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Private companies win more than half of probation contracts

Private companies have been announced the preferred bidders for more than half of the probation services to be privatised, despite justice secretary Chris Grayling’s claims that charities and the voluntary sector would be at the “forefront of a new fight against reoffending”.

Two outsourcing companies, Sodexo and Interserve are to be put in charge of 11 of the 21 planned community rehabilitation companies.

Sodexo Justice Services, which already runs prisons, has been named as the preferred bidder in six of the 21 areas in partnership with Nacro, the rehabilitation charity. Interserve has won the bids in five areas as part of the Purple Futures partnership which includes the charities Addaction, Shelter and P3 and a social enterprise, 3SC.

Out of the 21 contracts, only one was won by a bid or joint venture that did not involve a private company.

Despite this, the justice secretary said the voluntary sector is at the forefront of the bids that won.

“This announcement brings together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to set up our battle against reoffending, and to bring innovative new ways of working with offenders,” Grayling said. “In particular, I am really pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain’s best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around.”

Political commentator Ian Dunt was scathing of the awards, saying: “To have proceeded with this sell-off amid the growing evidence of a threat to public safety from the spitting up of probation is highly irresponsible. Even worse, ministers are doing so while refusing to publish the safety tests the department has conducted.

“And to top it all off, the Ministry of Justice is adding 'poison pill' clauses which will prevent a future government undoing the sell-off if it proves to be disastrous.”

He added: “None of this is surprising. We knew the announcement was coming – in fact we expected it earlier. And the dominance of private firms in supposedly diverse bidding arrangements is par for the course. Private firms typically outbid them then hand them the unprofitable sub-contracted work. But the sheers pig-headedness with which this is being pursued is flabbergasting. And the decision to make it financially ruinous to reverse is a betrayal of the taxpayer.”

The new companies will take over probation services from early next year.

Grayling said: “These reforms are all about changing lives. We cannot go on with a situation where thousands of prisoners are released onto the streets every year with no guidance or support, and are simply left to reoffend. These reforms will transform the way in which we tackle reoffending.

“This new approach will not just redouble our efforts to bring down reoffending. It will also prevent many more people from becoming victims of crime in the future.”

PSE previously reported that the Commons public accounts committee discovered that the probation contracts included a £300m-plus ‘poison pill’ clause guaranteeing bidders their expected profits if the 10-year contracts were cancelled after the general election.

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “David Cameron’s government is putting companies with little or no track record in criminal justice in charge of dangerous and violent offenders.

“There has been no testing or piloting to see if this will work and won’t put the public’s safety at risk, and all of the concerns of Labour, experts and probation staff have been swatted away. It’s also unacceptable that ministers are going out of their way to tie the hands of future governments to multi-billion-pound contracts for 10 years.”

(Image: c. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

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