Contractors’ staff ‘drive 110
miles to change light bulbs’

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Staff travelling nearly 200 miles to clean windows and 110 miles to change light bulbs are among complaints made against a privatised probation services contract.

Probation union Napo has urged the Government to cancel contracts with two private firms for running facilities management of the probation service, which it argues is 20 per cent to 30 per cent more expensive than if the work was sourced locally by trusts.

For the fourth year running, Napo has produced a dossier of complaints against contractors Mitie and Interserve, including examples of contractors travelling more than 100 miles from Norwich to Leicester to unblock toilets.

The facilities management of the probation service, which includes around 100 hostels and thousands of offices, was privatised in 2005 by the then Labour administration.

The contract, which covers cleaning, catering, maintenance and repairs, was re-let in the spring of 2008. It was transferred from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice in autumn this year and is due to be renewed in March next year.

Harry Fletcher, Napo assistant general secretary, said: “Privatisation of catering, cleaning and maintenance was a massive mistake.”

As well as contractors travelling lengthy journeys for smaller jobs and repairs, significant larger repairs have been subjected to “unacceptable” delays, Napo said.

Boilers have broken down, cookers have been faulty and hallways have not been cleaned, the union said.

Among a list of 60 complaints, a Cornwall hostel reported an unsafe fire escape which was left untreated for 26 months, a Lancashire hostel with a shower that has been out of action for five months and a community service building that has been left vacant since spring 2012 at the cost of £15,000 a month.

Elsewhere, mould grows over the ceiling over an office in Hertfordshire, overflowing bins are left for weeks at a time in Cheshire and a ceiling collapsed in Durham over the summer and is yet to fixed, it said.

Mr Fletcher continued: “Staff are reporting delays of months and of half a dozen or more requests having to be put in before repairs are carried out.

“The maintenance contract is flawed and the system is incompetent. The Government, in line with its own localism agenda, must cancel this contract so that probation trusts can employ local traders to undertake this work.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “All contracts with the private sector go through a strict competitive tender process and are scrutinised to ensure they are cost effective.

“They help us drive efficiency and achieve best value for taxpayers – any allegations of this not being achieved will be investigated.

“As part of our commitment to reform probation services, we will be reviewing these contracts to provide taxpayers with the best value for money.”