The Tories have been forced into another embarrassing U-turn, with the government partially reversing the disastrous privatisation of probation services. Labour and the unions need to fight for full public ownership.
Five years after the probation service was privatised by the Tories, probation service staff are celebrating the news that 80% of the work is to be brought back under public ownership. This represents a major turning point in the campaign against privatisation.
Back in 2014, the Tories issued 21 contracts to eight private sector companies, under the theme of “transforming rehabilitation”. Since then the privatised “community rehabilitation companies” (CRCs) have been strongly criticised by the Chief Inspector of Probation, as well as by the Parliamentary Justice Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.
Criticism has included fears over public safety, the quality of service provision, and the capacity of the private sector to reduce offending rates. In February, three CRCs went into administration, leaving debts of £1.2 million to voluntary sector providers.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), stated:
“Since these so called reforms were first outlined Napo has raised serious concerns about this untested social experiment. The government went ahead and implemented a model that had been criticised across the board for being unfit for purpose. Our members predicted that the TR model was doomed to fail from the outset. We are pleased that this Minister has chosen to heed our concerns, examine the need for a different approach and take action.”
For decades, probation services have been a game of political football, with Tory demands for “Law and Order” giving way to Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” rhetoric. This, in turn, was followed by the disaster of privatisation carried out by Chris Grayling, the former Conservative justice secretary.
Effective and accountable probation services can make a big difference in reducing reoffending and supporting ex-offenders in overcoming addictions and finding work. Tory austerity has massively increased the pressure on all public services. The bedroom tax and universal credit have placed even bigger pressures on families and on vulnerable people struggling to survive.
We fully support NAPO’s campaign to bring all probation services back under public ownership. As Ian Lawrence has explained:
“We are obviously disappointed that there is an intention for some probation work to remain in the private sector. Napo will continue to campaign to ensure that all of these services and our members who provide them, are eventually transferred back into the public sector and that we will step up our efforts to secure pay parity for all probation staff. This victory has not given us all that we want and while this news will be welcomed by Napo members and other stakeholders, the campaign for public ownership is not over yet.”
But even public ownership won’t solve the problems overnight. It will begin to address the privatisation fiasco. But the real problem is the rotten capitalist system itself and the poverty, despair and misery that it spawns.
Only a Labour government with a bold socialist programme – one that addresses the deep social crisis in Britain today – can begin to eradicate the social conditions that are at the root of so much of offending and provide fully funded, democratically accountable and effective public services.