... as the Tories confirm they expect to lose the General Election
The state should run the criminal justice system – courts, probation, and prisons – not get private companies in to make profits out of a core state responsibility of keeping its citizens safe. What next, the privatisation of the armed forces? (Don’t scoff: that’s already begun, as regards defence procurement and equipment.)
The Coalition government has announced that two private companies, Interserve and Sodexo, are the preferred bidders to run more than half of the probation services in England and Wales. They are to be called “community rehabilitation companies” (CRCs), and their staff will supervise 200,000 low- to medium-risk offenders. In addition, four staff mutuals are likely to run services.
The contracts will be worth £450m, meaning that over 70% of probation work will be outsourced. It’s classic Tory plan to allow fat profits for their private sector friends through cherry-picking – because the state will still be responsible for the high-risk offenders, who of course cost a lot more to supervise.
The disgraced G4S and Serco only withdrew their bids after the Serious Fraud Office began to investigate allegations that those two companies had overcharged the government by more than £100m on electronic-tagging contracts.
The Justice Secretary Mr Chris Grayling MP did promise that the contracts would not be signed “unless it is safe to do so”. The Ministry of Justice faces a disclosure deadline for the official “risk register”. That is, the assessment of the public safety implications of the deal. So Mr Grayling is now proposing to rush the deal through before the General Election, because he knows that the probation officers’ trade union NAPO is about to apply for a Judicial Review of this rotten scheme. Clearly Mr Grayling wants the whole thing wrapped up quickly, so that he can tell the courts that it’s too late for them to look at the proposed privatisation because it’s a done deal.
The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, chaired by the formidable Margaret Hodge MP, has discovered that these contracts will include a “poison pill” of £300m, which would guarantee companies their expected profits if the 10-year contracts were cancelled after the General Election.
That’s disgraceful. Interestingly, it also shows that the Tories are expecting to lose the election, because they are desperately trying to featherbed their private sector chums while they can, by using this poison pill penalty clause.
Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary is Sadiq Khan. Unlike Mr Grayling, before entering Parliament Mr Khan was a renowned criminal lawyer. Indeed, Mr Grayling is a dabbler who is not even a lawyer himself.
Of this pending deal, Mr Khan has said: “David Cameron’s government is putting companies with little or no track record in criminal justice in charge of dangerous and violent offenders. There has been no testing or piloting to see if this will work and won’t put the public’s safety at risk. All of the concerns of Labour, of experts, and of probation staff have been swatted away. It’s also unacceptable that ministers are going out of their way to tie the hands of future governments to multibillion-pound contracts for 10 years.”
The General Secretary of the trade union NAPO is Mr Ian Lawrence. He has decried Mr Grayling’s actions in “pressing ahead with his untried and untested so-called reforms to probation. We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs nor the National Probation Service are stable at the moment, and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety.”
Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West