Thousands of probation staff will continue a 24-hour strike today over Government plans to privatise the service.
Members of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) walked out of offices across England and Wales yesterday at midday in only the fourth strike in the union’s 101-year history.
The union previously registered a trade dispute over Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s proposals to transfer most of the service to private firms such as G4S and Serco.
The Ministry of Justice said around 4,000 workers – or 22% of probation staff – went on strike.
The action comes amid worsening industrial relations across the country as firefighters, post office staff and university workers have all been on strike.
Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “We regret any impact on our client base. Our action is designed to highlight the dangers of Chris Grayling’s plans for the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.
“We believe as well as being a threat to our members’ terms and conditions, there is a danger to the community with using unproven providers.”
A package of £450 million-worth of contracts has been offered to private and voluntary sector organisations, covering the supervision of 225,000 low and medium-risk offenders each year on a payment-by-results basis.
Napo previously claimed negotiations with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) over its Transforming Rehabilitation reforms had been ”seriously compromised” as a result of the department’s ”interference”
in the consultation on the proposals.
Three probation trust chairs wrote to the Justice Secretary last week to voice their concerns about his plans and the possible risk of harm to the public if they go ahead.
Contracts are to be split across 20 English regions and one Welsh region, while the National Probation Service (NPS), a new public sector organisation, will be formed to deal with the rehabilitation of 31,000 high-risk offenders each year.
More than 700 organisations from across the world have expressed interest in the contracts, the MoJ said, including hundreds of British firms.
A Government-wide review is being conducted of all contracts held by Serco and G4S, two of the country’s biggest private providers of public services.
The audit, triggered by allegations that both firms had overcharged the Government for criminal-tagging contracts, prompted calls for the MoJ to abandon its plans to privatise the Probation and Prison Services.
But it emerged that Mr Grayling intended to allow Serco and G4S to bid for the Probation Service – though the firms will not be awarded anything until the Government’s audit is completed.
Earlier this week, the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it had launched a criminal investigation into the allegations.
Napo has called for the proposals to be tested and claims recent reports from America, where some states have already outsourced their probation service, suggest there are concerns about how it operates.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “It is disappointing Napo has chosen to strike when we are making positive progress in meaningful discussions with them and other relevant trade unions as we transfer to the new arrangements.
“This is a strike in favour of the status quo, which is high reoffending rates and no support for 50,000 short-sentenced offenders each year who are currently released without any supervision and go on to commit so much crime in our communities.
“We have well-established contingency plans to deal with any potential action. We will continue to support staff and engage with unions as our important reforms move forwards.”