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Probation Services

Volume 644: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2018

17. Whether he has plans to change the contracts of private sector probation companies; and if he will make a statement. (906363)

21. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. (906367)

22. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. (906369)

We are currently in commercial negotiations with community rehabilitation companies, with the aim of amending contracts and improving operational performance. Once we have concluded those negotiations, we will be in a position to provide further detail about the changes that we intend to make.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice bailed out privatised probation companies to the tune of £342 million, leaving the public to foot the bill for their inadequate work, which the chief inspector of probation found to make a negligible difference. Will the Minister commit today that there will be no more bail-outs for those privatised probation companies?

We should be clear about what happened. Last year, we amended contracts to ensure that payments made to community rehabilitation companies were more in line with the costs that they incur to deliver core services. We are paying CRCs less than we originally intended when the contracts were let: they are receiving less than their costs, a consequence of over-optimistic bidding on their part. When we talk about bail-outs, we should be clear that those companies are receiving income that is less than it costs them to provide the services.

Why will the Secretary of State not accept the conclusion of the Conservative-led Justice Committee that this is, in its words, “a mess” and may never work? Why does he not stop throwing good money after bad, cut his losses, blame his predecessor and be applauded for bringing this vital service back in-house?

As I said in my earlier answer, we are engaging with the CRCs, which do need to improve their service. The model that we have has opened up the delivery of probation services to a range of new providers. It has extended support and supervision to an additional 40,000 offenders leaving prison. First-generation contracts can be difficult to get right—I acknowledge that—but we are taking all necessary steps to get the performance that we require.

Given the constant underperformance, high cost and deeply abject failure of private probation companies, is it not time to re-establish a professional, coherent and comprehensively public probation service?

I am not sure that the complaint about high cost holds together: the services are being delivered for less than we had expected, although we acknowledge that there are problems. The one thing we hear from the Opposition about justice is that the private sector should be kept out at all costs. I do not think that ideological approach is sensible. It is important that there should be a mixed market.

Last year, as we have heard, the privatised probation services got a £342 million bail-out despite underperforming. There are press rumours that the contract will be changed again. Will the Minister give a commitment today that the privatised probation services will not get a penny more until the Government have held a review into the botched privatisation of probation services?

I come back to my previous points. The CRCs have been receiving less income than it costs them to deliver the services. Because of the reforms undertaken a few years ago, 40,000 offenders get support who would have got nothing previously. The contracts can be challenging; it is right that we look at that and deliver good value for money for the taxpayer and good-quality services. That is what we are determined to deliver.