UP to 200 Fylde coast probation service staff are fearing for their jobs after the Government announced plans to privatise parts of their work.
Lancashire’s probation chief admitted he “can’t give assurances” on the security of staff in offices in Blackpool and Fleetwood should the scheme go ahead.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has unveiled plans to overhaul the system, which included privatising some of the work currently done by the probation service.
Lancashire Probation Trust’s chief executive Kevin Robinson has slammed the proposals – and warned there could be a disaster on the same scale as that which saw the authorities fail to spot injuries which led to the death of an infant in the infamous Baby P case.
That death was blamed on the fact too many different organisations were involved in the baby’s case and the weight of evidence that he was being abused was never brought together.
Mr Robinson told The Gazette: “If you think about the Baby P case and child protection issues the biggest issue is having a consistency of service delivery.
“I would say we welcome the opportunity of working in partnership with people but we feel we have the expertise to stand alone and deliver this work ourselves.
“We would like to retain as many services as we can within our organisation, but I can’t give assurances.
“What we’re disappointed about is that we’re not being allowed to deliver some of the services or even bid for them.”
Lancashire Probation Trust currently employs about 600 people, approximately a third of whom are based across the Fylde coast.
Jo Williams, vice chairman of the county’s branch of the probation service’s trade union NAPO, said they believed up to 70 per cent of the organisation’s work would be farmed out, meaning many job losses.
She added: “Obviously we’re very concerned about losing jobs, it’s dangerous as well and bad for our towns.
“Probation is a success story and should remain a public service.
“We have always been open to working in partnership with the voluntary sector but handing over 70 per cent of our work to the private and voluntary sector would, we believe, be irresponsible.
“Lower wages, increased case loads and taking risks to maximise profits will not lead to safer communities.”
And Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden said he shared their concerns.
He added: “Obviously the implications for employees in the probation service and their families in Blackpool and Lancashire is they must be very worried and perturbed and concerned, and that’s not surprising.
“The probation service has done a very good job in very difficult circumstances with a very strained budget.”
Under the plans security firms and voluntary groups would manage low risk offenders on a payment by results basis while the probation service would still look after high risk cases.
But Mr Marsden has accused the Government of “gambling with public safety”, highlighting the case of murdered Blackpool nurse Jane Clough who was killed by her former boyfriend after he was given a low risk rating and bailed by a judge while facing charges of raping her.
He added: “It’s all very well saying the probation service will look after high risk prisoners but the truth of the matter is people’s standards change both ways while in prison and while on probation.
“It’s not always as easy as Chris Grayling makes out.
“Clearly the judge who put Jane Clough’s killer on bail didn’t think that would be a high risk person, so the idea you can blandly separate people seems to me to be extremely naive.”
However Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys Paul Maynard dismissed concerns probation service jobs could be lost as a result of the move.
He said: “I can understand why technically Mr Robinson has to say that but I was in the chamber to hear the speech and I detected no indication this was going to lead to a reduction in the numbers working for the probation service.
“I think Chris Grayling is very committed to ensuring we reduce re-offending, and that means bringing in all sorts of innovation.
“It’s an evolution of what’s been going on for a number of years from both Governments.”
Following their daughter’s death John and Penny Clough succesfully campaigned to have bail laws changed so prosecutors could challenge crown court judges’ decisions if they felt bail had been handed out incorrectly to potentially violent defendants.
Mrs Clough was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.
Lancashire Probation Trust has offices in Talbot Road, Blackpool, and Avroe Crescent, South Shore, while staff are also based at a centre on The Esplanade, Fleetwood.