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Probation Services

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 17 December 2013

The “Transforming Rehabilitation” competition process has been designed to allow, as far as possible, a range of different entities to bid to deliver services. But such entities need to be capable of bearing financial risk, because under our reforms we will pay providers in full only if they are successful in reducing reoffending.

The Justice Secretary is almost entirely without allies and without evidence for these privatisation plans. The Minister has confirmed that he is denying the experts in some truly excellent probation trusts, such as South Yorkshire’s, the chance to tender for these contracts. If South Yorkshire’s four local authorities combine to back the trust and take out the financial risks he talks about, will he think again?

I would say two things to the right hon. Gentleman. First, he understands, I think, that one advantage of what we are proposing is that we move risk away from the taxpayer, so that those prepared to take on these contracts on a payment-by-results basis put their own money at risk, not the taxpayer’s. In the scenario he is outlining, it is difficult to see how we avoid the taxpayer continuing to take that risk. Secondly, as he may also know, many of the talented individuals who work for probation trusts at the moment are exploring the possibility of setting themselves up as mutuals so that they can continue to do this work, and there is considerable support for that from our colleagues at the Cabinet Office—they are providing money and support to enable them to do that.

What makes the Minister confident that the structure he has described can overcome the dysfunctionality in offender management described by the chief inspectors of probation and prisons in a report today?

My right hon. Friend refers to the report that has been produced today. As he knows, a significant point in it is that there is not currently sufficiently good connection between offender management that takes place inside custody and that that takes place outside. As he will also recognise, our transforming rehabilitation proposals intend to close that gap, so that offender management involves the same provider from the closing months of someone’s custodial sentence, through the gate and out into the community. Transforming rehabilitation will start to address exactly the points that this report raises.

Thirteen police and crime commissioners, including Alan Charles in Derbyshire, have expressed grave concerns at the plans for the probation service because they could put public safety at risk. What has the Minister said to them to address their fears?

The first thing the House should know is that all 13 are Labour police and crime commissioners. Whatever party they come from, it is very important that we work with police and crime commissioners and that all providers who will be doing this work do so too. For that reason, we will ensure that police and crime plans from every area of the country will be clearly available to providers, and we will expect them to co-operate not just with police and crime commissioners but with a whole range of other local partners too.

Does the Minister agree that the supervision of short-term prisoners by the probation service within existing budgets is simply unaffordable and that the tendering process is needed to provide extra supervision for short-term prisoners?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He does not need to take my word for it as the previous Government tried to do that as part and parcel of the public sector budgets and failed to do so because they determined that it was unaffordable.

A few days ago, the Minister and the Secretary of State appeared before the Justice Committee, during which the Secretary of State said that his door is always open to meet the leaders of the National Association of Probation Officers. When will that meeting take place?

I cannot give a date to the right hon. Gentleman. Both my right hon. Friend and I have met NAPO leaders before and are happy to do so again. What we will not do is pause the process in which we are engaged because the members of those trade unions would like some certainty over their own futures, and we think that is important, which is why we must get on with this process.