Letters: Dangers of privatised probation

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 18 July, 2013


Your report that the private security companies G4S and Serco face a £50m fraud inquiry (11 July) raises grave concerns. The Justice Secretary will now wish to consider whether it is appropriate for G4S and Serco to be granted permission to bid for the proposed contracts for delivering privatised probation.

Two months ago, Chris Grayling confirmed plans to privatise the majority of probation work by 2015. Many public sector probation staff will be transferred to private companies.

While efforts have been made to sugar the privatisation pill by emphasising the potential of charities and voluntary groups to bid, multinationals like Serco and G4S – already enriching shareholders via privatised incarceration – are ideally positioned to take over the bulk of probation’s core public sector rehabilitative work.

Pushing two-thirds of probation’s challenging caseload into private-sector hands is a risky strategy that may compromise public protection. Napo, the probation union, estimates that almost 70,000 out of a total of 140,000 medium and low-risk cases that will be moved outside the public sector may be individuals convicted of violent and sexual offences, domestic violence, burglary, and robbery. Outsourcing the service’s work privileges profit and ideology at the expense of public safety.

The changes are part of the continuing transformation of our justice system into a market place in which financial return rather than social justice is a primary driver. When probation thrives, communities benefit, individuals are rehabilitated, crimes are prevented and potential victims are protected. This essential component of our civil society deserves better than being hived off to the highest bidder, in order to comply with economic dogma.

Michael Teague, Social Futures Institute, Teesside University

When ministers want to be told bad news

There is a crucial point about the current furore over unexpectedly high death rates in certain hospitals that Andreas Whittam Smith has missed (17 July).

He is no doubt right that the Labour government wanted good news about the NHS and this would colour the way the Department of Health behaved, incidentally without having to be told to do so. This fits with Andy Burnham’s account that only two cases came to his attention and that he took action on them.

However, Whittam Smith is wrong to say that ministers always want good news. At the moment, this government wants as much bad news about the NHS as it can get, because its agenda is to privatise as much of the service as it can. It wants to create a general feeling that the NHS is failing. If it can blame Andy Burnham at the same time, so much the better.

David Bell, Ware, Hertfordshire

It is little surprise to learn that former health authority employees who received ample redundancy pay-offs are being re-hired by the NHS at massive cost to the taxpayer (report, 10 July).

The idea that GPs could take over all the former administrative duties of primary care trusts without “red tape” was always nonsense. It was inevitable that clinical commissioning groups would need to take on ex-civil servants to do the admin work, no doubt at twice the rate of their former “bureaucratic” posts. 

This is yet another example of a classic bungled Tory reform on the lines of rail privatisation, which after two decades has only delivered ever-soaring fares and taxpayer subsidies which dwarf those paid to BR. Is it too early to suggest that Royal Mail privatisation has all the hallmarks of another market-driven Conservative omnishambles?

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

Every day, it seems, we hear of yet another example of a failed “regulator”, dissembling or downright dishonesty from a politician, or another banking scandal followed by assurances of expensive inquiries.

Today (17 July) is an average day, with revelations of arms trades to repressive states, 11 hospitals in “special measures” , water companies siphoning off cash to foreign owners,  and revelations that  Margaret Thatcher was  warned about Jimmy Savile’s private life but persisted in getting him a knighthood.

Incompetence, duplicity, and general corruption seem to abound at the highest levels in public life. Instead of setting up committees to identify wrongdoing, perhaps it would be easiest to set up a single committee to identify totally efficient organisations run by honest, uncorruptible people. It would be much quicker and would identify all the rest by omission.

Andrew McLauchlin, Stratford-upon-Avon

They say things happen in threes. We have had headlines on failing schools and failing hospitals. Perhaps the third will be failing politicians. Failing that, we could rank them on a one to 10 rating as we intend to do with our 11-year-olds. I am sure that that will raise standards!

Lewis Bell, Wareham, Dorset

‘Heroes’ of propaganda

The death of Lee Rigby was a heinous and barbaric act. But equally sickening is the way the media and politicians have exploited his death to stoke national pride around the loss of a “hero”.

