House of Lords business often gets overlooked.
But the Lords is a place where Government legislation can be halted or subjected to detailed scrutiny.
There was a chance to do that on Wednesday – when the Coalition’s disastrous rush to privatise the Probation Service came before the Lords.
That chance was, however, defeated – by the LibDems and their Tory allies.
No less than 80% of LibDem peers turned out to ensure that Probation is privatised – in spite of a chorus of warnings of what that will mean for our safety.
When Ken Clarke was Justice Secretary, he started the process of privatising the Probation service – but set up two pilots to test out the model.
His successor, Chris Grayling, is a man in a hurry. He has been determined to speed up the process.
He disregarded the two pilots set up by Clarke, and instead decided to ‘turbocharge’ his ‘revolution’ – as Criminal Justice Skills – a leading staffing provider to offender rehabilitation – puts it.
The attempts to privatise the probation service have been steam-rollered through the Commons in the face of near universal criticism and fears of their implications.
‘The coming privatisation disaster’ is how the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has described the situation.
They were in turn reporting on the Parliamentary Justice Committee’s own considered judgement.
The Committee’s report contained major criticisms of the proposed new structure – which will end up with duplication and will likely be more expensive as well as dubiously effective and less locally accountable.
As the Parliamentary committee puts it
‘In place of a single probation service, operating locally, there will therefore be:
‘two probation services (the new National Probation Service and the contracted provider) in every locality delivering similar services side by side and sometimes via one another. Each will have to form working relationships with other local organisations, bodies and services for the delivery of the joint or complementary services which characterise effective local work with offenders.’
‘Ministers should recognise,’ the Committee continues, ‘that there is a potential risk that this will lead to inefficient use of resources, and confuse accountability at local level.’
The changes will introduce payment by results – and whatever you think of the appropriateness of this in such a field as probation, the House of Commons committee was not convinced that the financial arguments here stacked up.
When it comes to staffing this privatised and duplicated system, there are even more worries.
The new private organisations will not be required to have professionally qualified staff.
The Parliamentary Committee again:
‘’Community Rehabilitation Companies will be managing considerable risk on a day to day basis, yet will not be required to have professionally qualified staff. This is a matter of considerable concern to us.’
Such is the concern about these plans that 3 Chief Executives of probation trusts have taken the unprecedented step of writing open letters to the justice secretary asking that these rushed plans be delayed.
In January Chris Grayling was forced to put back his plans to privatize 70% of the probation service as a result of warnings from his officials that the plans raised public safety issues.
But he is determined still to see them through. And on Wednesday his proposals finally came before the Lords.
And there they were passed – thanks to the alliance of LibDems and Tories.
The LibDems rallied their troops very effectively – 80 LibDem peers came and voted, to a man and woman, alongside the Tories to pass the Bill which privatises probation.
Cross bench Lords overwhelmingly – and all bishops who voted – voted with Labour.
The LibDems are currently trying very hard to present themselves as different from the Tories.
But their actions speak louder than their words.
On probation privatisation – as on hospital closures – they were there in the lobbies this week with their Tory friends.
All of this is a sharp reminder that the LibDems are on board with this Coalition – and have been since day one.
Those who voted LibDem in 2010 – for ANY LibDem – thinking that they were keeping the Tories out, were sadly disappointed.
It was votes for the LibDems in 2010 which put this CoaIition in power.
And votes for the LibDems – for ANY LibDem – in 2015 will keep it there
Only a vote for Labour can get rid of them.
This Coalition is hell bent on the privatisation of our key public services – at any price. The Probation service vote this week proves that.
Their hurry suggests they have doubts about their future in government.
To make sure those doubts become reality – and to stop this headlong rush to unnecessary and dangerous privatisation – there is only one real option
Vote Labour in 2015 – and send them a message that you plan to do that by voting Labour in May this year.
For more information from us sign up here