Sunday, 18 March 2018

Pick of the Week 47

"Due to an immediate and critical resourcing need, substantive Probation Officers are invited to volunteer and support the XXXX XXXX LDU Cluster via periods of detached duty."

Looks like they will pay for overnight accommodation and evening meal but no extra pay. Talk of doing one or two days a week and keeping your current caseload the rest of the week or going full time for a few months then reverting back to old post once the "immediate and critical resourcing need" is over. How is this an effective use of already overstretched staff? How will the substantive PO's relationship with their offenders be maintained whilst they're away and what impact will that have in managing any risk posed? How will they know which local services to link on with in the new area as well as build links with other local organisation's i.e. community mental health, drugs services, local police?

All this away from home and family for NO EXTRA PAY. I don't know what NPS are thinking. Does anyone have any more info that could help explain what is going on? I really hope I'm missing something here. And let's not forget, this immediate and critical resourcing need created by TR.

“support the XXXX XXXX LDU Cluster”

Why the bloody X’s you idiot? This is the problem with probation staff. You can’t even properly comment on a blog without withholding details and protecting your employers. It’s so bloody hard to transfer offices in NPS for some staff this will be an opportunity to work closer to home. More evidence of recruitment problems because nobody is thick enough to join the shitty NPS, and those already there are leaving hand over fist.

If UPW is run with enough staff, Supervisors, Project Managers and there are enough places to go, then the Public and media would be able to see this as a punitive alternative to prison. This will surely need to happen as the prison estate is way too high in numbers and the "New" GPS system ain't going to happen anytime soon as we have seen before. Problem is at the moment nobody seems to bother too much about UPW from higher Management, resulting in too few staff and a blinkered mantra of paying projects or no projects.

“Until now, hostels were staffed by highly skilled, and well-trained professionals.”

Utter shite and too little too late from the unions! Security staff have SIA cards and DBS certificates, it is misleading to call them “unvetted”. Probation only recently began using police-style vetting to buddy up with their police mates. Misleading to call security staff unprofessional when currently many Probation hostels are staffed mainly by PSO’s who have hardly any training and experience. Shortages in staffing on the weekend are met with PO’s doing a bit of sessional work, it’s hardly a complex role. I’m against private firms taking probation work, but TR has already allowed this and minimally trained staff are already present in all frontline probation work, NPS and CRC. Probation hostel managers will make it work, just as they already are.

6.5 pay rise NHS staff, teachers less workload. Already earn thousands more, I have never known such a poorly regarded and treated bunch of workers as probation staff. Why, unless you can't get out, does anyone stick this job? The clients hate and don't trust you and the public, government employer treat you with contempt....

Probation is a poorly paid dead end job, NPS and CRC. Bullying managers, bad conditions, scarce promotion or career development, no reward or recognition. It takes new recruits year or two to realise they made the wrong career choice, most quickly move on. For the longer-termers remaining, for many it’s because they’re stuck with probation qualifications and experience that are useless elsewhere.

I haven't heard the R4 programme but, beyond the scandalous treatment of the two men, concern might be that this is endemic in the privatisation model such that private sector practices & policies are being implemented in prisons around England & Wales whilst HMPPS/MoJ are either unaware or complicit in such dangerous practices - practices that would NOT be tolerated if they were 'in-house'.

If it wasn't for the brave actions of Messrs Bromilow & Wildman, who would have raised this? Seems like Amey had a free hand to work within the prison using whatever procedures they wanted. Was this with Governor approval? No1 Governor is responsible for their prison. Are they being kept out of the loop by HMPPS/MoJ contract management teams? Asks BIGGER questions of the duty of care (or otherwise) by HMPPS/MoJ towards prisoners & prison staff. Opens several cans of wriggly things when it comes to approval & oversight of private sector contracts. It MUST have implications for financial imperatives being prioritised over matters of health & safety. The incompetent Spurr & his ramshackle crew of Tory stooges must surely be out of a job now? Come on JSC, PAC - time to hold these idiots to account...

They have wasted untold £Billions of public money with innumerable failed projects & procurement (Courts, IT, etc), they have put peoples' lives at risk with dangerous prisons, they have destroyed an entire profession with TR. And all the while they have feathered their own nests with bonuses & pension top-ups. Do not just let them slide away with bags full of goodies & gongs - sack them for their pisspoor performance.

Are there any articles coming out about the dire state of the IT systems within Interserve CRC’s? Unsure if other CRC’s are having similar issues? Stress levels are going through the roof as we’re still under pressure to hit targets although we can’t consistently work due to the systems constantly being down. It’s been going on for months now! What are others thoughts on this?

Victoria Darbyshire, BBC tv - I see Mr Lawrence has yet again failed to impress with his media skills; firstly by being selected to be on VictoriaLive because he is AGAINST (?!?) greater transparency of the Parole Board - contrary to the views of Nick Hardwick, Human Rights lawyers, women's safety groups, etc; then by completely failing to answer the question put to him about the range of available Licence conditions, getting tangled up in jargon & describing approved premises as "a high risk situation". I didn't have a clue what he meant & Victoria Darbyshire's puzzled expression said it all.

Cheers Ian! Do you think you've finally managed to enlighten the public about your members' important role in the CJS? And no, I couldn't do a better job. But I don't get £70,000+ a year to have a concrete belief that I can do something I can't. I'm sure as shit there's someone more capable out there... but in the current climate there probably won't be any 'probation workers' left by the end of the year anyway.

I hope still people recall that Lawrence appeared on Russia Today. I remember saying at the time that it was unpatriotic to appear on such a channel and that he should be thoroughly ashamed. I take no delight that subsequent events have proven me right.

Lawrence and co get paid a lot more than that. The question is, are they worth a fraction of that since the union and its income have declined? Branches are in retreat in NPS and CRC are being consumed by the inexperienced poor central involvement to CRCs. It cannot all be put on one?

Do complete the online forms about the proposals to close courts.You will be spitting feathers etc by the end but unless there are objections those in suits will think it is ok to keep closing local magistrates courts.

Rumours have long been around in Lancashire that the cunning plan is to close all mags courts and have one super court in look at how far the other end of the county is.....shires are not conurbations.

Should not fundamental changes to how Justice is done and importantly seen to be done be part of a wider public discourse, trialled and proceeded with cautiously? I say this on the basis that Justice is believed to be an important part of how we value our national identity, is a solemn and careful undertaking? Am I alone in thinking that this risks being another reckless experiment without such an approach?

It comes as no surprise the decision to release John Worboys' was apparently influenced by assessments from three independent psychologists, all of whom at some stage had been instructed by Worboys. This "highly exceptional step" to release direct from a Cat A prison was "in the face of opposition" from senior prison managers, prison psychologists, the probation service and the justice secretary. Obviously no mention of the governmental pressure to release all IPP prisoners. I’m sure NPS director Sonia Crozier will still find something to apologise for!!

So MTC Novo seem to have found a bit of budget to make a modest but significant gesture to staff. Meanwhile in Cardiff, bailiffs turned up at Working Links CRC office recently with an order to close the building or remove goods to the part/total value of the outstanding rates and energy bills. I hear the negotiations with the manager went on for hours, witnessed by service users.

3% is a very respectable deal over 2 years. Let’s hope that The NPS are shamed into offering something meaningful. The robust but constructive dialogue between MTCnovo and Napo in particular led by Raho and Rogers in local collective bargaining appears to have achieved a result where national negotiations with the NPS led by Lawrence appears to have stalled - go figure.

FACT CHECK: This is a 1% pay deal over two years. 2% is contractual paid as 1 increment each year.

