Following on from yesterday's damning HMI report on the London CRC, owned by MTCnovo, the Guardian published an Editorial:-
The Guardian view on probation: another Grayling casualty
Chris Grayling is a name that strikes terror into the heart of anyone who cares how well the country is run. Legal aid reform, books to prisoners, and possibly even the catastrophic state of Southern’s industrial relations, which this week left hundreds of thousands of commuters unable to get to work because of a two-day strike – his fingerprints are on them all. Only last week, an email emerged showing Mr Grayling blocking a suggestion from the then mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who wanted to take control of suburban rail services, on the grounds that it would be disastrous if a future Labour mayor had such power. This is a man whose every decision is coloured by ideological advantage, a man in too much of a hurry – as a video that emerged on Thursday showed – even to look behind him for cyclists before opening his car door. This morning, with the publication of the chief inspector of probation’s report on the work of north London’s community rehabilitation company (CRC), another policy executed in politically motivated haste staggered back to roost.
When Mr Grayling became justice secretary in 2012 the probation service was widely considered to be failing. Few questioned the need for reform, although Mr Grayling’s solution of privatising the part of the service that dealt with less serious offenders was not an obvious one. But his department had been heavily cut; he wanted to reform the service without it costing more. He argued that privatisation would release enough new money to extend the support that a good probation service offers to offenders serving short prison terms and community sentences. It was a bold objective – and perhaps the most ambitious privatisation ever attempted – but providing improved rehabilitation and better support in order to reduce reoffending had plenty of advocates. It was the method that alarmed them.
In the words of MPs on the justice committee that examined the proposal, “witnesses … had significant apprehensions about the scale, architecture, detail and consequences of the reforms … and the pace at which the government is seeking to implement them”. They warned that not enough preliminary work had been done and little of it had been tested. They could see a disaster coming down the tracks. Now it is clear that it has arrived.
Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, found that the services offered in north London by the CRC had failed to reduce the numbers reoffending while losing others altogether. She found caseloads too big to be managed, inexperienced officers – there is no obligation to use professionally qualified staff – “extremely poor” oversight and a lack of senior management focus and control. It was failing, she said, even to do the absolute basics. A week ago, a Guardian community appeal to readers asking for their experience of the privatised service drew 300 responses, many of them describing huge workloads, inexperienced colleagues and the stress of being unable to do the job properly.
Not all of the five inspections of the new CRCs have been critical, but most of them have. There was enough evidence for the current justice secretary, Liz Truss, to announce an internal review last week. She says she is open to radical reform if that is what its report, due in April, recommends. Even that may be complicated by the contracts. They were meant to draw in the scores of local charities that traditionally work with prisoners; instead most of the £3.7bn work went to large foreign-owned companies which now complain that they are unsustainable and the IT system, bequeathed by the Ministry of Justice, inadequate.
The probation service has been seriously damaged. It was an outcome widely predicted – even, as the MPs said, by people who thought it was a good idea. It was the act of a partisan minister who cared more about getting his reforms signed off before the election than he did for the consequences – of which he was warned, again and again.
Hang on - what the hell is this bit?
'When Mr Grayling became justice secretary in 2012 the probation service was widely considered to be failing.'Don't you mean this:-
From: Ministry of Justice First published:17 October 2011
The Probation Service has scooped an excellence award for continually improving the quality of its services
It was awarded the 2011 British Quality Foundation’s (BQF) ’Gold Medal for Excellence’ at an awards ceremony in London hosted by journalist Louise Minchin and attended by HRH the Princess Royal. It is the first time a public sector organisation has won the award, previous winners of which include Ricoh UK Products, Siemens UK and TNT Express.
Crispin Blunt MP, Minister for Prisons and Probation, said:
‘This prestigious award recognises the professionalism of probation staff and the excellence of their work. This very public recognition of not just what they do but, perhaps more importantly, how well they do it, will be a source of pride for probation staff.’Joe Goasdoue, Chief Executive of the BQF, added:
‘Our Gold Medal is awarded every year to an organisation which stands out as a shining example of excellence to others. It has been a particular pleasure for the BQF to give such a prestigious award to a public sector organisation for the first time and it was thoroughly deserved. I congratulate the Probation Service.’The BQF ‘Gold Medal for Excellence’ is awarded by the BQF Board to recognise outstanding and continued commitment to sustained excellence over a number of years.
The Probation Service is made up of 35 independent trusts, which supervise a caseload of some 247,000 offenders every year.
Fortunately a number of readers have rather better memory:-
Probation Trusts were rated as good or excellent prior to Grayling’s interventions. World class, in fact. Now eviscerated, just because Grayling wanted to do it. There are no excuses. My personal experience of post-privatisation probation? Buyers have no idea what they are doing. No plan they ever came up with (while I was there - I was made redundant), for anything, ever got delivered on time, to budget and unchanged. And people say the private sector is so much more efficient and innovative than the public sector. Not in the public arena, they’re not. They have no clue. Not one.
What is so unforgivable about this is that Grayling was warned that it would be a disaster and he persisted for ideological reasons - or worse. The damage done to the Service is probably irretrievable and in the meantime lives continue to be ruined. Although he supported her leadership bid Theresa May should remove him from the Cabinet forthwith - as time goes on he will become more and more of a liability for her and the Government.
All the evidence re privatising health/social/penal services appear to point to worsening outcomes, are there actual examples which contradict this? Questions must be asked as to why we keep on getting these commercial services foisted upon us when they do not improve matters and ultimately cost more as their functions fail to fulfil their remit. Are they related to the MP's who voted against increased transparency with lobbyists? Please draw your own conclusions.
The probation service was assessed as 'good' or 'excellent' across the board prior to privatisation. It was a hugely stressful organisation to work for but I knew I was able to help people and reduce re offending. Now it is a shadow of it's former self. If the public knew the danger these reforms have created they would be up in arms! Risk is not being managed in the CRCs.
I was a probation officer for 40 years. I was proud of the work we did and viewed it as a real contribution to society and those offenders with whom we worked. Now, I despair of the disaster that successive governments have created with their meddling. Privatisation was a calamity waiting to happen and just when it seemed things could not get worse, along came Grayling. I weep for what has been created.
Superb editorial but Grayling did not take over a failing probation service. NOMS was demonised but it was partly down to the regime they had to bring in and the stigma of the client group. Daily Mail wants offenders in the community to be in stocks. However bringing the courts to a standstill with his legal aid reforms while lying about barristers, breathtaking from a lord chancellor. Guardian hasn't yet had a chance to look at the court IT system, xtrata. Grayling was also an amazingly poor Leader of the House. Government business often rushed while big debates like Syria were scheduled for maximal damage to political opponents.
A good column except for one glaring error. When Mr Grayling took over, the probation service was not widely considered to be failing. It was widely considered to be very good to excellent. In fact the probation service in the UK was looked to as an inspiration and a "gold standard" for probation services throughout the world. There was no reason, other than ideology, to "reform " the probation service by splitting it in an ignorant and arbitrary way and then privatising half of it. I don't know where the Guardian got its information from, but it was surprisingly and seriously misinformed on this important point.