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Probation Service

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

It is a great pleasure to have secured this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

If the Minister has looked at my many previous interventions on this subject, he will know that I have had concerns about the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation plans right from the start. Those concerns have been borne out by my recent conversations with probation officers and offenders in my constituency and reinforced by the recent report from the chief inspector of probation into the early implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation.

Today I will talk about those implementation issues, but I will also question the Minister about the underlying rationale for, and risks associated with, Transforming Rehabilitation. The Probation Service was a well-performing service. Every single probation trust in the country was assessed as being “good” or “excellent” under the Ministry of Justice’s own measures—indeed, my own probation service in Greater Manchester had a reputation for innovative and effective work. It makes no sense at all to tear all that up and arbitrarily divide up the work of the probation service without there being any evidence of the effectiveness of the new model. That places public safety at risk.

Ministers said that change was needed to address the high level of reoffending among those serving short custodial sentences, and they proposed introducing supervision, for the first time, of those offenders on their release from prison. Everyone agrees that that is entirely right and welcome. However, the probation service never had responsibility for supervising those offenders, so high rates of reoffending among them cannot be characterised as a probation service failure. Indeed, probation trusts, such as my own local trust, were keen to have the chance to work with this challenging group.

Yet in June last year the Government embarked on a radical restructuring, abolishing all probation trusts and replacing them with 21 privately owned community rehabilitation companies and a diminished National Probation Service, which has responsibility for high-risk offenders. Contracts were signed just before Christmas, on 18 December. This massive restructuring has been rushed through by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice without any piloting or testing of the new approach. The Government were warned by experts, probation staff and the Opposition, as well as in the House of Lords, that their timetable was reckless. In 2013, the chairs of probation trusts wrote to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, describing the plans as risky, unreasonable and unrealistic.

As soon as the changeover began last summer, problems began to emerge. There have been reports of staff shortages, IT problems, records going missing, staff supervising offenders “blind”—with no information about offenders’ offending history or personal circumstances, because staff lack access to records—and administration staff being unable to access records to manage supervision appointments.

My hon. Friend paints quite a dire picture as things are developing under this new-look service. Does she agree that it is rather sad that those high-performing probation trusts never got the opportunity to consider taking on an expanded work load? They were, after all, the experts and they, too, could have delivered this expanded service.

My hon. Friend is right. It is highly regrettable that the expertise and commitment that we all see in our probation service was not taken advantage of and that probation staff were not given the opportunity to deliver these new programmes of post-release supervision.

Indeed, in Greater Manchester we had piloted such a programme—the Choose Change programme—and learned many valuable lessons about the challenges of working with this particular group. Since Greater Manchester Probation Trust obviously no longer exists, and so cannot take forward the lessons from Choose Change, perhaps the Minister will say how that learning will be transferred across to the new structures, so that what we now know after that experiment is not lost.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I hope that she agrees that we had a perfectly good service before the Government tinkered with it. For ideological reasons, the Government made changes and used a private sector model. However, everyone knows that in the private sector—I know, because I worked in it—before any changes are made, a pilot scheme is introduced so that companies learn from their mistakes. Does she agree?

I agree with every word that my hon. Friend said. Indeed, it is surprising to me that one of the first acts of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice was to cancel some of the pilots in relation to these new structures, rather than adopting the sensible approach of continuing with them and evaluating the lessons learned before proceeding with the new model—if there was evidence that it was the right model to follow.

In the aftermath of the changeover, probation officers have talked to me about an overwhelming work load, about IT systems that do not speak to each other and require the same information to be inputted over and over, and about random allocation of staff to the new community rehabilitation companies or the new NPS. Morale has suffered, staff are stressed and the human resources support in the new NPS in particular has been inadequate throughout this period of major change, given that the MoJ closed down the shared support service and that communication to staff has been haphazard and often delayed.

Offenders have also noticed problems. I met offenders in my constituency late last summer and they told me that they were constantly finding themselves seeing different offender managers who did not know anything about them or their circumstances. Now the chief inspector of probation has produced a highly critical report of the early implementation of the changes and the problems that have been experienced, and it bears out much of what I and other MPs have been told.

The report specifically recognises that the speed of the implementation caused problems that could have been avoided or mitigated. It makes a number of suggestions about how those problems can be addressed. The Minister may argue that these problems are teething problems and that the recommendations in the report will be followed, but in fact the problems run deeper. They are a reflection of a model that fragments the management of offenders, adding bureaucracy, damaging effective communication and increasing risk. I have genuine concerns about the implications of Transforming Rehabilitation for public safety, and indeed for the safety of officers supervising offenders.

My first concern is that there are clearly issues about access to the full and timely information necessary for the initial risk assessment to be made. It was worrying to read in the chief inspector’s report of delays in obtaining information about an offender after they had been sentenced, because that information is needed to enable a full risk assessment to be carried out.

The MoJ claims that that situation is not different from what happened previously, when an offender could be allocated to an offender manager who would not necessarily have the full information at the first appointment. I appreciate that Ministers want the allocation process to be speedier, with an expectation that cases will be assessed on the Offender Assessment System, or OASys, within two working days of sentencing, rather than five weeks, as can be the case now. However, that would represent a huge step change in service standards. How confident is the Minister that such an improvement can be achieved?

Moreover, even if the assessment can be done speedily, there is increased risk from the fragmentation that arises from having two entirely separate services. If the initial risk assessment and allocation are wrong, there will inevitably be a delay in getting the offender to the right place and therefore a delay in the offender’s building a relationship with his or her supervisor, as well as in beginning the appropriate programme of support to address their offending behaviour.

It also seems that the information for forming an assessment, even if timely, may not be sufficient. I was pretty shocked that the inspector identified a failure to address diversity issues in the assessment and allocation process. Ethnic, religious and cultural background may have a bearing, for example, on the language needs of an offender or on appropriate sentence planning, such as what unpaid work might be suitable.

There is a high prevalence of mental health problems and learning disability among offenders, and those need to be identified at the outset; the offender manager must be made aware, so that tailor-made sentence planning and effective communication with the offender takes place. Understanding the offender’s family circumstances is relevant. Child care responsibilities may impact on sentence planning and information about family members and relationships is especially important in relation to risk and safeguarding.

Clearly, these all-important matters go to the heart of successful intervention to address offending behaviours and to protect the public. What steps will the Minister take to address the concerns raised by the inspector in relation to reflecting diverse circumstances in reports and in the allocation process?