Not correct. Senior management had already leaked we were getting a deal whatever the unions said. It is well understood they needed to quell the staff anger and retain where possible as the pay had fallen so far behind all public services. The PR is a value issue now as the back log and overwork are the hidden local issues. The Union have done nothing for CRC staff and offer nothing. Comparing the pay offer to NPS is just not a reasonable argument. I would like to know what on earth the NAPO staff are being paid for at all? London branch is in disarray and decline since the managerial dictate style of those two has been subverting member views and fading on membership input.

That’s called managing the anti union narrative. Such quick negative responses to what was a negotiated deal that has been ongoing since the last pay negotiations. Describing the union reps as management stooges is a common tactic in trade relations. Posting fake news that they are self serving is ill informed nonsense. Rogers works hard for Napo doing what he is paid to do. Raho’s wages are paid by London CRC where he works as a PO. They are not responsible for any deconstruction of collective bargaining and to assert this is a failure to understand what collective bargaining is. 1.5% this year followed by 1.5% the next is 3% on what we have now. It’s a 3% deal over 2 years as stated. The local Napo negotiating team has done well and if members decide to reject the offer then so be it.

Napo London Branch is not in disarray at all. There have always been factions in the branch who don’t agree with anything and just want a fight with whoever. London Branch has held its membership in comparison with other branches and Raho has kept things on course and under control. Napo is modernising and the old tub thumping dinosaurs are thankfully few and far between now. Further reform is needed. If you are a member you can of course ask any employee of Napo what they are paid to do. Rogers has no authority over London Branch but is their link officer and is invited to branch meetings and attends partnership meeting with employers in an advisory capacity. When reps meet with employers and negotiate on behalf of members that’s collective bargaining.

The defence arm of those who appear in control here clear on your position yet disastrous for a genuine union that Napo is no longer and your sort are the sort to collude and you illustrate nicely "partnership meeting with employers in an advisory capacity" Oh and on what side do you mean? Oh no we can all see what side the employers. That pair have destroyed the collective debate in the last AGM and they will continue as NAPO become extinct along with your Dinosaur quote.

Well done all those involved in the local pay negotiations that are the inevitable response to the national negotiating structure that has long been unfit for purpose and lacked the support it required from employers as a negotiating body. That had nothing to do with Raho and Rogers. If they are guilty of anything it was to see the reality that after the split another approach was needed rather than try to flog a dead horse as some on the looniest left of Napo still try to do like a flashback to the 1970s. What they have put in place locally is the model for what should be happening across all CRCs and is far more effective than what amounts to an an email exchange with managers rather than playing them on their own territory with agreements and contract negotiations. 

This is more complex than waving banners shouting demands in the rain where no one gives a monkeys. Employers will never credit the unions for making a powerful case for pay increase and will always claim they intended to increase pay and that unions are irrelevant in the process. If that is the price of an increase, then so be it. What is clear in this case however is that unions are relevant and have ensured the best possible outcome for their members. Those who cast doubt on the motivation of union reps either paid or elected and disparage them no matter what they achieve are often those who want them to fail and no interest in employees interests whatsoever. Don’t support the armchair naysayers but instead celebrate every small victory whenever we get one and encourage those responsible to do more not less.

RMT do well in negotiations and you never read the Napo mantra the best that can be achieved at this time. Your London centric defences are just not indicative of the backlash members feel by being betrayed. Collective bargaining is the central labour manifesto arm for unions perhaps you are best placed to encourage the errant and ill conceived pair to adopt genuine trade union values and not their ideologue of self aggrandisement.

Oh yes slaps on the back, fist bumps and high fives all round to the unions for achieving a 1.5% pay increase for these members, a tiny portion of a pay increase that is long overdue!! Big shout-out to MTC Novo who recently received £millions in additional payouts from the government for its abysmal probation work, to the government that awards its ministers huge pay increases every year, and, last but not least, to our very own Michael Spurr who recently received a £20,000 bonus for all his hard work supporting probation and prisons. Thank you and goodnight.

[That] is actually indicative of many of my PO colleagues views who left NAPO and are openly hostile as to the reasons why being let down. While it is a thorny and figure of a large salary there is considerable additional on costs. AGS salary is also an incredible amount for the size of the union which is a shrinking and diminishing subscription. Professional fees when most members are not in the NPS PO structure and many in CRCs getting zero benefit for the high membership rates. The figures just do not add up. An incredible slice of the NAPO runs the AGS in clover as well and lets not forget the criticism placed is in fact due on the AGS. It is him doing that negotiation in London.

Oh silly me, and to Napo’s Ian Lawrence who earns twice as much as any of the probation officers he represents. Thanks Ian, I’m so grateful for this 1.5% increase; I’ll no longer hear colleagues moaning about being overworked and underpaid, my job satisfaction levels will be maxed out and my financial problems will just disappear- poof! Undoubtedly this will put a cheer on the faces of all the admin in MTC Novo (London CRC) being forced to relocate to a central hub on 1st May or leave without redundancy! Good job on that one too Ian!

I pay my council tax, I’ve never missed a payment. The rubbish collection is very poor, my bin has not been emptied for the past two years and there is a large pile of refuse outside my house which I try to reduce by taking a few bags to the rubbish dump. I’ve been complaining to the council about this for two years, as have my neighbours who are all in the same predicament. Today, and for the first time in two years the bin men arrived and part-emptied my bin and the bins of 3 neighbours. They were a nice couple of chaps and explained they were only allowed to take a small portion of the rubbish and may return to take another small portion of rubbish in a year or so. They could tell I wasn’t very happy with this, just as the rest of my neighbours were not happy. Despite our complaints they said that we should be grateful they’ve taken a small portion of my rubbish and should celebrate this small victory. The council have repeated the same message and said this is “the best they can do” at this time.

If this story were true there would be nothing to be grateful for, just like Raho’s “small victory” is not really so. The “celebration” should be reserved not for a small portion of members receiving a small portion of what we are entitled too, but for when we all receive over and above what we are all entitled to.

There is no union influence at all either in the NPS or CRCs.The employers just do what they want and generally offer the lowest pay increase they can get away with. It's time Napo threw in the towel and joined forces with a bigger and more powerful union and try to regain some influence.

That is an all staff message from the management! Look forwards the privatised split is over the truth is we will be reunified at some point as the current failure in social experiment cannot in any imagination be continued. The CRCs will cost more than three times what the trusts absorbed as a unified and there is no way at this time should anyone be talking about giving in. Of course there is the General Secretary election shortly and no doubt the membership will be looking for a new leader of ability. What is happening on this is there any information?

The need for reform in both prisons and probation needs to go a lot further than proposed by either Gauke or Rob Allen. We need to fundamentally rethink and redesign our penal system so it is actually fit for purpose. There are a number of examples in other countries of systems that work well and we need to adopt a model more like those. Reform of probation would then flow from the redesigned prison service because if we didn't lock up so many people - only those for serious offences for example and used community sentences for minor offences and more rehabilitation happened in prisons, the role of probation would shift and change.

The current IEP system is another Grayling cock up. There isn't really any questions to be asked, everyone knows where the faults are, it's just cheaper to talk about them then applying a fix. Too many mentally ill people are being sent to prison. It's expensive, but cheaper then the alternatives. Too many people are being released homeless, and increasingly without the necessary document or bank accounts to claim benefits. There's no support post release because probation services can't do the things they used to be able to do pre privatisation, and the third sector are reluctant to intervene with those on licence. Personally I'm not a big fan of Users Voice, but maybe they have a place to play when questions are being asked by the justice committee. I think things will get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Yet another event, symptomatic of this Govt's widespread malaise (greedy, blinkered, arrogant), here we have the JSC making damning statements which sadly will change nothing because the fuckwits aren't listening to anything but the ideological command-voices in their sick heads: "We do not consider that the MoJ/HMCTS proposals for providing face to face assisted digital support have been adequately developed, evaluated or costed."

