Police boss blames privatisation for damaging work to cut crime

Rocky road: Dr Alan Billings has blamed privatisation for failure to cut rates of adult re-offending.
Rocky road: Dr Alan Billings has blamed privatisation for failure to cut rates of adult re-offending.
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Privatisation of probation service work has been blamed for holding back attempts to drive down numbers of adult re-offenders by South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

Privatisation of probation service work has been blamed for holding back attempts to drive down numbers of adult re-offenders by South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

The county’s performance in tackling adult offenders who go on to commit more crimes after being discharged with the authorities is in stark contrast to that with young offenders – where the work is still in the hands of the National Probation Service – where rates have declined sharply.

Although changes to the system are now regarded as beginning to ‘bed in’, with the results of that progress showing through in figures, PCC Dr Alan Billings criticised the changes which has seen much of the work done with adult offenders handed to private companies on a payment-by-results basis.

That scheme effectively means the organisations involved find themselves with a dwindling pot of money to fulfil their responsibilities should they fail to meet initial targets.

The situation was compounded by a reluctance of traditional probation staff to move across into the private sector, leaving the work in a state of upheaval as large numbers of new staff had to be recruited to take over.

The changes were ordered by the Government in 2014 to put low-risk offenders into hands of private firms for rehabilitation.

Dr Billings is critical of the change and said: “I have not met a professional yet who thought it was a good idea.

“It has been turbulent with the splitting of probation.”

Services in South Yorkshire are run by the company Sodexo and Dr Billings said: “I think they have done the best they can in difficult circumstances. It is beginning to settle down but it has been a bumpy road.”

The National Probation Service still deals with high level offenders, with others being dealt with by private companies.

Dr Billings told members of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, effectively a watchdog body made up of councillors and independent members: “We were very concerned about that, never convinced it was a model which would work properly.”

He said he believed the payment-by-results system “was not a good model to use”.

“If you don’t reduce crime, you will get less money, which leaves less money to work with the ones (clients) you have got.

“We think they are in a better place than they were.

“Most of the original problems they had were that people who worked in the probation service didn’t want to work in the new companies. That meant they got off to a difficult start.”

Statistics showed that after the privatisation, South Yorkshire had one of only two crime reduction companies which saw a ‘statistically significant’ rise in reoffending rates.

However, when that changed by the next assessment to a point where the county’s CRC was among 12 where there was ‘no statistically significant increase’ in numbers reoffending, meaning performance had improved.

By contrast, the county’s young offender teams have been unaffected by the privatisation and they saw “a significant reduction in the number of first time entrants to the criminal justice system” and “a significant reduction in the number of young people being sentenced to youth custody.”

Across South Yorkshire, the rates of reoffending among youngsters under the supervision of YOTs is among the lowest in the country, though it is recognised progress is still needed in Barnsley.

Dr Billings said he was hopeful the success in steering young people away from crime would eventually feed through into an improved situation with adults as they matured.