THE region’s probation service is being pushed to “breaking point” by Government cuts, a union has warned.

Unison, the UK’s leading public sector union, says the service is being crippled by a “toxic cocktail” of staff cuts and increased workloads.

The union claims this spells danger for the Government’s “rehabilitation revolution”, which aims to put more offenders on probation to take the prison population down.

A survey of staff in the probation sector by UNISON found 70.6% of respondents were already suffering from staff cuts, with 83% saying that workloads had increased in the past year.

Many reported that stress levels had risen and morale had decreased, while nearly 70% said they felt less secure in their jobs than they did last year.

Greg Grant, head of Unison’s eastern region, said it was “deeply worrying” that the service was already under pressure and there were more cuts on the way.

He said: “The probation service is instrumental in delivering community justice, rehabilitating offenders and protecting the communities where offenders live and work.

“The worry is that an already tough job is set to get even tougher. The Ministry of Justice has been hit with savage cuts. If these cuts fall on the probation service, it will buckle under the strain.

“At the same time as cutting, the Government is set to launch a ‘rehabilitation revolution’. This will see more offenders placed into the community. Who will be making sure these offenders and the communities where they live and work are safe? The Government should take another look at its plans and take into account the risk they pose to offenders and to communities.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said public protection would never be put at risk through changes made to the probation service.

The spokesman said: “Within the financial constraints placed on all public services we are committed to ensuring that resources continue to be targeted to where they are needed most. Offenders who pose the highest risk receive more intensive contact, to reduce reoffending and protect the public.

He said guidance and support on managing resourcing was provided to probation trusts, which are responsible for handling their own budget, distributing resources effectively and fulfilling a range of responsibilities in their area.

The spokesman added: “A pilot is under way to look at the way probation delivers its services to better enable probation staff to use their professional judgement in deciding how to work most effectively with each offender.”

March against cuts – Page 9