National Audit Office calls for a halt to failed probation reforms

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The NAO has today published a damming report into Transforming Rehabilitation (TR), the probation reforms introduced by Chris Grayling in 2013.  The report states that the reforms have failed to meet the Ministry of Justice targets to reduce re-offending and have cost the taxpayer considerably more than intended.

Napo, the Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation staff has repeatedly called on the government to halt this failed experiment since the reforms first began, warning of the potential risk to the public, to staff and to the taxpayer.

General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, said: “This report not only confirms Napo’s warnings to Ministers but very clearly states that the Ministry must now pause its plan to simply re-let the probation contracts, and that they should reflect on what has gone wrong and why.”

The private contracts, now in line for early termination due to their failings, have significantly increased the cost to the taxpayer but have repeatedly failed to deliver on their objectives.

The NAO report seriously criticises the contracts themselves and the failure of the MoJ to manage them effectively and to hold providers to account. In addition, the report is scathing about failures to manage the impact of a reduced volume of work on the financial stability of the providers whose operational costs increased well above their original expectation from the contracts with the MoJ.

Ian Lawrence went on to say: “Not only have the Community Rehabilitation Companies been unable to deliver services, the National Probation Service also has significant failings. Staff shortages have resulted in unmanageable workloads across the board. In London staff vacancies are at 20% so it’s clear the NPS is not sustainable in its current form.

The MoJ intends to let 10 new contracts later this year with a view to increasing the size of the existing Community Rehabilitation Companies and reducing the number of providers. These proposals have met massive criticism, with stakeholders across the board calling for the MoJ to call a halt and to look at alternatives.

Ian Lawrence said: ”Napo is clear that a TR mark 2 will not resolve the issue of the first reform programme and will only perpetuate the ongoing risks and issues we have seen over the last 4 years. We totally support the call by the NAO on the MOJ to pause the reform programme and to reflect on what can be learnt. Napo is calling for a reunified probation service under public ownership and with a greater focus on local engagement”

This report comes just one week after the collapse of Working Links who were previously responsible for providing probation services in three Community Rehabilitation Companies. The report cites concerns that other providers could also become insolvent and that the associated risks have not been properly mitigated.