THE BEST performing probation trust in the country covering Wiltshire and Swindon has now disappeared and been replaced by a ‘shadow form’ while private companies bid to take over.

Earlier this year a number of demonstrations were held as probation workers downed tools in protest over the privatisation of up to 70 per cent of the workforce.

While many members are now resigned to the changes going ahead, there are still major concerns ahead of the preferred bidder being announced.

This week the Probation Association issued a warning ahead of departing the scene completely in their ‘Parting Shot’. A spokesman for the Probation Association said: “The Probation Association is departing the scene at the point at which implementation of the reforms will start to bite in operational terms. As the Ministry of Justice itself says, there will be a period of transition in which teething problems can be expected.

“We see the proposal to fragment offender management and to compete the offender management of lower risk offenders as increasing the risk to public safety and damaging the relationship with the courts and consequently the credibility of court orders.”

Paul Aviss, chairman of Wiltshire Probation Trust, said the initial buck against the plans has now subsided after the Wiltshire Probation Trust officially disappeared at the start of the month.

“Locally in the Wiltshire Probation Trust most people are saying they know what is going to be happening, we have some issues but let’s get on with it,” he said.

“What has happened is the probation service is being split into two, the part which deals with all the court related matters and higher risk offenders, which will remain in the public domain, and represents between 30 and 40 per cent of all our work.

“The remaining balance of 60 to 70 per cent is going to be put out to tender. Wiltshire will become part of Bristol, Gloucester Somerset and Wiltshire contract package area.

“The probation trusts effectively ceased on May 31 and these two new organisations came into being on June 1. The contract competition is now well underway, with a view to being an outcome in November or December.

“What is happening at the moment is that one of the divisions of community rehabilitation is running in a shadow form.

“There is no bidder at the moment, but operations are still going ahead under the Minstry of Justice. During this period we have to make sure it is business as usual.”

Probation workers remain concerned about the intentions of private contractors taking over.

“From a probation employee’s perspective there is no option about doing this,” Mr Aviss added. “We just have to get on and implement it.

“At a local level people are well aware of what their new jobs are going to be and there is a lot of work put in to keep people to date when we do not have answers to their questions. When you are going through major changes quite rightly people will ask how it is going to affect them.

“Up to the end of Wiltshire Probation Trust our performance was the best in the country. I think a lot of people’s fears have been assuaged as much as possible by knowing what they are going to be doing.

“The roles are not likely to be changing considerably but if you are trying to bring their skills together it will be difficult.

“It is about trying to have some kind of common processes and practices in our work across the board.

“The concern is that if you have got the likes of a private sector organisation bidder winning then they are understandably driven by profit and the motive will be towards their shareholders.

“How that will impact work with offenders could be that a profit needs to be made out of that work. On the other hands we have bidders who are charities who have a different ethos.

“That is the next level of uncertainty as to who is going to win and how things will work from there. That will inevitably have an impact on the delivery of services.”