This NAO report is far too kind.
The MoJ is a disaster area. Today, every part of the criminal justice system is in deep crisis, as a direct result of a decade of disastrous cuts made by Tory Ministers, exacerbated by civil service mismanagement. All of it pre-dating COVID – no hiding behind the pandemic.
MoJ finances have been appallingly managed, with a continuing overspend of £1bn ever since 2015, and the NAO show that even an extra £2bn a year has STILL left the Department overspending. The Tories cut prison staff by a third, criminal legal aid by a third, CPS budget by a third, police numbers by 22, 000. Officials have botched project after project, including many designed to yield cost efficiencies: privatisation of probation was a disaster requiring emergency renationalisation, likewise FM with the collapse of Carillion, the 2016 programme to build 9 new prisons and open 5 by 2020 produced not a single one, as MoJ and HMT shuffled paper in doomed attempt to buy them on tick (PFI), the cost of Glen Parva new prison ballooned by 70%, the Oasis secure school is delayed by uncertainty about charitable status, MoJ failed to stop SERCO and G4S stealing £200m of public money and then covered up their own incompetence, successive attempts to procure new tagging contracts collapsed, the court transformation programme has slipped, savings are not being achieved and forced reliance on online hearings as courts are sold off to save money is disadvantaging the most vulnerable, nearly 1 in 4 legal aid firms have quit. Even now, the NAO report, a majority of MoJ's key projects are rated as amber or red. The results: prison violence and self-harm soared threefold, the court backlog was already 600,000 before COVID struck and cases are now being listed two years ahead, police clear up rates are at the lowest recorded, only 1 recorded crime in 12 resulting in charge or summons, far fewer if you count crimes not reported. The system is broken.
The MoJ isn’t just troubled: it has become the very emblem of the UK as a failed State. The case for a fundamental review of the working of the CJS is urgent as never before. Billions are needed to restore basic functioning. But the promised (but much delayed) Rotal Commission will take place at a moment when due to the monstrous economic self harm of Brexit (another Tory triumph), as well as the downturn due to COVID, and coming soon, the possible breakaway of Scotland from the UK, prompted by Tory indifference to the Union, there will be no possibility whatsoever of big, sustainable increased spending on criminal justice. Moreover all the Tories know how to do is endless ratchet up demand on prisons, the most costly, least worthwhile element of the CJS to put new money into. We are up shit creek without a paddle and the captain, ‘Unacceptable’ Buckland, doesn’t even know it.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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