Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Children Being Traded

This news on the Buzzfeed website will be of considerable concern:-

A Private Firm Criticised For Its Probation Services Is In Advanced Talks To Buy A Youth Jail

BuzzFeed News has learned that outsourcing firm Working Links is in exclusive talks with current owner G4S to buy and run Oakhill Secure Training Centre, near Milton Keynes.

A training and rehabilitation company that has been criticised for its handling of probation services is in exclusive talks to buy and take over a youth prison, BuzzFeed News has learned. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Working Links is in advanced negotiations to buy Oakhill Secure Training Centre (STC) in Milton Keynes from its current owner, the outsourcing company G4S.

Privately owned Working Links, which was set up in 2000 and acquired by the German private equity firm Aurelius in 2016, provides a range of public services, although this is the company’s first move into the youth prison sector. Private companies running youth prisons remains controversial and a number of providers have been the subject of scandals relating to the treatment of children in recent years.

Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told BuzzFeed News: “Caring for children in custody should not be a commodity to trade between profit-seeking companies. These prisons have been plagued by scandal, have failed children, and should be immediately closed. Working Links has no record of running such an institution and no record of caring for children. This would be a case of tossing children out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

Any deal would need to be approved by the Ministry of Justice and would also face scrutiny from lending banks, who were part of the private finance initiative (PFI) deal that funded the construction of the centre in 2003. A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the talks were “a good way along the line”. Working Links declined to confirm or deny the talks, adding that it “does not comment on speculation”. G4S declined to comment.

Working Links runs three of the 21 regional “community rehabilitation companies” (CRCs), which were set up in 2015 to monitor low- and medium-risk prisoners upon their release into the community, as part of a government drive to part-privatise the probation system.

A violent former prisoner who Working Links was supposed to be monitoring while he was on probation went on to kill an 18-year-old man at a caravan park in Porthcawl, south Wales, in 2015. It later emerged that David Braddon, 28, who beat Conner Marshall to death, had missed eight appointments with Working Links while on probation, but wasn’t recalled to court for his non-attendance. The victim’s mother, Nadine Marshall, has criticised Working Links over its supervision of her son’s killer. She said: “Multiple agencies were supposedly supervising Braddon, yet this is despite many areas of supervision being missed, absent, or nonexistent.”

On the Braddon case, a Working Links spokesperson said: “Serious further offences are rare but each one is taken extremely seriously and investigated fully. All decisions were made and supervised by fully qualified and experienced probation workers. The management of the case has not been linked to the crime committed – the serious further offence report found that Conner’s death was not predictable or preventable.”

Liz Saville-Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, has tabled more than 40 parliamentary questions on the performance and accountability of Working Links, which runs the CRC for Wales. She told BuzzFeed News: “Yes, I would have concerns [about a deal to buy Oakhill], given Working Links’ track record on CRCs.” Saville-Roberts did not comment further.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP and former shadow justice minister, who has been seeking answers on what will happen to the youth justice estate, said: “No one regrets the decision by G4S to cease their involvement in running STCs given the scandals and disasters they oversaw, but it is the job of the MOJ to ensure that whoever takes on responsibility for the contracts and the institutions is able to run them in a fit and proper manner. The privatisation of probation and the crisis in our prison system are legacies of the chaotic policies of Chris Grayling while Lord Chancellor. His successor needs to address both issues quickly to prevent further corporate mismanagement and personal tragedies.”

Working Links announced before Christmas that it was “streamlining” its services by shrinking its workforce through a voluntary redundancy scheme, a move slammed by the National Association of Probation Officers. According to one report, companies running CRCs are not being paid as much as they had previously hoped due to lower-than-expected numbers of offenders being managed in the community.

Oakhill – which has capacity for up to 80 boys and girls – received a mostly positive review from Ofsted at its last inspection in March 2016, but has faced criticism in recent years. An MoJ report in May 2016 found evidence of “routine verbal bullying and intimidation of trainees by staff, with abusive and racist language a daily occurrence”. Oakhill is the last STC to be run by G4S – the company said last year that it planned to exit the children’s services market by selling off its youth prisons and children’s homes.

Medway STC, which was the subject of a BBC documentary in January 2016 that uncovered systematic abuse there while it was run by G4S, was taken over by the Ministry of Justice five months later. The MoJ declined BuzzFeed News’ invitation to comment, but referred to a parliamentary question that mentioned the STC’s future last week.

