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From: The Socialist issue 806, 9 April 2014: House of Thieves

Search site for keywords: Napo - Unite - Probation - Legal aid - A4e

Probation workers unite to fight off no-justice vultures

Chas Berry, Kent Napo branch chair, personal capacity

Private vultures hoping to swoop down and feed off the remains of local Probation Trusts got a nasty shock when thousands of workers took strike action in defence of a fully integrated public service.

The action, on 31 March and 1 April, was the second national stoppage by Napo, representing over 9,000 probation workers, in their campaign to defeat the government's misnamed Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme.

Outside magistrates' courts pickets were swelled by criminal justice lawyers, protesting at cuts to Legal Aid.

Many small firms of solicitors facing extinction of their practices have common cause with probation staff in the fight to stop the corporate giants from taking over our justice system.

Justice not for sale

"Justice is not for sale" was the battle cry on the streets of towns and cities throughout England and Wales.

Over 500 attended a rally outside Parliament that went on to besiege the Ministry of Justice building, where a giant 'RIP Justice' birthday cake was delivered to Secretary of State Chris Grayling.

TR aims to privatise 70% of probation work in a planned share sale later this year but the determination of Napo members is causing many to withdraw their bids.

There are now only 28 bidders for 21 contracts with the number falling every week, raising serious questions about whether the sell-off satisfies statutory competition rules.

Questions are also being asked about the cost of breaking up a valuable national asset while handing lucrative contracts to contractors with dubious credentials.

Ministers called before the Public Accounts Committee in March were unable to provide basic information about what the public can expect from the companies hoping to run TR, what happens if contracts fail and who will pick up the bill.

While giant security firms G4S and Serco have been ruled out because of previous 'overcharging', equally dodgy operators like A4e remain in the field despite having to sack a number of its senior staff over fraud allegations.

A successful share sale in October looks increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile plans to create a smaller, highly centralised National Probation Service for managing high risk offenders are in deep trouble.

Napo has warned that trying to separate the management of the most 'serious' from the rest would be costly, bureaucratic and potentially dangerous and we are sadly being proved right.

Over 9 million has been spent on consultants, and measures designed to ensure the safe exchange of information are adding a whole new layer of complexity to work that requires forensic attention to detail.

TR is not a 'done deal'. While probation work remains in the public sector and private providers remain nervous about the costs of contracts there is everything to play for.

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