Probation privatisation is a lose-lose situation, MPs say in scathing report

The privatisation of the probation service has resulted in a lose-lose situation, according to a new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

3 May 2019| News


The MPs’ inquiry into the progress of the government’s reforms found that offenders, workers and the public at large have all been detrimentally affected by transferring parts of the probation service into private hands.

Not only have probation services been left “underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts”, but the exercise has been costly to the taxpayer and actually increased the rate of reoffending.

The government’s attempts to stabilise its contracts with private businesses – some of which have since gone into administration – and its decision to terminate them 14 months early, has incurred an additional cost to the public purse of £467 million.

Meanwhile, reoffending went up by 22% between 2011 and 2017 and the number of offenders going back to prison rose by 47% between January 2015 and September 2018.

Further, due to poor planning on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, which the PAC criticised for rushing its reforms through “at breakneck speed” in time for the 2015 General Election, workers have experienced “intolerable workloads”.

“Despite warnings from this Committee and the National Audit Office over the past three years, the Ministry of Justice has failed to bring about the promised revolution in rehabilitation,” Chair of the PAC, Meg Hillier, said.

“Over-optimistic initial forecasts left the Ministry of Justice fighting fires of their own making since the programme’s inception.

“The Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and the Major Projects Review Group share responsibility for these failures by providing insufficient challenge at the early stages of the project and allowing it to proceed too quickly with insufficient safeguards or testing,” she added.

One of the main issues highlighted by the Committee was the decision to provide payment on a performance basis. The MPs noted that the Ministry of Justice “failed to realise that a payment by results model was not appropriate for probation or that reoffending was not a good measure of performance”.

After the volume of work provided to contractors was between 16% and 48% lower than expected, some companies collapsed, leaving the future of probation services uncertain in several districts.

Meanwhile, those leaving prison with hopes to re-integrate into society are facing astonishing hardship, with the PAC reporting that prisoners are being handed tents on their release after their accommodation had not been settled.

“The way offenders are treated on their release from prison has a significant impact on how they re-integrate into society – the failures of this programme have left offenders unsupported leading to further costs to taxpayers in dealing with both reoffending and supporting individuals failed by the rehabilitation system,” Meg Hillier said.

Unison’s National Officer, Ben Priestley, called the situation a “shambles” and called for the immediate return of probation services to public hands.

“The justice department was repeatedly warned that privatisation would be disastrous, putting public safety at risk,” he said.

“Not only has it predictably failed, but tackling the mess will waste almost half a billion pounds … It’s time for Chris Grayling to face his own justice as the architect of this fiasco.”