Probation officers were left dumbstruck today after Con-Dem Justice Secretary Chris Grayling airily announced plans to sell off their service to privateers.
Mr Grayling said he was looking to outsource supervision and rehab programmes for all but the most high-risk ex-inmates to charities and private companies across England and Wales.
The plan would strip away an estimated 70 per cent of the Probation Service's core work, with contractors paid by results in a manner similar to the Con-Dems' controversial work programme.
Mr Grayling - who uniquely among lord chancellors has no legal training or experience in the justice system - described his plan as a "rehabilitation revolution."
But the National Association of Probation Officers ridiculed the claim, calling his justifications "purely ideological."
The union's assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher had predicted the push in an interview with the Morning Star in November, saying he feared plans to increase the GPS tagging of offenders were a pretext for slashing probation officers' numbers.
"It's all going to be delivered by the private sector. These will not be trained probation officers monitoring them," he said.
"You're looking at 6,000 to 7,000 jobs lost because they want to make a profit out of punishment - ultimately it will put public safety at risk."
Mr Fletcher called the decision "astonishing."
He said the service had met all its targets in the latest official figures and last year had won the British Quality Foundation Gold Award for Excellence.
"This move, therefore, is purely ideological.
"The policy flies against the government's localism agenda. The government is proposing that the Probation Service is reorganised twice in six months, which is impossible. Issues of transfer and pension deficits have not been resolved.
"There is no plan for dealing with the escalation or decline of risk of individual offenders.
"If this plan proceeds it will be chaotic and will compromise public protection," he said.
Allied opposition MPs were also left outraged. Justice unions parliamentary group chairman Elfyn Llwyd called the plans "a triumph of ideology over common sense," while secretary John McDonnell said the scheme was simply a pretext for privatisation.
"This has nothing to do with tackling crime but is simply opening up the service to profiteering companies like G4S," he said.
Meanwhile in Wales, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood AM demanded Westminster hand control directly to the Welsh National Assembly.
Former probation officer Ms Wood said the changes were a stark contrast to the service's strong ethos of public service.
"Rarely has the quality of a service been improved through privatisation and, with the Probation Service, the risks are too high."
There was now an even greater reason to devolve custodial powers to Wales, she said.
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