There were fears of chaos in the government's probation privatisation programme today, after it emerged staff had been selected to be moved to private firms by having their names picked out of a hat.
An email chain seen by Politics.co.uk shows staff at a probation trust informing an employee with 20 years experience that he was selected for one of the new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) by a random lottery.
"Can you please advise me on the criteria of how the PSOs [parole officers] were selected between CRC and NPS [National Probation Trust]," the parole officer writes.
"I have heard a disturbing rumour that names were placed in a hat, hopefully this was not the case."
The support manager wrote back: "There was a random selection process and employee numbers were used to select between NPS and CRC.
"Employee numbers were drawn out of a hat by a panel of three."
The email chain is particularly embarrassing for Chris Grayling, who told the Commons two days ago that the claims were "absolute nonsense".
Labour MP Toby Perkins later told the justice secretary he would raise the issue as a point of order if he did not correct the record.
Grayling wrote back by hand, saying: "You can raise it all you like. Selection was not done by drawing names from a hat. It was based on what the balance of work staff had been doing was."
Perkins commented: "It was shocking to hear that many staff have been selected for transfer by having their names pulled out of a hat. It's a shambolic conclusion to a worrying process."
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said Grayling was "plumbing new depths".
He added: "It is an absolute disgrace and an insult to professional probation staff as well as a risk to public safety that staff are being allocated to new positions on a random lottery.
"Chris Grayling flatly denied in the House of Commons this week that staff were allocated by lottery while the probation service was being carved up. But there’s growing evidence that’s precisely what did happen, plumbing new depths even for this government.
"Treating the future of dedicated and experienced probation staff as if they’re no more than balls in a game of bingo is an insult to their professionalism and the importance of their work in keeping our communities safe."
The news also confirms fears from many critics that the privatisation of probation is turning into a disaster for the Ministry of Justice.
The department's own internal risk assessment warned of an 80% risk of "an unacceptable drop in operational performance".
Grayling is understood to consider the project part of his legacy and is keen to force through changes before the election.