Monday, 3 April 2017

Civil Servant in Firing Line

It has been suggested that the Daily Mail's article at the weekend concerning the TR omnishambles, and one of the senior civil servants involved, just might be a bit of 'news management' in order to cover the back of one Chris Grayling MP:-

Britain's not so Ab Fab Brexit fixer: High-flying diplomat in charge of new trade deals was behind botched £4billion probation scheme which is on the verge of being scrapped

The high-flying diplomat in charge of drawing up new trade deals after Brexit was behind a disastrous £4 billion privatisation of probation that is about to be scrapped. Antonia Romeo started work last week as Permanent Secretary at the new Department for International Trade, with the key role of ‘promoting the UK as an outward-facing, free-trading global nation’ once it leaves the European Union. Extraordinarily, until the summer she will be commuting to Whitehall from New York, where she was Her Majesty’s Consul General.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in a previous role at the Ministry of Justice, she was the ‘senior responsible officer’ for a botched shake-up of supervision for criminals leaving prison, which is facing a major overhaul this month. In a letter to MPs seen by this newspaper, Ministers have admitted the entire system is ‘falling short of our ambitions’ and multi-billion-pound contracts with private firms will have to be renegotiated as part of a review’.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said last night: ‘The chief behind the botched probation scheme is now being asked to organise the biggest series of simultaneous trade negotiations in history. ‘Only this Government could give a promotion for failure. This Government has no plan, no clue and no staff and it is starting to show.’

Mrs Romeo, an Oxford-educated mother of three who has been pictured at glitzy events with celebrities such as actress Joanna Lumley, was a director-general at the MoJ when she led the probation sell-off. She told MPs in 2014: ‘I am accountable for delivery of the benefits of the programme.’

It saw the 35 existing probation trusts across England and Wales dissolved, with lower-risk offenders put in the care of 21 privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), and the most dangerous inmates looked after by a new state-run National Probation Service. But the scheme has been a costly failure. The firms have been given far fewer offenders to supervise than they were promised, making them unviable as businesses. Some have laid off staff while others are planning to hold virtual meetings with criminals on Skype.

Bosses of the CRCs told MPs last month they will have to walk away from the deals they struck with the MoJ – worth £3.7 billion in total – unless they are renegotiated. Watchdogs have also highlighted problems in the new system, with HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, warning last year that services in London have deteriorated ‘due to the poor performance of the CRC’ and the city is now ‘more at risk’.

Figures obtained by MPs show that since the new regime was introduced in February 2015, a total of 1,021 Serious Further Offence reviews have been carried out into crimes committed by prisoners on probation.

This newspaper can now reveal that the Prisons and Probation Minister, Sam Gyimah, has admitted the system is in need of a complete revamp just two years after it was introduced. In a recent letter to the Justice Select Committee, the Minister said the ‘comprehensive review’ of probation was ‘looking at all aspects of the system’ including the ‘contractual arrangements’ with CRCs.

He acknowledged a ‘key factor in the performance of the probation system’ has been the lower-than-expected numbers of offenders for CRCs to handle, ‘which have had an impact on CRC revenue and their ability to transform their businesses’.

Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesman, said: ‘It would be astonishing if senior officials responsible for these failings are now being put in charge of developing international trade agreements.’ 

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We hold providers rigorously to account for their performance. ‘We are carrying out a comprehensive review of the probation system to make sure it is preventing future victims and will set out our plans for reform in due course.’ 

The Department for International Trade declined to comment.


As someone who lost my job because of this I can't believe what I'm reading. Two years on and people are still being let go. Blunt and Grayling booby trapped the deal by inserting massive penalty payments if the home office tried to reverse it. Something tells me that the massive outsourcing companies will have made sure that they had no such clauses on their side. Utterly sickening.

It is a pity that the DM and other newspapers did not properly report the destruction of probation in England and wales as it happened - then it might have been stopped. Sadly nobody, especially our MPs, would take any notice of people like me with thirty years front-line probation and prison experience.

Absolute disgrace. Private company Working Links CRC responsible for Devon, Dorset and Cornwall (DDC) taken over by asset strippers Aurelius. Up to 40% of staff to lose their employment. Caseloads doubled or tripled, morale down, sickness up and the companies still rubbing their hands. When is this Government going to waken up and smell what they are standing in. The review will, like everything else they touch, be a whitewash. Magistrates have no confidence in the new Companies as these companies are not represented in court.

And all that the Government had to do to get the offenders serving 12months or less supervised upon release would have been to give each Probation area a few thousand (probably less than a million per area) so that they could employ a few extra PSO's to provide the extra supervision. Problem solved. Millions if not billions saved.

The privatisation is so botched, that MTC Novo, the company that runs probation in London, failed to pay staff yesterday.

Meant to say they weren't paid on Friday. Also the article lays the blame at Ms Romeo. It was Chris Grayling's and the Conservative's idea, she just implemented it. The country re-elected them and Theresa May promoted him in the cabinet.