Its a good letter, Mr Neill. At least you can say your committee tried. But, as we all know, it's unquestionably the Russians that are filling our jails, stealing our CRC money, operating the drug drones, making our community sentences unfit for purpose, closing the courts,.......... laLaLaLaLa

Yet again, incompetence undermines purpose. This is a critical document from a national trade union organisation submitted as evidence for parliamentary scrutiny - & it hasn't been proof-read; if it has, it hasn't been corrected. £70,000+ a year for the GS... its embarrassing.

The very first bullet point on the submission is incorrect. It asserts that NAPO represents members in the CRCs. Not in my opinion. What are we getting for our money?

So true. These Officers do absolutely nothing for CRC because they all seem to be NPS. Protecting their own while PSOs in CRC fund the activities of a professional causes that offers unpaid work members nothing nothing at all. Reading this mistake filled comic strip absent of any real researched facts it is little wonder we are a split service in a mess. The trio also presented their judicial review that was kept from the membership and if it was anything as poor as this no wonder they conspired to keep secret the facts and hide their failure away. Has anyone actually seen the ruling? It is election time this year. All Change all change says the bus driver. The sooner the better this group should go before there is nothing left.

FFS NAPO, don't involve the Police in running things! Are you trying to prove the Mayans were right!!!!

If the authors intention was to highlight how the English language can be abused to the point of incoherence then they have succeeded beyond my expectations. If however, the intention was to offer an incisive critique of the current state of play then alas they fell somewhat short. It would appear that being a vacuous moron is a requirement for promotion in both the NPS and NAPO. So at least they have that in common.

Poor service delivery, de-professionalisation, management of high risk cases being located within the custodial estate are, and should be, worrying for probation, but I feel they're just symptoms of a far more serious problem that's occurring with probation services. I was astounded a couple of weeks ago when reading reports in local newspapers, that there's been a huge reduction in cautions given and prosecutions brought against juvenile offenders. Its nationwide, and some regions report a reduction of 90%. I doubt very much that such high percentages are a consequence of the 'troubled families programme', and I really couldn't understand such a massive reduction.

It would appear to me that there's a role reversal at play. The probation service who once operated from a position with a social work ethos at its core is actually being turned into an agency of 'policing' licence conditions, and an agency of public protection, with no social work ethos, the police force are adopting a social work ethic at its core. I find it quite a strange thing really, and maybe I'm way off the mark, but that really is how I'm seeing things develop.

In our office we have noted a significant increase in cases with complex mental health problems. They invariably have no mental health support because they misuse substances which means health services write them off as untreatable. Or they are diagnosed as personality disorder and similarly consigned to the dustbin of the untreatable. Many of them end up on the streets and without access to public funds because they can't comply with the draconian terms that make a person deserving of welfare. When their behaviour becomes disturbing to members of the public, the police arrest them for public order offences and often try to divert them away from the CJS but fail because they aren't covered my mental health (because drugs duh). They end up in a magistrates court - often, magistrates recognise that this is a complex case but they've tried Probation before, they can't comply, life is too chaotic, too distressing, how does one attend an appointment on time when you can't keep track of when you last slept? 

They go to prison for a week or too, maybe they will detox enough to get them housed/ stable enough to engage with some support? They get referred to every voluntary sector agency possible. They get released. They can't get housed. They make a benefit claim but can't get a GP appointment for a sick note. The job centre staff know they're ill, but rules. The probation officer knows they stand no chance of completing PSS but there are rules. They use professional judgement to get around them, but get spoken to about not hitting enforcement targets. Case is running around town talking to spiders and screaming. Case is threatening to throw themselves off a bridge. Case takes themselves to the local crisis unit begging for help, backed up by every agency they work with. Crisis unit says they're not ill, it's drugs, they're drug seeking, they're being aggressive, it's personality disorder we don't work with that. Call the police. Put them in prison for a couple of weeks. Rinse and repeat. 

That's a good proportion of our case load right now. The majority of the police try hard to avoid this cycle, but their hands are tied once there's enough complaints about someone's behaviour. These cases take up a huge amount of time and resources and yet nothing improves because it's the wrong sort of resources. This is happening all over the UK and nobody is listening.

What you describe is the bread and butter that feeds the shareholders of the private companies that invest in that chaos. It's just living off immoral earnings with a licence to do so.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Napo Evidence Part One

We return to the written submissions currently being considered by Bob Neill and his Justice Committee with the first part of Napo's contribution (note 2.15.4 and 5.5 may be either missing or consequence of mis-numbering):- 

Written evidence from Napo (TRH0059) 

Written evidence submitted by Napo, the Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Court Staff 

  • Napo is the main trade union and professional association representing staff in the National Probation Service (NPS) and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) in England and Wales. 
  • Whilst pay is not strictly within the review remit, we do make reference to HR and pay challenges which undermine delivery and need to be factored into any pathway to improving service delivery – for example, recruitment and retention being impacted by probation staff pay being uncompetitive and out of step with others services; and these challenges being given less priority than Prison reforms, within the MoJ. 
  • In this submission Napo attempts to illustrate current problems facing members and also suggests changes in key areas that could improve both operational practice and accountability. 
  • Our members tell us probation isn’t functioning anywhere near the standards prior to the introduction of TR. In 2013 all of the probation service in England and Wales was performing to a high standard. NOMS own ratings in July 2012 showed 31 of 35 Probation Trusts were in Band 3, ‘showing good performance’; and four were in Band 4 ‘exceptional performance’. In October 2011, the service won the British Quality Foundation Gold Medal for Excellence. 
  • Eight employer groups currently hold contracts to run the 21 CRCs: Sodexo (6), Interserve (5), Working Links (3), RRP (2), MCT Novo (2), Seetec (1), People Plus (1) and ARCC (1). The HMPI has produced 14 Quality and Impact Inspections of probation areas since April 2016. The overwhelming majority of the reports highlight significant operational problems in the CRCs, particularly in those areas of concern raised by Napo from the outset, and are a cause for serious concern. In the NPS, performance has been mostly “satisfactory”, with common reference to relying upon the expertise of staff doing beyond what could normally be expected. The system is neither stable nor sustainable. 
  • In addition the MoJ is intent on pushing through proposals to move more of the management of high risk of serious harm custody cases into the custodial environment. In principle this idea may have merit but like many good ideas, if implemented wrongly then it could have a detrimental impact. In the current operational context across probation the logistical, structural, organisational and cultural impact of the OM in custody model has not been fully comprehended let along addressed by those driving the policy. Significant questions include where will the experienced probation staff come from when there are existing staff shortages and workload challenges; how will Prison service and NPS teams be managed when their HR systems are misaligned and dysfunctional in the NPS without compromising the pension schemes; and what will be the impact on community delivery and workloads in the NPS. Without addressing these issues strategically, coherently and comprehensively staff burn-out, higher absenteeism and turnover risk sinking any good intentions. 
  • Court Probation Services remained with the NPS at implementation of TR. The impact of E3 on court practice has seen an increase in the pressure on court staff which has resulted in reduced effectiveness and compromised the quality of reports. Numerous issues impacting on courts from TR and the split, staffing pressures and the parallel cuts in court funding put an increasing daily strain on the process. These include reduced knowledge and confidence in different parts of the service’s capacity amongst sentencers, problems with communication and information exchange, unsuitable IT systems and a breakdown in goodwill between teams. 
  • The lack of any consistent national framework for standards is a barrier to the service developing apprenticeships, and making use of the Apprenticeship Levy - which could in turn help broaden the recruitment base for probation and close the gap between the profile of probation staff and service users. Whilst a national training programme remains in place for a variety of grades of staff in both the NPS and the CRCs there are concerns about the effectiveness of this training, how accessible it is, and whether cost has overridden quality. The lack of any national oversight also increases the risk of further fracture. 
  • A lack of clear, national, professional standards developed in partnership and monitored independently to empower staff to protect themselves and assert their professionalism is also undermining staff confidence across the service. We have also consistently warned about the management capacity gap amplified by TR, especially across the NPS, which is unsustainable and undermining other change initiatives. Napo members talk about being “de-professionalised”. Napo supports a national license to practice. 
  • Napo has asked the Prisons and Probation Minister to release the outcomes of the Probation Systems Review as we believe it is in the public interest. 
  • Napo welcomes the critical role that HMI Probation has played in independently assessing the performance of the NPS and CRCs. 


