Clarke promises to end probation service “bean-counting” culture

By Phil Scullion

Ken Clarke has weighed into the probation debate with a vow to end the "bean-counting culture" within the service.

In a report published today MPs criticised the "tick-box culture" present within the probation service and said it is "hindering" staff.

The Commons' justice committee expressed "concern" that frontline probation staff are spending three-quarters of their time carrying out administrative tasks rather than meeting directly with offenders.

The justice secretary said he was shocked by the findings of the committee and promised to use the report to address the issue.

Mr Clarke told the BBC: "We've been addressing it. It goes back to the failed system of management where you pile targets, and micromanagement and stipulate to people what they should do, which we are getting rid of.

"We have reduced the number of targets, we have streamlined the national standards, we have said we are going to give probation officers their professional discretion."

However chair of the committee Sir Alan Beith called on the government to commission an externally-led review of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

Sir Alan said: "We see a lot of scope for new organisations to come into the provision of probation services. Nevertheless there is an important public duty for accountability to the courts and for offender management strategy which needs to rest with a public body."

The report also warned that the government's proposals to usher competition into probation services require "further thought".

Furthermore MPs stressed that it is important politicians show "leadership" and "courage" in supporting community sentences.

"People don't realise that for many offenders probation sentences can represent a much greater challenge than relatively short prison sentences. Probation is demanding for the good reason that it requires them to think again about their way of life and to start to change it," Sir Alan added.