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Unmanageable probation workloads putting the public at risk, unions warn

Ministry of Justice urged to intervene to stop a catastrophic breakdown of the service

SOARING workloads in the austerity-hit probation service are putting the public at risk, unions representing workers in the essential sector in England and Wales warned today.

The worsening situation will lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the service if the Ministry of Justice does not intervene, Unison, GMB and Napo said.

The warning came as they launched a new campaign, Operation Protect, to save the probation system. 

A recent restructuring has added to the strain on the under-pressure workforce, leading many to quit and newly qualified and less experienced staff forced to take the reins, the unions said.

They added that mounting staff shortages are making it extremely difficult to keep tabs on offenders deemed too dangerous to live independently, with some workers fearing they will be scapegoated for the effects of an under-resourced service.

Unison condemned Tory ministers for failing to heed calls for action.

National officer for police and justice Ben Priestley said: “Probation staff are determined to keep the public safe and rehabilitate those on probation.

“But overwhelming workloads and staffing shortages have created a dangerous situation, which the government must address.”

GMB national officer George Georgiou warned that the sector has seen 10 years of underfunding and increasing workloads for all its staff.

“This campaign seeks to address the working conditions for our members who are being made unwell through high workloads,” he said. “It will also protect staff, the communities they serve and their profession.”

And Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence urged leaders in HM Prison & Probation Service to “play their part by reaching an agreed workload reduction and management strategy with unions.”

The move would allow the service, which was returned to the public sector in 2021 after a widely criticised part-privatisation in 2014, to “start to recover from the incessant and damaging changes it has gone through for more than a decade,” he argued. 

“Probation can and must do better with the right levels of investment, but our members need to see that this government is taking their concerns seriously.”

The unions also called for all staff to have high-quality supervision, when and how they need it, to manage their workloads effectively, and for workers to be given the confidence, tools and support to challenge excessive workloads.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Morning Star: “Probation staff do an incredibly difficult job and we are grateful to our dedicated workforce which is helping to steer offenders away from crime and keep people safe.

“We are investing an extra £155 million a year into the probation service and have recruited 4,000 more trainees in the last three years to help cut their workloads and better protect the public.”

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