1.2 Napo welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the Justice Select Committee. We have grave concerns about the impact of the implementation of TR on both staff and services and doubt the system is sustainable as it is currently structured, both in relation to CRC contracts and the part-nationalisation of delivery. We would also welcome any invitation that the Committee may wish to offer to again provide verbal evidence to your inquiry. 

1.3 In this submission Napo attempts to illustrate current problems facing members and also suggests changes in key areas that could improve both operational practice and accountability. 


2.2 Eight employer groups currently hold contracts to run the 21 CRCs. These are Sodexo (6), Interserve (5), Working Links (3), RRP (2), MCT Novo (2), Seetec (1), People Plus (1) and ARCC (1). 

2.3 The view of Napo members working in the NPS and CRC estate is that the Probation Service is not functioning anywhere near the standards that existed prior to the introduction of TR. 

2.4 In 2013 all the evidence showed that the whole of the probation service in England and Wales was performing to a very high standard. Figures produced by the NOMS in July 2012 detailing annual performance ratings of the 35 Probation Trusts showed that 31 were in Band 3, ‘showing good performance’; and four were in Band 4 ‘exceptional performance’. Indeed in October 2011 the service had won the British Quality Foundation Gold Medal for Excellence. 

2.5 Inspections by HMI Probation of services since the split show how dramatically this has changed under the impact of the TR ‘reforms’. The HMPI has produced 14 Quality and Impact Inspections of probation areas since April 2016 each looking at the quality of both the NPS and the relevant CRCs within the area. The overwhelming majority of the reports highlight significant operational problems, particularly in those areas of concern raised by Napo from the outset, and are cause for serious concern. 

2.6 A more detailed assessment of the performance of the 21 CRCs is provided in annex 1 at the end of this submission. 


3.1 Napo has previously briefed the Committee and Ministers about the shambolic organisation across the National Probation Service. We predicted much of this and see several factors underlying these problems, including: 

3.1.1 Poor financial planning:  Whilst both the NPS and CRCs were in public ownership prior to share sale it was already clear that the expected 70:30 workload split would be nearer 50:50 but this was not politically accepted and the plans were not adjusted. Therefore, the NPS has consistently suffered from staff shortages and excessive workloads, amplified by consequential increases in sickness absence and staff turnover. E3 was in some ways a parallel to some CRC organisational redesigns post TR. This is still being implemented but staff shortages are as great as in the prison service. Unfortunately, probation recruitment is not a MoJ priority, as seen by at least 16 MoJ and HMPPS tweets promoting recruitment to the prison service in the last two months to no tweets about joining probation. At a meeting to discuss the recruitment strategy, NPS officials were not even aware of an MoJ advert showing riot control and baton charges as “key elite skills” for working in HMPPS – an example of the cultural friction facing the MoJ. 

3.1.2 Weak management support: In nationalising half of probation and moving from local delivery to a state run centralised model, little time or consideration was given to the organisational design challenges this creates. One key problem is the significant expansion of the first line manager role, to absorb most HR functions in line with civil service norms. Previously senior probation officers did very little HR, mostly focusing upon supervision of professional output and coaching around cases. They are now expected to do the full line management role, including performance management and development; managing grievances and HR questions around leave, etc; and still maintain the professional support. This is unsustainable, as an average SPO has between 14 and 18 immediate reportees, against a civil service average of about 5 to 8. This is increasingly a critical fault line. 

3.1.3 HR processes: For any service or organisation to run effectively and maintain credible performance levels it needs to be able to maintain basic HR functionality. This has never happened in a sustained way in the NPS. We have had prolonged periods of several months where new starters have not been paid at all; around 1 in 5 staff have not been paid accurately; pension contributions have not been collected for over 1500 staff; contractual sick pay and maternity pay processes have not been followed; and ill-health early retirement is shambolic. Hundreds of staff in Approved Premises are still not being paid holiday pay correctly. When pension adjustments were needed for staff who’d left the service it was recognised that the NPS hadn’t kept a list. 

3.1.4 The SSCL shared service performance has been beyond incompetent. That the taxpayer is now subsiding this incompetence at up to 55p a minute because managers and staff have to call a premium rate number to find out why their pay is wrong is beyond parody. However, Napo contends that these problems are inherent and deeply entrenched, relating back to the decision for NPS staff to remain in the local government pension scheme whilst the rest of NOMS was in the unfunded PCSPC scheme. This means the computer gets confused – shared services only works when things are shared and the same. 

3.1.5 This basic HR functional incompetence undermines confidence in the NPS as an employer, drains morale and impacts upon performance. Until the NPS is either removed from the SSCL contract and system, or is set up as an independent NextSteps Agency (like the Environment Agency who use SSCL successfully) or Cafcass (who don’t but are linked to the MoJ) then this problem will, in our view, continue to recur and undermine the NPS. 

3.1.6 Leadership: Any nationalised service becomes bureaucratic and risk averse. The NPS has struggled because accountabilities are unclear and even senior managers either do not have delegated authority to act or, if they do, can’t get consistent and accurate information about the parameters of potential decisions (e.g. around pension scheme rules or paying settlements) do act confidently. There also seems to be a growth in bureaucracy and “accountability forms” without evidence of a capacity to take responsibility to balance and justify this. The lessons of the last attempt to centralise probation in the early 2000’s were not heeded. Sadly, the potential benefits – national standards, consistent professional development and training pathways, a national license to practice, etc. – have still not emerged and are more difficult to develop with the current split. 


4.1 Small numbers of probation staff working in prisons alongside specialist prison officers on Offender Management Units or within Public Protection Units has happened for many years. 

4.2 The creation of HMPPS (essentially a rebadging of NOMS unless the NPS is more fully absorbed into the MoJ which is impossible whilst HR systems are still incompatible) is intent on moving more of probation into prisons. 10 prisons pilots have been identified and the main focus to date has been prison specific, e.g. new band 3 prison officers as key workers in residential units working with small numbers of prisoners on rehabilitation. No prison has yet rolled out the next phase involving probation staff. 

4.3 The proposals would see each prison having its own senior probation officer (SPO) as part of the prison line management structure, reporting directly to the governing Governor. The SPO would have line management responsibility for all “prison offender managers” i.e. both NPS and prison band 4 staff who could be either operational (uniformed) or non-operational. This has certain cultural challenges, HR challenges and potential workload challenges. 

4.4 The proposals mean increasing the number of probation staff based in prisons and offender managing high risk of serious harm custody cases from within the prison and not the community. This presents costs, operational and logistical challenges given where prisons are located linked to their uneven distribution. Finding these staff will be a problem. Working in prisons brings particular challenges and it is Napo’s view that any staff working in prisons should be experienced in their professional role. 

4.5 Moving staff to prisons will also increase pressure on community workloads, which carries with it an inherent risk of increased stress and burn out. Currently, community workload is a mixture of community and custody cases. Moving the responsibility for high risk of harm custody cases to prison offender managers will mean the remaining caseload for community colleagues will be fully active all of the time. 