The Minister may not be surprised to hear that I am particularly concerned about the need for specific, tailor-made approaches for women offenders. The weaknesses in preparing assessment reports, identified by the inspector, are of real concern in this context, but there is also concern about the nature of the interventions that women will receive. As far as I can see, none of the community rehabilitation companies or the organisations that they are working with appear to be specialists in managing women offenders.

In recent years, there has been some good learning and recognition of the specific needs of women offenders and of what works. Specialist women’s centres are effective and positively regarded by offenders. I recently met a group of female offenders in Manchester—Women Moving Forward—who told me how important the support they received from the women’s centre was and who expressed anxiety about future provision, as well they might when women’s centres lack any certainty about their funding after March.

This morning, I met some people from Barnardo’s, who told me about their concerns for children affected by people who may be in prison or on some probation regime, or something of that nature. Does my hon. Friend agree that more must be done by the Minister and others to ensure that we get the correct approach from Government, so that offenders with children are identified and these factors are properly taken into consideration, so that the whole family can be looked at properly, rather than a prisoner or offender being looked at entirely in isolation?

My hon. Friend is right on many levels. First, it is important that family circumstances—particularly the presence of children and other vulnerable family members—are properly understood, so that safeguarding issues can be addressed properly. Secondly, what he said relates to my point about the need to understand particularly the circumstances of women offenders. Many women offenders are mothers: that impacts on the kind of responses and programmes that will work for them and what sentence planning will be appropriate. Mothers in particular will have to balance child care responsibilities with the demands of the sentencing plan.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend makes a good point about the whole-family approach. A stable, comfortable and happy family life helps an offender to overcome offending behaviour, so the ability to take that holistic view of family circumstances would be a real opportunity to address the offending behaviour of many offenders who could be supervised in the community. Indeed, the Minister may want to say how this might be taken forward in the context of his expectation that the community rehabilitation companies will be more innovative than the old probation service. I have not yet seen any evidence of that, but he and the CRCs might like to turn their attention to that area.

I am concerned about specialist provision through women’s centres for women offenders and women at risk from offending. The Prison Reform Trust points out that CRCs will be “expected to fund” ongoing provision after March. Can the Minister therefore assure us that specialist provision will be guaranteed? Given the concerns about this small, often highly vulnerable group of offenders, will he undertake to carry out an annual audit under section 10 of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, to confirm that Transforming Rehabilitation is meeting the needs of women offenders?

As I have said, one important change in Transforming Rehabilitation is that, for the first time, offenders who have served short custodial sentences of less than 12 months will receive supervision on release. That has been universally welcomed, although there is little sign yet of when it will actually happen. Of course, it is vital that the CRCs and the National Probation Service have the resources to do the job. Again, there are some serious worries. The report from the inspector specifically raises concerns about staffing in the new NPS. Can the Minister say what expectation there is about the proportion of those leaving custody who will be deemed to be high risk and under NPS supervision? The inspector recommends a full evaluation of staff resources and this surely must be undertaken as a matter of urgency, so that we can be sure there is adequate provision for the supervision of high-risk offenders. Will the Minister say how he intends to respond to that recommendation?

Of course, the NPS needs adequate contingent resource to address the fact that risk is not static. Categorising offenders as low, medium or high risk is massively to oversimplify. Transforming Rehabilitation recognises this: if there is a concern that an offender who has been categorised as low or medium risk becomes high risk, a fresh assessment will be carried out and he or she will transfer from the community rehabilitation company to the NPS. That is hardly likely to be an infrequent situation.

An offender who is identified as low or medium risk can quickly become high risk if circumstances change. Many offenders are volatile or vulnerable and prone to erratic and potentially dangerous behaviours in response to difficult or unexpected life experiences, such as loss of a job or the ending of a relationship, bereavement or the arrival of a new member of the household. Many come from relatively chaotic backgrounds, where such changes in their circumstances happen fairly frequently. We may see a substantial proportion of offenders move at some time in their sentence from medium or low to high risk, which will necessitate their transfer to the NPS. Has the Minister an assessment of the likelihood of a transition and can he assure us that the NPS will have the resources it needs to deal with it?

I wonder who will be carrying out the assessments at different levels, when people are allocated to various parts of this new-look probation service, and how confident we can feel. Probation officers tell me that they are not perfectly sure yet who is going to do what in the system. Yet here we are, hurtling along on this great change programme that is under way.

It is worrying that those working in the system are still not clear about who is doing what. This is symptomatic of an approach that seems both unnecessarily complicated and fraught with difficulty.

I understand that the system depends on the CRC identifying and escalating a case where there is a perception that risk is increasing—someone in the CRC will have to make that judgment—and then the determination of the risk level will be made by an officer in the NPS. Will the Minister say how the NPS will carry out effective risk assessments of offenders with whom it has not previously had any contact because they have hitherto been managed entirely in the CRC? How can those assessments be objective, given that the NPS has a stake in the outcome, as it will become responsible for any offender that it assesses as high risk? Equally, how will we know whether the CRCs are escalating risk appropriately when they, too, have a stake in the outcome of the risk assessment? I understand—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—that the CRCs will continue to collect outcome payments, even after offenders transfer to the NPS, if the reoffending targets are met.

How will the payment-by-results element work, and what incentives will the NPS and the CRCs have to ensure that we get the crucial risk identification assessment and identification process absolutely right? Although low and medium-risk offenders can become high risk, conversely high-risk offenders can become lower risk over time. I would have thought that we hope rehabilitation programmes have that outcome, but the system does not seem to make provision for it. Once an offender is with the NPS, they stay there, even if their risk subsequently reduces. Will the Minister tell us why high-risk offenders who are subsequently reassessed as low or medium risk will not be transferred back to the CRCs? What are the resource implications of that structure?

What monitoring will be undertaken of when cases are escalated? For example, if there is a pattern of cases escalated very soon after the initial allocation, that might suggest delays in the provision of information or poor data at the time of sentence. A pattern of escalation later in the sentence might offer an early warning of weak intervention in the CRC.

Might it not also reveal that the personnel in the new organisations do not have the appropriate range of skills and understanding and that they are washing their hands of difficult problems as quickly as possible and dealing with only the easy ones?

We have seen that kind of parking approach in other privatised programmes. In the Work programme, for example, the most difficult clients, for whom it was difficult to produce effective outcomes, were parked by the providers. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that risk.

