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
> 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.
“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
> Another success story for privatisation….
The prison service is “a powder keg” and it’s only a matter of time before staff are seriously hurt, an MP has warned.
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, urged Ministers to act over a dramatic increase in assaults on prison officer staff.
And speaking in the House of Commons, he highlighted staff cuts at HMP Northumberland, which was transferred to private management 12 months ago.
Sodexo Justice Services now runs the prison after winning a 15-year contract worth an estimated £250 million.
It comes after a number of MPs raised concerns about working conditions in the nation’s prisons.
Work commissioned by the Prison Officers’ Association and conducted by academics warned of high levels of stress among prison staff, and found 65 per cent of prison officers often thought about quitting the job.
A Commons motion warning MPs are “deeply concerned at the findings of the report” was signed by Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell and North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon as well as Mr Lavery.
The MPs urged the Government “to conduct an urgent inquiry into the prison system and the terms and conditions of those trying to professionally carry out an important public service under the most difficult of circumstances”.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lavery said:
“The Prison Service is not only in crisis, but is a powder keg.
“Somebody must be held accountable because someone, somewhere will be seriously hurt in the Prison Service.
“Nine members of staff are assaulted daily, which means 3,400 a year, up 9.4 per cent.
“More dramatically, serious assaults on staff have increased by 36% since 2010.”
He highlighted the situation at HMP Northumberland, where around 50 inmates took over a wing in riots in March.
He asked Justice Minister Andrew Selous: “Does the Minister share my concerns about the situation at HMP Northumberland, which is in my area?
“When that prison was privatised, Sodexo immediately reduced the work force by a third, yet the prison population has been increasing.
“Have not prison officers who are left to carry out the work every right to be stressed? What will the Minister do about it?”
The Minister told the Commons:
“Those who manage contracted prisons absolutely have a duty to make sure that they keep their staff as well.”
The Government was taking action to protect prison officers, he said.
“We are working towards a new protocol for escalating matters when prison staff are victims of assault to the which rightly recognises the seriousness of these incidents.”
“The evidence that the Prison Service continues to provide a rewarding career in which staff are able to change lives is irrefutable.
“It is demonstrated in the commitment and tenacity that prison officers have shown in recent months in the difficult circumstances that I have described.
“It is also evident in the organisation’s ability to attract 1,700 new prison officer recruits.”
Sodexo Justice Services operates one prison in Scotland and three in England.
It is part of the French multinational Sodexo Group, which provides services including catering, cleaning and security.
The first jail to be transferred from public to private operation was HMP Birmingham, which is run by G4S.
Fourteen other prisons in England and Wales have been privately managed since they were opened.
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has also expressed concern about staff cuts introduced by Sodexo at HMP Northumberland.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Dec 2014
A privately-run jail is using the controversial zero hours contracts to plug gaps in its workforce, a debate in the House of Commons has heard.
HMP Northumberland, which has been described by prison officers as “like a tinderbox”, is using the contracts after cuts stripped away its staff from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery described the measure at the Sodexo-run Category C jail as an “outrage” during a debate on a bill aimed at abolishing the contracts.
“Is my honourable friend aware of the situation at HMP Northumberland, where Sodexo, a French catering company, has privatised the prison and sacked or made redundant more than a third of the work force?
“It does not have enough people to make the prison safe, but it is bringing in people on banked-hours and zero-hours contracts. That is an outrage.”
It comes after a riot at the jail in March and a stash of Class A drugs worth in excess of £100,000 were found last month.
The private members bill, brought by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, is aimed at abolishing zero hours contracts and the debate will continue next week.
MPs heard use of the contracts is rife in the care and hospitality sectors with the average wage of a zero hours worker is £236, – and that this is a figure £246 less than the average worker.
Mr Mearns said:
“Today, I am fighting for the same thing that people of every generation have fought for: the right to decent and secure conditions and terms of employment.
“It is not a great ask. A well-paid and steady job is the bedrock on which people build their lives. It is the starting point for planning for the future, and the platform of stability needed to pay the bills, meet the rent, pay the mortgage and start a family.
“Those are not extravagances, but the minimum that should be available to any person who is prepared to work to pay their way in a wealthy nation such as ours.
“Yet that stability and security is denied to millions of workers in this country. Increasingly, people are finding themselves plagued by job insecurity, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be working or earning.”
The bill has strong support from North East Labour MPs.
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said:
“A constituent who came to see me highlighted just how little economic sense zero-hours contracts make for the taxpayer as well.
“From one week to the next, he may or may not be able to pay his rent and may need housing benefit support.
“That creates a total mess for the support systems that have to provide support to these people on very insecure work contracts. The cost to the taxpayer of sorting out that mess is adding to the problem. Employers need to step up to the mark.”
Conservatives, however, accused Labour MPs of using zero hours contracts themselves.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, denied he was among them, but said Labour-led councils need to do more.
“I absolutely do not use zero-hours contracts. I think part of the problem is that many local authorities do not have tight enough procedures with subcontractors; I would encourage them so to do.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 22 Nov 2014
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
Labour run North Tyneside Council has had to cancel an attempt to introduce voluntary prepaid benefits cards after only two claimants volunteered to take part. The council claimed that the scheme was misrepresented as being aimed at drug and alcohol users.
The council’s attempts to launch the cards predates Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement to the Conservative party conference last month, in which he said:
“I have long believed that where parents have fallen into a damaging spiral – drug or alcohol addiction, even problem debt, or more – we need to find ways to safeguard them – and more importantly, their families, their children, ensuring their basic needs are met.
“That means benefits paid, I always believe, should go to support the wellbeing of their families not to feed their destructive habits.
“To that end, conference, today I can stand here and announce to you that I am going to start testing prepaid cards onto which we will make benefit payments so that the money they receive is spent on the needs of the family, finally helping I believe to break the cycle of poverty for families on the margins.”
In fact, prepayment cards have already been extensively tested on failed asylum seekers, who are obliged to use an Azure card produced by French multinational Sodexo.
Users of the card report that they are treated negatively, that the cards often don’t work and that they are prevented from buying cheaper fruit and vegetables from markets.
One user told the Red Cross:
“You go to [one of the approved retailers] and it’s just refused when they swipe it…. So sometimes you can go for a week without food…. If it happens by Friday – at the weekend they are closed. Then you tell them on a Monday that this is what happened, and they tell you it will take three to four days. So already you’re half of the week.”
So, the claim by North Tyneside deputy mayor that they wanted to give people
“. . . a financial life-line to better managing their finances so they could be more independent in the future and provide them with great choices.’
may be genuine, but it doesn’t seem to reflect what actually happens when you take away people’s right to spend their money as they choose.
Source – Benefits & Work, 10 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