to split the service but rather reform the Trusts and even give them the extra work. However the gamble to steer Grayling towards a rational rather than ideological outcome failed. They were reasonably certain for some time he would follow their informed advice. If I thought that Grayling was capable of strategic thinking I would credit him with playing the Trust Chiefs seemingly holding out a carrot only to replace this with a swerve to the right and a stab in the vitals followed later by a more conciliatory promise of a payoff and a gong if they played ball. Grayling was however convinced (his gut told him) that reform should be radical and revolutionary and not just a bit of a nip and tuck regarding the Trusts. He heeded advice from NOMS/MoJ to retain certain areas of work in the public sector placing this under closer direct government control and ignored advice from those warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a split.
Bidders for CRCs were therefore encouraged to present 'innovative' operating models in their bids. This was deliberate as the idea was to disrupt the status quo by establishing and bringing into existence a diverse range of approaches to tackling reoffending that would stimulate competition and further innovation. You could say that Grayling wanted to produce loosely controlled chaos from which he hoped would emerge cheaper leaner and meaner probation services that would chip away at the stubborn reoffending monolith.
This might appear to some to be a decidedly bold and exciting plan with lots of potential for innovation and transformative change however it soon became clear in the first round of bids that very few private companies were interested in participating and competing in what was essentially an artificially created rehabilitation services market. There was some panic that the whole TR programme would go belly up and in the second round bidders were assisted to come up with improved bids. As we know some CRC package areas only had one suitable bidder and some large multinational bidders were able to mop up a number of areas with bids that were superficially innovative but in reality just about doing things cheaper with less resources.
With a bizarre and discredited PBR payment system and significant risks to reputation smaller bidders, who were perhaps more genuinely innovative, such as staff mutuals were effectively discouraged. The usual multinational suspects, minus G4S and Serco who were under SFO investigation, were allowed to take over - much to the MoJs relief - as a politically embarrassing PR disaster was narrowly averted. Cameron gave Grayling whatever PR management resources he needed and at one time he had a team of 60 working to counter the efforts of trade unions and other organisations and pressure groups including a covert social media campaign designed to disrupt and counter any organised opposition.
However it very soon became clear to a number of the bidders, some of whom had not dealt with the MoJ/NOMS, that they had been sold a pup. A lot of the important planning work that should have been done had not been done and the rush to avoid ministerial embarrassment and tie the hands of any new administration was obstructive to any major tweaking.
Many of those voting to transform rehabilitation (TR) undoubtedly didn't have a clue or didn't bother to find out what they were voting for and didn't appreciate the dogs breakfast that needed to be sorted out and is still being sorted out in order to do anything new whilst retaining a degree of stability or business as usual.
The onerous task of making TR work was largely shouldered by what remained of Trust staff and the job of keeping the show on the road has been achieved through the titanic efforts of what remains of experienced frontline practitioners. What remains of the old Trust senior managers who couldn't get out on lucrative enhanced voluntary redundancy schemes are gradually being replaced in most cases by the owners own corporate employees who they assume are loyal to their cause - though in some cases have been turned from the dark side. The long suffering frontline practitioners who have not been offered an exit option have had no option but to keep carrying on despite evidence of low morale and increasingly poor performance due to factors such as unreliable IT systems, bedding in of new ways of working, that are largely beyond their control. Many would leave if they could leave without financial loss and employers are well aware that if they opened a door there would be a stampede to exit.
The fact remains that the probation service was not failing prior to privatisation and was not responsible for reoffending rates remaining static particularly those sentenced to less than 12 months custody whom they were never asked to work with. We should in any case be wary and sceptical of crime and reoffending statistics as their production is now a very politically sensitive operation that may well alter the fate of those agencies producing them. For instance many crimes may be ignored and certain groups disproportionately targeted as easy wins whilst harder criminal cases such as fraud and tax evasion pursued with less enthusiasm. Politicians have also interfered in the criminal justice system in England and Wales ignoring expert advice and pursuing populist policies of punishment and retribution rather than rehabilitation that has for instance led to an expansion of the prison system when some of our apparently more enlightened European neighbours are closing theirs and seeking ways to enhance and expand offender rehabilitation valuing the contribution of probation staff more rather than less.
Successive governments have cumulatively made a disgraceful mess of the probation service by treating it as a political football (Grayling is probably the most inept and determined in recent times). It would now take a very strong/brave and enlightened government to reform the criminal justice system to reflect modern thinking rather than sticking with the worst of all systems. Such a government does not appear to exist and probation has few if any champions in Westminster.
The expertise is still available although there is relatively little evidence that the new players have shown much if any interest in real innovation or indeed tried and tested approaches nor have actually involved themselves in producing any research evidence regarding whether what they have been doing actually works to reduce reoffending as yet - except anything they need to do to get paid. The suspicion, in the absence of reliable evidence, must be that at best they are making no difference - in comparison to what was previously in place - or that they are actually making things worse. If that is found to be the case then yes there is reason for considerable regret and for certain individuals to step up and take responsibility for their actions.
"Cameron gave Grayling whatever PR management resources he needed and at one time he had a team of 60 working to counter the efforts of trade unions and other organisations and pressure groups including a covert social media campaign designed to disrupt and counter any organised opposition."
I find this particularly interesting as it was often alleged on the blog that 'dark forces' were at work trying to disrupt things on social media - and possibly still are. I wonder what evidence the author has for this assertion?