Revolt forces delay in plan to part-privatise probation

Click to follow

Moves to involve private firms in supervising offenders have been shelved in the face of a revolt by Labour MPs.

The plans, enthusiastically championed by Downing Street, have been condemned by backbench rebels as a step towards part-privatisation of the probation service.

Critics have also protested that public safety could be jeopardised if private companies cut corners in an attempt to increase profits.

More than 80 Labour MPs, backed by probation officers, have demanded a halt to the proposals, which were expected to be contained in a government Bill this month. The Home Office is preparing to delay the proposals until the end of the year as ministers struggle to find a way of rescuing the policy. The Bill was to have set out plans to enable private companies and voluntary organisations to bid to supervise the 200,000 offenders handled by the probation service.

It would also set up the National Offender Management Service (Noms), which is being created by the merger of the probation and prison services.

Moves to reform the youth justice system also appear to be on hold.

Graham Allen, the Labour MP for Nottingham North, welcomed the decision not to "ram more hasty legislation through both Houses". He said the plans would have accelerated the flight of experienced probation officers from the communities they were meant to serve.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "There is virtually no support for the plans. Ministers should now use this space to consider effective alternatives to competitionsuch as partnership with the private and voluntary sectors."

A Home Office spokesman said last night that final decisions were still to be taken over when the planned changes to probation would be announced.