The Married Go Public

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Here is a photo of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, two people in public life who are married to each other. And just below this, is a picture of Kim and Kanye West, two very public people who are also married to each other.

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Now, I know I’m labouring the point a bit so lets cut to the chase, here’s a picture of a very public and publicly funded (your tax pounds) service.

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The National Probation Service (or rather your probation service since you pay for it) for England and Wales is a statutory Criminal Justice Service, mainly responsible for the supervision of offenders in the community and the provision of reports to the criminal courts to assist them in their sentencing duties. Now lest we forget, here is a picture of a ‘Peckham bracelet’, and I don’t believe anybody needs reminding of the debacle that ensued, when our ‘Peckham bracelets’ were left in the inept hands of Serco and G4S.

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Probationary supervision that fell so far short of what was needed to keep us taxpayers safe, that even the wives of offenders were complaining about the service. In the words of one tagged offender’s wife, ‘The service was a joke’. And then of course there was the scandalous overcharging for a service that neither company was competently providing, and which led to them paying £180 million back into our public purse. Now it seems that Grayling has rectified that mistake and awarded a contract worth £228.8 million to Capita. While Capita will manage the overall contract a Redditch-based company, Steatite, will develop and manufacture the GPS tracking tags. Airbus Defence and Space will provide satellite mapping and Tefonica will supply the network. It honestly sounds as though this time (and at last), things will go according to plan (The Guardian 2014).

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So back to public life and public marriages and the awarding of yet another probation services contract, this time to Sodexo. The deputy managing director of Sodexo is Janine McDowell the wife of Paul McDowell, who is the chief inspector of probation services. That’s right, the company which was given preferred bidder status and as a result won the largest number of probation contracts is in part run by the chief inspector of probation services’ wife. Hardly a case of nepotism since he was not the one who awarded the contracts, but definitely a case of conflict of interests, so what to do?

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Chris Grayling maintains that there isn’t a problem,’We should also remember that people in public life are sometimes married to other people in public life’ he quipped. He had perhaps conveniently forgotten the mishaps and calamities, that characterised  the handing out of previous probation contracts to the likes of G4S and Serco when he said this. Others have been less sanguine about Graylings appointment of Mr McDowell,

‘Sir Alan Beith, the chairman of the justice select committee, and the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, said the disclosure raised serious questions about McDowell’s independence. Beith is particularly concerned that his committee was not told of Janine McDowell’s leading role in Sodexo when they endorsed her husband as Grayling’s preferred candidate at a special pre-appointment hearing for the job last autumn’ 

Ultimately, the bottom line in this is the taxpayer’s pound and whether we as taxpayers are destined to witness yet another instance of ineptitude, as opposed to the competent provision of probation services which we as the general public deserve.

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