5.1 Court Probation Services have remained with the NPS. The impact of E3 on court practice has been to increase the pressure on court staff which in the view of staff has compromised excellence. 

5.2 Those summoned to Court who live out of the area of the PSD are either seen on the day or expected to arrive early to be assessed on the day of sentence. Unscheduled interviews add to the pressure of the work already allocated for the day and reduce the ability to research risk factors with other agencies. The Court officer is under pressure to provide these and then to make up for the missing information about risk information in the form of add on assessments that are cumbersome and time consuming 

5.3 The IT system is slow and not fit for purpose and regularly goes off-line adding to the workload pressure. The short format report template is inadequate to fully address risk resulting in some things just being left out. Any deficiencies add to the pressure post- sentence, as the allocated officer has in some cases to almost start again to make up for the missing information needed to meet the targets for initial sentence plans. 

5.6 Cuts have led to the increased use of video links but these have proved problematic and can lead to delays. This becomes especially problematic if there is a need for an interpreter to be used. Cuts in admin staff are also leading to increased delays and pressure of work. 

5.7 The split between the private CRCs and the NPS is also causing problems with information sharing e.g. where a client’s identity is entered into different events on the computer and whole histories of cases are missed. Probation staff report that attempts to establish responses to orders for those supervised by the CRCs has become embarrassing. In some cases officers are told that the CRC is unable to support enforcement because the case is not being supervised due to staff sickness or staff leaving and the case not having been reallocated. 


6.1 Training 

6.1.1 A consistent training programme remains in place for some staff (below management level) in both the NPS and the CRCs but concerns are emerging about the effectiveness, accessibility, relevance and quality in the new wider operating context. 

6.1.2 Napo welcomes the Vocational Qualification for case administrators to enable career development. This is also available for probation service officers (PSOs) ensuring they can embed their experience and learning in a recognised qualification. However, this only applies in the NPS with no formal requirements beyond having “adequately trained staff” and no clear definition of “adequate” to support CRC training. 

6.1.3 Consequently, emerging risks include: 
  • Less-trained inexperienced staff holding cases in CRCs beyond their capacity 
  • Employment of new staff on new job descriptions and lower pay driving down standards. 
  • CRCs developing their own apprenticeships that are not aligned to any national standards and requirements. 
6.1.4 The lack of any consistent national framework for standards is a barrier to the service developing apprenticeships, and making use of the Apprenticeship Levy - which could in turn help broaden the recruitment base for probation and close the gap between the profile of probation staff and service users. 

6.1.5 Whilst a national training programme remains in place for a variety of grades of staff in both the NPS and the CRCs there are concerns about the effectiveness of this training, how accessible it is, and whether cost has overridden quality. The lack of any national oversight also increases the risk of further fracture. 

6.1.6 Napo members consistently refer to being “de-professionalised” since TR. To train as a probation officer under the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQIP) entrants are required to already have a relevant degree in, for example, Criminology. Whilst there are other routes available without a degree, the NPS is choosing not to use these at this current time due to the cost of putting staff through the full training course. This also denies current staff access to career progression. 

6.1.7 Napo has also had feedback from learners saying that the current length of PQIP (15 months) is not long enough. In order to compress the learning that previously took place over two years into such a short time means that important aspects of the training have been dropped, which further undermines professionalism. Staff further report not having the confidence to do the job once they have qualified. Many CRC’s are now not using the PQIP to train their staff due to the cost. 

6.2 Professional standards 

6.2.1 At the point of TR probation officers transferring into the CRCs immediately lost an element of their professional standing. Being in the CRC they were no longer allowed to write Court reports, advise the Court, attend Oral Hearings or manage high risk of harm offenders. This had a detrimental impact on staff morale and has now in effect created two tiers of probation officers. Those in CRCs now feel their skills are not being utilised and as such are anxious about their career development and job security. 

6.2.2 As a professional association Napo is a champion of professional standards and best practice. The union is campaigning for the introduction of a Licence to Practice, which would bring Probation in line with other professions such as social work and enable practitioners of all levels to evidence their level of training, qualification and experience. It would also protect individuals from holding cases above and beyond their job description - which is a growing problem - as well as providing employers with evidence that staff are trained appropriately. 

6.3 Pre-Sentence Reports 

6.3.1 HMIP has identified the poor quality of Pre-Sentence Reports, and the impact this has on sentencing, case allocation and case management, as a cause for concern. HMPPS introduced an arbitrary target for 90% of all Pre-Sentence Reports to be completed either on the day or within 5 working days. This purely cost saving exercise has resulted in significant issues throughout the pre and post sentence process. 

6.3.2 Magistrates have complained that they are no longer allowed to order a full PreSentence Report. They state that they have very little information on which to sentence someone and this will have a disproportionate impact on BAME clients and women. NPS staff are unable to complete vital checks with the police and children’s services prior to sentencing resulting in inadequate risk assessments and potentially unsuitable sentencing recommendations. This in turn increases the risk of cases being allocated to the wrong organisation to supervise them and increases the risk of serious further offending, risk to victims and risk to the public. 

6.3.3. Pre-Sentence reports should be bespoke to the individual and the type of report reflective of that. 


7.1 Napo has asked the Prisons and Probation Minister to release the outcomes of this review as we believe it is in the public interest. The statement by the Secretary of State for Justice of a £24 million bail out for CRC providers this year and a £277 million guarantee of further funding for the remaining life of the contracts is a development that has caused serious concern amongst our membership. Napo asks that the Committee request a full cost analysis of this finding and how it will be accounted for. 


8.1 Napo welcomes the critical role that HMI Probation has played in independently assessing the performance of the NPS and CRCs and highlighting practice, both good and unsatisfactory as part of the quest to improve service provision. 


9.1 Napo believes that the current malaise in performance across the CRC estate could be addressed by the inclusion of Police and Crime Commissioners and Metropolitan Mayors into the accountability process by the formation of local partnership boards that would bring stakeholders together to consider delivery against agreed targets. This could operate within a revised governance system that would allow failing CRCs the opportunity to offer services on a commissioned basis after the termination of their contract as a major provider. 


10.1 Napo stands ready to work with the NPS and CRC providers to explore remedial measures to improve service delivery and utilise the considerable skillsets of our members in seeking to improve the operational landscape that has developed since the implementation of TR. For this to happen the service will need an increase in investment in the reward package for staff and improved engagement with trade unions under a Professional Practice Forum and the joint development of a Licence to Practice. 

10.2 We also hope that the Committee will endorse our view that where a provider has consistently failed to deliver against contract, then this work should revert back to public oversight with special arrangements being made to ensure acceptable provision that meets the expected standards of service delivery and community safety. 

Ian Lawrence General Secretary
Chris Winters National Co-Chair
Yvonne Pattison National Co-Chair 


Friday, 16 March 2018

Court Closures 2

As the following letter indicates, the Justice Committee seem to have woken up at last to the effects of the MoJ's plans for yet more court closures, together with the wisdom of moving more judicial process online:-  

Lucy Frazer QC MP 
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 
Ministry of Justice 
102 Petty France 
SWlH 9AJ  

27 February 2018 

Dear Lucy,

Ministry of Justice consultation: Fit for the future: Transforming the court and tribunal estate 

Thank you for your letter of 17 January 2018 drawing our attention to your Department's public consultations on the proposed future strategy for the court and tribunal estate, and on proposals to close eight courts in England. Although we do not intend to submit a formal response to the consultations, we would nonetheless wish to draw your attention to some of the issues that they raise. These issues are underpinned by our overarching concern that the impact of any decisions on access to justice be fully understood before implementation, and that measures be proportionate to the policy objectives in question. 

