Tagged: Chris Grayling

Sodexo to shed 131 probation jobs as workers replaced with machines

A major jobs cull is on the horizon at a North East probation service as machines look set to replace some functions carried out by staff.

The Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (NCRC), which is run by the French catering company Sodexo, is set to shed 131 jobs (around 30% of its workforce) as chiefs look to cut costs.

Unions have slammed the plans, which have emerged in the wake of a divisive privatisation programme, as “downright dangerous”.

It comes as Sodexo plans to install ATM-style kiosks which would allow offenders to report to services without having to meet an officer.

The move to “biometric reporting” would see an offender’s identity checked using fingerprint technology.

A face-to-face meeting could then be requested by the offender.

It is also thought that low-risk offenders may in future be monitored via a call centre under the plans, which Sodexo insists are in the early stages.

The job cuts are expected to be spread out over a 12-month period.

Probation service union NAPO believes the measures, if implemented, could put the public at risk.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, said members feel let down by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

He said:

“We are angry and disappointed about this news. Probation staff have been through hell over the last 18 months dealing with Grayling’s so called reforms and now many of them are facing redundancy and job insecurity.

“When we met with Sodexo earlier this year they told us there would be no reductions in workforce.

“The use of call centres and machines instead of highly skilled staff is down right dangerous and will put the public at risk.”

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said it was opening consultation on the plans with staff across the six UK centres that it operates.

He said:

“We are in the process of sharing our future plans with employees across the six CRCs that we operate, including Northumbria CRC.

“Given that we will be formally consulting on these plans, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

“Regarding the enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme, we are complying with the National Agreement negotiated between the unions and NOMS.

“We are looking at the possibility of introducing biometric systems in the future but details have not yet been confirmed.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Apr 2015

Two thirds of North East law firms ‘could close’ as Legal Aid contracts are slashed, lawyer claims

Criminal lawyers have today claimed that up to two thirds of law firms in the North East could close as the government slashes Legal Aid.

Lawyers raised fears in the wake of the failure of a national appeal to stop the number of available Legal Aid contracts being reduced.

The cuts, an extension of the government’s austerity program, could lead to miscarriages of justice for vulnerable people, campaigners say.

Lewis Pearson, vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society, said the changes represented a huge blow to the region, and Northumberland especially.

“The effect on the whole Legal Aid system will be profound and ultimately leading to a significant reduction in firms as well as reduction to justice,” he said.

“This is particularly the case in Northumberland where access to justice is already restricted.”

Mr Pearson, a partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors in Newcastle, added:

“The issue is particularly important in our rural communities where there are many miles and people to cover.

“In the long run, those firms who do not have those contracts will waste away.”

Legal Aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers, and is a big source of income for many firms.

Proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last year will see the number of contracts available cut from 1,600 to 527 across the UK to save money.

In the North East, the number of Legal Aid contracts available will fall from 60 to 12.

North of the Tyne, seven companies will be awarded the contracts for magistrates’ courts in Newcastle, Bedlington and North Shields.

Only five will be awarded for the courts in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Shields.

Last week the Law Society, the body representing solicitors, asked appeal court judges to rule that the cuts were not viable and contained “serious defects”, but the court turned down their bid.

Now, lawyers’ groups have called for the changes to become “an election issue”, saying they will threaten access to justice for many accused of crime, especially the vulnerable.

Elspeth Thomson, Legal Aid chair of the Law Society, said:

“Once you reach a tipping point where lawyers have gone under, there won’t be anyone there in police stations to advise people of their rights.

“The government make it sound like it is about loaded lawyers making the big bucks but it is not. It is about day-to-day lives, where normal people are needing help.”

But the Ministry of Justice says the changes are necessary to make savings, and anyone who needs access to a lawyer will still get it.

A spokesman said:

“Our legal aid reforms are designed to ensure the system is fair for those who need it, the lawyers who provide services as part of it and importantly the taxpayers who ultimately pay for it.

“We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and even after reform it will remain very generous – costing around £1.5bn a year.

“Anyone suspected of a crime will still have access to a legal aid lawyer of their choosing after reform, just as they do now.”

Last year, North East solicitors and probation service staff took part in 48 hours of protests at cuts to Legal Aid and the privatisation of court services.

Legal workers picketed outside courts across the region and rallied at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle last April, voicing fears for the future of their professions.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Mar 2015

HMP Northumberland: Whistleblower says teachers are in fear at ‘powderkeg’ jail

> Another victory for outsourcing…

Teachers at a ‘shambolic’ jail have been left fearing for their safety after inmates are turning up ‘drunk’ and ‘on drugs’ it has been claimed.

