Working Links: collapsed. Interserve: liquidated. When two out of the eight owners of private companies delivering probation services fall on their swords, it is surely time for a rethink. But blinkered as ever, the Tories for now seem intent on continuing to make justice a (not quite) profit making industry.
All of the private players – who between them own 21 probation companies – will have had some very difficult conversations with their boards. Instead of the £269 million in profit forecasted at the bid stage, it’s likely that if the contracts had continued for their original duration they would be looking at a whopping £294 million in losses.
The failure of big companies like Interserve is in large due to bad management and the fact that the scale and diversity of their portfolios mean that problems in one part of the organisation can rapidly impact on others. But the truth is, none of the CRCs were going to be able to make their contracts work.
Footfall for the CRCs is seriously lower than had been predicted, the Payment by Results mechanism that was integral to the whole TR model failed, and the “rate card” which calculated payment for particular types of interventions was also skewed.
In the end, the government has had to pump an additional £192 million of taxpayer money into the contracts to keep them afloat. But how long before another of these companies capsizes?
Not being able to make a successful business out of probation services is bad news for these companies, but their woeful performance is a real injustice to service users, the community and to hard working probation staff.
In 2018 a Justice Select Committee inquiry (headed up by Tory MP Bob Neill) said:
- A Through the Gate service which merely signposts offenders to other organisations is wholly inadequate.
- The current one-size fits all approach (to supervision of offenders released after less than 12 month prison sentences) lacks the flexibility to meet the varying needs of offenders.
- We consider that kiosk meetings are never likely to be appropriate and that telephone supervision should only be used in exceptional circumstances and not in isolation.
- We are concerned that only one in two individuals are supervised by the same officer throughout their case.
- We do not think that it is proportionate for offenders to be credited with only one hour’s worth of unpaid work when they have been stood down at the last minute and for factors which are outside their control.
And the criticism doesn’t stop there. In March this year a report by HMI Probation stated:
- In 80% of CRCs inspected by HMIP the implementation and delivery of probation supervision was rated as “inadequate;
- There has been a 56% reduction in the number of individuals starting accredited programmes (from 2009/10 to 2016/17);
- The reoffending rate for adults released from a custodial sentence of less than 12 months (January to March 2017) was 64%.
- In a 2016 survey by the Magistrates Association, 38% of magistrates indicate that they have less confidence in probation now than under previous arrangements.
With mounting evidence that TR has been an epic fail, in July 2018 the Justice Secretary had no choice but to admit that the bailout hadn’t really solved the financial difficulties these companies were facing. His solution: terminate the contracts early, and go back out to tender in 2019. This was all before the demise of Working Links and Interserve of course.
Since then, the deadline for letting the new contracts has been delayed, and we also wait with bated breath for the MoJ’s response to the consultation.
But while the MoJ remains tightlipped, more and more revelations about the ongoing financial drain this failed experiment has been on the public continue to surface. In March this year the National Audit Office found that the overall cost to the taxpayers to end the contracts early amounted to a staggering £467 million.
TR has also failed staff. All reports since the implementation of TR - by the JSC, the PAC, the NAO and the HMIP - have confirmed that staff morale in the CRCs is at an “all time low”.
JSC 2018: “Staff have high caseloads, in some instances they are handling cases for which they do not have adequate training, and they feel de-professionalised”.
Meanwhile, stress levels, and sickness due to stress, is sky-rocketing. Napo members were surveyed at its 2018 AGM and over a quarter of respondents reported suffering from stress with 10% of members having to take time off because of it.
A demoralised and stressed workforce will inevitably have an impact on performance and increase risk to the public.
Napo will be hosting a drop-in session for MPs on 1st of May to put this, and seven other reasons to reunify the probation service to MPs.
If you haven’t already done so, complete the postcard and send it back to your local MP encouraging them to join the fight to make sure the probation service is able to rehabilitate clients, keep the public safe and to protect your profession.
Need any materials to be a part of the campaign? Email firstname.lastname@example.org