Court closures 
We welcome the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ's) decision to establish clear principles to inform the estates reform programme: ensuring access to justice; delivering value for money; and enabling longer term efficiency. In particular, we endorse the move towards a new design guide, to ensure buildings are appropriate, flexible, effective and sustainable, and the renewed commitment to tackling the estate's maintenance backlog. However, it seems to us that several proposals in the consultation are worthy of further careful attention: 

1. Travel time to court 
The current consultation is seeking views on a modified approach to the travel standard used to determine decisions on court and tribunal locations: that nearly all users should be able to attend a hearing on time and return within a day. Our predecessor Committee recommended maintaining the standard that at least 90% of users can reach the nearest magistrates' court venue by public transport within one hour (The role of the magistracy, Sixth Report of Session 2016-17. October 2016). No convincing policy justification has been offered for the current proposal, which appears to favour the principle of value for money over the principle of access to justice. We dispute the assertion that any particular time standard would be "arbitrary", and we question the assumption that virtual hearings will, and should, increasingly take the place of physical access to hearing rooms- a topic to which we return below. 

The proposal for closure of Northallerton Magistrates' Court provides a worrying illustration of the travel times that may be involved; according to the consultation document, this closure would mean a user from Richmond in Yorkshire attending one of four alternative courts, with public transport travel times - one way ­ ranging from 2 hours 22 minutes (Teeside) to 3 hours 22 minutes (Harrogate). We would like to know to what extent these travel times are based on assumptions that users have easy access to a bus stop - given that, in a rural area, this is often not the case. The equality analysis that accompanies this consultation paper - in common with the other equality statements in this package of consultations ­ makes no mention of the indirectly discriminatory impact of a six-hour (plus) round trip on elderly people or on women, who are more likely to be caring for pre-school and/or school-aged children; nor does it suggest what reasonable adjustments would be made for people with a mobility impairment, in particular wheelchair users - other than a reference to adjustments in court buildings themselves. 

2. Assumptions about the capacity of receiving courts 
We question whether, in all cases, the court buildings expected to receive the business of the courts identified for closure would in fact have the capacity to deal with the additional work, notwithstanding the endeavours of the MoJ/HMCTS Optimised Hearing Capacity project. There appears to be an assumption that spare slots in hearing rooms would be predictable in advance; this is often not the case, as trials may be adjourned or vacated on the day, or may unexpectedly run shorter or longer than anticipated. There also seems to be an expectation that brief gaps in the occupation of hearing rooms, which we assume to have been factored into the MoJ/HMCTS "available hours" calculations, are in practice long enough to be usable for court business. In relation to the proposed closure of Banbury Magistrates' and County Court, which sat for a total of 2,211 hours in 2016/17, we observe that the spare capacity of Oxford Magistrates' Court (one of the two receiving courts) is less than 1,200 hours.

3. Use of alternative court venues 
We accept that services do not have to be delivered from traditional court buildings and we welcome the steps that MoJ/HMCTS have taken to identify and test a range of buildings such as civic centres and community buildings that have been adapted to provide hearing facilities. However, we note that so far the use of many alternative venues is restricted to "suitable" cases - implying that not all cases are suited to such venues. In its report on the role of the magistracy, our predecessor Committee concluded that it was "regrettable" that inadequate forethought had been given to the security implications of holding magistrates court sessions in buildings that are not equipped with a secure dock. If the MoJ/HMCTS has concluded that secure docks cannot be provided in alternative venues, we consider that this should have been stated in the consultation paper and an explanation offered as to how cases demanding this facility will be dealt with once proposed court closures are implemented. 

4. Increasing reliance on virtual and online justice 
The estate reform programme is predicated on an assumption that increasing use will be made of modern technology in the administration and delivery of justice, leading to a reduced need for physical buildings; the main consultation paper (paragraph 1.15) states that the starting point for the MoJ/HMCTS approach is that "only what has to be done at a physical venue - most trials and sentencing ­ will be done there"; however, the consultation does not seek views on this aspect of the reform strategy. We do not doubt that further modernization is needed, and we welcome proposals such as the centralization of HMCTS administrative functions. However, we are concerned about the MoJ/HMTCS's evident preference for virtual and online justice over traditional, court-based models in the absence of recent research, or evaluation of pilot projects. 

We accept that video hearings may suit some court users - including people with mobility impairments who may find it difficult to travel to court. However, we consider it likely that virtual courts will disadvantage some individuals. Focus group and survey evidence from the national charity, Transform Justice (reported in October 2017: Defendants on video) suggests that unrepresented defendants, defendants who do not speak English well, and older and younger court users are likely to be particularly disadvantaged by video hearings; there was also evidence of video equipment failures, poor sound quality and mismatches of sound and image. The MoJ appears to have undertaken no evaluation of virtual hearings since its pilot programme in Kent and London, which was evaluated in a report published in 2010. This found that virtual courts were expensive to set up and to run, that defendants appeared less engaged in the process and that the rate of guilty pleas and custodial sentences was higher than in traditional courts for reasons that were unclear. This discrepancy indicates that further evaluation is needed before moving towards routine use of virtual hearings. 

We accept that some types of case lend themselves to online processes and we do not doubt the success of certain initiatives such as the online service for straightforward divorce, or the Common Platform programme that supports case management in the Crown Court. However, were digital justice to become the norm, we believe that substantial barriers would be faced by non-users of the internet, estimated as 18% of 55-64 year aids, 35% of 65-74 year olds and 56% of 75+ year olds. In relation to socio-economic groups, 16% of C2s and 27% of DEs are non-users of the internet (Ofgem, Adults' media use and attitudes report 2017). We do not consider that the MoJ/HMCTS proposals for providing face to face assisted digital support have been adequately developed, evaluated or costed. If digital justice is implemented more widely without adequate mitigation for those without access to, or familiarity with, the internet, then this would raise a serious issue of discrimination and fairness - particularly for those in older age groups and those who are less well off. The adverse impact may be greater because of the widespread cuts to local libraries which have previously facilitated internet access for these groups. 

In relation to criminal cases, we are not aware of any consultation or piloting of the proposals to introduce online pleas, or the proposals designed to allow defendants charged with certain minor offences to plead guilty using an entirely automated system that would issue an online conviction and penalty; in response to the latter, our predecessor Committee observed (in the magistracy report) that excluding judicial office holders from involvement in disposing of certain criminal case at first sight "does appear to raise some issues of concern". We believe there are particular fears about the implications of departing from the long established principle of open justice - a principle accepted by the Senior Presiding Judge in oral evidence to the magistracy inquiry. In addition, there may be concerns about the fairness of defendants making decisions about plea without the benefit of legal advice.

I look forward to receiving your thoughts on these points.

Bob Neill MP
Chairman Justice Committee

Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Question of the Right Questions

I suspect I wasn't the only one left unimpressed with David Gauke's performance last week in front of the Justice Select Committee. Obviously he can't be fully on top of his brief as yet, but to be honest, I wasn't that impressed by the quality of the questions put to him either and the seeming inability to persue things. Maybe the Committee could do with some help? I notice Rob Allen had a few suggestions:- 

Follow up Questions. What the Justice Committee should ask the Justice Secretary.

Having been greeted on arrival in office by the John Worboys row, new Justice Secretary David Gauke has since kept a low profile. He set out his thoughts on prisons at the RSA this morning, and whether by chance or design will be questioned tomorrow by the Justice Committee. While MPs will focus on his wider departmental responsibilities - the Parole review, court closures, miscarriages of justice and probation failings are likely to come up - Bob Neill and his colleagues have a chance to press Gauke on some of the prison proposals he announced today.

