I wrote in a previous article that UK Transport Minister, Christopher Grayling, had granted a contract and £14 million of taxpayers’ money to set up a ferry service from Ramsgate in Kent to Europe. The flaw in the cunning plan was that the company awarded the contract had no boats and had never run a ferry service before. In its pitch for the contract it seemed to have cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery firm. The contract has now been cancelled and MPs of all parties are calling for Grayling’s dismissal. Grayling has a long record of foolishness and I promised my readers that I would give them more information.
Grayling was also a disaster when he was Minister for Justice. He served for a mere three years but presided over many ill-judged policies. At least nine major policy reforms were abandoned, either because of widespread outrage or because a court ruled against them.
In 2013, the Ministry of Justice tried to stop legal aid for prisoners in certain situations. The Court of Appeal said this was “inherently unfair” and argued the Government did not provide enough “alternative support” after general cuts to legal aid. In March 2014, Grayling introduced a legal aid cut of 8.75%, with a second reduction of the same amount planned for July 2015. Grayling’s successor at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Gove, suspended that follow-up cut because the MoJ was facing 99 legal challenges over the process, and a judicial review had “raised additional implementation challenges”. One scheme placing restrictions on legal aid for domestic violence victims unless they met specific MoJ criteria was deemed “invalid” by the Court of Appeal.
Tough on Prisoners
Another bright idea was to apply a ban on books being sent to prisoners as part of a crackdown on “perks and privileges”. This was declared “unlawful” by the High Court. In the same initiative, the Government banned steel-stringed guitars. He rejected efforts to improve condom access behind bars, despite warnings of the public health implications. An offender tracking scheme which would allow prisons to keep tabs on dangerous and repeat offenders costing £23m was ditched after “considerable delays” because it proved “too challenging”.
On Grayling’s watch, the number of prison officers declined by 5,000. This coincided with a rise in deaths of prisoners. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Harding, accused him of interfering with his critical reports into the prison estate and threatening the independence of his office.
Another Grayling cunning plan was a contract to advise the Saudi prison service on training staff and running the organisation. It drew criticism even from some inside Cabinet, and was ditched by Mr Gove in October 2015 – but not before it cost the Government £1.1m.
Another spiffing wheeze was to make offenders pay between £150 and £1,200 depending on what court they were in and whether or not they pleaded guilty. This policy was so unpopular that 50 magistrates resigned in protest. Gove scrapped it seven months after it was brought into force.
A similar genius plan bit the dust when Grayling introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases. There was, indeed, a 79% reduction in cases in three years. The Supreme Court ruled that the charges were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice” and ordered the Government pay back millions of pounds.
Grayling’s reform of the probation service must surely be the jewel in the crown of his incompetence. The service was privatised in 2015, despite the fact that no-one wanted it and everyone warned that it would be a disaster. The National Offender Management Service, which oversaw 35 self-governing probation trusts, split into the public National Probation Service and private CRCs. The public National Probation Service is still doing rather well. Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, has pointed to many flaws with the new system. Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee, has said there is a danger that the Ministry of Justice has “bitten off more than it can chew”.
Staff on the front line said their bosses became more concerned with meeting targets that have little to do with helping former offenders. The number of cases soared and safety standards deteriorated. Morale plummeted and many staff left the service.
An eight-month inquiry by the Parliamentary Justice Committee concluded that the Transforming Rehabilitation scheme was failing by every measure and was a danger to public safety. Some private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were monitoring offenders on the telephone, with overstretched staff handling up to 150 cases each. CRCs are meant to ensure prisoners are freed with accommodation, employment and financial support, the Justice Committee found many were being kicked out of jails homeless and with just £46 to last for several weeks. They may revert to crime in order to survive.
HM Inspectorate of Probation said firms commissioned in a 2014 overhaul of the service are “stretched beyond their capacity”. failures by CRCs allowed people to drop out of contact and disappear, including a homeless heroin addict with a “long history in the criminal justice system” who was later wanted for arrest. Many people on probation are being sent back to overcrowded prisons because the private firms who are supposed to be supervising them cannot cope. In the 2016-17 financial year, almost 30,000 court orders were terminated through failure to comply, further offences being committed or other reasons. Convicts who were released but then recalled to prison for violations made up 6,554 out of 85,513 people imprisoned in England and Wales.
MPs on the Justice Committee hit out at the Ministry of Justice’s “reluctance to challenge over optimistic bids” from firms running CRCs and its closed-door renegotiation of contracts. The government had to pay out more money to failing private companies.
Let me conclude by quoting the political commentator, Ian Dunt: “Grayling is at the top of that system of failure. He is that little bit more intellectually, presentationally and ideologically useless than all the others and therefore deserves special mention. But he is merely the totem of a culture that has singularly failed the country.”