What will happen if an offender is wrongly allocated to the NPS? Can he or she challenge the assessment of the risk if they think it is wrong? That is important, given that it appears that once an offender is allocated to the NPS, they are stuck there. It is important that we know whether the Minister has thought about the effect that that will have on the relevance of the interventions that the NPS receives and the expectations and preconceptions surrounding the offender, which might feed into their chances of resettlement.

Finally, I want to say something about transparency. The public has a right to know whether an upheaval on this scale has been worth it. They must be able to find out whether the contracts are working effectively, whether we are being more effectively protected, whether reoffending has been reduced as a result of the changes and whether public money has been well spent. A Labour Government would extend freedom of information legislation to ensure that the community rehabilitation companies are covered, but the Government opposed that during the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. Shamefully, they made it impossible for a future Government to reverse the contracts, except at great cost to the taxpayer. Can the Minister assure us that the contracts include strong break clauses to ensure that the public does not end up paying for failure if they do not deliver the reduction in reoffending, which we are told is the goal of Transforming Rehabilitation?

All the concerns I have highlighted today should have been addressed before this wholesale, high-risk, evidence-free reorganisation of the probation service went ahead. It seems that ideology, not evidence, characterised the Government’s approach. Perhaps the Minister will reassure us with his answers today. I look forward to his response.

Order. I intend to call the first Front Bencher at 3.40 pm. If the three Members who wish to speak keep their remarks to not much above 10 minutes, everyone can be accommodated.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing this important debate, which allows us to discuss the changes in great detail. I thank her for her speech, which accords with my thoughts. Policing and the probation service is a devolved matter, so the Minister is not directly responsible for what happens in Northern Ireland.

This debate is about probation changes. I want to make some brief comments about Northern Ireland, and then I will make some observations about what the hon. Lady said and raise my concerns. Often, when something happens on the UK mainland, it becomes a line of thought for Northern Ireland, and I would be concerned if that happened with probation services.

The changes to the probation service in Northern Ireland are all monetary. Budgets have been reduced, which has had the effect of increasing reoffending. The budget for the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has been reduced to approximately £18 million, which, it has said, is likely to increase reoffending. I, like probably everybody else here, believe that investing in probation saves money in the long term. It saves money in the criminal justice system and ensures that offenders do not reoffend. The 12% cut to the budget of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has put the service under more pressure and will lead to more reoffending. That, in a nutshell, is where we are in Northern Ireland. Changes have been made to the Probation Board to cut costs. The hon. Lady outlined the potential changes in England and Wales, and I want to make a couple of observations about that.

I am concerned about what is being discussed here because we in Northern Ireland look to the mainland for policy direction. We look to the mainland for what is right so we can consider it when we make policy in the future. I am conscious that the difficulties in the Government’s proposals might affect us. Under the new plans, in England and Wales private companies and charities will be offered payment by results for supervising people released from jail. Every offender who leaves jail, including those who have spent only a few days in prison, will have to complete a year-long supervision period, and they will return to custody if they reoffend.

People have expressed concerns that the plans to privatise 70% of the probation service will lead to more criminals reoffending while on parole or probation while the changes are being put in place. The hon. Lady outlined that issue clearly. She put myriad questions to the Minister, for whom I have great respect. He is deeply interested in this subject, and I look forward to his response.

Some 400 serious crimes are committed by people on probation or parole each year. The National Association of Probation Officers, the probation union, claimed that that figure could rise, as there will not be enough staff in the private sector to recognise the risks properly. My concern is that restricting staff and changing criminals’ supervising officers will increase the chance that criminals will reoffend. The hon. Lady outlined that problem clearly. Under the Government’s plans, public sector probation will focus purely on public protection, and the winners of the rehabilitation services contracts will deliver reductions in reoffending. The statutory probation agency could continue to sit on boards, but, crucially, unless it manages the contracts for rehabilitation, it will have little authority and no budget to influence reconviction rates. There is a clear need for tougher reoffending targets. Perhaps the Minister in his response can indicate whether the Government’s intention is to set targets. If such targets are met by the companies, will they be rewarded in some way to encourage them to do more?

Undoubtedly, the system needs changes and the aims are admirable, but how effective the changes will be is another question altogether. More than half a million crimes are committed each year by those who have broken the law before. The reforms will finally address the gap that sees 50,000 short-sentence prisoners released on to the streets each year with no support or incentive not to reoffend.

Although the reforms are a welcome step in the right direction if done correctly, people have concerns. Payment by results is a frightening possibility, because for many of the people released from prison, the results can be a long time arriving. There is also a risk that that might mean that companies target those who will likely get them good results. I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention, but that is a potential result that we need to keep in mind and consider putting safeguards in place to prevent.

The hon. Gentleman is making some considered points about how the programme may or may not apply in Northern Ireland. My advice would be that he could gain the benefits that the Government aspire to achieve from very different means that would have far fewer risks to public safety. We care about what happens in Northern Ireland, just as he cares about what happens on the mainland, so I urge him to consider alternative approaches that may be safer.

I thank the shadow Minister for that valuable assistance to my line of thought. Westminster Hall debates provide an opportunity to discuss these matters and see what we can do. We all believe in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland altogether and I hope to see that retained.

One of the changes that perturbs me greatly—there are public safety concerns—relates to the access of all staff to detailed case records. Some cases contain details of victims, including rape victims. Access could mean that their names become known outside the system. What precautions will the Minister put in place to ensure that that does not happen?

The hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), who just left, mentioned a pilot scheme. In many cases, pilot schemes are an opportunity to get it right, which goes back to what the shadow Minister said. I wonder why such a scheme was not considered to bed the programme in, allow us to learn from what was wrong and improve on that. We in Northern Ireland could have taken from that the best way of operating, because, no doubt, we will consider such a programme in the future.

Undoubtedly, any work that supports offenders is welcome. We want to help to make staying out of trouble a reality. However, that needs to be achievable. This programme will certainly help in that process, but we need to be wary of cutting or changing the probation service so much that it can no longer function efficiently.

We want to keep our services working as well as they possibly can. That may mean encouraging private companies to work alongside them, but let us be mindful that it is just that—our services and private services working alongside one another in harmony for the benefit of the community—and not a replacement for the great probation service we already have. I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for giving me the chance to speak on this matter.