  1. Not sure Mrs Romeo will be too bothered - all publicity is good publicity. She's attained a high profile & celebrity lifestyle, made shitloads of money & even if she bowed out now she & her family wouldn't exactly struggle in a JAM sense. But she has the blessing of Mother Theresa & is highly regarded as someone whi fights for British interests, so maybe when we next see Mrs Romeo she'll be dressed in armour on the prow of a warship leading the assault on Spanish shores?

  2. Grayling & his spin doctors are as big a steaming pile of faeces as you're ever likely to meet. Whether Mrs Romeo gives a hoot or not is irrelevant; but it clearly demonstrates Fayling Grayling just refuses to accept that the trail of destruction in his wake is entirely of HIS making.

    1. Wouldn't expect anything less of the cowardly bully Grayling; hiding behind the skirts of a lickspittle career civil servant.

  3. " massive penalty payments if the home office tries to reverse it" (TR) .. yes that is what has been claimed. But now we are given the impression that it is the private companies who are wanting out because they are not making enough money. If that is the case the government could theoretically speaking let the companies leave without there being any penalty to pay by the government. I can see that the government would not want to go down that road at this point. surely the thing that would be keeping the government in with the companies would not be penalty payments, but rather the government's own pride, stubbornness and insistence on ignoring the needs of the nation in favour of their own ideology

    1. It would also be a costly if they left it as it is as the CRC's are asking for more £££££. I would rather the gov paid the fines and put us all back together. Like I have commented before it would be a much easier exercise as there are about 50% less staff, thanks to the CRC's for all the staff they have lost through redundancies and those that have walked away.

    2. 11:33 - Not sure you intended it to be so but a 'cold read' of your post sounds like you're pleased that the privateers are handsomely rewarded for failure, that staff have been either paid off or driven to leave, and that a reunified service without so many staff would be preferable. I don't think that's what you meant, is it?

      Its nevertheless important to remember that (1) there have been very few redundancies but many many more varieties of severance and (2) many [if not all] of "those that have walked away" did not do so lightly. Careers have been terminally wrecked by this dumb imposition of ideological imperative.

    3. You are absolutely right I did not intend to make it read that I am pleased that the private companies would be rewarded for their failures. My point is that I work for the CRC's and the staffs lives have been made intolerable and in some ways I would love to see them gone at any cost. They would be handsomely rewarded if the stayed or went but the staff will continue to suffer. What would you prefer that they were given loads more money which will not be spent on making working conditions better, treating staff with dignity or they be paid off.

    4. In the first instance I would prefer that the CRC contracts were studied carefully by suitably independent, objective lawyers. Given the catalogue of outsourcing failures by civil servants under successive regimes (Labour, Coalition & Tory) I wouldn't trust that the contracts were of any use at all - or that they contained any of the veiled threats promised by vainglorious MPs.

      The alleged £20Bn of savings claimed by Maude are more than overshadowed by the scandalous amounts lost in failed contract preparation, penalties, compensation & sweeteners - PFI in any format, translation services, probation IT, defence projects, HS2, courts digitisation (see post below), TR... the list knows no bounds!

      Why is there no appetite for proper scrutiny? I would suggest its because too many MPs and peers have their snouts in the trough as shareholders &/or investors.

  4. Behind all Govt efforts are the shady machinations of the Cabinet Office, hilders of the keys to the mysteriously generous Modernisation Fund. We should never lose sight of the fact that hardline Tory bully Francis Maude, now Lord Maude of Horsham, was a very powerful right wing influence during "austerity". His resignation letter last year included the following claims for his place in history:

    "As Minister for the Cabinet Office throughout the last Parliament, we cut the costs of government in 2014-2015 by nearly £20 billion compared with Labour’s last year. We saw the Civil Service downsized like-for-like by over 20%. We exited numerous properties that were redundant. We started to transform government procurement by importing and developing much tougher commercial capability, and switching the focus from process and compliance to delivering the best outcome."

  5. The unexpurgated version -

    Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said last night: ‘The chief behind the botched probation scheme.. a scheme which, in a bid to be offered some crumbs of power in the coalition, Lib Dems supported wholeheartedly & without question thus helping to sign the death warrant for the Probation Service..."

    1. Pleased someone has pointed out the Lib Dems role in TR. Tim Farron should be apologising first before he can have a go at anyone.

  6. Who's been paid by MTCNovo today?

  7. Chris Grayling is dodgy full stop, and his dishonesty and inappropriate dealings under the guise of government office knows no boundaries.
    Whether it's scandalous appointments of probation inspectors whos wife happens to be a corporate big wig for a large TR bidder, getting receipts from a builder to wiggle out of an MP expenses scandal, or over claiming for damage to his roof caused by a demonstrator, he just can't help himself.
    He's also unable to tell the truth in any situation. He's abused and brought shame to every office he's held, be it employment (caught lieing on nation TV) ,justice (TR and the prison book ban) not to mention cutting prison staff and having to hire many of those that took VR again at massive extra costs. As leader of the House he was caught abusing his position and misleading the house trying to sneak in a bill for 'English votes for English people', and as Transport minister he's in his element, as nearly all the system is in private hands. Loads to cream off.

