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Probation Services

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2019

We have been clear that probation needs to improve, and we have taken decisive action to end current community rehabilitation company contracts and develop more robust arrangements to protect the public and tackle reoffending. I am determined to learn lessons from the first generation of contracts in developing future arrangements. I believe that public, private and voluntary providers all have a role to play. We want to improve integration under new arrangements so that providers are able to work together effectively to protect the public and tackle reoffending.

The recently published National Audit Office report on probation services highlighted not only the staggering additional costs of privatisation but the fact that CRCs are failing to provide even the most basic rehabilitation services. With nearly £0.5 billion-worth of bail-outs and only six out of 21 CRCs achieving significant reductions in reoffending, is it not now time to put probation back where it belongs, under public ownership and control?

The hon. Lady talks about costs and bail-outs. We have to remember that we are spending considerably less on CRCs than was anticipated when the contracts were entered into—some £700 million less—but it is right that we learn the lessons from the first generation of contracts. I am not satisfied with where we are, and the NAO has raised its concerns. We have also heard concerns from the inspectorate of probation, and we need to learn the lessons. It is important that this continues to be a mixed market. There is a place for the private sector and the voluntary sector, as well as for the public sector, in probation.

As the Secretary of State knows, the Select Committee on Justice has looked into this area in some depth. Would he agree that the most important issue is not the ownership of the contracts or who provides this service but ensuring that there is no fragmentation of the service, which is a risk? There should be a proper join-up between leaving prison and going out into the world of freedom.

These are important points, and the debate can sometimes be a little simplistic, whether it is “public sector good, private sector bad” or vice versa. A lot of this is about integration and making services hang together. One of the things we did last year was to announce additional money for through-the-gate services, which is important, but a lesson from what has happened in the past is that we need to make sure the system hangs together more, which it has not been doing sufficiently.

Before wreaking havoc in the Department for Transport, the Secretary of State for Transport was busy wreaking havoc in our justice system. He unleashed a crisis in our prisons and then he privatised probation, leaving the public less safe and costing the public hundreds of millions more than necessary. The world’s media are treating the Transport Secretary as a laughing stock, but the joke is on us because this Government are set to repeat past errors by signing a new round of private probation contracts. When will the Justice Secretary do the decent thing and put an end to the failed experiment of a privatised probation system?

The hon. Gentleman takes a somewhat simplistic view. His approach appears to be that he wants all probation services to be nationalised and every offender intervention to be done by the public sector. I think there is an opportunity to make use of both the private sector and the voluntary sector. If he takes the approach he appears to advocate of closing off any activity performed by anybody other than the public sector, we will not get the best probation service we could have.