The Great £300m Probation Bail Out: You Pay, They Prey
On Wednesday two very highly paid civil servants £185,000 a year Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice and £190,000 a year Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, HM Prison and Probation Service will appear before MPs to explain their latest botch up - the privatisation failure of parts of the probation service.
I hope MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee will not only be briefed by the excellent National Audit Office report and investigation into the failure of Community Rehabilitation Companies - the fancy name for profit making companies like Sodexo and Seetec.
They should also read the coruscating report by Dame Glenys Stacey HM Chief Inspector of Probation and Peter Clarke HM Chief Inspector of Prisons last June on the performance of these companies and their failure to either help ex offenders go straight or protect the public from child abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence.
This sorry tale goes back to 2015 when Chris Grayling ( he of the current Virgin rail privatisation botch ups) was Justice Secretary and thought it a brilliant idea to privatise swathes of the probation service for prisoners serving 12 months or more who were at low risk of self harm.
From the very beginning they bungled it. They planned to give the 21 companies £3.7 billion until 2022 to handle and help large numbers of prisoners. The companies planned for this but Whitehall had overestimated the number of low risk ex offenders leaving prison and underestimated the number of high risk ex offenders who are still being helped by the publicly run probation service. As a result the companies would only get £2.1 billion.
So of course now the companies are in deep trouble facing losses of £443m by 2022. So what do these top civil servants do. They give them more of your cash to help them with their profit margins.
They have had a £42m bail out for dealing with fewer offenders in 2016 and another £22m to keep the companies going while the ministry kindly re-negotiates their contracts to deal with fewer ex prisoners.
It has now agreed to pay another £278m up to 2022 but has changed the terms of contract so the private firms will get even less money if any of the released prisoners re-offend.
Now if you read the inspectors' report on the performance of these companies, this is a sick joke. The inspectors think their provision is so bad and useless that they might as well not exist.
They said: “Clearly there is more time for resettlement work with these prisoners, but CRCs are making little difference to their prospects on release. We found them no better served than their more transient fellow prisoners were some eight months ago. The overall picture was bleak. If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible. "
But not only are they useless but they could be a menace to society. They were so bad at rehabilitating prisoners - they spent their time sitting at desks writing up reports on the computers - rather than helping them face to face. Some prisoners left to become homeless with little chance of getting a job.
But more seriously they let out child abusers, violent individuals who had beaten up their partners and drug addicts putting their victims at risk by having no proper supervision or rehabilitation plans.
In my view this £300m would be better spent funding refuges for victims of domestic violence ( in desperate short supply) or linking it back to the publicly run service.
You are paying for these companies to prey on the taxpayer without delivering any decent result and also allow released criminals to prey on their victims by their failure to rehabilitate them. No doubt the two highly paid civil servants will distance themselves from their failed policy when they appear before MPs on Wednesday