It has been suggested that the Daily Mail's article at the weekend concerning the TR omnishambles, and one of the senior civil servants involved, just might be a bit of 'news management' in order to cover the back of one Chris Grayling MP:-
The high-flying diplomat in charge of drawing up new trade deals after Brexit was behind a disastrous £4 billion privatisation of probation that is about to be scrapped. Antonia Romeo started work last week as Permanent Secretary at the new Department for International Trade, with the key role of ‘promoting the UK as an outward-facing, free-trading global nation’ once it leaves the European Union. Extraordinarily, until the summer she will be commuting to Whitehall from New York, where she was Her Majesty’s Consul General.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in a previous role at the Ministry of Justice, she was the ‘senior responsible officer’ for a botched shake-up of supervision for criminals leaving prison, which is facing a major overhaul this month. In a letter to MPs seen by this newspaper, Ministers have admitted the entire system is ‘falling short of our ambitions’ and multi-billion-pound contracts with private firms will have to be renegotiated as part of a review’.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said last night: ‘The chief behind the botched probation scheme is now being asked to organise the biggest series of simultaneous trade negotiations in history. ‘Only this Government could give a promotion for failure. This Government has no plan, no clue and no staff and it is starting to show.’
Mrs Romeo, an Oxford-educated mother of three who has been pictured at glitzy events with celebrities such as actress Joanna Lumley, was a director-general at the MoJ when she led the probation sell-off. She told MPs in 2014: ‘I am accountable for delivery of the benefits of the programme.’
It saw the 35 existing probation trusts across England and Wales dissolved, with lower-risk offenders put in the care of 21 privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), and the most dangerous inmates looked after by a new state-run National Probation Service. But the scheme has been a costly failure. The firms have been given far fewer offenders to supervise than they were promised, making them unviable as businesses. Some have laid off staff while others are planning to hold virtual meetings with criminals on Skype.
Bosses of the CRCs told MPs last month they will have to walk away from the deals they struck with the MoJ – worth £3.7 billion in total – unless they are renegotiated. Watchdogs have also highlighted problems in the new system, with HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, warning last year that services in London have deteriorated ‘due to the poor performance of the CRC’ and the city is now ‘more at risk’.
Figures obtained by MPs show that since the new regime was introduced in February 2015, a total of 1,021 Serious Further Offence reviews have been carried out into crimes committed by prisoners on probation.
This newspaper can now reveal that the Prisons and Probation Minister, Sam Gyimah, has admitted the system is in need of a complete revamp just two years after it was introduced. In a recent letter to the Justice Select Committee, the Minister said the ‘comprehensive review’ of probation was ‘looking at all aspects of the system’ including the ‘contractual arrangements’ with CRCs.
He acknowledged a ‘key factor in the performance of the probation system’ has been the lower-than-expected numbers of offenders for CRCs to handle, ‘which have had an impact on CRC revenue and their ability to transform their businesses’.
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesman, said: ‘It would be astonishing if senior officials responsible for these failings are now being put in charge of developing international trade agreements.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We hold providers rigorously to account for their performance. ‘We are carrying out a comprehensive review of the probation system to make sure it is preventing future victims and will set out our plans for reform in due course.’
The Department for International Trade declined to comment.
As someone who lost my job because of this I can't believe what I'm reading. Two years on and people are still being let go. Blunt and Grayling booby trapped the deal by inserting massive penalty payments if the home office tried to reverse it. Something tells me that the massive outsourcing companies will have made sure that they had no such clauses on their side. Utterly sickening.
******It is a pity that the DM and other newspapers did not properly report the destruction of probation in England and wales as it happened - then it might have been stopped. Sadly nobody, especially our MPs, would take any notice of people like me with thirty years front-line probation and prison experience.
******Absolute disgrace. Private company Working Links CRC responsible for Devon, Dorset and Cornwall (DDC) taken over by asset strippers Aurelius. Up to 40% of staff to lose their employment. Caseloads doubled or tripled, morale down, sickness up and the companies still rubbing their hands. When is this Government going to waken up and smell what they are standing in. The review will, like everything else they touch, be a whitewash. Magistrates have no confidence in the new Companies as these companies are not represented in court.
******And all that the Government had to do to get the offenders serving 12months or less supervised upon release would have been to give each Probation area a few thousand (probably less than a million per area) so that they could employ a few extra PSO's to provide the extra supervision. Problem solved. Millions if not billions saved.
The privatisation is so botched, that MTC Novo, the company that runs probation in London, failed to pay staff yesterday.
Meant to say they weren't paid on Friday. Also the article lays the blame at Ms Romeo. It was Chris Grayling's and the Conservative's idea, she just implemented it. The country re-elected them and Theresa May promoted him in the cabinet.