Probation staff shake-up anger

Exterior of National Probation Service head quarters, Gloucester Street, Atherton
Exterior of National Probation Service head quarters, Gloucester Street, Atherton

WIGAN probation staff have spoken of their shock about the Government’s privatisation of the service.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced that in future, private firms and charities are to supervise low-risk offenders on probation in England and Wales with security firms and voluntary groups managing probation on a “payment by results” basis.

The Government will offer £500,000 to voluntary and community sector groups to help them prepare to bid for probation contracts.

Probation’s borough headquarters in Atherton is a base for 46 staff who were left “reeling,” a source told the Evening Post, by the announcement

Greater Manchester Probation Trust, which currently administers the service, had previously been described as one of the most “innovative and entrepreneurial Trusts in the UK” by Mr Grayling.

Head of Wigan probation, Angie Buckley, said that while it wasn’t possible to comment in detail at this moment as the six-week period of consultation is on-going, the service was “very pleased” to have the opportunity to strengthen its work with the private and voluntary sectors.

She said: “We firmly believe that we are well-placed – together with partners – to win any future bids that occur when probation is opened up to competition.

“Greater Manchester Probation Trust is a top performing Trust, it has a proven track record, is innovative and has recently won the Investors in People Gold Award – a prestigious accolade.

“We believe that any new system of the management of offenders in the community should have at its heart the objective of achieving the best outcomes for the people of Greater Manchester.”

Wigan National Association for Probation Officers (NAPO) spokesman Mike Burke was unavailable for comment.

But a spokesman for the union said they found the decision to privatise the service was “astonishing” because the service had met all its targets during the financial year.

He said: “This move is purely ideological and if it proceeds it will cause chaos and compromise public protection. It is being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences and the policy flies against the Government’s localism agenda.

“This means the Government is proposing the Probation Service should be reorganised twice in six months, which is impossible.”

He added that issues of transfer and pension deficits have not been resolved and the Government also had no plan for dealing with the escalation or decline of risk of individual offenders.

The NAPO spokesman said: “Some ministers may claim that the Probation Service is a failure because of high re-offending rates amongst short-term prisoners but Probation has no statutory responsibility for supervising anybody sentenced to 12 months or less.

“Re-offending rates for the individuals that Probation does supervise are much improved and those who participate in programmes have a re-offending rate now of 35 per cent.

“This is a success story that the Government should be building on, not destroying.”