Enraged probation workers went on strike yesterday over Government privatisation plans.
Staff gathered outside Newcastle Crown Court on the city’s Quayside to demonstrate against low and medium risk offenders being put into the hands of private companies.
The plan is for 70% of the workload to be shifted from the public sector.
Among those voicing her support was Christina Thornton, 42. The Newcastle Crown Court liaison officer said: “The Government has decided that saving money is more important than public safety. We’ve exceeded their targets, and they’re still not happy. How can somebody who’s not trained say they can do it for cheaper and more effectively?
“It’s putting the public at risk. It may take something massive before something’s done, and the public need to know what the probation does. I seriously worry about it.”
The 24-hour walkout started at noon, and was organised by probation union Napo. Neil Codling, a Newcastle Crown Court probation officer of 13 years, said: “It’s not really about losing jobs, and things like that. Nobody comes into the probation service to earn a great fortune. We do it because it’s a job that we feel is essential, and we love helping people to turn their lives around. That’s what the probation service is all about. It should be a public service, accountable to the public, and employed by the public.” Neil, 45, of High Spen, Gateshead added: “The Government are splitting the organisation into two, and that’s got no logic in it whatsoever. It’s an utter mess.”
Mike Quinn, a Napo spokesperson, said: “The Government’s plans will have a disastrous effect on public safety, and are very likely to result in an increase in crime. The probation service has a long, and importantly, successful history in protecting the public and reducing reoffending.”
Gordon Wooding, chair of the Durham Tees Valley branch of Napo added: “Privatising probation services will fail to protect the public, fail to reduce re-offending rates and fail to reduce prison numbers. Probation works and it works well. Private justice does not and cannot remain impartial.”
Justice Minister Chris Grayling defended the plans, telling MPs: “Every day of every week, innocent people are the victims of crimes committed by offenders who could be turned away from a life of crime if only there were someone there to help them to do that. That is a scandalous situation, but there are ways for us to solve it.”