Answering Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff Central, prisons minister Sam Gyimah said: “G4S are undertaking a process to sell this contract as part of their announcement in February 2016 to withdraw from the children’s services market. As per previous answers to the house, the Ministry has been in regular contact with G4S and other relevant bodies. This engagement includes monitoring the progress of the potential sale to ensure it does not jeopardise the delivery of services at the Oakhill Secure Training Centre. Given this is a G4S commercial undertaking, the stage that their process is at and the identity of any preferred buyer, that may be arrived at through that process, are covered by contractual confidentiality considerations and the Ministry is unable to share this information.”

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.


  1. Wonky Links can't even provide their staff with proper secure email, so why they think they can run a Secure Training Centre is beyond me.

  2. Update from Andrea Sharpe re-SFO & WL:

    "Meeting with Liz Truss

    Meeting lasted 15mins but lots discussed. She has asked Sir Micheal Spurr ( CEO NOMS) to do a personal review of the fiasco that is the probation service. Also will be finding out how the IPCC are getting on with my complaint. Thank you all for your continuing support."

    1. Whoa there, Neddy!! When did Spurr get his spurs? I never saw that one advertised anywhere.

      So a "personal review" by the man who got his knighthood creating & overseeing "the fiasco that is the probation service." Bodes well, eh?

    2. I think Lizzy Dripping might have let one out by accident by referring to Spurr as a Knight. Wonder if the Honours Committee have a view on this?

  3. Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told BuzzFeed News: “Caring for children in custody should not be a commodity to trade between profit-seeking companies..." I agree. Increasingly shocked that Labour party are prepared to condone (their near silence speaks and suggests they have no stomach on the issue) continued large scale privatisation of Criminal Justice.

  4. I would have thought that Michael Spurr would already have been familiar with the fiasco that is the Probation Service; his name has come into discussions enough. I hope for Andrea's sake and for risks to the public in the future, that Liz Truss has not given Andrea false hope. She has battled to get this far, don't let her down Michael, Liz, Theresa etc.

  5. "A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the talks were “a good way along the line”. Working Links declined to confirm or deny the talks,"

    I spend hours each day if Im able to scanning the net for news on anything criminal justice related, and in particular the CJS and private sector involvement.
    I've not seen anything regarding WL and G4S involvement in Oakhill.
    It seems it's all being arranged very quietly in backroom discussions.
    But shouldn't such a contract if changing hands be put out to tender? Not just arranged by two dodgy companies?


    1. From the full written answer referred to above:

      "The Ministry awarded a PFI Contract, for the design, construction, management and financing of a Secure Training Centre at Milton Keynes (Oakhill Secure Training Centre), to STC (Milton Keynes) Ltd in May 2003. This contract is due to complete in June 2029.
      STC (Milton Keynes) Ltd has a subcontract with G4S Care and Justice Services (UK) Limited for the operation of the site. G4S are undertaking a process to sell this contract as part of their announcement in February 2016 to withdraw from the children’s services market."

      MD of STC (Milton Keynes) Ltd is one Jeremy Petherick. I believe it is the same Jerry Petherick who is MD of G4S Custody & Detention Services, which may be linked to G4S Care & Justice Services (UK) Ltd.

      Its entirely possible that as well as backing off from the "Care" element (which many, including Ofsted, say was never given to the children) G4S are offloading the burden of the PFI contract, which has another 12 years to run (the expensive back end of the contract).

    2. From Prison Reform Trust factfile June '08


      STC (Milton Keynes) Ltd is the company that finances and manages Oakhill secure training centre. Pre-tax profit for the year ended 31 December 2006 was £0.57 million on turnover of £12.38 million. During the year the company was charged £9.89 million by G4S Justice Services Ltd and £20,000 by Noble PFI Fund in fees for operating the secure training centre. At the end of the financial year 100% of the company’s shares were held by STC (Milton Keynes) Holdings Ltd which in turn was owned jointly by G$S Justice Services Ltd and Noble PFI Fund 2 LP.

      G4S Justice Services Ltd’s principal activities during the year ended 31 December 2006 were prisoner escort, court custody services, electronic monitoring and prison management operations. The company’s turnover increased by 13.3% to £104.15 million and profit after tax increased by 55.7% to £1.8 million compared with 2005.

      During the year G4S employed an average of 2,350 operational staff. It also had a 49.32% shareholding in Bridgend Custodial Services Ltd (which runs Parc prison). At the end of 2006 the company was a wholly owned subsidiary of Group 4 Securicor plc."

    3. From the same PRT document:

      "PFI COSTS

      How much will the nine existing PFI prisons in England and Wales cost over the full life of their contracts? Due to conflicting official figures and obfuscation this is a difficult question to answer conclusively.

      According to an answer to a parliamentary question on 13 March 2008 the value of the PFI contracts at the time they were awarded between 1995 and 2003 was £1.89 billion.