I welcome the Minister to his post; I felt that he should have been appointed to a job much earlier. I caution him, however, that he has been given a bed of nails and predecessors who have raised issues about the development of this policy have been short-lived in post. I hope that today we can at least take some of the issues raised by the inspector’s report and, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, by NAPO—from the front line—on what is happening at the moment and see how they can be addressed. For an initial report on such a change, the inspector’s report is damning.

As an aside, with regard to the inspector’s post, we have seen coverage in the press about potential conflicts of interest. I welcome the report, which I think demonstrates that the inspector has gone about his job well. I must say, however—the Select Committee on Justice has been in correspondence with the Secretary of State on this—that justice needs not only to be done, but to be seen to be done. The same can be said for probity, transparency and governance.

The Secretary of State needs to give a clear response at some stage on how an appointment has been made without a full, wider declaration of interests that covers potential conflicts of interest. In no way do I question or impugn the independence of the inspector, but that process issue must be addressed.

I identified about 29 or 30 worrying points in the inspector’s report about how the process has operated over the past few months. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) mentioned the allocation of cases, which was fundamental to the restructuring process. The report makes clear in its first paragraphs that the key issue in allocation is the associated assessment and documentation. It says not only that the processes were time-consuming with regard to allocation, but that the documentary evidence did not support a full and clear reading of all the factors. That is surprising. It says:

“our view is that the new processes linked to allocation should be completed by the member of staff preparing any report for court.”

At this first stage in establishing how a case is allocated, there is a lack of clarity about who undertakes the process. Not even the documentation is clear or appropriate.

On timeliness, the inspector argues:

“The majority of cases were allocated…within one working day”.

However, he then demonstrates that a number of cases were allocated wrongly: they went to the NPS instead of the CRC. He says:

“These cases had to be reallocated from the Community Rehabilitation Company back to the National Probation Service with all the work and disruption that this involved.”

More than work and disruption is involved; there is anxiety about the safety and security of prisoner supervision.

The report is even more worrying on the risk of serious harm screenings. Proper screenings for risk of serious harm are fundamental, but, what do we find? It says:

“Staff were not clear about whether the new risk of serious harm screening replaced the previous one or was additional to it.”

One element of that was deportation—this is an issue that Government Members have raised recently—but there is nowhere in the new form and paperwork to record those issues. That is quite remarkable, because deportation is usually associated with criminals who have undertaken serious acts.

The inspector argued for a fuller serious harm analysis than provided at the moment. He says:

“We found that in many cases a full risk of serious harm analysis had not been completed by the National Probation Service, or if it had been done, the Community Rehabilitation Company had not received it.”

Therefore, the analysis is often not being done properly, the paperwork does not cover all the critical aspects and, even if it is done, the CRC does not receive it in sufficient time. He says that, as a result, offenders

“could be assigned to the wrong grade of staff and subsequently need to be reassigned.”

A junior member of staff could therefore supervise a serious offender and be out of their depth. That puts not just the general public, but that member of staff at risk.

On that point, my hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am—the Minister will be, too—to hear about a report passed to me by a member of staff who had heard of a colleague who had not been informed that she was supervising a sex offender. During that supervision, she was subject to a sexual assault. Had that information been provided, first, she might not have supervised that offender, given her grade, and secondly, she certainly would not have seen him on her own.

Some shocking examples are emerging. They are, admittedly, anecdotal, but we also have the inspector’s report, which says this is about more than just individual problems.

On the supply of information to the CRCs, I was interested to see that the report’s authors interviewed two offenders, who said:

“staff who had seen them did not know anything about them”.

As they said, it was not a particularly “good start” when even the probation officer they were supposed to be supervised by did not know them.

We raised the issue of IT before the reorganisation started, and we have done so since. All the evidence we have had from staff completely confirms what the inspector says, which is that the IT system is “slow running” and has “an unreliable search facility”. However, there is one issue I found extraordinary—indeed, it is almost farcical. When does the probation officer most need the IT system? Usually, when they are in court. However, under the current system, they cannot connect their laptops to the network when they are in court—there is no remote connection. That is farcical—or it would be if it were not so dangerous and we were not talking about the supervision of people who have offended and who put the community at risk.

On electronic records, the report says:

“Not all staff understood the system had the ability to upload and store a range of documents electronically”.

On the IT change process, the report says:

“the perception amongst staff we interviewed was that many of these changes were introduced at short notice and with little opportunity for formal training,”

which is exactly what we have said in several debates in this Chamber over the past six months. The management then introduced workarounds to try to get people up to speed, but the inspector says they

“were cumbersome and were not fully understood or, therefore, used by staff.”

On the links between individual IT systems, the report says:

“We found most operational staff and managers were completely unaware that the two existing systems could be linked so that each system updated the other whenever a new assessment was completed.”

What is most worrying, however, is the issue of warning flags, which are meant to go on the system to warn staff about threats relating to the behaviour of individuals being supervised by probation officers. The report says:

“We found these flags were often either not used, or carried out of date or misleading information.”

That is absolutely shocking, to be frank.

All through, the report confirms what we have heard from staff. We have heard consistently that there are not enough staff. Speaking about staff grades and allocations, the inspector—I think he is being diplomatic at this stage—says:

“Not all areas had the ideal balance of probation officers and probation services officers to cover courts”.

We now have evidence from NAPO and staff on the front line that some probation officers are being allocated cases and work beyond their training and pay grade. Again, that puts the service and officers at risk.

On resources overall, the inspector says:

“We found National Probation Service teams struggling to complete all the new tasks required”.

Why? Because of the Transforming Rehabilitation changes themselves, which were putting staff under pressure. The report also says:

“Most areas had kept staff numbers in court teams static, but new processes meant that more resources were needed in courts.”

In evidence from the front line, we are finding that staff are focused on trying to keep up with the pattern of change, rather than on dealing with the serious issues raised by their work. That is a real worry.

Let me give an example. On domestic violence, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston referred to women, and domestic violence and child protection are largely about women. We are now finding that there are insufficient staff to ensure the supervision of courses, particularly building better relationships courses. The Warwickshire and West Mercia community rehabilitation company sent out a letter advising staff that there are insufficient staff to enable courses to be completed properly. It says:

“Due to these exceptional circumstances”—

that is, the lack of qualified staff—

“CRC staff will be returning some cases to court due to insufficient time left on the orders to complete the BBR programme. Where possible, we will suggest the domestic Violence Work book module”.

Staff are therefore offered a manual, rather than an actual course to tackle building relationships, which is core to domestic violence cases. The letter basically says that it has not been possible to recruit sufficient staff and sessional tutors.

