PROBATION workers protested in town yesterday as they stepped up the fight against plans to privatise the service.
Around a dozen UNISON members and colleagues from local branches of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), gathered outside Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court in a bid to raise awareness of the Government’s plans, which have been described as a “disgrace”.
The protests coincided with a vast chunk of the probation service being put up for sale by the Government under controversial reforms.
On March 31 next year, 35 probation trusts will be closed down, including Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust, and will be replaced by a single centrally run public sector service. That will account for an estimated 30 per cent of probation work supervising the high risk of harm offenders.
But a package of £450 million worth of contracts has now been offered to private and voluntary sector organisations, covering the supervisions of 225,000 low and medium-risk offenders each year on a payment-by-results basis.
But UNISON and NAPO members have expressed concerns saying multi-national companies will be supervising offenders to make a profit.
One protestor in Hartlepool yesterday, who wished not to be named, told the Mail: “Obviously there’s the aspect of the companies looking to make a profit.
“But what we can’t forget is they are going to be dealing with vulnerable people, people who we have worked with for a long time and built up relationships with.”
Clare Williams, UNISON regional convenor, added: “Privatisation of the probation service is a disgrace.
“Probation staff believe in the service they provide and they know the difference they make to individuals and our communities.”
Protestors held placards and chanted as they stopped passers-by in their hour-long stand yesterday from noon-1pm.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, said: “If it’s not bad enough that this Government doesn’t care about jobs, professionalism and people’s livelihoods, not caring about public safety is a downright disgrace and a total failure on their part to fulfil their duty to society.”
But Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has insisted the reforms were necessary to bring down re-offending, saying that more than 600,000 offences were committed last year by repeat offenders.
He said: “The scale of interest in these contracts from so many diverse and creative organisations is extremely encouraging. This is great news for the public who will finally benefit from the best of the private and voluntary sectors, working together with the public sector, to cut re-offending.”
More than 700 organisations from across the world are said to have expressed interest in the contracts including hundreds of British firms already.