Probation contracts face legal challenge from union

Andrew Pring
3 November 2014

Sodexo and Interserve have emerged as the major winners in the UK government’s move to privatise the probation service, but must now await the outcome of a legal attempt to derail the process by the probation union Napo.

Sodexo Justice Services was announced 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.

The list of preferred bidders for contracts worth £450 million includes seven private companies, 16 charities and voluntary organisations, and four mutuals. The justice ministry said 75 per cent of the 300 subcontractors named in the successful bids were voluntary sector or mutual bidders. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the fact 80 bids were received from 19 organisations was evidence of a “strong and diverse market”.

However, the probation union Napo has challenged the outsourcing process and is to mount a judicial challenge in the High Court. General secretary Ian Lawrence said: "Chris Grayling is pressing ahead with his untried and untested so called reforms to probation despite increasing evidence that it is not safe to sell off. The 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which will deal with low to medium risk of harm offenders are still in utter chaos following the decision to split the Probation Service up on 1 June this year. Staff of all grades have spoken openly about risks to public safety with offenders not being supervised properly, continuing IT failures, staff shortages and ever increasing workloads.

“We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs or the National Probation Service is stable at the moment and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety. The fact so few organisations have won contracts also suggests that this has been a flawed competition with little or no real interest from providers in taking these contracts on.”

The TUC was also critical of the government’s announcement. General secretary Frances O'Grady said: “The government is putting community safety at risk by pressing ahead with its goal of privatising probation.”

If the Napo challenge fails, the preferred bidders to run 11 of the 21 planned community rehabilitation companies will take over probation early next year. They will be responsible for more than half the probation staff supervising 200,000 low- to medium-risk offenders.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has established that the contracts included a £300 million plus “poison pill” clause guaranteeing bidders their expected profits if the 10-year contracts were cancelled after the general election.

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