A member of staff, who works for Manchester College and teaches at HMP Northumberland, said staff were faced with inmates coming into lessons visibly drunk or high on drugs.

Often, 12 classrooms were monitored by a single prison guard, leaving members of the teaching staff afraid for their safety – despite having access to panic buttons.

An HMIP report on the jail revealed one in three inmates said it was easy, or very easy, to access drugs behind bars at the Sodexo run jail.

A letter seen by the NEC said civilian staff were regularly in contact with intoxicated ‘unpredictable’ prisoners.

It said:

“The teachers inside the jail are civilians working for an outside college and we rely on the officers presence to ensure our safety.

“Now the officers have been drastically reduced we are having to work with only one, or no officers present in the various education areas on the site, sometimes with upwards of 12 classes in one area and our safety is severely at risk.

“Teachers have repeatedly voiced concerns about not feeling safe because of the lack of officers but our management do not act on our concerns.

“We are having to deal with inmates turning up to class drunk and on drugs and their behaviour is unpredictable.”

The anonymous letter said some inmates had been found with ‘blades’ in class.

Staff and campaigners have voiced serious concerns about the dramatic fall in staffing levels at the jail, from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013.

> Well, what do they expect ?  Shareholders demand higher profits, and paying fewer wages is an one way to do that. Profit above all else.

In the past year 12 members of Manchester College have left the jail which the staff member has put down to safety concerns.

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck where the jail is based, has raised his concerns with justice secretary Chris Grayling in the House of Commons as well as calling for a review of Sodexo’s contract to run the jail but in his latest response Mr Grayling said he looks forward to seeing the prison improve.

Mr Lavery said:

“My office is now receiving lots of anonymous allegations about HMP Northumberland, all of which express serious views on the safety of everyone on the prison estate be it employees or prisoners.

“The latest was from a concerned prisoner describing the place as a ‘nuclear bomb ready to explode’.

“I will continue to raise these issues and will not back off until the prison is seen to be a safe place to be for everyone.

“I don’t want to be any way responsible for ignoring the desperate pleas for help in indeed a tragedy were to occur.”

A spokesman for Sodexo Justice Services said:

“The safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors at HMP Northumberland is our highest priority.

“We have regular contact with Manchester College which runs the education courses at the prison. College staff can raise any issues through the appropriate channels which they are aware of and we urge them to do so if they have any concerns.”

A Statement released by Manchester College said:

“We take our duty of care to staff seriously, and work closely with Sodexo to maintain a safe working environment at the prison.

“We provide procedures for teachers to raise their concerns, and when they do we investigate thoroughly in conjunction with prison management.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Feb 2015

Probation service union seeks judicial review of ‘dangerous’ privatisation model

A probation service union is seeking a judicial review amid concerns over a “dangerous privatisation” move.

The Government announced this week that Sodexo will play a leading role in running probation services in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

The French firm, which has managed the 1,300-capacity HMP Northumberland since 2013, will take on the work of Northumbria Community Rehabilitation alongside the charity Nacro.

Napo, the probation service union, is now calling for a judicial review, and says introducing the reforms could place the public at risk.

Mike Quinn, spokesperson for the Northumbria branch of Napo, said:

“This is an important step in our campaign to halt these ill conceived plans to privatise probation.

“It should serve as a reminder to both the Government and bidders that we won’t give up in our fight to protect the public from this dangerous privatisation.

“The government simply can’t be allowed to carry on with plans which put the safety of the public in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland at risk without allowing proper piloting of their plans, or even publication of their own risk registers. They’re yet to convince anyone but themselves that there plans are any more than a way of making money for large companies.

“Northumberland and Tyne and Wear has been well served by a top performing probation trust for years.

“Over the last 6 months the minister has systematically attempted to destroy the Probation service – he must remember that the result of this isn’t just disgruntled workers with low morale, it’s an increase in crime and the victims of crime. It’s time he saw sense and called a halt to this privatisation.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says the reforms will lead to better management of offenders in the region.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  31 Oct 2014

Pulling out of the European Court of Human Rights is a “sop to UKIP and right wingers” say NE politicians

Tory plans to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights have been dismissed as a backward step and “a sop to Ukip and right wingers” by North East politicians.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling believes the extraordinary move would restore “common sense” to the British legal system, allowing judges in this country to effectively ignore Strasbourg.

The extraordinary move would give the ECHR no move than an advisory role and hand politicians and judges final say on issues like prisoner voting and life sentences. Mr Grayling also said it would stop terrorists and foreign criminals relying on human rights laws to stay in the UK.

