Lancashire’s probation boss fears for job cuts in service

CONCERNS: Kevin Robinson, who runs Lancashire's probation service, has accused the Government of not listening to experts
CONCERNS: Kevin Robinson, who runs Lancashire's probation service, has accused the Government of not listening to experts
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Up to 400 probation officers in Lancashire could be redeployed or made redundant in a radical shake-up of the service nationally.

The warning has come from the county’s top probation boss in a scathing attack on plans by the Government to privatise 75 per cent of the work his officers do.

Kevin Robinson, chief executive of the Lancashire Probation Trust, accused Justice Minister Chris Grayling of “not listening” to experts before unveiling a plan which will effectively dismantle the service.

“We told him plans to privatise the probation service were ill-informed, misguided and would result in the fragmentation of the service and put people at risk,” he said.

“It is really about what is the best way to protect the public and the measures announced by Mr Grayling are not, in our view, the best way to do that.”

Sweeping reforms, announced yesterday, will lead to a slimmed down national probation service to handle only the most dangerous offenders. The rest will be passed to private companies to supervise, with the likes of G4S and Serco invited to tender for the work.

In addition the Government has announced all offenders leaving prison, however short their sentences, must serve a minimum 12 months under supervision.

“We welcome that bit,” said Mr Robinson. “We would have delivered that service if we had been asked to do it.

“But on the other reforms Mr Grayling has not been listening to what the probation service has been telling him.

“We have met every single target we have been asked to meet over the last 10 years. We are one of the most successful public services.

“Yet this will result in dwellinghouse burglars, prolific offenders and domestic offenders not being supervised by a public body, but a private organisation.

“We have 8,000 offenders in Lancashire and under these reforms 6,000 of them will initially be managed by a private sector organsisation.

“So we are looking at 350 to 400 staff either being redeployed or made redundant.”

The Government say they want to put a stopper in the revolving door of the justice system which has seen re-offending rates hardly change for the past decade. More than 58 per cent of prisoners serving less than 12 months go on to commit further crimes within a year of release.

“Tackling our stubbornly high re-offending rates has dogged successive governments for decades,” said Mr Grayling. “These reforms represent a golden opportunity to finally turn the tide.

“They are essential and will ensure that offenders are properly punished but also given support to help them turn away from crime for good.”

Local probation trusts are set to be disbanded, but they will have an opportunity to merge with other organisations to form mutual bodies which could then tender for probation work.

“At the moment a successful probation service manages all 8,000 offenders in Lancashire,” said Mr Robinson. “But, as from the autumn of next year, many of those will be under the supervision of a private provider.

“It’s a worrying situation. The safety of the public will all depend on the quality of the provider who wins the contract.

“Consultation is over. We are in a situation where this is it and it is now a race to the finish.

“It’s a sad day for the Lancashire Probation Trust. But, at the same time, it is an opportunity going forward for us to look at becoming a new entity to compete in the market.”