On 5 March, 2014 the National Audit Office (NAO) published Probation: a landscape review, which summarises their audit of the existing arrangements for probation and raises issues concerning the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reform plans to radically restructure probation service delivery.
The NAO report states that “the probation service has been performing effectively.” It acknowledges HM Inspectorate of Probation’s findings of good standards and practice in probation trusts, and that the National Offender Management Service’s own rating system recently awarded all probation trusts with good or exceptional performance. The NAO’s audit of probation trust accounts for 2012-13 “found no material weaknesses,” and notes that re-offending rates for those serving community orders under probation has fallen from 39.9 per cent in 2003 to 34.1 per cent in the year to March 2010.
The PCA has warned that the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which entail abolishing probation trusts and outsourcing 80% of their work to private companies, risk the deterioration of current high levels of performance of probation services. The NAO report identifies increased risks to operational performance during the upheaval, and raises the issue over how risk would be managed in the event of market or supplier failure.
Such a dip in performance would present unacceptable risks to public safety, taxpayers’ money and the effectiveness of community rehabilitation. As the Government proceeds to implement its reforms, the PCA believes it vital for the Government to ensure all systems are fully tested and safe before ‘going live,’ and that careful consideration is given over how the quality, skills and ethos of the profession is sustained in the future.
The NAO review follows a critical examination of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme by the Justice Select Committee in its Interim Report, which is referenced and briefly discussed in this Landscape report.
On the 11th March, the Offender Rehabilitation Bill returns to the House of Lords. The Public Accounts Committee will hold an evidence session on the NAO report on the 12 March at 2pm.
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