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Transforming Rehabilitation Programme

Volume 585: debated on Tuesday 9 September 2014

Transition to the new probation structures took place on 1 June, and bids to run community rehabilitation companies were received at the end of June. More than half the bidders include a voluntary, mutual or social enterprise organisation, and mutuals continue to feature strongly. The contract winners for each CRC will be announced by the end of 2014, as planned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is deeply worrying that a recent survey of probation workers shows that more than 90% disagree with the view that the changes will provide value for money for the taxpayer, or improve service provision for users—they talk about spiralling work loads, stress, and dysfunctional IT? When will he stop ignoring the experts and admit that the best option to reduce reoffending and protect public safety would be to cancel the probation sell-off and re-integrate the two parts of the service at the earliest opportunity?

I take greater comfort from the fact that 90% of probation officers chose not to respond to their union’s survey and are getting on with the job, the excellent work they do on a day-by-day basis, and their good work to help the new systems bed in.

I find the Secretary of State’s complacency extremely worrying. Two hundred probation officers turned up last week to lobby their MPs, all of them consistently reporting that the system is not working. The Secretary of State refused to undertake pilot schemes in advance of these reforms, but he did enact what he described as assessments called test gates. There have been three of those. The fourth was meant to start on 1 June but I believe it has not started yet. Will he publish all the information from the test gates, so that we can see what they have reported regarding the implementation of the reforms?

These reforms are going exactly according to plan and no test gate was due to start in June. We are on time and the teams on the ground are making good progress. I and my colleagues have visited the trust’s successor organisations, and members of my team are going out to hear what is happening on the ground. This is a nine-month process of delivering change in the public sector, before we reach the point of a change of ownership. We are trying to ensure that the new system is bedded in well, and so far I am happy with the progress being made. There is, of course, still work to be done, but good progress is being made.

As usual, the Justice Secretary has his head in the sand. He was warned against his plans to privatise the probation service, but he ignored those warnings. Preferred bidders were supposed to be announced this week, but now he tells us it will be before the end of the year. There were supposed to be dozens and dozens of private companies, charities and voluntary groups bidding for the contracts, but there are not—in some areas, only one company is bidding for a contract. Staff—both those who respond to surveys and those who do not—are complaining of chaos at the probation service. Morale is at a record low and experienced and dedicated staff are leaving. Given that, are there any circumstances in which he would put a stop to the botched privatisation of the probation service?

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is plain wrong. He needs to stop listening to the trade unions; of course the trade unions still think this is a bad idea, but in reality our reforms are bedding in well and we will deliver the changes necessary to provide support and supervision to people who get none at the moment. The Labour party has no answers about how it would deliver that.

On competition, the right hon. Gentleman’s facts are plain wrong. I think we have 86 bids, with an average of four bidders in each area and a good mix of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors,. I am completely confident that we will shortly deliver a really innovative approach to rehabilitation, despite the blind opposition of the Labour party.