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Probation Service

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2014

We are closely monitoring the performance of the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies as we implement our reforms. Over recent years, probation trusts have improved their performance. That is a tribute to the hard work of probation staff at all levels. None the less, rates of reoffending overall remain unacceptably high. Our Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will tackle reoffending, which blights societies and costs the economy too much.

Many of my constituents who work in the probation service have written to me to share their concerns about

“the mounting chaos linked to the IT systems, the potential risks to the public, the reduced contacts with offenders and the increase in sentencing without reports.”

They want to know why

“the Government has abolished an award winning, highly effective Probation Service in Durham…and replaced it with a hugely inferior, largely privatised service”


“is putting the public at risk and failing to rehabilitate offenders.”

I would hope that the hon. Lady would pay tribute to the probation staff and voluntary sector organisations that have come together in her area to bid for the contract to take on the CRC, because they are committed and believe that they can do a better job in bringing down reoffending in the future. I am delighted by the outcome of the bidding process in her area, and I hope that, when we reach the point of contracts and the new arrangements are put in place, the expertise of all of those organisations will transform our work in tackling reoffending in the hon. Lady’s county.

I certainly welcome the prevalence of mutual organisations among the list of preferred bidders in our part of the country. What care is the Secretary of State taking in this process to ensure that their partners in those bids give them a genuine role as mutuals in providing those services and do not allow them to become bid candy in their proposals?

Let us be absolutely clear and put it on the record that it would be wholly and utterly unacceptable for any voluntary sector bidder involved in the preferred bidder status to be treated as bid candy. I am delighted that we have some really strong partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors. I have stood in this House on more than one occasion and said that I want to see those strong partnerships. They are not prime/sub relationships; they are partnerships at the top table. This is something of which we as a coalition should be proud. It is about the voluntary and private sectors working together in a way that I believe will make a real difference.

Argoed in my constituency was rocked over the weekend by a particularly gruesome and horrific murder, and I am sure the whole House will join me in extending sympathies to the family of Cerys Yemm, the young girl who lost her life. The Ministry of Justice has launched an immediate investigation into why her killer committed such a serious offence within 30 days of being released. However, reports yesterday said that he could not get a prescription for his paranoid schizophrenia, he was not met at the prison gate and he was referred to a local bed and breakfast, where this horrific murder took place. Does the Secretary of State agree with the need for an urgent investigation into how mental health is treated in prisons and the monitoring of prisoners after they are released?

Let us be clear that we all think that what took place was an horrendous incident. I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the victim. I also offer my sympathy to the hon. Gentleman as the local Member of Parliament dealing with this difficult situation. Of course, a serious further offence review is looking at what took place and it would be wrong of me to prejudge its outcome, but it is already clear to me that lessons will need to be learned and that we may need to make modifications to the way the system works in order to try to make sure that nothing as horrendous as this can ever happen again.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pass on our condolences to the family of Cerys and the community in Argoed.

On the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts, Sodexo won more contracts to deliver more services than any other bidder. Sodexo is run by the wife of the chief inspector of probation. Does the Secretary of State see that as a conflict of interest in any way and what does he intend to do about it?

We are, of course, at the preferred bidder stage. Clearly, the issue is under discussion and it will need to be addressed. I will give further information to the House in due course. We should also remember that people in public life are sometimes married to other people in public life. Simply put, I hope that the Ministry of Justice, were it to fall under the leadership of a Labour Government, would not be disadvantaged by the fact that the putative Home Secretary is married to the putative Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have to consider these things very carefully and deal with them in a mature and sensible way, and we will seek to do that.