But Labour peer Jeremy Beecham accused the Justice Secretary of pandering to the right wing.

He said: “This is a sop to Ukip and Tory right wingers.

“It was a Conservative Government which led the way on the EHRC, but the present Tory Party has a shocking record on legal aid, access to justice and judicial review and this just another example of its attitude, ironically in what will be the 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta.”

Vera Baird, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The Human Rights Act benefits ordinary people on a daily basis and can help victims of crime.

“Recently it allowed two young women, who were victims of the black cab rapist John Worboys, to sue the police for failing to investigate his appalling crimes properly.”

She added human rights law was widely misrepresented in parts of the media and called on Chris Grayling to re-think the plans.

She said: “For instance in 2006 it was reported that police gave fried chicken to a suspected car thief who had fled from police and was besieged on a roof ‘because of his human rights’.

“Surprise, surprise, there is no human right to KFC – it was used as part of the negotiating tactics that encouraged him to come down.

“Nor is there a bar to deporting a criminal because he has a British cat, as Theresa May once claimed.

“Whether a foreign criminal stays or goes is a balancing act, which is far better done in our courts than in Strasbourg.”

But Labour’s Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell believes the country should be given a choice on its relationship with Europe.

He said: “On the whole it’s good to have a Court of Human Rights as they have made some good decisions, but I haven’t agreed with them all.

“Although I haven’t agreed with all the decisions made by the judicial system, I still think we should let the people decide, not the politicians, and have a referendum.”

Chris Grayling made the announcement as the Conservative Party Conference drew to a close this week and as the campaign for next year’s General Election gets underway.

He said: “We will always stand against real human rights abuses, and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country.”

>  Translation – lets make Britain a feudal state where people like me who went to the right schools get to make the law that suits our best interests. Fuck anyone else.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  03 Oct 2014

Coroners’ offices across region could be scrapped over ‘too low’ death rates

> Despite Iain Duncan Smith‘s best efforts, it appears that we’re not yet dying in great enough numbers, so its time for yet more cuts in services….

Up to seven coroners’ offices across the region will be axed, under cost-cutting plans to scrap those where the number of deaths is “too low”.

Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling is considering a proposal for each coroner area to handle 3,000 to 5,000 cases each year – culling at least 24 across England and Wales.

That would mean about seven disappearing in the North-East and North Yorkshire, where coroners are currently overseeing as few as 340 deaths annually.

None of the 12 offices in the region reach the new threshold, according to 2013 figures – with County Durham and Darlington (2,445 deaths) the busiest.

Hartlepool has the lowest number (340), followed by South Northumberland (428), North Northumberland (656), North Tyneside (758) and York (985).

Merging York with the offices in North Yorkshire Eastern (1,040) and North Yorkshire Western (1,038) would just about reach the 3,000 benchmark.

However, bringing together the much-criticised Teesside office (2,398) with Hartlepool (340) – a proposal already put forward – would still fall well short.

The mergers are proposed in an annual report by the newly appointed chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC.

 Judge Thornton noted that 60 per cent of coroner areas across the country have fewer than 2,000 reported deaths.

And he wrote: “That number of reported deaths is too low and many areas have only a part-time coroner.

“Each coroner area should have approximately 3,000-5,000 reported deaths each year, with a full-time senior coroner in post.

The plan, handed to the Ministry of Justice, would see the 99 coroner areas slashed to “about 75 in number, maybe fewer”.

> You can forsee a time when services will have been cut back so much that there’ll just be one coroner for the whole North East. Perhaps just one MP too, as services are concentrated on the London city state.

It is not clear how many coroner courts would close – as opposed to offices – if the merger plan is adopted.

The annual statistics also compare how quickly each coroner’s area completes inquests, on average – revealing Teesside to be by far the slowest still.

In April, 83-year-old coroner Michael Sheffield was finally forced to step down from his role after a concerted campaign by local politicians and others.

Initiatives were launched to clear a backlog of inquests, which take an average of 50 weeks to complete, the annual report shows.

That is much longer than the next slowest area York (36 weeks), which is followed by Newcastle (31) and both services in North Yorkshire (25).

The fastest inquests are carried out in Hartlepool (11 weeks), followed by Sunderland (14), Gateshead and South Tyneside (19) and County Durham and Darlington (24).

Coroners have been reminded of their duty to set dates for inquests at the opening of each case – and for a medical report to be produced within four to six weeks.

They must explain, to the chief coroner, why investigations that have taken more than a year have not either been completed or discontinued.

Source –  Northern Echo, 25 July 2014