      According to the same answer, between financial years 2002-03 and 2006-07 estimated payments to the prison operators for the PFI contracts totalled £843 million; but this does not even include part-year costs for Peterborough and Bronzefield prisons that opened during 2004 and 2005. The Altcourse contract alone was valued at £247m in 1995: but in the five financial years between 2002-2007 the company had already received £161.7 million and the contract does not end until 2023/24. So the overall figure of £1.89 billion appears to be an underestimate.

      But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. According to a document released under the Freedom Of Information Act the estimated cost of the unitary charges at the time of contract signature was £4.69 billion for these nine prisons over the life of their respective contracts.

      However, based on a Treasury document that cost has apparently already increased to £4.91 billion from 2009/10 to 2031. Yet this document omits several years of unitary charges."

      It seems impossible to find the actual cost figure for any single extablishment. The PFI schemes seem to have been very lucrative for those in the know, especially when the operators & contractors simply seem to be passing vast sums of money from one office to the next within the same organisation. Presumably its the ever-generous taxpayer who is providing those vast sums courtesy of MoJ/Noms contracts.

    4. http://www.fm-world.co.uk/news/debbie-white-appointed-ceo-of-interserve-plc/

    5. Looks like she'll have 6 months to get her garden looking nice before taking up the Interserve position.

    6. Interserve has announced the appointment of Debbie White as chief executive officer with effect from 1 September 2017, at which point she will also join its board.

      Adrian Ringrose will remain as CEO until that date to ensure an orderly transition.

      White is currently CEO of government and healthcare worldwide at Sodexo Group.

      She joined Sodexo in 2004 as chief financial officer (CFO) of the UK & Ireland division, and then in 2008 was appointed CFO of Sodexo’s North American business, before returning to the UK & Ireland arm as CEO in 2012.

      There, White substantially grew both profit and revenue, while also improving employee engagement and health and safety performance. Under her leadership, the business diversified into probation services and achieved more growth through acquisition.

      In 2015, she took worldwide responsibility for the company’s government and healthcare businesses – a large part of the group’s profit and revenue (€6 billion) with more than 100,000 people in 34 countries.

      White started her career with accountant Arthur Andersen in the UK, before joining pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, where she held a wide range of financial roles. She later became a director at PwC Consulting, working across a number of sectors in a global role advising on integration, financial performance improvement and post-merger integration.

      She is a trustee of the charity Wellbeing of Women and a non-executive director of Howden Joinery Group Plc.

      Interserve chairman Glyn Barker said: “Debbie has considerable experience and expertise and a strong track record of success in running complex businesses in the international support services sector. I am confident that, under Debbie’s leadership, the team will deliver the change and growth necessary to take Interserve forward and enhance shareholder value.”

  6. According to this article in the Guardian published a couple of minutes ago, the deal with WL and G4s on Oakhill is only awaiting MoJ approval.



    1. Odd set of affairs when multinational corporations are carving up our prisons and probation systems and frequently failing in a way that is truly shocking. Sold and sold again. I feel like I am one of a small cabal of malcontents over situations such as these and the popular consensus is not with us, or at least not with sufficient intensity.

    2. The relationships between the upper echelons of these multi national outsourcing organisations does appear to be very incestuous.
      The CEOs just seem to hop from one to another every few years. They all must bring to their new roles an intrinsic knowledge of their recently departed company, which makes a mockery really of corporate confidentiality.

    3. Levels of violence at the last G4S-run child jail have been “very high” and the number of times staff have used force has doubled in the past year, according to an inspection report.

      An Ofsted report into Oakhill secure training centre (STC), near Milton Keynes, says that inspectors witnessed staff “struggling to maintain order and control” and a subsequent “over-reliance on more extreme measures … including a high level of the use of force”.

      The inspectors say the decision by the private security company, G4S, to sell its children’s services sector after a BBC Panorama programme about an abuse scandal and cover-up at Medway child jail last year has been a key factor in problems at Oakhill, with an increasing number of staff leaving.

      Oakhill is the last of the three G4S-run child jails. Medway STC was taken back into the public sector after the Panorama undercover exposé and a third STC, Rainsbrook in Northamptonshire, was transferred to MTC Novo last year. It is believed that a decision to sell the contract for Oakhill to the Working Links charity is awaiting Ministry of Justice approval.

      The joint inspection by Ofsted, the chief inspector of prisons and the Care Quality Commission, says that the achievement of young people at Oakhill, which can take up to 80 children, has improved since their last inspection in late 2015, but the promotion of positive behaviour is inadequate.

