Reporting on Privatising Probation in Leicestershire

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Last year the union Napo took critically important national strike action to oppose the Government’s ongoing dismantling and privatisation of probation services. At the time the Leicester Mercury provided a few articles which very briefly outlined this catastrophic turn of events, and now, just last week, the Mercury provided an update, “Probation service’s replacements named.” (October 30, 2014, p.4)

The Leicester Mercury provided no critical commentary on this “fresh approach” (read: disaster) for human rights in Leicester. Only noting that the three companies who would be taking over the probation service were Ingeus UK, St Giles Trust and Crime Reductions Initiatives. So who are these new, fresh, organizations?

The first company, Ingeus UK, is a leading provider of the Government’s toxic Work Programme; a group whose web site proudly advertises that its provides the workfare component (Mandatory Work Activity) of this Work Programme in the East Midlands and the North East. Ingeus’ current CEO is Dean James, whose relevant skill-base includes having “spent 20 years in the international oil and gas industry working in development, operations and on global business improvement.” Here it is interesting to counter-pose the Mercury’s reporting on this privatisation of a vital public service with their non-reporting last month of a press release that was sent to them by Leicester Independent Councillors Against Cuts. This ignored press release is worth quoting at some length.

“In coordination with a National Week of Action against Workfare called by grassroots campaigning group Boycott Workfare, members of Leicester Independent Councillors Against the Cuts (LICAC), Cllrs Barbara Potter and Wayne Naylor, call upon the Council do all they can to stamp out such offensive and needless practices.

“LICAC Group Leader Cllr Barbara Potter said, “Workfare schemes are ultimately an attack on the human rights of everyone in Leicester, whether they are unemployed or employed. The simple although severely problematic idea underpinning workfare is that people claiming benefits should be forced to work for nothing – under the threat of having their benefit payments cut. This to me is a very unfair practice and the council should be encouraging local businesses not to involve themselves in this practice.”

“So far, hundreds of companies and charities have outright rejected these workfare schemes. And while twenty or so enlightened Councils across the country have pledged to boycott this archaic form of exploitation, Leicester City Council is not amongst them…”

Moving on, the second group taking over probation services in Leicestershire is Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI). This group having merged with the exploitative “charity” Sova in November 2012, with Sova becoming a subsidiary of CRI. For the record: employees of Sova in Sheffield have just announced that they are embarking on indefinite strike action against their corrupt and profiteering bosses.

The final group now being given the reigns of probation services is St Giles Trust, which began in 1962 as the Camberwell Samaritans. The Trust’s CEO, Rob Owens, is a former high-flying banker no less; he is also a trustee of the Futurebuilders Fund, which is committed to implementing David Cameron “Big Society.” The currently chairman of the Futurebuilders Fund is one Sir Stephen Bubb, the “head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), [who, it was revealed last year,] urged Jeremy Hunt not to water down regulations that would encourage more private companies into the NHS.”

On the nature of the hostile takeover of probation services I will leave the last word to Napo, who reporting on their intervention at a fringe meeting at the Tory Party Conference last month wrote the following report

“[Napo’s Press Officer] Tania Bassett reminded the panel, that included Rob Owen Chief Executive of St Giles Trust, that the probation service had been working in partnership with other organisations in the third sector and private sector for many years. Rob Owen however said that he felt his organisation was being ‘blocked’ from fulfilling its full potential. This struck those of us who have been around a while as slightly disingenuous especially those of us who worked for the probation service formerly know as London Probation Service on the frontline.

“Who will not be familiar with the picture he painted of his workers bravely coping with obstacles placed in their way by probation staff when all they wanted to do was deliver a far better service than that on offer by those mean public sector probation folks obsessed with rules and regulations and public safety. My own recollection of working with St Giles Trust is that I was very supportive of their staff, the majority of whom were ex-offenders with fairly basic training.

“Some staff quite obviously needed more support than they were getting from their own organisation and were often trying to work through some of their own personal issues dealing with authority (police, probation, courts) whilst mentoring and supporting others often with only slightly fewer problems than they were facing themselves. Some of the success that St Giles has achieved is therefore in no small part down to the solid support that probation organisations and staff have given them over the years.

“That is not to say that St Giles Trust is not a very useful resource and when things have worked out this has been of great benefit to probation clients but they are hardly a serious contender to take on the complexities of the of core probation work without a considerable amount of training, support, oversight, and a safety net on hand for when things go badly wrong. This is why Probation Trusts contracted services from them rather than outsourced our work to them lock stock and barrel, i.e. we wanted to support them not restrict them and place them in the firing line.

“Unfortunately it sounded very much as if as St Giles was turning on the organisations that had done so much to help them flourish and of course this is of great use to the MoJ in the PR war. The reality is that in order to provide the service they say they can provide, i.e. a comprehensive through the gates service, then they would probably have to increase their staffing tenfold plus employ administrative staff etc. The government tell us there is no extra money available so this would have to be financed from the existing budget…”

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