Tory Transport secretary Chris Grayling is (yet again) facing calls to resign. After giving a £14m contract for ferries to a company that didn’t actually own any, he has faced heavy criticism and was subsequently sued by Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel and Grayling then settled out of court in a £33m agreement, that gave the company contracts to ship NHS supplies in the event of a no deal Brexit. Another contractor that will be responsible for transporting NHS supplies was behind the KFC chicken shortage last year.
This isn’t the first time Grayling has proven just how out of his depth he is. As we know, Diane Abbott faces appalling racist and misogynistic abuse, as well as mocking by Tories, for making a fairly inconsequential error with some policing figures (whilst not even in government). So it’s interesting to see Grayling stagger from one department to another, wreaking havoc like a one-man cyclone of incompetence, with relative impunity. No consequences for his actions, whatsoever. No one is suggesting he should receive abuse like Diane does, but he certainly shouldn’t still have a job.
In 2010, Chris Grayling – as Shadow Home Secretary – said that people who run B&Bs should be allowed to turn away gay people, because “they should be allowed their own consciences”. Interesting that Chris mentioned conscientiousness in the same sentence as LGBT people, given his party’s appalling record on LGBT issues.
And where to begin, regarding his catalogue of embarrassing failures whilst Justice Secretary? He introduced charges which required defendants that pleaded guilty to pay significant sums of money (£150 at magistrates courts and £1200 at crown courts) – which of course then led to people being incentivised to plead guilty. More than 100 magistrates resigned, and the charges were scrapped by Michael Gove who replaced him.
He then founded Justice Solutions International, a commercial offshoot of the Ministry of Justice that sold prison and probation expertise abroad. Given the state of our justice sector under the Tories, we’re really in no position to be teaching others. The group was given £5.9m to provide a training contract for prisons in Saudi Arabia. Michael Gove then cancelled the contract (sensing a pattern emerging here?).
Grayling then enacted cuts to legal aid for prisoners (as well as everyone else), which was then ruled to be unlawful by the court of appeal. Grayling also changed legal aid entitlement to only include domestic abuse victims if they had been victims within the past 5 years. Any longer and they were excluded from any legal aid – which studies showed affected 40% of victims, who couldn’t provide the required evidence. The government later rectified the issue and allowed charities to provide evidence for victims.
Most controversially, he banned books for prisoners, and limited the number of books they could have in a cell. Obviously, access to literature and knowledge is a key way of helping to reform prisoners. This was found unlawful in December 2015, and scrapped by Gove. Grayling treated the very people he had a departmental duty of care over with disdain, just like the Tory government are doing to the people of this country.
Regarding his department (Transport), let’s look at his record – aside from Ferrygate. Trains are at a 13-year low for punctuality and fares are rising by 3.1% (above inflation). So we’re paying extortionate amounts of money for a train that might not even turn up when it’s supposed to. Last year, the state took back ownership of East Coast Rail – just another reminder that the Tory privatisation agenda does not work. The companies responsible couldn’t meet their contracted payments.
But as we’ve seen recently, everything Grayling touches gets re-nationalised eventually. He’s like Midas – only instead of things turning to gold, they get rightfully brought back into the public ownership, when the neoliberal love affair with contracting public services out eventually cripples them.
The Transforming Rehabilitation agenda brought in by Grayling is a prime example of this. Private Probation. Just another way the Tories have tried to keep the country safe on the cheap. As a Criminal Justice student who wanted to go into Probation, I can tell you first hand that it’s just not worth it. As a result of privatised Probation, officers are under-funded and unable to manage the 70+ caseloads they’re dealing with. Offenders are not being given sufficient management or rehabilitation, with some committing rape or murder whilst on licence.
The taxpayer is currently bailing out the private companies who were contracted to carry out probation work – despite Grayling being warned countless times it would be a disaster. The scheme wasn’t properly tested or audited, and as a result, 225 ex-offenders who had committed murder re-offended whilst under the care of private probation companies (Community Rehabilitation Companies). Re-call to prison for breaching licenses in offenders serving sentences of less than a year went up from 3% to 36%, under the care of these companies.
If you also consider our prison system is being privatised (with G4S-run HMP Birmingham also being re-nationalised due to poor contractor performance), it’s no surprise that offenders aren’t being properly rehabilitated. 48% cuts to the justice system under Tory austerity by next year makes the future look increasingly bleak.
The issues caused by Grayling have already cost the taxpayer £500m to rectify, but the full extent won’t be known til next year. The Tories need to put the country ahead of their party for a change and axe Failing Grayling once and for all – before he does even more damage.