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TUC Congress 2020 Probation reunification is a great victory — but the real work starts here

Restoring the levels of gold-standard delivery that existed prior to the probation service’s part-privatisation will be a real challenge, write IAN LAWRENCE and KATIE LOMAS

THE announcement by the Secretary of State on June 13 that all probation services will revert to public control and ownership in June next year was a huge step forward in rescuing the probation service from Chris Grayling’s disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms in 2014.

As well as being an historic triumph for Napo and our sister unions, it was vindication of the efforts of our members and activists, together with politicians and many stakeholders, outside organisations and individuals who have supported and taken part in the campaign over many years.

While the response to this dramatic shift in direction has been hugely positive, the real work has already started in terms of trying to stabilise the service and restore the gold-standard levels of delivery that existed prior to its part-privatisation.

A number of structural challenges will also arise from the creation of a revised regional command structure in the National Probation Service.

As we embark on a ballot asking our Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) members to accept the final package of measures and protections that form part of the Staff Transfer Agreement, nobody in the Napo leadership group underestimates the uncertainty that CRC staff are feeling about their future.

Nor will we forget the damage done to clients, communities, victims and their families as well as the wider profession as a result of probation privatisation.

Looking ahead

So, as one vital part of the campaign has been secured, we very much focus on our priorities.

Napo has made it clear to government ministers and senior leaders in the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) that we intend to continue to campaign with the following demands which we believe should underpin a world-class probation service.

Fully unified service provision

Having achieved reunification we must now protect unified service delivery from any future attempts to marketise public services.

Services delivered within the public sector and never for profit

When profit is the motive in public-service delivery, the only way to appease shareholders is to cut costs.

The TR disaster proves that marketising probation does not improve quality and the much-promised innovation is rarely seen in privatised services despite the best efforts of staff.

Probation should be taken out of the Civil Service and released from the prison-centric culture that still permeates parts of HMPPS

Probation and prisons are linked parts of the criminal justice system but based on a very different ethos.

A structure outside HMPPS and the Civil Service, as a non-departmental government body, would enable innovation, critical and creative thinking and the development of probation values.

A probation service built on evidence-based practice

It is not enough to think or feel something is right. Probation practice must be based on evidence and must adapt to new research and learning.

Sometimes the right approaches cost more and research inevitably carries a cost.

If we want to return to excellence in probation practice, we must use research-based evidence rather than a lowest-cost approach.

Rooted in the local community and partnering with local specialist providers

Probation staff serve communities by protecting them, probation clients are part of those communities which should be engaged in supporting them.

Probation services must be responsive to local needs and priorities and there must be genuine partnerships with local specialist services.

There were some excellent examples of this prior to TR: most were dismantled in the hunt for profit, but some survived or have been rebuilt and this must continue through the next phase of change.

We have clearly made progress in securing the first of these demands but there is much work to do on the others.

As we reshape our campaign priorities for the future, we are heavily engaged with all employers during the Covid-19 crisis, ensuring that as services shift from exceptional delivery models to recovery programmes, we can protect staff and clients within cleaner and safer working environments.

Reunification is undoubtedly welcome; but rebuilding probation from the fragmentation that it has been subjected to will be a major exercise and will require substantial investment from government.

Ian Lawrence and Katie Lomas are general secretary and national chair of probation union Napo.

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