The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has been accused of wasting more than £15m on consultants advising on the “crackpot privatisation” of the probation service.
The accountant EY, management consultants PA Consulting and Collinson Grant, and outsourcer BancTec were among those to have bagged roles on the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme over 13 months to the end of April. Nearly £4m was spent on legal services.
This involves outsourcing 70 per cent of the probation service to the private sector, with the likes of the French caterer Sodexo and FTSE 250 group Interserve among the preferred bidders to run 21 community rehabilitation companies. The contracts are thought to be worth at least £5bn over 10 years.
Contracts are due to be signed early next year, but staff have complained that the split in the service, which sees the 30 per cent most high-risk offenders remain with the state’s National Probation Service, is in chaos.
The division of the service began in June, ahead of the appointment of the new contractors, and there have been allegations that the re-organisation caused IT failures, lost case files, difficulties finding information, and offenders allocated to the wrong part of the new system, leading to warnings that the split is a danger to public safety.
There is no suggestion that any of the consultants to the scheme were in any way to blame for the problems.
The shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan wants to overturn the privatisation if Labour is elected last year and his Freedom of Information request revealed the cost of the outsourcing.
He said: : “Everybody warned that this crackpot privatisation would create chaos but did Chris Grayling listen? No he didn't. Instead he arrogantly brushed aside concerns and pushed ahead with this botched privatisation. This is a grotesque and unnecessary waste of money."
The MoJ’s FoI reply said: “On the TR Programme, we seek specialist advice from a range of providers to ensure we get the best value for money from the reformed system for the taxpayer. The Programme is managed rigorously and tight controls are exerted over expenditure to ensure that our use of consultants is properly managed, that we bring them in only when needed, and that they are disengaged when work packages are completed.”
Separately, The Independent has been shown minutes from a meeting of 15 CRC heads of operations, representing areas such as West Yorkshire, Northumbria and Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, in September. These seem to confirm many of the problems that have been reported since the service was split in June, such as staff “muddling through” because of IT problems and an over-reliance on agency staff as management struggles to fill vacancies.
The minutes also reveal that 65 per cent of CRC staff are “not vetted properly”. This means that nearly two-thirds of officers are not vetted to work in prisons, where they prepare offenders coming to the end of their sentences to resettle back into the community.
A MoJ source claimed that the lack of vetting had “no impact on public safety, but a spokeswoman for the Napo probation union argued “this is pretty basic stuff that should have been looked at months ago.
The MoJ has consistently played down the problems and a spokeswoman said: “Your allegations over access to information and vetting of staff are not true.”
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