Probation service for Blackburn with Darwen ‘Requires improvement’ but is ‘rising to the challenge’

The probation service, or Probation Delivery Unit (PDU*), in Blackburn with Darwen has been rated as ‘Requires improvement’ following an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation.

This inspection was one of two carried out in the Probation Service – North West region recently. The other is Cheshire West PDU, which also received a rating of ‘Requires improvement’ (also published on 01 June 2023).

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “In many ways, Blackburn with Darwen probation service is bucking the national trend – they have a full complement of staff, low sickness rates and high morale, which is not something we have seen in many services we’ve inspected. But we want to see better management of the risks people on probation may pose to the local community at the forefront of their work. Overall, Blackburn with Darwen PDU are rising to the challenge, and the future looks bright.”

Blackburn with Darwen PDU performed well throughout this inspection, and have many strengths on which they can build, not least plenty of services aimed at deterring people on probation from reoffending. The inspection noted that the delivery of unpaid work in the community to be particularly impressive, and the backlog of those requiring unpaid work placements was much lower than the national average. The leadership team have instilled stability which is allowing the workforce to focus on frontline delivery.

What let the probation service down was their work in courts. The service scored poorly in this area, and only 52 per cent of the cases we inspected had an assessment which effectively supported the safety of other people.

Another challenge facing the service is that, despite having no vacancies (unlike some services who have up to a 50 per cent vacancy rate), they have a high number of trainees and inexperienced staff. This means that there is added pressure on experienced probation officers to train, mentor and support new recruits which, in turn, impacts their ability to properly manage their own workloads.

Mr Russell continued: “It’s a real bonus that Blackburn with Darwen has been able to attract so many local people to start a career with the probation service, but it will take time to make sure all new staff are able to train and develop on the job. The service is addressing this and, from what we have seen, they have the commitment and leadership to succeed.”

Blackburn with Darwen PDU and the North West regional service received seven recommendations based on our findings. Two additional recommendations were made to HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS), including that they address the poor quality of the buildings being used by the PDU at this time, which our inspection found were not fit for purpose.


Notes to editor

  1. *Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) replaced Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS), which merged into a unified Probation Service in June 2021.
  2. This probation service sits within the Probation Service – North West region.
  3. This report is available at on 01 June 2023 00.01.
  4. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  5. The Inspectorate uses a four-point scale: ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’. The Inspectorate rates specific aspects of each service and also gives an overall rating.
  6. Fieldwork for this inspection took place in March 2023
  7. For media enquiries, please contact (E-mail address)