First they will want to know more about his plans to crack down on modern day Harry Grouts - the organised crime bosses who he thinks drive the drug trade inside and its catastrophic consequences. Gauke wants to rethink the categorisation of prisoners so that ring leaders can be “isolated” from their followers. Whether this means a fundamental review of the four tier security classification system or simply tweaks to the criteria for allocation to Category A high security prisons is not clear. Gauke wants categorisation decisions to give greater weight to behaviour in prison - but this would mark a substantial change in policy and practice which needs careful planning.

Second, Gauke wants to change the incentives and earned privileges scheme which Governors tell him isn’t working. This could involve unwinding Chris Grayling’s reforms to the scheme and strengthening carrots rather than lengthening sticks. In the best part of his speech Gauke talked of giving opportunities for prisoners to earn, through good behaviour, greater contact with families and release on temporary licence. Why not permanent release, MPs might ask. This was one of Michael Gove’s ideas which disappeared with him. Gauke indicated that it may be up to Governors rather than Whitehall to reshape the privileges and sanctions scheme. While this might serve to kick start the stalled governor autonomy project, it could bring risks of inconsistency and perceived unfairness on the part of prisoners.

Third, Gauke was clear that he wanted to see prisoner numbers fall but….only as an aspiration if re-offending falls. He talked about the importance of rehabilitation but as befits the views of a police officer’s son, this has to start by playing by the rules. Generally this is not something prisoners are very good at. Gauke offered no guarantee that his department’s spending cuts wont further impact on prison budgets.

Gauke claimed to have persuaded his Cabinet colleagues to join a new inter departmental committee addressing re-offending. While the Justice Committee will wish to probe its terms of reference, it might suggest that its first agenda item should be on finding ways of keeping people out of jail. Gauke's description of the prison system today certainly made a strong case for that.

Rob Allen

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

CRC in Pay Deal

Thanks go to the reader for sending me the following which was circulated yesterday and will surely 'put the cat amongst the pigeons' as they say:-


On the 5th March, the recognised trade unions received confirmation of a final pay offer from MTC Novo management, after a period of negotiations. We are now consulting with members about the offer and ask you to indicate your acceptance or rejection of the offer via the attached link, by no later than noon on 29th March 2018. 

The offer covers both 2017-18 and 2018-19. Therefore, it is a two-year offer, even though the bulk of the 2017-18 element would be made as back pay, as soon as the offer was accepted and processed. 

The key elements of the offer are as set out in the letter from MTC Novo management (see attached). This involves: 
  • A 1.5% non-consolidated pensionable payment for staff at the pay maxima for each of 2017-18 and 2018-19. The 2017-18 award would be made as a back dated one off lump sum payment. 
  • An additional non-consolidated pensionable payment of 0.5% for staff below the pay maxima in addition to their contractual incremental step in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. The 2017-18 element will again be paid in full as a one off lump sum payment. 
The offer applies to all staff whose pay is linked to the NNC pay scales.

After consultation with local elected representatives in the CRCs, informed by input from Napo’s National Officers and Officials, we are recommending that members accept the offer, as the best that can be achieved at this time by negotiation. 

The offer is made at the same time as the NPS have confirmed they will not be making any pay award in 2017-18 for staff – except for meeting the contractual increment for those below their pay maxima. Therefore, although the MTC Novo offer is below the current rate of inflation, it is still better than any offer being presented by the NPS. 

Given the well-rehearsed and increasingly evident financial constraints on the CRC contracts, this is both surprising and welcomed. In negotiations MTC Novo also stressed that they’d have liked to do more. Napo believe that the continuing constraints, and continued uncertainty around the outcome of national pay reform negotiations with the NPS, means they would not be able to go further at this time. 

The unions had reservations about accepting any two-year offer when we were engaged in negotiations around significant pay reform with the NPS, which we believe would directly impact on MTC Novo staff and the MTC Novo contract. In Napo’s claim, we put forward that if the NPS increased pay rates then all of the CRC owners would require additional funding and support to ensure they remained competitive and able to retain staff. 

However, these national NPS pay reform negotiations have stalled, following a breakdown in trust between the Treasury and the MoJ, relating to MoJ performance and the failure to get their accounts signed off. The unions are now pursuing a resolution to this crisis directly with Ministers. Even as we remain positive that the urgent need for this pay reform will be recognised in central Government, the delays mean that in reality, any movement on NPS pay reform will not take place until well into the 2018-19 financial year. Consequently, Napo believe that application of any pay reform in MTC Novo is then unlikely until 2019-20. Accordingly, we have decided that we can safely recommend the two-year deal and bank what money, however limited, MTC Novo can offer members now. 


Alongside this update, you will have received a link to a Napo survey. Click on this link and you will be taken to a page where you will be asked if you accept the MTC Novo pay offer or not. This system ensures each member will only be able to vote once. 

Remember you can get cheaper subs by paying directly through Direct Debit and can also access our extensive new Napo members’ Benefits Package and save the cost of membership in full. 

SARA MASON (Thames Valley Branch Chair) 
DAVID RAHO (London Branch Co-chair) 
DEAN ROGERS (Assistant General Secretary)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Court Closures

When new Justice Secretary David Gauke appeared before the Justice Select Committee last week it was clear he wasn't fully on top of his brief and resorted to what could best be described as 'holding' answers. For example, he didn't seem to grasp that with the impending closure of Northallerton Magistrates Court, it would be impossible to travel by public transport to Harrogate instead. He effectively just shrugged his shoulders. This from the Guardian picks up the sorry story of court closures:-   

Court closures: sale of 126 premises raised just £34m, figures show

‘Ideological’ sell-off limits access to justice, says Labour, leaving many far from their nearest court

The government’s courts closure programme is creating geographical gaps that restrict access to justice while raising pitifully small sums from the sale of most buildings, Labour has said. According to analysis of newly released figures, the sale of 126 court premises in England and Wales since 2010 has raised a total of £34m – each going for little more than the average house price.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, has accused the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of pursuing sell-offs aggressively before a £1bn court modernisation programme – relying on remote video hearings and online mechanisms – has proved viable. His comments have been reinforced by the justice select committee, which has written to the MoJ pointing out that plans to change the way in which travel-to-court times are measured may undermine the presumption that defendants and witnesses can attend a hearing and return within a day.

The closure of Northallerton magistrates court could force court users to travel instead to Harrogate, for example, a journey by bus which takes three hours and 22 minutes one way. “We question the assumption that virtual hearings will, and should, increasingly take the place of physical access to hearing rooms,” the MPs on the committee cautioned.

Since 2010, the MoJ has closed at least 230 crown, county and magistrates courts. The initial rationale was that crime levels and the number of court cases were falling. Some of the buildings have yet to be sold. The money raised and savings achieved are being diverted into the court modernisation programme.

A breakdown of the figures, which were released in a parliamentary question, show that £224m has been raised so far. Almost two-thirds of that sum was generated by the sale of just nine courts on prime sites in and around London. Hammersmith magistrates court made £43m, the technology and construction court in central London fetched £25m and Horseferry Road magistrates court went for £20m. At the opposite end of the scale, Ely magistrates court was disposed of for just £1, Rochdale magistrates court was auctioned for £6,316 and Consett country court made only £13,735. The 100 cheapest courthouse disposals, Labour researchers calculated, raised just £19.8m in total.

Many buildings were undistinguished, municipal architecture dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Some buildings have found other uses. Knutsford crown court, which dates back to the early 19th century, was sold for £1.6m and became a hotel and restaurant.

