Tagging scandal should prompt probation privatisation rethink, Commissioner says

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Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner is calling on the Government to rethink its plans to privatise the probation service in the wake of the electronic tagging scandal.

Tony Lloyd was speaking out after it emerged that the Serious Fraud Office is to investigate private security firm G4S for overcharging tens of millions of pounds on electronic tagging for offenders.

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, told the Commons that G4S and another firm, Serco, had been billing for non-existent services. The contracts were worth £700m.

Tony called for the police to also investigate the claims – adding it raises serious questions over Mr Grayling’s plans for the probation service.

The Justice Secretary plans to sell off the vast majority – 70% – of the country’s probation services to the private sector, offering lucrative megacontracts to huge companies like G4S and Serco.

Tony said: “The Justice Secretary’s revelations are nothing short of a scandal. The idea that tens of millions of pounds from the public purse have been handed over to these two very profitable companies for work they did not do is a disgrace. I am calling on the government to bring in the police as well as the Serious Fraud Office to get to the bottom of this and take appropriate action. But whether it is incompetence or fraud it is still the case that our money has been used to further swell the profits of these huge companies.

“It is worth bearing in mind that the ministers who are, quite rightly, expressing shock and outrage at G4S and Serco are the self-same ministers who are ploughing on with the wholesale privatisation of our probation services.

“It will be a surprise to no-one that two of the leading companies who hope to provide probation services are G4S and Serco. This scandal would prompt any sensible person to pause before handing over 70% of our probation services to the private sector, but it would appear the Justice Secretary is so ideologically blinkered that he wants to carry on regardless.

“This is a foolhardy position to take and I would urge the Government to stop, think carefully about what they are doing and at the very least trial their proposals before imposing them across the country. We all recognise the perilous state of the economy, we all know the public sector has to pick up the pieces after the banking crash. But we will pay more in the long run if these ill-thought-through proposals go ahead. Many people, myself included, have been urging the government to rethink this for months. Hopefully this fiasco will actually make them listen to the vast swathe of opposition to these plans and take action.”

Currently new contracts – worth £3bn – are out for tender for electronic tagging. Both Serco and G4S were in the running for the contracts, although Serco has withdrawn from the process.

Tony added: “It would be unthinkable for any company involved in this farce to be offered a contract to provide the same tagging service. Serco have taken the sensible step of withdrawing, however G4S has not. If they have the cheek to remain in this process, then the Government should boot them out.”  

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