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Commissioner Baird Welcomes Public Accounts Committee Report

20th May 2014

The Public Account Committee has today published its report on reforms of the Criminal Justice System and Probation and their findings echo what Vera Baird has been saying for months – that the reforms “Carry Significant Risk”.

In relation to Probation, the Ministry of Justice intends to introduce new private and voluntary providers, bring in payment by results, create a new National Probation Service and extend the service to short term prisoners in a very short time period. The Probation Service in England and Wales supervised 225,000 offenders in 2012/13 at a cost of £853 million through 35 Probation Trusts. From the end of May, Northumbria Probation Trust, along with every other trust in England and Wales will cease to operate and be replaced by a National Probation Service and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies.

Vera Baird said: “I have said for months that the Ministry of Justice plans for probation are wrong. Payment by results is not acceptable. In Northumbria we have one of the best probation services in the country and despite the efforts of many, we are watching the government dismantle it piece by piece.

“The contract is currently out to tender. As reality starts to hit those who have bid for the work, more bidders are dropping out. The government needs to go back to the drawing board on this – of course further improvements can be made, that is what we all want to see. We also need to see changes that come about from partnership working and listening to those who currently deliver the programme.”

The Public Accounts Committee has made a number of recommendations which include:

  • The Ministry of Justice needs to set out the key review points it will use to assess whether it is safe to progress to the next stage of the programme and report the basis on which, should it decide to do so, it considers it safe to proceed.
  • The performance of the current probation services should be the benchmark against which the reformed services are judged.
  • The Ministry needs to apply best practice in all aspects of contract design, bid evaluation and contract management and be able to demonstrate that it has learned the lessons from previous contracts.
  • The Ministry must establish a clear mechanism for identifying suppliers at risk of failing or withdrawing from their contracts.

Vera Baird added: “The Committee welcomes the Ministry’s commitment to only proceed at each stage of the programme if they are satisfied it is safe to do so and that value for money will not be jeopardised. This hasn’t happened, Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) across the country have been raising concerns and these tend to have been ignored and the reforms have continued. The Justice Secretary should now make a determined effort to listen to PCCs’ concerns and act upon them.”