“These figures do nothing to assuage fears that the government’s wave of court sell-offs is driven by blinkered ideology with scant regard for the impact on access to justice in whole swathes of the country,” Burgon said. “Selling off over a hundred local courts each for not much more than the average UK house price piles yet more pressure on the remaining courts and risks hearings being further delayed and rescheduled. This can have a distressing impact on victims and witnesses and creates a justice system that’s less accessible for local people. The Conservatives justify their mass sell-off of local justice facilities with talk of the digitisation of our courts .... Despite awarding contracts worth tens of millions, the government has admitted to not undertaking sufficient research on the effectiveness of court hearings by video link and still refuses to publish the business case for this modernisation programme.”

In the Commons on Tuesday, the Labour MP Ruth George said that the closure of Buxton magistrates court meant her constituents had to travel 40 miles to court. “The police say it now takes a whole day to take someone to court and back,” she said. The shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi called for a moratorium on court closures until the new court bill had been debated by parliament.

Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group, which campaigns for better access to justice, said he feared people would decline to be witnesses or bring claims. “I can foresee real difficulties in witnesses getting to court,” he said.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “This government is investing over £1bn to reform and modernise the justice system – making it more convenient, easier to use, and providing better value for the taxpayer. Since April 2016 we have raised £115m from the sale of underused court buildings – over £34m more than forecast, and every penny of this will be reinvested as part of our modernisation plans. As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for court buildings.”


Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice has written extensively on the subject of court closures and the whole court 'modernisation' programme and has just produced a very thorough briefing document.

Court closures - trying to get a quart into a pint pot?

How many courts do you need to close before the system grinds to a halt? Ever since the government took over the ownership of courts from local authorities in 2005, they have been closing them down at a fierce rate such that there are now 250 fewer courts in England and Wales.

There is a proposal on the table now to close 8 more courts, including relatively new ones like Cambridge and Maidenhead magistrates' courts and Blackfriars Crown Court. The courts service (HMCTS) insist that all the criminal courts being closed are significantly under used and their work can be accommodated in nearby courts. But the calculations are not entirely convincing

- Its assumed that the volume of work carried out now will not increase. This doesn't take account of fluctuations in prosecutions, or that constraints on staff resources currently limit the number of cases heard. When cases can be listed depends on having enough judges and court staff. But the number of magistrates has halved and the number of court staff been cut by a quarter in recent years. So the empty court rooms could be used, and cases heard more promptly, if there were more people to hear the cases.

- They calculate that criminal court work can be divided into units of an hour and thus one hour under-used in a court marked for closure can be slotted into a one hour gap in an existing court. But trials hardly ever take just an hour, so time under-used at Blackfriars Crown Court cannot easily be transferred to Southwark instead. Some spare capacity is needed in courts anyway - to accommodate cases that over-run. As it is, witnesses and defendants who are at court are often turned away because they've run out of time to hear their case that day.

- HMCTS estimate travel times from a court user's home to court on the basis of travelling from one town centre to another. So in the case of Cambridge, whose magistrates' court is earmarked for closure, the journeys are calculated from the towns in Cambridgeshire (Huntingdon, St Neots, Ely), not from the countryside. Someone living 15 miles south east of Cambridge, who might currently be able to get into the city by bus in 45 minutes, will take considerably longer than the 1 hour 10 minutes estimated as the journey time between Cambridge and Huntingdon (the proposed new court) by public transport.

The reason why courts are being closed is because they will in most cases be replaced by virtual ("trial by skype") and online courts, so only those attending and taking part in Crown Court trials will go to an actual court. I'm not clear how this whole proposed scenario will improve access to justice, and the risk is the system will descend into chaos. Pending the development of the brave new virtual world, court users will be expected to spend hours travelling to court, navigating complicated journeys. Witnesses will vote with their feet by not turning up at all, while defendants will be even later than they already are, or fail to appear and have to be arrested on warrant. This is the worst case scenario. I really hope it doesn't happen - which is why I urge all you weary people to put your cynicism aside and respond to one or more of the current consultations on court closures.


Finally, here's a piece from January in the Guardian on the costs of the modernisation programme and the MoJ's by-now legendary ability to waste public money:-

MoJ spending huge sums on consultants to help deliver digital courts

Critics express concerns, pointing to lack of detail about contracts as well as history of failure and delays in government IT projects

The Ministry of Justice is spending tens of millions of pounds on management consultants to help deliver online and digital court programmes that are designed to save money and improve access to justice. The £30m is being paid to PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, as part of a £1bn drive to modernise the courts and expand the types of hearings that can be conducted via computer.

Another major contract, worth £1.3 million, has been won by the consulting firm Methods, which subcontracts some of the work to the outsourcing company Accenture to provide “change management strategy” to help guide the judiciary through until 2022. Additional undisclosed sums have been paid to EY, formerly Ernst and Young. Few details of the scheme, which is being managed by the MoJ’s executive arm, HM Courts and Tribunal Service, have emerged but the tendering contract states that it aims to “transform our technology and to transform our own skills and capabilities”.

The senior judiciary, who will ensure new methods of working are consistent with legal requirements for a fair trial, have become intimately involved in supervising the programme. The large sums are being spent at a time of widespread cuts to legal aid and crumbling infrastructure, with courthouses and prisons in need of repair.

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice and a former magistrate, questioned whether the scheme would improve access to justice. “We recently learned that there are puddles of urine in the cells of Liverpool prison and Liam Allan was nearly convicted of rape because police and prosecution lack the resources to do their job,” she said. “Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice has paid over £30m to fund external management consultants to support ‘change management’ in their digital court reform programme. The management consultants are focused on ‘successful delivery’ but we don’t know what they are supposed to be delivering since there is no published plan for the digital court reform programme and the PWC contract isn’t published either. If they are being rewarded for increasing access to justice, that’s great, but can we see how that will be assessed?”

Given the history of failures and delays in major government IT projects, PwC’s financial rewards are being made dependent on successful delivery of the online and digital court programmes. It is understood that a considerable proportion of the firm’s £30m fee is being spent on specialist suppliers and subcontractors. PwC will be expected to build up skills among HMCTS staff so they eventually take over responsibility for running the software.

Asked about the contract, an HMCTS spokesperson said: “This is the most ambitious programme of its kind anywhere in the world. We are investing more than £1bn over a six-year period to modernise outdated processes and create a swifter, more accessible and more efficient justice system for the public. Our contract with PwC replaces a number of contracts with external suppliers, and ensures we benefit from specialist skills to deliver our reforms and get best value for money for the taxpayer.”

It is unclear how many cases can be transferred out of the courtroom and on to a laptop screen. Successive MoJ economy drives have led to the closure of about 250 courts across England and Wales since 2011. They have been justified partially on the grounds of falling crime rates and partially on the need to develop more flexible working practices.

Civil cases that have been transferred online include applications for divorce, probate and small claims. Low-level offences such as fare evasion, traffic offences and fishing without a licence are among the first being dealt with online. More than 3,000 members of the public are said to have used pilot digital systems so far.

Asked about the type of cases going online earlier this month, the new lord chief justice said at his annual press conference that a new digital criminal case system had already saved the need to print 33m pages of paper. “When we reach our goal, it should be possible for a very large number of civil disputes to be resolved using online facilities with appropriate judicial input when it is needed, but rarely requiring the parties to attend court,” said Lord Burnett of Maldon.

Whole categories of hearings such as listing cases, simple bail applications and entering pleas will “in future not require the routine attendance of everybody at court on every occasion”, he said. Telephone hearings had been routine in civil courts for 20 years, he added, what was important was that judges retained control of cases even if no one else was in court.

There have been concerns that online justice forms could make it too easy for unrepresented defendants to plead guilty in order to dispose of a court summons without realising that may result in a criminal record. There has been some criticism that the judiciary is becoming too closely identified with the court modernisation programme. Andrew Langdon QC, a former chair of the Bar Council, said: “There is a risk that in the future we will evaluate our judges on their ability to be effective managers rather than fearless independent judges who are independent of the executive.”