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Council leader's warning over Probation Service reform plans
GOVERNMENT plans to privatise the Probation Service represent a risk to people in the North-East, a Darlington politician has warned.
Changes to the service – which supervises offenders in the community – mean it has been opened up to competitive bidding for contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds across England and Wales.
A North-East consortium - consisting of councils, health, housing and voluntary sector organisations - is examining the possibility of bidding for the contract to provide the service in the Durham and Tees Valley area.
Members of Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet heard an update on the multi-agency talks during a meeting on Tuesday (October 1) evening.
The cabinet endorsed the work that has been carried out and agreed to support the ongoing development of the proposed consortium bid.
Council leader Bill Dixon expressed concerns at the prospect of transferring elements of the service into the hands of private-sector, profit-driven organisations.
He said: “We have got a high-performing Probation Service, which the Government is about to put out to people with a certain track record.
“It is quite possible that, if we do not do anything, companies such as that will be running our Probation Service.
“There is no way to draw an artificial line between low-risk and high-risk offenders.
“What is low-risk today becomes high-risk tomorrow – multiple murderers come from the low-risk bracket.”
In January, the Government published a paper setting out the proposals for radical changes to the Probation Service.
The plans are for the abolition of the current Probation Trusts, to be replaced by a new National Probation Service, which would carry out initial assessments and pre-sentence work with offenders.
Work will be split between the NPS and the new companies.
Coun Dixon added: “The Government is talking about [evaluating bids based on a] 50/50 split between quality and price, when they are really talking in terms of saving and risk.
“That is risk to the public, risk to the people of this region and that is unacceptable.
“I would hate to think of the achievements of the last ten to 15 years, in terms of community safety, being disregarded in the name of saving a few pounds.”
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said the reforms are necessary to bring down re-offending.
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