Also on staffing, real concerns have been raised with us about diversity. There needs to be an independent assessment of the allocation of staff with regard to ethnicity and diversity. A couple of surveys done with regard to at least two probation trusts support the view that black and ethnic minority staff are over-represented among the CRCs, as opposed to the NPS. That is not only unfair with regard to the staff, but it impacts on diversity issues in service delivery. Again, that issue must be addressed and it goes beyond what the inspector has said.

A whole range of the staffing issues set out in the inspector’s report reflect what front-line staff have told us, even to the point of managers saying:

“Several senior probation officers were not clear what appropriate tasks could be allocated to them.”

There is also a lack of overall management of some issues in the CRCs and the NPS because management have been diverted to dealing with the change process, rather than the day-to-day management of staff and casework.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the inspector comments that, in some CRCs in particular, staff morale is extremely low. The feedback we get from NAPO and its members on the front line is that staff morale is still at rock bottom, and it has not lifted, despite the Secretary of State’s decisions, which he assured us would at least give staff some security about their long-term future. That certainly has not happened.

Staff are doing a good job as best they can under intense strain, and I pay tribute to their loyalty, commitment and dedication to the service. It is a tragedy that the Secretary of State has embarked on this venture—this adventure—which will continue to have a negative impact on staff and the service. I hope that the report will lead the Government to give some thought to addressing the issues that the inspector sets out. Perhaps the system needs much more detailed long-term consideration.

I argue again that the service should never have been privatised. However, it is totally unacceptable to include in the contracts a poison pill clause to try to prevent a future Government from introducing their own reforms. When the next Government are elected in May, I hope that those clauses will be totally disregarded.

I will be brief so that the two Front Benchers can respond in good time. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for getting this debate, which is necessary and important.

I am a member of the Justice Committee, and we have listened to a great deal of evidence about the operation of the probation service. We have heard some very serious, deep concerns from long-standing, committed, professional people who want to deliver a good probation service. They now find themselves being hawked around to the lowest bidder, as the tendering process gathers pace. It is quite shocking that, by May, 80% of rehabilitation services of all kinds will be in the private sector, not the public sector. Whoever is elected to form the next Government in May will have to preside over a system over which they have quite limited control and where there is a real problem with communication between the different sectors of the service.

Our duty as Members of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, and the duty of members of the Justice Committee is specifically to hold the Ministry of Justice, including the Lord Chancellor and the other Ministers, to account. They have three roles that apply to this debate. The first, obviously, is ensuring the safety of the judicial system, so that those who are convicted are genuinely convicted. Secondly, there is the role of the prisons and what happens in them. Do people come out of prison more or less likely to offend and more or less well equipped to deal with the challenges of society? From that stems the problem of reoffending. I am far from convinced, however, that dividing up a service and attacking the professionals in it all the time, as well as the current Lord Chancellor’s obsession with privatising every conceivable aspect of the judicial process, helps to achieve any of that, and does not make the situation considerably worse.

We have had evidence from NAPO, which has provided briefings to the Committee and to many hon. Members, and I want to mention some of its concerns:

“Same day reports (SDRs) and oral reports at Court do not allow sufficient time to carry out checks with police and children’s services”.

That must be a matter of concern. Staff shortages have led to cancellations of sex offender programmes and domestic violence programmes, and obviously extreme danger goes with that. Because of a

“lack of fully qualified probation officers…domestic violence cases are being allocated to Probation Service Officers who are not experienced or qualified to work with these complex cases”.

Apparently, the

“National Probation Service (NPS) in some regions is no longer sending representatives to Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences”

because there are not enough staff.

The whole point of a rehabilitation process is to link all the agencies. What is happening is the opposite of that—the break-up of the link between them. Instead of meetings of a group of professionals from different public sector organisations, there are meetings of competing private companies—some of which are inhibited by data protection law from sharing information with each other. We have reached an absurd situation and I hope that the Minister will tell us that everything is well, that things are going to get better and that he will halt the privatisation process that is going ahead with such speed.

At the Justice Committee before December, we were informed of potential conflicts of interest with the new chief inspector of probation. The Secretary of State promised us an answer by today. Today is not yet finished; there are still nearly nine hours to go, in which an answer can be given. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what action has been taken on that issue, which is of great concern to the public.

The debate is about the probation service, and it is also about the kind of society that we want to live in. I had the good fortune to go with the Justice Committee on a visit to young offenders institutions in Denmark and Norway. I have also visited quite a lot in this country. I pay tribute to the people who work in YOIs. It is not an easy job. One of the most interesting times I had was a long session with a group of young offenders in Feltham, where I went with my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). It was just us and the group of young offenders. Listening to their stories was very sad, and so was listening to what they had done. Listening to their lack of ambition for when they came out was even worse.

Surely, the criminal justice system must be based on the idea that, although those who have committed crimes must face a judicial process and there are occasions when it is right to send someone to prison or give them community service—there is a range of options—the primary objective is to bring them out as better people, with personal ambitions and a personal network, rather than as people facing the same issues they faced before with a high likelihood of reoffending. We all pay the price for their reoffending, in the lost skills of those who go to prison and the damage to communities.

We talked to people at the MultifunC institutions in Denmark and Norway, and the system is expensive to operate; I do not doubt that. It is much more intensive and professionally supported than our services, but the level of reoffending is below 20%. Ours is well above 50% for pretty well all categories, and well above 70% for others. Something is going badly wrong.

There is no evidence to suggest that privatising the probation service, Prison Service and all other forms of rehabilitation and support does anything but create competition in the private sector and a miasma of bureaucracy. The losers are the ex-offenders, the community, and those of us—all of us—who must pay the costs in reoffending, more prisons and more sentencing. Surely, there is a better way to go about this—one that would show some respect for those who have given their lives to the probation service and who in a decent and professional way try to improve people’s lives, rather than working solely for private sector companies whose main interest is making money out of the system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing the debate this afternoon. We have had to contrive ways to obtain every debate that has ever been held on probation reform, since the idea was first proposed. We have had Opposition day debates, and we had to table amendments to the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. The Government provided no opportunity to hon. Members to debate this important issue. I therefore pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for their speeches, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) for the interventions he has made.

