UNISON, the UK’s biggest union, which represents 5,000 staff working for the Probation Service, today hit back at the Ministry of Justice’s decision to sell off Community Payback in London to Serco. The private company is set to take over the running of this vital service by October this year.

Among the union’s fears over the sell off is that the profit motive will creep into probation work, that accountability will suffer, people on probation will get a worse service, and those working hard to provide the service will also pay the price.

London is the only region of the country where Community Payback work will be sold off. The government initially planned to sell off Community Payback work nationwide, but following criticism from the Parliamentary Justice Committee, the plans were dropped.

Ben Priestley, UNISON national officer for police staff said:

“In recent months, the pitfalls of privatisation have been exposed. G4S have run into problems with their Olympics contract, poor standards of care have been exposed at Winterbourne View, and elderly people have had their futures jeopardised at Southern Cross who put profits before people. The consequences of the Ministry of Justice’s decision to sell this service off are deeply worrying.”

UNISON will work with Serco to try and ensure that London’s Community Payback remains a good quality service and a decent place to work. It added that it will make sure that the Ministry of Justice is held to account for any repercussions that arise from the flawed decision to privatise.

UNISON’s key privatisation fears:

· Community Payback is a huge part of Probation Trusts’ work; if they lose it (as London now has) they may find that community links and financial viability suffers

· Community Payback is a local service which will not respond to remote regional level contracts

· Making a profit out of the unpaid work of offenders is morally offensive

· The private sector is not accountable in the same way as the public sector; e.g. none of the companies bidding for this work is subject to the Freedom of Information Act

· Private sector companies are driven primarily by the need to maximise profit, rather than deliver public service

· None of the previous privatisations undertaken by the Ministry of Justice or National Offender Management Service has been a success, with many of the contracts leading to poorer services at a higher cost to the taxpayer


Community Payback, previously known as community service, is a community sentence passed by the courts as an alternative to expensive and ineffective short term prison sentences. When an offender is sentenced to such a community order he or she has to provide unpaid work, under the supervision of the Probation Service, on projects to clear up parks and open spaces, paint buildings, remove graffiti or work with charities. Local people can nominate projects which they would like the Probation Service to run under Community Payback.