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Probation privatisation failure: strike to stop the re-tendering!
Chas Berry, Napo union Kent, Surrey and Sussex chair and national executive committee member (personal capacity)
"Irredeemably flawed" is the verdict of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation, five years on from the break-up and part-privatisation of the service.
The inspector's annual report pulls no punches, describing the supervision of offenders under private contracts as substandard and demonstrably poor. 80% of those inspected were assessed as "inadequate."
This comes as no surprise to probation workers who have been struggling to protect the public against the backdrop of austerity cuts. While the government has bunged an additional £467 million at failing companies, their managements have slashed staff numbers and replaced front-line services with call centres in many areas.
One company, Working Links, which ran three of the contracts, has been completely liquidated. Purple Futures, which runs five contracts accounting for 25% of all cases in the community, is in serious financial trouble despite the government bailouts.
At the same time, the number of serious violent or sexual offences committed by those under supervision has risen by over 20%.
Following pressure from the National Audit Office last year, the government 'called in' all contracts early. There is currently a re-tendering exercise to replace existing probation areas with larger ones that match up with what remains in the public sector in the National Probation Service.
This is throwing good money after bad, and won't fix what is now acknowledged to be a broken model. Napo, the probation and family courts union, calls for all contracts to be scrapped, and for probation to be reunified as an integrated public service.
How likely is the Tory administration to renationalise and fully fund it in a way the public deserves? We can have no trust in Justice Secretary David Gaulk or Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to undo the work of their predecessor, the architect of this disaster, the hapless Chris Grayling.
Napo members can only put trust in ourselves and our collective power to bring about positive social change. Further foot dragging and failure to scrap these contracts should be met with national industrial action.
This task has been made more difficult by the failure of the leaderships of both Napo and public service union Unison to defend national collective bargaining when members provided them with an indicative mandate for action two years ago.
As the Tories' and Blairites' privatisation agenda unravels, however, and the government teeters on the brink of collapse, confidence is beginning to return.
A bold call for action across all privatised companies, linked to a campaign within the state-run National Probation Service, can galvanise the memberships of both unions and bring the re-tendering exercise crashing down. This should be the start of a campaign to return the service to the public sector.
This Tory government has been forced to take over a failed rail franchise, and earlier Tory governments have nationalised failing firms. Strikes can force their hand - and joint, mass action by the trade union movement can force them out altogether and usher in a Corbyn-led government, giving us the best chance of saving public services.
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