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Probation Service

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011

We will fundamentally reshape probation services to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, empower front-line professionals and make them more accountable. Probation staff should be able to spend more of their time working directly with offenders; we are lifting the burden of bureaucracy that has hindered them from doing that.

I agree with the Minister that our probation service does a magnificent job in very tough circumstances and, under his self-styled rehabilitation revolution, should have an even greater role in successfully returning offenders to society. Will he therefore explain to the House how he can possibly square the increased work load and responsibility with cutting 3,000 experienced and front-line probation staff as a result of his Government’s spending cuts?

That is not a result of our Government’s spending cuts. The efficiency savings for the probation trusts for next year are largely the plans that those trusts had for the transfer from board to trust status, which was inherited from the previous Administration. The National Offender Management Service is taking 37% out of its headquarters’ overhead precisely in order to protect the front-line professionals in the probation service in delivering effective offender management.

Are probation trusts going to be providers of services, commissioners of services or both? If both, is there a conflict of interest?

I know that I am going to give evidence to the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee and we will look forward to examining those issues. I suspect that the answer in the end is very likely to be both.

Will the Minister tell me how much work is going on in our probation services with violent offenders, particularly those who have been violent in domestic circumstances? Tackling the issue is enormously important in preventing future offending.

I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of addressing the issue of domestic violence. Every probation trust I have visited has had programmes to address it. It is a particular priority and we will want carefully to examine the delivery of interventions and programmes to ensure that they are sustained. I accept that that is an area of priority.

What help can the Minister give to probation trusts to enable them to compete on a level playing field with the large private sector contractors that might be doing a lot of the work they are currently doing?

I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the competition for community pay-back. The first competition will be for the London area, where the boundaries overlap precisely with those of the London probation trust. That will give those probation trusts that need to get together to make a collective public sector bid involving a number of trusts the time and opportunity to put an effective bid together.

Is the Minister aware of the evidence that was given to the Select Committee on Justice about the whole issue of competition and/or commissioning providers and so on? Those points have been very well made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). Is the Minister aware that if there is a conflict of interest then, prima facie, the whole system will be unlawful? Does he realise how important it is to separate those functions, because the probation trusts do not have a clue where they are going?

This is an area of change for probation trusts, and the competition for community pay-back, which we inherited from the previous Administration, is an exemplar of that. I look forward to the opportunity to review all the evidence that has been given to the Justice Committee and I shall come to a view on the basis of the evidence that has been received. I will give my own evidence and take questions in due course in the Committee, presumably at greater length than is allowed here.