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Toby’s speech on the future of the probation service

Last week, Toby Perkins MP spoke about the future of the Derbyshire Probation Service in a House of Commons Debate.  You can watch the debate below (skip to the time 18.08 and 48 seconds) or read it in full underneath.

 

We all know that when probation services do good work most people do not find out about it. On the odd occasions when things go wrong, however, the entire world is made aware. When I visited Derbyshire probation service I was blown away by the commitment, imagination and bravery of our probation officers, and that is why they command such respect across both this House and the country. These changes appear to be lacking in evidence base. They fly in the face of all expert opinion and are so dangerously misguided that they are very worrying indeed.

The fact that my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan had to initiate this debate to allow the House to discuss these changes is a matter of shame for the Government. That the other place had to table an amendment to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill to prevent the Government from making changes to the structure of the probation service until it was debated by this House, and that the Justice Secretary failed to bring that Bill back to us, speaks volumes about his political cowardice and the lack of support that the reforms command.

The Secretary of State tells us that we should trust him because he believes his proposals are right. His approach seems to be this: we have a problem—reoffending rates—and we need a policy; this is a policy, therefore it is right. He has not explained in any way why his intention to extend services to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months must coincide with the creation of a load of new companies and a privatisation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting asked, why can we not have the extension of those services—it is already happening in some cases—within the realms of the current successful probation service?

Probation debateIf the Secretary of State has confidence that wholesale privatisation is right—it is privatisation not just of probation provision, but of commissioning the services—why did he not let the pilots run their course? Why cancel the pilots and then embark on the policy? If that was because he has an unblemished track record and a Midas touch, Opposition Members might be a little less nervous. However, as my right hon. Friend made clear, the Secretary of State was responsible for the shambolic Work programme, under which people were better off if they were not on it. He was also the man at the heart of defending the operation of the work capability assessments when dead people were found to be fit to work. One would have hoped that, with a track record like that, he would show a little caution before ripping up a service on which so many people depend.

My right hon. Friend Paul Goggins made a wonderful speech and asked why the time scale was so urgent. However, he missed the point. The Secretary of State is clear that the Conservatives are on their way out and that he has to introduce his proposals before he is out of power, when he will not have the chance. He is rushing through this ideological and dangerous move before he is thrown out of office, as he so thoroughly deserves to be.

The probation service has a limited budget that has to stretch a long way, but it is performing. Every single service is ranked as good or outstanding. Its success is built on partnership working with local authorities, the police, prisons and other services. Many people are worried about that partnership working. The probation service operates as a seamless whole. As we split the service in two, the services will not have the partnership aspect that is so important to its success. The Women’s Work programme in Derbyshire brings together all women who have been in prison, regardless of their sentence. That is exactly the kind of specialist work that will be under threat when the service is split in two.

The implementation of the integrated offender management programme involves collaboration with the police in working with offenders who are at a high risk of reoffending. That often means burglars, thieves and serial perpetrators of acquisitive crime, but not the people who are considered to be at a high risk of causing harm—the sort of people about whom the entire community breathes a sigh of relief when they are banged up. They are capable of creating a spike or a rut in local crime figures depending whether or not they are inside. Those people—walking crime machines—are the sort who are likely to fall through the net because of the changes being introduced.

The changes are dangerous and could create a huge problem. The Secretary of State has said that his proposals are not about giving probation to big companies, but I bet we will see the big companies getting all the services. The idea that the voluntary sector will pick them up is a mirage. The Secretary of State is involved in a dangerous experiment and has a track record of failure. He should stop listening to the voices in his head that are telling him he is right. Instead, he should listen to the wide body of opinion telling him that he is getting this wrong, and protect our probation services now.

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries in Chesterfield and Staveley so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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