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
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
The criminal justice system in the North East is in chaos because of an “ideologically driven” drive to privatise public services and a series of “botched and expensive re-organisations”, a peer has warned.
Lord Beecham, the former leader of Newcastle City Council, hit out at the Government’s changes in a House of Lords debate.
He highlighted the Journal’s report that there had been a massive increase in the number of people representing themselves in family law courts, thanks to cuts in legal aid – leading to lengthy delays.
The proportion of North East parents attempting to make do without a lawyer in court has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013. It means that proceedings are delayed as judges attempt to explain how the law works to parents.
And local law firms warn that parents taking part in child custody cases, and other cases involving the welfare of children, are failing to explain their case properly to courts.
Lord Beecham urged the Ministry of Justice to act. He said: “As many of us warned, the cuts in legal aid are having a serious effect on family and especially child-related proceedings.
“The Journal newspaper reported on Saturday a rise of 61% in people representing themselves, with the predictable result of serious delays.”
He also highlighted the riot in a North East prison which saw 50 inmates take over a wing at HMP Northumberland in March.
One inmate has written to prisoners’ magazine Inside Time to claim the riot was down to frustration at staff shortages which had put a stop to some workshops.
Lord Beecham pointed out that the prison, previously known as HMP Acklington, was run by a private contractor.
He said: “Also in the North East we have had the experience of a prison riot at the newly privatised Acklington Prison where 130 staff left, about a third of the total.
“The prison is now managed by Sodexo, one of those oligopolies assumed by the Government to be capable of running any public service.”
And the Labour peer, who led Newcastle City Council from 1977 to 1994, attacked proposals to split up the probation service.
Regional probation services will be replaced by a national service responsible for “high risk” offenders while private firms will run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which manage lower risk offenders.
The Northumbria Branch of trade union Napo, which represents probation officers, had written to the Ministry of Justice to raise concerns about “job security, workload, increased management spans, reduced support from human resources and especially the transfer of cases and the split between risk categories,” he said.
“They are worried about the risk to public safety as a result of the split and point to bureaucratic delays in transfers, with existing users being transferred and high risk offenders going to new officers.”
And Lord Beecham warned that outsourcing of child protection services could cause further problems.
He said: “The Government launched a consultation, lasting all of six weeks about plans to permit local authorities to outsource children’s social services to the likes of G4S and Serco.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 June 2014
> Modern Britain… everything’s for sale. Profit uber alles.
Fears have been raised that high risk sex offenders could pose serious danger to public safety as planned changes to the Probation Service go ahead.
Unions fear that privatising parts of the service this year could see inexperienced staff dealing with sex offenders – while one anonymous officer working for the Durham Tees Valley Probation Service fears victims could be at risk.
However a Probation Service spokesperson said that all staff dealing with sex offenders, including rapists and paedophiles, would be “fully qualified”.
Speaking to the BBC, an anonymous probation officer raised serious concerns that staff would only receive two days training to deal with sex offenders.
They said: “We are dealing with rapists, child rapists, paedophiles, people who have abused children. The staff are qualified but not with dealing with sex offenders.
“Because we are not equipped to deal with those people there is a fear we may not pick up on things… Our biggest worry is those people could reoffend and cause further harm to others.”
After May 31, the Durham Tees Valley Probation Service will no longer exist as a result of government reforms.
A smaller, national service will be created alongside 21 regional community rehabilitation companies – which will be sold to the private sector in October.
The local branch, based in central Middlesbrough, currently has a specialist Public Protection Team to deal with sex offenders.
However, according to Tanya Bassett, national official for the probation union Napo, these changes could see “generic” probation officers take on those cases.
“Durham Tees Valley were one of the last trusts to have a specialist team, but it has now been forced to hand out these cases to generic officers,” said Ms Bassett.
“It is not about how it impacts on the staff, and their case loads, but the fear of not seeing the risks from behavioural changes that those who are experienced in working with those offenders would.
“We are very concerned about these changes. We have taken strike action twice in the last six months – considering we have only taken industrial action five times in our 104 year history, you can see how strongly our members feel.”
A Probation Service spokesperson said: “Protecting the public remains our priority. All sex offenders will be managed by the National Probation Service by fully qualified probation officers. It is totally wrong to suggest otherwise.
“Introducing lie detector tests for high-risk sex offenders, with satellite tagging to track their movements, will give us one of the world’s toughest approaches to managing this group in the community.
“Together this will be vital in preventing sex offenders from leaving more victims in their wake.”
> Sounds like a job for some company with experience like, er, G4S ?
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 25 May 2014