Hostel service contracts 'in chaos'
An engineer was sent on a 500-mile round trip to repair the heating at a bail hostel while others have to pay up to £2.45 for a carton of 89p juice, a report has found.
The "centralised chaos" of maintenance contracts in the probation service over the last six years has been a disaster, the union Napo said.
The heating engineer made the eight-hour 480-mile round trip from Nottingham to the bail hostel in Devon, arriving at 8pm - just two hours before a second engineer who had been despatched from 160 miles away in Hereford for the same job.
Napo added that at least £15 million has been spent over the last five years employing staff to liaise with the companies providing the services or by probation trusts carrying out the work themselves.
Workmen have travelled from Manchester and Coventry to repair windows at centres in South Wales, electricians have been sent to unblock toilets and a keyboard was put in a taxi from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, to South Yorkshire, the report found. Other contractors were sent on a three-hour round trip from Portsmouth to Thames Valley to fix a light that was not broken.
And in the North West, a hostel is charged £29.50 for 12 cartons of juice, meaning they pay £2.45 for a carton on sale in supermarkets for 89p, the report said. The same company also charges £11 per kg for lamb which can be found locally for £6.
Harry Fletcher, the union's assistant general secretary, said: "The centralisation and privatisation of maintenance contracts for probation premises has been a disaster. Napo has now complained on three separate occasions about the absurd distances workers travel to carry out small jobs and the fact that more expensive repairs seem to go on a long waiting list.
"The centralisation of contracts takes away money from the local economy and also effects local jobs. It is clear that the current arrangements are far more expensive yet most areas pay thousands of pounds each year to carry out small jobs which are not covered by the contract."
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Maintenance contracts are handled within a regional structure that ensures the relevant facilities management contractor is sent to deal with work as quickly as possible. The allegation that £15 million of money has been wasted on essential maintenance across the probation estate is not true.
"The facilities contracts used to maintain the probation and other government department's estates were competitively tendered and have so far saved the probation estate £18 million. This saving has been re-invested into essential maintenance work that would not otherwise have been possible."