SAVAGE staff cuts and increased workloads are pushing the Probation Service in the region to breaking point, a report claimed last night.

Impending changes to the service also put Government plans to reduce the prison population at risk, it was claimed.

But the Ministry of Justice said public protection would never be put at risk and said privatisation plans would give better value to taxpayers.

Unison has surveyed one in five of its members within the Probation Service, more than half of whom said they had already suffered from cuts.

More than three-quarters of respondents said workloads had increased, stress levels risen and morale decreased.

“It is deeply worrying that the service is already under severe pressure, with staff reporting an increase in stress and workloads, but a reduction in numbers, leading to a collapse in morale,” said Gill Hale, head of Unison’s northern region. “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 union also said plans to privatise parts of the service would not lead to savings, but to a lower quality service.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, who previously worked as a prison psychologist, said: “The plans that (Justice Secretary) Ken Clarke has for rehabilitation and sentencing are quite sensible, but will only work with investment to deliver the service. Community sentences on the cheap will not work.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Public protection will never be put at risk through changes made to the Probation Service.

“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.”

On privatisation, he added: “The coalition Government is looking at how private and voluntary sector providers can get involved in running community sentences – to make them tougher for criminals and better value for the taxpayer.”