It may seem that the horse has bolted, because the Government have signed the contracts. I know that the Minister is new to his job, and came to the post after the Act was passed, but I assure him that the concern felt by the Opposition—and, I suspect, by some Conservative Back Benchers—has not gone away. We are probably more concerned than we were previously. When the Act was going through Parliament, our concerns were hypothetical. We were told that we were scare- mongering, and not getting on the bus and showing the enthusiasm that we should, but we were proved right. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but the concerns that we raised, and that the Government were warned about, are by and large starting to come true. The Government need to take that seriously. The Minister needs to act. He needs to do something about the situation, not just sit and shake his head. What is happening is serious, and involves public safety and the morale of an organisation, or many organisations, with an important job in communities.

My colleagues have spoken clearly about the catalogue of errors that has characterised the Government’s probation policy. We could have filled a much longer time, if we had been allowed to, and could have got under the skin of the issues. I am saddened that Members of Parliament have not been given a proper opportunity to debate the detail, except in debates such as this one, when we make speeches cataloguing our concerns. The Government have never given us the opportunity for proper line-by-line consideration of the proposals. If they could have got away with it, we would have had no debate on probation.

It is worth repeating that the probation service does highly skilled and challenging work, which receives little attention when it is done well, but which is crucial to keeping communities safe. Reoffending rates are still far too high, and much more needs to be done to break the cycle of repeat offending. We know that. If the Minister intends to tell us that the Government had to do something because reoffending rates were far too high, my reply is that they are still too high. I venture to suggest that they will still be too high in a year.

Probation undertakes a very difficult task. Should the Minister’s predecessor have considered asking far more of the trusts, which were without exception graded good or excellent? They were not dysfunctional, failing organisations. I would argue that their staff were some of the most entrepreneurial—probably too much so for some of my colleagues’ tastes—go-getting, ambitious people to be found anywhere in the public or perhaps even the private sector. They were very prepared to innovate, and were not doing the nine-to-five. Those people lived and breathed their job, and many, I am sad to say, are now lost to public service. That is a great shame. We should have demanded far more of those trusts and raised the bar. Last year’s “good” should have become this year’s “excellent”, and last year’s “inadequate” should have become “good”. We should have raised the bar. That has not happened and those organisations no longer exist, which is a great shame.

The Secretary of State rushed the changes. Many of us will never forgive him for that. The speed at which they were rushed through was appalling. He did not even manage to test the policy to check that it worked. I was amazed to hear the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), say on the “Today” programme that the proposals and changes had been thoroughly tested and piloted. Nothing of the sort happened. There were pilots, which the Labour party backed—we supported piloting the idea, because we were not ideologically opposed to it and thought that there could be some learning—but the Secretary of State cancelled them. There was no opportunity to learn or to make mistakes on a relatively small scale.

Everything was completely rushed and the Secretary of State cancelled the pilots. It would be good to hear Ministers acknowledge that that is what happened, rather than misinterpreting events and saying that the changes had been piloted. There were pilots, but they were cancelled and never got under way. Even though much time, energy and thought had gone into preparing for them, they never happened. We warned at the time that that was scrapping any opportunity for the Government to test or improve the model, or to learn from mistakes on a small scale. Instead, every single teething problem—as predicted—every dodgy bit of IT and every failure in communication is now being experienced in all areas and by all staff members on a national scale. That cannot be a sensible way in which to implement any such change.

We have heard what a shambles the transfer has been, with probation officers in some cases—Ministers have denied this, but I know for a fact that it happened—having their names picked out of a hat to decide whether they would be working for the National Probation Service or a CRC. That is a disgraceful way in which to treat members of staff in any organisation.

The problems that we are talking about, however, cannot be called teething problems any more. This is not the odd unsent e-mail; this is widespread, high-risk problems with staffing, communications and IT. An hour and a half debate is simply not sufficient to deal with those problems. I want to drive the point home about the lack of opportunity that the Government have allowed in the House for Members to contribute to and improve the proposals. Today, however, we have had a flavour of the problems.

The inspectorate found that the IT systems were a “barrier” to staff using time effectively; that new tasks had not been integrated with old systems; and that significant amounts of work were being duplicated by different programmes and processes. The new processes

“take longer and are more complex than previous arrangements”.

Inspectors reported meeting offenders who had been seen by probation staff who knew nothing about them, while other offenders were juggled between many different members of staff before finally meeting the officer who in theory was to manage their case. Whatever the inadequacies of the previous system, at least we knew who was responsible. It is frightening that that is not happening any more.

Things are not running as the Justice Secretary had guessed they might—it was a guess—and the allocation of staff and resources to the NPS and the CRCs is not working out as expected. There are staff shortages across the system, with many people having left. A greater number of cases are being transferred to the NPS than was originally expected, and NPS teams are struggling to manage the high-risk case load alongside the other new duties demanded by the fragmented service.

As we have heard from colleagues, there are now perverse incentives in the system around risk allocation. On top of everything else, the new risk assessment tools are taking time to bed in, as everyone said they would. We know it takes time for practitioners to understand how to use new risk management tools effectively and get used to them, but no time was allowed. Why introduce a new risk management tool at the very time that so much turmoil is being inflicted on the system? It seems to be the worst possible way in which to implement even a good idea—not that it was a good idea.

Extremely worryingly, officers are reporting that lower-grade staff are working with cases way beyond their training, experience and even pay grade, including complex domestic violence cases, life-sentence prisoners and cases involving child protection. That is a huge safeguarding problem. Will the Minister commit at least to investigate those cases urgently, because they will be of huge concern to the public? I am realistic: probation and management of offenders is not the No. 1 concern of voters in any of our constituencies, but they get completely exercised about domestic violence and child protection not being dealt with properly by the right people—by people who are trained and qualified appropriately. The Minister needs to commit to investigating that as a priority. The Minister has a responsibility to verify and reassure us on that.

Staff are telling me that they are having to replace one-to-one supervision with group supervision, or to cancel or postpone offending behaviour programmes, which includes treatment for sex offenders. When I worked in the Prison Service, such programmes were very special and considered to be most effective. They were rigorously validated and academically robust, which I think is probably still the case, but if those programmes, which we know are effective, are being cancelled or delayed due to a lack of facilitators, that is most concerning to Opposition Members. Is the Minister investigating the extent of that problem? He might not be able to answer today, but perhaps he can commit to writing to the Members present in the Chamber to let them know the answer to some of our questions, although he has been asked rather a lot.

