Lib Dem councillors raise concerns over Probation Service proposals - WCC Debate 17th December 2013
Motion A Councillor Jenny Fradgley proposed the following motion and was seconded by Councillor Kate Rolfe:
‘That the Council puts on record its concern regarding the imminent proposed changes to the Probation Service. The Council supports the excellent Warwickshire Probation Trust which has demonstrated ‘exceptional performance’ ratings across all categories of assessment under the national Probation Trust rating system.
The intended privatisation of a section of the Probation Service is unlikely to deliver the outcomes that are already being achieved and has the potential to reduce the current performance.
Council requests that the Leader writes to Warwickshire MPs and the Minister concerned, and to the Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner, requesting that they support this Council’s view that privatisation, as outlined, does not go ahead.’
Councillor Jenny Fradgley introduced her motion by setting out the high performance of Probation Trusts across the country with the current Warwickshire Probation Service performing with three other at band four or ‘excellent’, the highest level. The Trust had also won the prestigious quality standard gold award for excellence in 2011.
Councillor Fradgley explained her concerns regarding the proposals to outsource 70% of the Probation Service’s work (covering low and medium risk offenders) with those of high risk remaining with the public sector (noting that offenders released after serving under 12 months sentences have never been part of the Probation Trusts’ responsibilities although they would welcome extending services to them). The service will be open to a range of rehabilitation providers through 21 contracts. Councillor Fradgley highlighted the following issues:
- Current trusts with proven track records will not be allowed to bid for the market (although companies with a dubious track record may).
- The range of rehabilitation companies with different policies and processes and the multiplicity of organisations proposed will require complex methods of supervision.
- Any savings made will be negated by the admission costs and by the need to ensure company profits. Staff will be undermined by depressed remuneration.
- A key approach to savings will be payment by results, with little evidence of this working elsewhere. Dealing with people with chaotic lifestyles is difficult, possibly making payment by results unattractive to the private sector.
- Responsibility for supervising high risk offenders; initiating and carrying through recall to prison; and for breach of proceedings will remain with the public sector, again requiring complex communications across a number of organisations.
- Assessing risk is a dynamic process and rapid action is required when low to medium risk escalates to high risk. This is better dealt with in one organisation.
- The County Council has a duty to ensure community safety is not compromised. Serious offences may increase and some offenders may be lost in the complex arrangements involved in the transformation.
- The offender rehabilitation bill has yet to be passed but the change is being rushed through by April 2014.
- There are also difficult issues in relation to IT, staff transfers and pension liabilities.
Councillor Les Caborn,Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Community Safety, reported that the proposals had been discussed by the Safer and Stronger Partnership Board and a letter sent to the Minister outlining concerns which he could circulate to all members and would be kept under review by the Board.
Councillor Alan Cockburn agreed that the Council should support the excellent work of the Probation Service but added that he could not support the statements made in the motion as the facts were not known. Councillor Cockburn proposed the following amendment and was seconded by Councillor Howard Roberts:
AMENDMENT B “That the proposer and seconder write to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and ask for a reply to be brought back to the Council justifying the changes to the Probation Service”.
Councillor June Tandy, Leader of the Labour Group, expressed her support for the motion (A).
Councillor John Holland expressed support for the motion, highlighting the importance of the links with the Youth Justice Service and the fact that Warwickshire has the lowest offending rates thanks to the quality of the staff and strong partnership working. He added that splitting into categories of risk would not work, partnership working would be broken up and the service would not be managed in Warwickshire. The IT system will also not be in place to track offenders through the system.
Councillor Bernard Kirton, Leader of the Independent Group, agreed that more details were needed before any decision in support or against the proposals.
Councillor Bob Hicks reported that his Community Safety Partnership in Nuneaton and Bedworth had asked him to write to Chris Grayling MP along the lines of the letter sent by Councillor Les Caborn. One of the key concerns was the diminution of accountability. The Probation Service is a statutory partner in the safer community partnerships but there is concern that it will be difficult to hold the new providers to account. Councillor Bob Hicks was also concerned that there will be an impact on the operation of the Probation hostels which were likely to be managed from elsewhere (probably Birmingham) by someone unfamiliar with the area. Councillor Bill Gifford expressed his support for the motion, commenting that he had heard no evidence to counter the concerns expressed.
Councillor Kate Rolfe supported the comments made by Councillor Jenny Fradgley and added that there may also be an impact on the ‘pay back’ schemes whereby offenders undertake community activities. Councillor Rolfe expressed concern that these valuable schemes may stop as the commercial companies may not find them profitable.
Councillor Alan Cockburn concluded that members should support his amendment on the basis that there was not yet enough information on which to make a judgement.
The amendment (at B) was put to the vote and was LOST (The voting being 25 for, 30 against).
The motion at A was put to the vote and was CARRIED (The voting being 30 for and 25 against)