MP John Healey has slammed the government for not heeding warnings after a private company running probation services in South Yorkshire failed an audit.
Sodexo runs South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), which deals with 70 per cent of offenders or nearly 5,000 South Yorkshire criminals, including those convicted of serious and violent crimes.
Within six months of taking over, South Yorkshire CRC has failed a Ministry of Justice audit, which is reported to have highlighted systematic failures, including offenders not being properly monitored, poor record-keeping and enforcement and a lack of supervision.
Mr Healey said: “This is a scandal and a disgrace.
“Tory ministers were determined to press ahead with privatisation and, within just a few months, there’s proof it’s putting the public at risk.
“Before this Sodexo had no experience in dealing with offenders – they serve food in our schools. They’re just not up to the job and should be stripped of the contract.”
The MP has written to the Justice Secretary Michael Gove asking for a copy of the audit and an explanation of the government’s response.
Before and after privatisation in the summer, Mr Healey raised strong concerns with Mr Gove and his predecessor Chris Grayling.
The MP has received a number of reports from probation officers in South Yorkshire about high workloads, low morale, failed promises, IT problems and other issues.
There have also been reports of Sodexo in South Yorkshire cutting staff by a third and reducing costs by using unqualified staff.
Mr Healey said: “There are extremely worrying findings in this audit, but exactly the sort of problems I and other MPs predicted and feared before the government pushed through its reckless and ideological reorganisation.
“Company managers seem to be paying little care or attention to the service, offenders and safety of the public, and this is why I have and will continue to challenge the government over the privatisation of a perfectly good service.
“Ministers were determined to press on with privatising probation, despite serious concerns about the risk to public safety.
“There was no justification or evidence it would make the probation service better, the public safer or reduce reoffending.”
Under the previous probation trusts, reoffending and crime rates fell and savings of 20 per cent were made.
All 35 probation trusts in England and Wales were judged good or excellent and South Yorkshire was one of the best-performing in the country. It was one of just five rated ‘exceptional’ and had a long-standing record for reducing reoffending several times higher than the national average.
It is understood a second audit will take place in February but failure to improve could mean Sodexo’s contract in South Yorkshire is terminated.