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.
“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.
“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
The economic crisis in Europe and North America led to more than 10,000 extra suicides, according to figures from UK researchers.
A study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed “suicides have risen markedly“.
The research group said some deaths may have been avoidable as some countries showed no increase in suicide rate.
Campaign groups said the findings showed how important good mental health services were.
The study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed data from 24 EU countries, the US and Canada.
It said suicides had been declining in Europe until 2007. By 2009 there was a 6.5% increase, a level that was sustained until 2011.
It was the equivalent of 7,950 more suicides than would have been expected if previous trends continued, the research group said.
Deaths by suicide were also falling in Canada, but there was a marked increase when the recession took hold in 2008, leading to 240 more suicides.
The number of people taking their own life was already increasing in the US, but the rate “accelerated” with the economic crisis, leading to 4,750 additional deaths.
The report said losing a job, having a home repossessed and being in debt were the main risk factors.
However, some countries bucked the trend. Sweden, Finland and Austria all avoided increases in the suicide rate during the recession.
One of the researchers, Dr Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford, said: “A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether suicide rises are inevitable.”
‘Policy potentially matters’
He told the BBC: “There’s a lot of good evidence showing recessions lead to rising suicides, but what is surprising is this hasn’t happened everywhere – Austria, Sweden and Finland.
“It shows policy potentially matters. One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidised wages.
“There are always hard choices to make in a recession, but for me one of the things government does is provide support and protection for vulnerable groups – these services help people who are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis.”
Andy Bell, of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The study says what we feared for some time: that unemployment, job insecurity and many other factors associated with the recession are associated with poor mental health and suicide.
“It reminds us how important it is to respond to that need and take preventative action where we can, and that primary care is properly resourced and able to identify people who are at risk.”
Beth Murphy, of the charity Mind, said: “Since 2008, we’ve seen an increasing number of people contact the Mind Infoline concerned about the impact of money and unemployment on their mental health.
“Redundancy and other life circumstances brought about by the recession can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for anyone, whether they have previously experienced a mental health problem or not.
“For some people, these factors can become so difficult to cope with that suicide may feel like the only option.”
Source – BBC News, 12 June 2014