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Probation Service

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010

For 2010-11, the budget for the probation trusts will be £850 million. Budgets for 2011-12 are not yet set, and will be done through the spending review process to take place later this year.

Last Sunday, on Sky News, the Justice Secretary said:

“let’s have fewer people in prison”,

and that there are

“some things we can do to stop people re-offending when they come out”.

Did he have the probation service in mind? Will the Minister give me a categorical assurance that there will be no cut in funding for the probation service, because it will be impossible to carry out that policy if there is?

It would be very nice if the country was in an economic position that allowed me to deliver such a categorical assurance to the hon. Gentleman but, as he knows perfectly well, I am afraid that I cannot do so. He also knows that part of the Ministry of Justice’s contribution to the £6 billion target was a £20 million reduction in the probation service’s budget. However, that budget had been added to by £26 million in mid-year by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who is now the shadow Justice Secretary.

Wakefield is home to two prisons: New Hall young offenders institution and women’s prison, and, of course, Wakefield prison, which houses some of the country’s most dangerous and prolific offenders. West Yorkshire probation service, and Wakefield in particular, do a tremendous job of keeping local people safe and monitoring those who are released from those prisons, who are some of the most difficult individuals in the country. Does the Minister agree that public protection is the No. 1 priority for the probation service and that any future funding arrangements must not put that at risk?

Of course public protection is an absolute priority. We inherited good MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements—from the previous Administration to deal with the sort of offenders who are released from Wakefield. It is right that probation services and all other agencies that are involved in MAPPA are closely engaged in delivering public protection with regard to such offenders.

I have visited the probation service in Milton Keynes and pay tribute to its tremendous work. Under the previous Government, however, the number of staff at headquarters ballooned, while front-line staff numbers remained static or even reduced. Might this Government reverse that trend?

The previous Government refurbished the Ministry of Justice building at a cost of £130 million shortly before they announced redundancies, including to front-line managers, that saved £50 million. Can the Minister and his team say that this Government will have a better and more responsible set of priorities for spending in his Department?

I can guarantee that the probation service will not be led by the Ministry of Justice on any further refurbishments. I think that we have had enough refurbishments inside the Department for the time being and that we have an office that is perfectly fit for purpose.

I welcome the Minister to his post, which is an excellent job that I am sure he will enjoy. Will he confirm to the House that reoffending rates fell considerably under the Labour Government, not least because of the 70% increase in probation funding over those 13 years? Will he also clarify what I think he said—that the £870 million budget agreed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in October 2009 is now £850 million? What discussions has he held—and will he hold—with probation services about the impact of that £20 million cut?

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, I have referred to the £20 million cut. The director of the National Offender Management Service and the regional offender managers will be doing their level best, in agreement with the probation trusts, to ensure that that reduction does not have an impact on services. However, we ought to remember that the budget settlement for the probation trusts that was agreed just more than a year ago was £844 million. That budget was being worked to during the transfer from probation boards to probation trusts, and that transfer was supposed to drive forward many efficiency savings to ensure that front-line services were delivered as efficiently as they should be.