  7. Bbc r4 law in action - this afternoon, interview with Liz Truss. Available on iplayer - if you can bear to listen.

  8. http://www.cityam.com/253507/interserve-contract-deliver-double-digit-cost-savings
    Boss of Interserve Adrian Ringrose said his firm had " excellent relationships " with the Government - just sums up the whole fiasco with WL being able to buy into Children's services even though they have a " proven to be shit " record !!!!

    1. If a friend of a friend gave me shitloads of money just because I said I could do something, I'd say I had excellent relationships with them as well. I'd probably say almost anything they wanted me to say.

  9. Interesting article published by The INDEPENDENT 10/05/11 entitled " emails reveal prison swaps that hid inmates from Inspectors "
    regarding Ian Mulholland current Director of Justice for Interserve and Nick Leader both of whom were prison Gov's at that time.

  10. http://www.film-news.co.uk/review/UK/2279/DVD/Probation-Officer-Vol-1

    1. I have my set, but yet to watch it - a retired colleague tells me that it was the series on TV that made her decide to become a PO.

      Calling this series groundbreaking by nowadays standards surely would leave viewers bewildered. However, bearing in mind that PROBATION OFFICER launched in 1959 and screened on British TVs until 1962 it is probably fair to say that this once popular ITV drama series was groundbreaking for its time.

      The series was written by Julian Bond, now almost forgotten and possibly best known for the 1985 drama film The Shooting Party, starring James Mason.

      PROBATION OFFICER is without doubt a well-intentioned insight into the work that probation officers provided though to modern audiences the series will come across as incredibly dated. That said, this Network release starring John Paul and Honor Blackman in the lead roles is aimed at connoisseurs of nostalgic and vintage TV, which makes it an appreciated rarity.

      The main protagonists are Philip Main (John Paul), a man with what looks like a whole jar brylcreem applied to his scalp, his senior officer Jim Blake (David Davies) who likes like a boxing cornerman, and the glamorous Iris Cope (Honor Blackman) as his assistant (for whom he has the hots). Another probation officer is played by John Scott (Bert Bellman), whose character is that of a narrow-minded reactionary racist.

      In the first episode the overly sympathetic Main is assigned to the case of a disturbed young man who has a totally shocking problem! The young lad is on the point of madness because ... wait for it... he is a marijuana addict! Just look at Louis Armstrong and Robert Mitchum… who knows to what great heights they may have gone had it not been for this vile weed… tsss! The young man even starts 'tripping' in the police cell and suffers terrible withdrawal symptoms. It would be safe to say that whoever wrote this episode, which borders on the ridiculously naïve, didn’t undertake any medical or factual research before putting pen to paper, or perhaps such things were simply not done back then. The good news is that the unfortunate dope fiend managed to get off the drug with the help of our probation officers and we can only hope he didn't become an alcoholic instead (though at least that's legal).

      Equally shocking is another episode in which a black man (played by Earl Cameron) goes to see probation officer Main to ask him if he could have a word with his son. The problem is that the boy (a mulatto) is dating a white girl, no need to say more. Cameron himself actually uses the dreaded word 'half-caste'. His son (Lloyd Reckord) is an intelligent young man but is accused by the well-meaning Main of 'having a chip on his shoulder'. Oh yes, work hard to get educational qualifications only to find the best job you can get is that of a bus conductor. Can we actually blame him the man for having a chip on his shoulder? We simply know he is going to ask Main “How would you like your daughter to go out with a black man?” Main answers that he wouldn't, so there you have it. It gets worse when the young man is eventually attacked by white racist yobs and slashed with a razor. He retaliates as anyone would and finds himself in court on an assault charge. Although there is a happy ending to this episode which I won’t give away won’t can’t help getting the impression that this episode comes over as deeply insulting though as mentioned before, the series is a product of its time and its interesting to see how social stigmas and opinions have changed over the decades.

    2. Some of the later episodes fare a little better. The funniest features an army officer who likes kids (not in the way that Jimmy Saville did!) and who throws his metal headed walking stick at the windscreens of bad motorists in order to make sure the kids can cross the city’s streets unharmed. In another episode, a young Charles Gray also delivers a tour de force performance as an alcoholic and inwardly insecure businessman.

      The series is positively pedestrian on a technical level, considering that other series like Danger Man and The Avengers started not long after that. Still, if you are interested in vintage TV drama and it's development then this might be for you, though various episodes on this 3-disc set are missing, presumed lost or incomplete.

  11. My world is upside down. Yesterday I went to an hour lecture by a favourite feminist writer only to have the male 'interviewer' take up 40 mins being pleased with the sound of his own voice. This morning I listen to Heseltine & find we have common ground. And now I find that the TV really IS listening in to my conversations, so looks like the meds are bloody useless after all. Oh, and WL are taking over Oakhill STC. Back under the duvet, methinks.