Probation services outsourcing firm collapses

19 Feb 19

A private company contracted by the government to run probation services has gone into administration. 

The collapse of Working Links, an outsourcing company with three ‘community rehabilitation companies’, coincided with a report, which found its level of service to be “truly dispiriting”.

Working Links runs CRCs in three regions around England and Wales, which were awarded contracts by the Ministry of Justice as part of probation reforms under former justice secretary Chris Grayling.

A report from HM Inspectorate of Probation published on Friday rated one of Working Links’ CRCs – Dorset, Devon and Cornwall – as “inadequate”.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM chief inspector of probation, said in the report, release on Friday last week: “The CRC is not delivering probation services to anywhere near the expected standard. Most of their work is poor quality and puts the public at unnecessary risk. The CRC focuses disproportionately on meeting contractual targets and avoiding financial penalties.

“We found professional ethics compromised and immutable lines crossed because of commercial pressures. Workloads are unconscionable – in some offices, the average caseload is between 80 and 100. This is unimaginable and puts professional staff in an invidious position.”

This CRC, along with Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire CRC (BGSW) and Wales CRC, will now be transferred to another outsourcing company Seetec.

HMIP said it has previously expressed concern about work in the Gloucester area – part of the BGSW CRC, and said it will now inspect the last remaining CRC run by Working Links, in Wales.

The damning report said: “This report presents a truly dispiriting but predictable picture.

“Urgent remedial action is required in this CRC. Without it, public confidence in the delivery of probation services in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall will be yet further diminished and professional staff further compromised, and thousands of individuals who deserve decent probation services will continue to be let down.”

Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “Our probation system is clearly broken.

“We need a probation system that prioritises keeping the public safe rather than boosting the profits of private companies.”

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We were aware of the Working Links’ financial situation and have taken action to ensure continuity of probation services.

“The chief inspector’s report on Dorset, Devon and Cornwall CRC lays bare its unacceptably poor performance and we will work closely with the new provider to urgently raise standards.”

Working Links has been contacted for comment.

Read PF’s feature on the slowdown in local government outsourcing.

Institute for Government research from December found that one third of government spending goes on external contractors and suppliers.

Justice secretary David Gauke said earlier this week he will release plans on changes he wants to make to the probation serve later this year, as part of a shift from prison to community sentences.

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