Call for probation failings probe
Claims of serious failings in a privatised probation service should be investigated, a former watchdog said.
The BBC's Newsnight reported that it had seen emails and internal documents backing whistleblowers' claims of poor supervision and inaccurate recording of offenders' attendance.
Contractor Serco, along with the London Probation Trust, won a contract to run community payback schemes across the capital in a move which the Government says will save the taxpayer £25 million.
The programme said it had spoken to people within both organisations who suggested staff cuts and shortages were causing significant issues that were affecting court cases.
The Ministry of Justice said there had been "bedding-in issues" but insisted public safety "has not been compromised in the delivery of this contract".
The outsourcing is highly controversial, with probation service staff walking out on strike earlier this month in protest at plans to transfer much of the service to private firms.
Professor Rod Morgan, a former chief inspector of probation for England and Wales, said there appeared to be a case to answer because of a "pattern of inaccuracy".
"It is difficult to judge as to whether these are isolated cases, or whether they're getting better or worse," he told Newsnight.
"But you've shown me sufficient material that it raises serious questions. In my judgment, there's a sufficient quantity of evidence here for someone to be taking a very close look at it."
Serco - whose government contracts are being reviewed as the result of a scandal involving false claims for offender tagging work - defended its performance.
"Together with London Probation Trust, we manage around 1,000 new offenders every month and each one is thoroughly risk assessed before being allocated an appropriate place on one of the many projects we have running across London," it said.
"We are confident that the innovative changes we have introduced in London are increasing operational efficiencies and ultimately saving the taxpayer money."
Members of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) walked out in only the fourth strike in the union's 101-year history over Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's proposals to transfer most of the service to private firms such as Serco and G4S, which is also under review because of the tagging scandal.
National chairman Tom Rendon said his members were "finding it increasingly hard to enforce justice" because information supplied by Serco was " incomplete or it's late, or it's of dubious quality".
"So when we take orders to court, sometimes we're having to withdraw them and then apologise on behalf of the private company," he said.
The Government had taken the lowest bid, he suggested, "and now the cracks are really starting to show".
The Ministry of Justice said Serco's performance was improving month on month - with successful completion rates in July 3% above the national average.
"All offenders are thoroughly risk assessed before being placed on a community payback project and breaches are dealt with robustly.
"As with all innovative ways of working, there were some bedding-in issues during the transition stage and we are satisfied these have been resolved.
"We have asked London Probation Trust to inform us of any incidents when they have not received the correct paperwork that may have affected breach action. We will follow up any evidence of this with Serco.
"Our audit of all contracts the Ministry of Justice holds with both Serco and G4S is ongoing."