Tories’ probation disaster

Chas Berry, Napo national vice-chair (personal capacity)

The probation service as we knew it was broken up and signed away into history on 1 February. Workers in probation union Napo fought long and hard but were unable to prevent 50% of services being outsourced. Eight owners now run 21 separate Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

On day one of the new contracts, community payback teams were stood down in many areas because the new companies had no van driving insurance. The companies have shown they are also unprepared to deliver the new Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) that extends supervision to those with sentences of less than 12 months.

Staff had no advance training and there is widespread uncertainty about how to, and who will, manage an estimated 60,000 additional offenders covered by ORA. One colleague described it to me as “like watching an approaching tsunami; you know a disaster is heading your way and you’re wondering what to grab hold of to keep you afloat.”

Meanwhile staff working in the rump National Probation Service (NPS), who are now civil servants managing high risk cases, face the prospect of increased workloads and drastic cuts. New trainees are struggling with limited support and will not be ready to take on the extra work until 2016.

As predicted by Napo, all this is placing unbearable stress on staff and may be putting the public at increased risk. Many will be asking, however, if the union can protect both our members and the public in an increasingly fragmented ‘criminal justice market’.

If Labour forms the next government we need to pressurise it to tear up the contracts signed by Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. But any government is likely to carry on with the austerity agenda, so how can we achieve permanent change?

Just voting for one of the established parties won’t be enough. I appeal to all activists to get involved in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC- see page 5).

  • Defend access to justice rally, 23 February, 1-2pm, Old Palace Yard, Westminster