Letter: Plans for probation

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The warnings from "insiders" that the probation service faces imminent threats of privatisation is not a view shared by the insiders leading the management and employers ("Straw plans to privatise probation", 13 September).

The truth is more complex. Like local authorities and others operating in the world of "best value", probation can never expect to be beyond scrutiny on whether its work can be done better or more cheaply by someone else. So far, the one significant piece of market-testing done in the service (on a hostel) has concluded that outsiders are unlikely to be able to compete on price or quality.

True, the probation service is undergoing a series of profound changes that apply both to its structure and to the way it deals with offenders. The resultant pressures have not only heightened expectations of the service ahead of the changes, but they have also identified the areas of poor performance that need to be remedied in the old system before progress can be made.

Seldom reported is probation's enviable track record in its work with offenders and its reputation as a powerhouse for new ideas and skills. These substantially add to levels of public protection. Reports of privatisation, like Mark Twain's death, are therefore exaggerated.

MARTIN WARGENT

Director

Central Probation Council

GEOFF DOBSON

Chair, Association of Chief Officers of Probation

London SW1

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