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Criminal justice: More privatisation problems
Chas Berry, Kent branch chair, National Association of Probation Officers (Napo)
Secretary of State Chris Grayling's plans to privatise large parts of the criminal justice system suffered a severe blow last week with the announcement that three prisons in South Yorkshire set for private takeover will now remain in public hands. The decision is a humiliating climb-down for Grayling, whose preferred bidder Serco was ruled out while fraud investigations continue over claims that it overcharged the government for electronically tagging offenders. This meant that contracts could not be delivered on time and have therefore reverted to public control.
The climb-down should give heart to workers across the justice sector who are fighting cuts, privatisation and the degrading of their terms and conditions. For probation staff in Napo, who took strike action on 5 and 6 November and are now 'working to rule', it is a signal that it can disrupt and ultimately defeat the government's plans to sell off up to 80% of its services to companies such as Serco and G4S.
Grayling's aggressive Transforming Rehabilitation timetable is already in jeopardy and further action aimed at frustrating privatisation preparations can force a similar U-turn.
As the probation dispute enters a critical stage it is encouraging that Unison, representing significant numbers of admin and lower paid staff most at risk of privatisation, are now in dispute with the Ministry of Justice alongside Napo.
With Grayling unlikely to agree to shelve his plans while matters are referred to Acas, Unison members may at last get the chance to vote on whether to take industrial action. The opportunity for coordinated industrial action, including members of the Criminal Bar Association who have announced action against Legal Aid cuts for the New Year, is bound to increase pressure on the beleaguered Justice Secretary.
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