One of the recently announced ‘preferred bidders’ to deliver probation services has taken fright before the contracts are due to be signed, illustrating the deepening chaos in government efforts to privatise 70% of probation services. The bidder – company GEO Group UK, were prominent in a joint venture with a social enterprise and staff mutual to run the Warwickshire and West Mercia Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), one of the 21 set up under the controversial Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has stated that the official reason for the withdrawal is that they have not been able to reach an ‘acceptable agreement’ with Geo Group UK. Due to a general lack of transparency on behalf of the government in regard to the process of inviting bidders and selecting them, no further information is known. The MoJ has ‘begun discussions’ with private company EOS with the intention to award the contract to that company instead. EOS is currently delivering the Work Programme in the West Midlands, a programme of reform which has seen numerous failings, criticisms and setbacks.
The Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) investigation into the Work Programme found few positive points of appraisal and many points of serious concern. They found that ‘Almost 90% of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on the Work Programme have not moved into jobs.’ The reasons given largely relate to providers conducting so-called ‘creaming and parking’ – creaming the easier-to-help clients and parking the harder-to-help ones.
There is a worrying similarity in the companies prominent among the preferred bidders for probation contracts, and those who are currently delivering the Work Programme. Seetec, the company listed as the preferred bidder for the Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC was also mentioned by the PAC as a provider which has referred more claimants to sanctions than others in the Work Programme.
The overuse of the government’s sanctions regime, PAC argue, has caused unfair financial hardship to claimants. On top of such hardship, as the statistics reveal, many people who have accessed the Work Programme have not found jobs. This approach does not bode well for probation services, in regard to providers having an understanding approach to the needs and challenges of probation clients, so that they may be better able to provide the rehabilitation needed to reduce reoffending.
One question that arises is why the social enterprise (Willowdene Rehabiliation Ltd) and the staff mutual (Mercia Community Action Ltd), who together with Geo Group UK formed the joint venture that was selected as the preferred bidder for the Warwickshire and West Mercia CRC, were not invited to take on the contract themselves? The involvement (and likely leadership) of EOS illustrates the government’s willingness to allow the probation service to be subject to the profiteering of huge multinationals, who have little or no experience in providing probation services, to the detriment of taxpayers, service users, and the public at large.
Please sign our petition to halt the probation sell-off and calling on the Chris Grayling to stop gambling with our justice system!