Lee Rigby was murdered on the streets of London. He did not “fall as a hero” on some foreign field. He did not die for a greater cause. Tellingly, his own family has said that “Lee has become a hero since his death”; in other words the heroic status has been created. The term for this creativity is propaganda.

This political exploitation of a murder victim is an insult to the memory of Lee Rigby and disrespectful towards his family. It also perpetrates our murderous activities abroad while constraining free speech at home. Watching sanctimonious politicians honouring the dead is infuriating when it was their lies that put “our” military personnel in danger in the first place.

We need to challenge the patriotic and childlike propaganda that military deaths – wherever they may be – are heroic. There are no heroes: just people who have tendencies to do both heroic and evil acts.

David Walden, Newcastle upon Tyne

High-speed water from the North

A few weeks ago, just before the current heatwave, there was an informed prediction that the next 10 summers would be wet. More recently it was reported that farmers would be facing severe water shortages in the coming years. 

God only knows how much rain will fall and when, but what is certain is that the demand for water will grow, particularly in the south and east of England. The water companies have resisted the idea of a trunk water main running north to south because of the costs and planning involved. 

If this government pursues the proposal to build HS2, including the extension to Manchester and Leeds, a wonderful opportunity will arise to use the same route to run a water main alongside the track. Costs could be shared (particularly land purchase). Other utilities might also be interested. “Blue-sky thinking” is called for.

David Winter, South Cadbury, Somerset

Pay rise for MPs or else

On 11 July you published this headline: “Warning of another expenses crisis unless MPs get pay hike”.

As someone who has spent the last 40 years studying the ways in which labour markets work, I have never come across such a justification for an abnormally large pay increase. Can any reader think of another job where the threat of increased “fiddling” of expenses justifies such largesse?

Two further thoughts. First, how independent can an independent review body really be when its terms of reference are set by the very people who stand to win, or lose, from its recommendations? 

Second, did the deliberations of the review body take into account future increases in earnings arising to MPs, over and above what they might reasonably have been assumed to earn had they never been an MP.  Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer should introduce a windfall/bonus tax upon the earnings of former MPs and ministers from after-dinner speeches, company directorships and the like.

David Sapsford, Sir Edward Gonner Professor of Applied Economics (Emeritus), University of Liverpool

Children should be out in the sun

Whose idea is it to keep children in school until the end of July? Cooping them up to wilt in the heat in poorly ventilated buildings is verging on child abuse.

July is the peak month of our northern seasons and after the first week of the school holiday summer is in decline. Keeping them in school at the best time of the year does not enhance their joy of exploring and learning, which is after all the essence of education.

Peter Cunningham, Bath

Prince’s taxes

The claims of tax avoidance relating to Prince Charles combine high society and low farce. The Duchy of Cornwall is a business. Like a local plumber, Prince Charles has the choice to trade as a personal business and pay income tax on profits or to incorporate and pay corporate tax. He seems to have chosen the former. He has “avoided” corporate tax only in the sense that he has opted to keep paying at higher income tax rates.

Andrew Watters, Partner, Thomas Eggar LLP, London EC4

Italian chants

I recently visited the ground of Juventus, the Italian champions. Inside the ground, I read their “rules and regulations” with interest. The rules were in Italian and English. The English version stated: “No homophobic, racial or other discriminatory chanting...”. The Italian version omitted the homophobic reference and referred only to the other two. Is this a comment on Italian culture?

Anthony McCarthy, Turin

Easy targets

Our government has the courage to cut benefits to disabled people, and send the terminally ill back to work in nappies, but when asked to face down the tobacco and drinks lobby and implement minimum  alcohol price and plain packaging for cigarettes they cower in fear. What a spineless bunch they are!

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

No faith

Robert Readman inadvertently makes a point for all of us with his letter on Ulster trapped in the past (16 July). Faith schools have fuelled the problems in Ulster that he refers to, and we have not learnt the lessons as we develop them in this country.

James Dunlop, Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

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