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Thursday, May 09, 2013 

Probation policies exchanged.

If the constituent parts of the coalition seem determined to do one over on their enemies within purely out of spite just at the moment, for which see the Tory backbench attempt to get a vote on the EU referendum next week, designed to make things even more difficult for poor old Dave, as well as Clegg doing the equivalent of poking his finger into the eye of Liz Truss over her beloved childcare plans, it's worth remembering that elsewhere relations seem just as cosy as ever.

Take the Home Office and Ministry of Justice.  Apart from Clegg's attempt to kibosh the "snooper's charter", the Lib Dems have barely raised a squeak over anything that's from the departments helmed by Theresa May and Chris Grayling.  True, they've made clear their opposition to any Tory attempt to withdraw from the ECHR, but then that has never been considered a serious option.

The latest policy they seem to be at one on is Grayling's pet privatising of the probation service.  As is so often the case in government, it involves one idea that could be a genuinely good reform, introducing probation for those serving short sentences in an attempt to reduce re-offending, and then covers it with two others that completely negate any potential benefit, in this instance putting the likes of G4S and Serco in charge and making life for those under supervision even more miserable than it may have been inside. Think of it as a shit sandwich reversed, which underlines just how stupid the Lib Dems have been to take a bite.

Grayling's only justification for not allowing the state to bid for the new contracts (unless the local bodies set themselves up as co-operatives, in which case their bids will be considered and then rejected) is that due to the cuts, more has to be done with less. While there is always the potential for waste to be identified, it's mostly found in the back office rather than at the stretched front line. Indeed, that the state will continue to have a monopoly in supervising the most serious offenders and those under MAPPA rather suggests that on the whole the current system is working. Why not extend that expertise rather than rely on companies and third sector organisations that are either untested or have had poor results in other payment by results schemes?

The answer is that this is another of those off the rack policies provided by Policy Exchange. Their spokesman today spoke of vested interests, but at least we know why NAPO is opposed. Policy Exchange by contrast is one of those think-tanks that refuses to say where its funding comes from, although we can make a few educated guesses based on the reports it's churned out over the years. PE has been instrumental in the pushing of the payments by results model, which so far has led to much in the way of payments (although not enough to keep some of those sub-contracted from going bust) but little in the way of results, the latest set of Work programme figures having been delayed repeatedly in the hope something will turn up (see recent Private Eyes).

Lest it be forgot, the Lib Dem position at the election was for short sentences to be all but abolished. That was never going to happen unless judges and magistrates had their discretion further eroded, which would have been a retrograde step, yet it looks as though we've somehow ended up with a system that will combine the questionable parts of community service with the alienation of prison life. It could well help some, while making things even more problematic for the majority.  Which is a perfectly good summary of what the coalition as a whole has achieved so far.

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