What is troubling is that most of the issues are not short-term problems that one might expect with a new system or process, so it is not good enough to say, “Okay, we realise that there are difficulties. These will be ironed out. Please be reassured.” In this case, the problems have been built into the service by the Government’s reforms. The Government have created a host of problems that they will have to live with if they persist with their model. In essence, the problems have been created by the service being split needlessly in two. At the end of the day, when we look back on the reforms, that will be identified as the key mistake. Changes took place because the Justice Secretary had a gut feeling that it was the right way to proceed. That will be regretted.

The fragmentation of the service has, unfortunately, done the harm that many Members of the House saw coming. The inspectorate put it like this: it said that

“splitting one organisation into two…has created process, communication and information-sharing challenges that did not previously exist. Many of those issues will remain a challenge for some time to come”.

The inspector puts that very clearly. I have a huge amount of respect for Paul McDowell. Whatever the circumstances of his appointment and whether the Justice Secretary knew about them and informed the Select Committee—he clearly did not inform the Committee, but he has to answer to the Committee for that—the inspector, to his credit, has done a very good job with his report.

In reality, fragmentation means that work is being duplicated and information is not being shared on time, which makes supervision less responsive and puts public safety at risk. Not only are there problems with information sharing between probation organisations, but staff are reporting poorer communication with partner organisations, which includes the police and child protection agencies. When things go wrong we take time to look at why, and inevitably there are recommendations. Almost every serious case review I have read has highlighted problems with information sharing, especially with partner organisations. It is deeply concerning that staff are raising concerns that information is not being shared with the police and with child protection agencies.

We know what helps probation to work better: we need partnership working and good relationships with other agencies—we know how important those are. A good relationship between the offender and the probation officer is crucial. Quick response times matter, as do seamless communications. Those things are not luxuries but a basic necessity, and they have been put at risk by the reforms.

Reoffending rates are far too high, and we would have gladly worked with the Government—indeed, we still would—to test ideas and find ways to bring. out the best in public, private and voluntary expertise. All three sectors have a role to play in reducing reoffending. I would have put a lot more pressure on trusts not only to work with a greater number of agencies and to commission more, but to hold the ring and be accountable for performance. That would have been a far better and safer way to proceed, but the Justice Secretary had no interest in evidence or in testing his ideas, and the service is now paying the price of this hurried upheaval.

A recent survey of probation staff showed that 98% had no confidence in the Government’s plans, 97% had no confidence in the Justice Secretary and 55% were looking to change job. The expertise of those staff is the one thing holding the whole flipping experiment together! They deserve absolute credit for that, but the Government and the public should be exceptionally worried if experienced senior officers continue to leave the service. We heard on the radio this morning about the concerns that prison officers have about their safety at work. I do not want to think of probation workers having the same kind of anxieties as their colleagues in the prison service.

The Minister has an awful lot of questions to answer. I feel for him in many ways—this problem has been landed on him and is not, I know, one of his making. However, he is the one in the job now so it falls to him to answer the questions. How much does he think the reforms will cost? In Committee on the 2014 Act, his predecessor, the current Attorney-General, resisted every opportunity we gave him to provide us with numbers on what he intended to spend on the programme.

What will the Minister do about staff morale? Morale is very important in this line of work—it really matters. Staff need to be supported to understand the new processes, particularly given the findings of the inspectorate. Many staff do not even understand the rationale behind the changes, and I can understand that. He needs to do something about that, so I want to hear from him what he intends to do.

I also want to know about payment by results. It has been used as a bit of a fig leaf, with Ministers saying that all will be well because we will pay only for outstanding results. That is not true, but we have not been told how much of the payment will be dependent on the results and how much will simply be paid anyway. It is important that we know the answer.

What is the Minister going to do about the communications and IT failures? Is this an issue with resources, with management or with training? Is it an issue with all three? We need to understand that.

Will the Minister guarantee funding for women’s centres? That is an issue of massive concern. Women’s centres can do a lot to reduce reoffending, as they are very effective at cutting it.

We know that the contracts contain clauses promising companies millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money if they are terminated early, and that we are unlikely to be able to afford to buy ourselves out of them, as we might wish to do. Will the Minister outline what break clauses exist in the contracts, so that we can at least be assured that we will not have to pay those companies for failure? What plans does he have in place should a company fail? We have seen health care companies such as Southern Cross fail; what will happen if companies in the probation sector fail?

We are committed to extending freedom of information so that we can find out exactly what is happening in the companies. Does the Minister have any thoughts on that? Do the Government have any intention of allowing FOI to apply to community rehabilitation companies?

Lastly, I pay tribute to the loyalty of the staff, who work so hard and are dedicated to rehabilitation, in both the NPS and the community rehabilitation companies. It is not true that the most experienced and the brightest and best went to the NPS, and everyone else went to the CRCs. There are outstanding, long-serving staff in both organisations who do a tremendous job in very difficult circumstances. I want to make it clear that the Opposition opposed the reforms from start to finish and we will be crawling all over the contracts to ensure that whatever break clauses there are will be applied, and quickly, in the interests of public safety.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing this important debate. I have known her for a long time. I have a great deal of respect for her and know she takes a serious interest in these issues.

I am going to prioritise answering the various points raised by Members during the debate and come to my prepared remarks afterwards. I will deal as quickly as I can with all the matters put to me.

All the existing expertise of our fantastic public sector probation staff is still there in the system. Most people are working at the same desk, doing the same job as before. That is highly valuable. I should point out that the report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation goes up to September last year, and there have been significant improvements since then on a lot of the issues that Members have quite properly raised. To give just one example, the rate for completion of the risk of serious recidivism report within two days is now at 80%, which is a significant increase. We have every confidence that that figure will carry on increasing, and I hope that that reassures Members. [Official Report, 21 January 2015, Vol. 591, c. 1MC.]

We were accused of bringing in the reforms on the basis of ideology, not evidence, but given that we have all agreed that reoffending rates are too high—it is a serious problem, as every Member who has spoken has said—I gently say to the Opposition that it would be wrong not to take the best expertise within our brilliant public probation service, the fantastic expertise in the voluntary and community sectors, of which no mention has been made by Opposition Members this afternoon, and the expertise that exists in some private companies. We want to have the best of all three working to tackle these issues.

I will make some progress. I will not succeed in answering the questions already put to me unless the shadow Minister allows me the little time I have left to do so.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston asked why we did not simply get probation companies to deal with the under-12-month group. Frankly, on the financial model we were operating on before, that would not have been affordable. The previous Government tried to do it under their “custody plus” plans but had to scrap the attempt before implementation. We believe that the reduction in reoffending that we expect to see will enable us to extend provision by the companies to that important group.

