Today sees the launch of the nationwide Speak up for Justice campaign by the TUC and trades unions with members in the justice sector.
The campaign has been launched following government reforms and spending cuts which have reduced access to justice and put public safety at risk, with further reforms to come. The government is privatising policing, probation and prison services, closing courts and slashing the legal aid budget, yet the people who use the justice system, those who work in it and the unions who represent the workforce have not been consulted.
We have launched this campaign because we believe that Chris Grayling and Theresa May should not be gambling with our justice system; we are calling for a justice system that is integrated, publicly owned, accessible and accountable. Our concerns about outsourcing and privatisation are shared with parliamentary bodies such as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), who have raised serious concerns over the government’s reforms to the Probation Service, the Criminal Justice System, as well as in regard to outsourcing in general.
In two recent reports following evidence sessions with senior civil servants, PAC concluded the “scale, complexity and pace of the changes are very challenging, and the Ministry of Justice’s extremely poor track record of contracting out…gives rise to particular concern.” They also noted that there are “significant risks” to the government’s reforms to the Probation Service, which includes introducing private and voluntary sector providers, managing a greater number of offenders than at present, and a payments by results system, measures which, PAC note, are untested, unpiloted and have unanswered questions as to capacity and accountability.
Public services are increasingly being placed into the hands of a few large private sector companies, whose primary responsibility is to their shareholders, not to citizens, and who cannot be held properly accountable. Such private companies, G4S, Serco and Sodexo, are currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government for tagging offenders. Under government reforms, private companies will provide key areas of police work, including detaining suspects, forensic investigation, 999 call handling and updating the Police National Computer records, gaining access to confidential public information.
The government’s own internal risk register for the planned outsourcing of probation services, which the Secretary of State refuses to publish, warns that there is a more than 80 per cent risk that the reforms will lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance” triggering “delivery failures and reputational damage.” Further, trade unions warn that, in the case of the substantial cuts to legal aid (£220m per year), any savings will be wasted on more court time – figures from a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) Request indicate a 30 per cent rise in the number of people attending court without a lawyer.
Today also sees the launch of an in-depth report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and the TUC into outsourcing in the criminal justice sector – Justice for Sale. The report explores how highly concentrated the market in offender management is (G4S, Serco and Sodexo manage all private prisons), and concludes that the introduction of competition has led to lower staff numbers and lower pay for staff in private prisons. The report also reveals a clear accountability deficit in outsourcing – and raises clear concerns with current government proposals. The planned introduction of payment-by-results as a mechanism for accountability into probation, the report argues, could dis-incentivise providers from working with the most difficult offenders.
The report makes a number of recommendations for public service delivery in general and for offender management in particular, among which we call for the public sector to be the default deliverer of public services and for a halt and full review of current reforms. The report can be viewed online here.
Our campaign calls for public ownership, accessibility, accountability and integration. The current reforms provide for the opposite, with services reduced in quality, made inaccessible by cost, and unlikely to even create the savings the government hopes for.
We are calling for the government to commit to an independent review of the outsourcing of justice services, for private companies delivering justice services to submit to FOI requests and for the government to extend the review of G4S and Serco into those areas of the justice system not covered by the Francis Maude investigation.