    But I think it's amazing that he's just being allowed to get on with it. Everyone, even in his own party know what a corrupt, dishonest, and scurrilous individual he is.
    I can only think that he must have something on someone very high up to be able to get away with his activities so easily and frequently.
    He's just a 'wrong un'.


    1. He is and he was mays campaign manager says it all

  8. £100s of millions wasted by the MoJ again on a programme instigated in 2014.
    Who was Sos for justice in 2014?
    And oddly enough there appears to be a conflict of interest with the contractors. Couldn't make it up!


    1. Headline should read 'Justice for Women based upon Postcode Lottery'

      "Dr Phillip Lee said: "I am delighted to announce this investment in support for female offenders, which will help local areas to support vulnerable women and get them out of the cycle of crime. "Many women who are at risk of offending or reoffending have a range of complex circumstances," he added. "Our funding will help local areas provide the support women need to lead crime free lives, helping to reduce reoffending, cut crime and make our streets safer." Six regions across the country were revealed as successful bidders for the programme - Lancashire, Shropshire, Norfolk, Sussex, Surrey, and Devon - and will increase the support on offer to female offenders both behind bars and in the community."

    2. Who will distribute the funds and will those that get some have to agree to work with CRCs?

  10. The father of a prison-leaver who killed a woman in a hostel has told an inquest he had been trying to find his son housing in a new area to "break the cycle" of his offending.
    Matthew Williams died after being Tasered by police after killing Carys Yemm at the Sirhowy Arms in Argoed. Christopher Williams told the joint inquest into the deaths his son had wanted to start a new life.

    Williams, 34, had been found attacking Miss Yemm, 22, on 6 November 2014. The owner of the Caerphilly county hostel had called Gwent Police, whose officers stunned Williams with a Taser. He later died. Christopher Williams told the inquest at Newport Coroner's Court he had tried to find accommodation for his son on his release from prison. He wanted him to live in Newport rather than Blackwood and had attempted to arrange this when he was released on licence in 2013 and again when he was released in October 2014, two weeks before the deaths.

    "I said that over the years, when he goes to Blackwood, he ends up in prison sooner rather than later," Mr Williams said.

    Matthew Williams was given accommodation at the Sirhowy Arms
    "I said he should live in Newport to try and break that cycle. He wanted that too. He had wanted to start a new life. "He had done painting and decorating in prison. He wanted to set up a business and I'd have helped with that. I'd have got a van. He had done some work for me. I was born and bred in Newport and only left it for three months."

    Christopher Williams told the inquest he called the housing department in Newport about a week before his son's release to find out if they would be able to provide him with accommodation. He told the jury that he was told he would need to demonstrate his own proof of residency in Newport for two years. When he turned up at the housing office with his son on 23 October 2014, he said he was told that he needed five years proof of residency, which he was unable to provide on that day. Instead, Caerphilly council accommodated Matthew Williams at the Sirhowy Arms, which Christopher Williams said he understood to be a temporary arrangement.

    He said he returned to the housing office with proof of five years residency and did not hear anything further from them.
    Sue Cousins, a housing officer with Caerphilly council, told the jury that, at the time of the deaths in 2014, a prison-leaver was "determined to be a priority" and councils had a duty to house them. But that had now changed and they no longer had an automatic right to be housed, unless they were considered vulnerable. She also told the inquest, since the deaths, more information about the background of offenders is shared with the owners of B&Bs when they are placed with them.


    2. Criminology lecturers have been commissioned to carry out a study on the prevention of homelessness among prison leavers.

      Wrexham Glyndwr University and the University of Salford were tasked by the Welsh Government to undertake an Evaluation of Homelessness Services Provided to Adults Leaving the Secure Estate.

      The aim is to understand how new pathways for meeting prison leavers’ needs have been implemented by organisations involved in supporting adults preparing to re-enter civilian life.

      The research will be led by Wrexham Glyndwr lecturers Dr Iolo Madoc-Jones and Dr Caroline Hughes, supported by Dr Sarah Dubberley, Dr Karen Washington–Dyer and Dr Caroline Gorden (all pictured)

      They will engage with stakeholders involved in delivering services to those in custody from institutions across England and Wales, just weeks before they are due to leave.

      Dr Madoc-Jones said: “This is an exciting opportunity for us since the new Welsh homelessness legislation is widely thought to be ground-breaking in terms of its focus on homeless prevention.

      “The team’s expertise in criminal justice related matters placed us in a strong position to explore how Services Provided to Adults Leaving the Secure Estate have been developed but our success was down to team working across the University, founded as it also was on contributions by bid writer Emma Taylor in the bids team and Wendy Wood in the finance team.”

      The joint study will take place over the next 12 months, and comes after a report in Scotland on the link between homelessness and re-offending called for housing to be made a priority.

      Shelter Scotland’s Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Re-Offending study made 14 recommendations to Parliament, including a call for a proportion of the funding received by community justice partners to be earmarked for improving the housing advice and support available to prisoners.

      Previous research by the charity showed that providing a safe and secure home to ex-offenders upon release was crucial in preventing re-offending, as each case costs around £34,000 per prisoner per year.