The hon. Lady and one or two other Members mentioned the random allocation of staff to the National Probation Service and to CRCs.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I want particularly to respond to the people who made speeches in the debate.

Random allocation of staff happened in a very small number of circumstances when other objective methods of allocation were not available, and was used specifically to choose between staff who were otherwise similarly qualified to be assigned to the relevant organisation.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston quite properly raised the important issue of how we will deal with diversity. We believe it is most appropriate for a detailed diversity assessment to be carried out after allocation, as that can then inform the detailed sentence plans compiled by the offender manager. That fits with the sentencing approach introduced by the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014.

The hon. Lady also—again, quite properly—raised the issue of what we are going to do as far as the specific needs of women offenders are concerned. I visited Peterborough prison last Thursday and saw the excellent work there—not least in the mother and baby unit; she is absolutely right to raise the issue, as is the shadow Minister. More than 1,000 organisations have registered to play a part as either tier 2 or tier 3 providers in the supply chain, many of them with specific expertise in delivering specialist support to women offenders.

To go further on that point, we are including three gender-specific outputs in contracts with the community rehabilitation companies, meaning that, where practical, providers will have to give female offenders the option of a female supervisor or responsible officer, of attending meetings or appointments in a female-only environment, and of not being placed in a male-only environment for unpaid work or attendance requirements. I could go into more detail on that, but I hope that I have given some reassurance that we have thought seriously about the issues that the hon. Lady was quite right to raise.

The hon. Lady also raised the escalation of low and medium-risk offenders. We are keeping escalation rates under close review, but so far the indications are that the numbers are relatively small. The decision on escalation is always one for the National Probation Service, which, of course, remains wholly within the public sector. We supported both the NPS and CRCs to bed in the new processes so that they are working effectively.

On the issue of freedom of information requests to community rehabilitation companies, the CRC contracts set requirements on providers to give information to the Ministry of Justice if it receives relevant requests under the Freedom of Information Act. That is not completely as hon. Members suggested.

In the nine minutes that I have left, I want to move on to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). He was generous enough to say that he thought that the reforms could be worth while if done correctly—I may be paraphrasing him slightly, but I think that he made remarks along those lines. He asked, as did one or two other hon. Members, why we did not pilot the reforms. I refer him to the pilots undertaken at both Peterborough and Doncaster, which the shadow Minister mentioned.

It is worth putting on the record that in Peterborough there was a reduction of 8.4% and in Doncaster a reduction of 5.7%. I fully recognise that that is not the same as the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, because we are bringing to bear further measures that will help with the under-12-month group and so on, but those two pilots show that where we have allowed innovation and new initiative, and where investment has come in from outside the public sector, we have brought reoffending down.

No. The hon. Lady will want to hear this because she made allegations about safety and so on. I know she will be reassured that the number of serious further offence notifications between 1 June and 30 September 2014 was 151. That was a reduction compared with same period of the previous two years, when the figure was 181 for both 2013 and 2012.

All hon. Members will know—not least the two distinguished members of the Justice Committee who are present, the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—that the level of serious further offences is an important indication of how well a probation service is doing. I hope that that reassures hon. Members.

I am not sure that I am distinguished.

Safety was absolutely key to the legal action taken by the National Association of Probation Officers before Christmas. The Secretary of State gave assurances in court that action would be taken by 1 February to address a whole range of issues of which we are unaware because the union is subject to a gagging clause. Will the Minister give us an indication—now, because the time is here—of the actions that have been taken, on a point-by-point basis, to address the concerns raised in court, therefore showing that there is no need for the gagging order to be in place at this stage?

In the six minutes that I now have left, I will try to put as much information on the record as possible. There is certainly no gagging going on here because I want to inform hon. Members as much as I can.

I move on to the speech made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. First, I thank him for his very kind remarks about me. Along with one or two other Members, he mentioned the position of the chief inspector of probation. First, as the CRCs are within the public sector, there is currently no conflict of interest. Secondly, I refer back to what the Secretary of State said in the Chamber not so long ago: the issue is under discussion and must be addressed. I cannot say more at this moment, but I reiterate the assurance given by the Secretary of State.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman praise probation staff. I, too, will take the opportunity to do that now. As the shadow Minister rightly said, they are a group of public sector workers who are often forgotten. They are not the first group of public sector workers who come to mind, but they do an absolutely vital job in the criminal justice system. I pay huge tribute to the important work that they do in keeping us all safe. The hon. Gentleman was also absolutely right to discuss the need to raise offenders’ ambition. We will not succeed unless we manage to do that; the issue is very close to my heart.

On the issue of voluntary termination clauses, raised by both the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Minister, I should say that they are standard Government clauses. When the Labour Government were introducing the flexible new deal, they used exactly the same clauses. We would not have had the healthy level of interest and attracted the expertise and commitment that has come in to bring down reoffending had we not used those clauses.

The hon. Member for Islington North talked about a race to the bottom on price. I make no apologies for the fact that value for money is an important consideration in the spending of taxpayers’ money, but I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we were highly rigorous about the quality of the bids. Every organisation that has bid has previous experience in the service area; that was extremely important to us.

The shadow Minister asked why we had not piloted the reforms. I say to her that the problem across the UK is so significant that we were determined to address it across the country. Conducting a number of small pilots would not have given us the opportunity to do that. She referred to a staff survey; unfortunately, in one of the staff surveys undertaken by NAPO, only about 10% of the eligible staff participated. We are dealing successfully with those issues as they come forward.

It is a good thing to have opened up the market to a diverse range of new rehabilitation providers. We are determined to continue to get the very best out of our public sector workers. We are extremely grateful for the expertise that has been introduced by the voluntary and private sector providers.

Hon. Members asked about the new payment incentives for market providers. They will be there so that we can focus relentlessly on reforming offenders, giving providers freedom from bureaucracy and the flexibility to do what works, but paying them in full only for real and significant reductions in reoffending. For the first time in recent history, virtually every offender released from custody will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. We are legislating to extend statutory supervision and rehabilitation to all 45,000 of the most prolific group of offenders.

It is important to realise the cost of crime caused by reoffenders, which the National Audit Office estimates at between £9 billion and £13 billion across society. That is why it has been right to take forward these significant reforms to deal with the very serious issue of reoffending.