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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
Protest due over probation reform
Belmarsh Prison
The probation service fears reforms will lead to privatisation
More than 1,000 probation service staff are expected to protest against planned changes to the system of supervising offenders released from prison.

The government wants to allow private firms and voluntary bodies to compete with the public sector in a new National Offender Management Service.

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) has dubbed the move "privatisation by the back door".

But the Home Office insists the service can benefit from private sector input.

We fear that there will be millions of pounds poured into bureaucracy and not very much into the front line
Napo head Harry Fletcher

However, contracts would only be opened up to competition where existing providers fail to meet targets.

The Home Office hopes that in these cases a market will develop based on cost effectiveness and reduction in crime.

But Napo fears public protection could be compromised by private firms cutting corners in order to save cash.

It also claims staff feel "cajoled into accepting the changes" by the threat of privatisation hanging over the contracts.


Napo head Harry Fletcher is also concerned the reorganisation could see an huge increase in red-tape as a new level of regional bureaucracy is created.

"We fear that there will be millions of pounds poured into bureaucracy and not very much into the front line to actually deal with the supervision of offenders who are often a great risk to the public," he said.

The union is also concerned at the lack of detail they have been given by the government on the scheme and points out that no business case has been presented.

"It comes across to us as a classic example of policy first and explanation later," Mr Fletcher added.

A Napo statement said: "The Probation Service was last reorganised in April 2001, is chronically underfunded and understaffed and does not need yet another reorganisation."

The Home Office stressed that nothing was set in stone and that a consultation on the plans would begin on June 1.

Protesters are expected to lobby Parliament after a rally on Tuesday lunchtime.

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