Headlines: March 5th, 2001

A shake up of the Probation Service has been launched to make sure it plays a full part in reducing re-offending, which is a key plank in the new criminal justice strategy. The Service is viewed as giving poor value for the 500 million pounds spent on it annually. Latest figures show that about half of prisoners re-offend within two years of release. There is a marked variation in performance between areas and last year more than one third of inspections revealed below standard performance. A crime survey disclosed that 25% of people in the UK view the Probation Service as poor or very poor.A re-structuring will replace 54 local committees with 42 local boards. The boundaries will then match those of the police and the courts and this will allow better partnership working. A national directorate is also being created to be accountable to ministers.

Management weaknesses are being tackled by introducing the European Excellence Model which allows an organization to assess how well it is performing in such areas as leadership, partnership and strategy. The Better Quality Service process is also being adopted. This provides a guide for reviewing objectives and relationships in the search for better value for money.

The imposition on the Probation Service of the Excellence Model and the Better Quality Service as part of a change management package is unusual, and it could indicate a toughening in the approach of ministers to modernizing public services. It may create a precedent for the radical changes that are facing the police service.