Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Going Digital

To be honest I'm just treading water at the moment due to a seeming dearth of something new to say about the TR omnishambles. It does however give us time to examine related matters, such as the following article on the 'Digital by default news' website which caught my eye. Although on the face of it, it sounds eminently sensible, along with practitioners being forced to conduct sensitive interviews via video links, my heart continues to sink in relation to the prospects for good probation practice.  

Parole Board continues digital transformation

The Parole Board has issued an update on its move to digital and the introduction of paperless hearings by October 2017. The body is undertaking a large project to overhaul the way it works, in line with its strategic objective of reducing the backlog due to constraints and ensuring more efficient ways of working.

As an organisation it says it has looked into new ways of electronic working. Previously, all dossiers for Parole cases (which average between 300-500 pages for reviews) were printed at its office in London and couriered out to Parole Board members around the country. This process was expensive, time consuming, and not environmentally friendly.

Going paperless

The E-dossier project was launched last year, with 17 members trialling the new system at first. This has now been rolled out to 176 members (85%), with the target of having 90% of the membership accessing their case information electronically by April 2017.

The Board says it will be completely paperless for hearings by October 2017. At present 102 members are conducting completely paperless parole reviews across the country (50% of the entire membership).

The members have all been provided with a tablet laptop and access to the secure ‘Web Access Module’ to see their cases and download the dossiers. Project staff have worked closely with prisons to ensure access with the devices went smoothly at the prison gates, and have taken on board feedback from members to make improvements to the new system.

The courier and printing cost savings that will come from this project alone mean 250 more prisoners will be able to have hearings each year. The next steps of the project are to work with the courts and ensure members who are current serving judges can access Parole Board dossiers through their digital judiciary accounts.

The second cohort of new members will join the organisation in June 2017 and they will be trained to conduct paperless hearings right from the outset. Once they start to conduct parole reviews we will be a fully operational digital organisation.


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In other news, this drew a wry smile as yet another of Grayling's big ideas bit the dust yesterday:-

London Central Employment Tribunal upholds the claims of over 200 judges for unlawful age, race and sex discrimination and equal pay

London Central Employment Tribunal has today upheld the claims of over 200 judges for unlawful age, race and sex discrimination and equal pay against the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in relation to changes made to their pension entitlements.

The judgment from the Tribunal held that the MoJ and the Lord Chancellor had discriminated against younger judges by requiring them to leave the Judicial Pension Scheme in April 2015 whilst allowing older judges to remain in that Scheme, and that this discrimination could not be justified.

Shubha Banerjee from the employment team at Leigh Day who is representing 204 of the judges said:

“This is a great victory for our clients, many of whom sit alongside older judges who were appointed some years after them but who are, in effect, paid more purely because they are older. The fact that there is a significant number of female and BME judges in the younger group simply compounds the unfairness of the changes that were made to judicial pensions. According to Judicial Office Statistics, about one third of all judges in England and Wales last year were female, and only 7% described themselves as from a black or other minority ethnic background.”

The Tribunal found that the changes caused younger judges to suffer a disproportionate loss to their pensions purely because they were younger. The decision could have ramifications for other public sector groups, such as police officers, teachers, firefighters and prison officers, who have been subjected to similar negative changes to their pensions.

The legal team were Shubha Banerjee and Chris Benson from Leigh Day and Andrew Short QC and Naomi Ling from Outer Temple Chambers.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Latest From Napo 133

Here's what I feel is most relevant from the latest Napo General Secretary's blog post:- 

ATTENDANCE MANAGEMENT SHAMBLES ALREADY A SOURCE OF GRIEF

As many of you will be aware, the new Civil Service Attendance Management Policy was implemented by NOMS into the NPS on 5th January 2017. It seems that the implementation of this policy, despite the failure to agree it with Napo and other unions, is set to cause huge rifts between managers and staff if the early feedback we have received this week is anything to go by.

The genesis of this deficient and divisive process is that the government sees public servants as a burden on society and has decided to launch one of the most punitive personnel management regimes for managing sick absence that it has been my misfortune to see in many years in this business.

We wrote out to NPS members in the week to confirm that we had received a number of queries and concerns from branches about this policy. Napo has followed up on the meeting that took place between Michael Spurr and the unions just before the Christmas break and are challenging both the contents and the implementation of the policy.

We have also made it clear to Michael Spurr and his senior management colleagues that we are appalled at the lack of clear communications to staff. Many managers have not received any information about what the policy contains and how it should be used, which has significantly hampered their ability to brief staff and local Napo reps. We also have serious doubts about the quality and quantity of the training that has been offered for managers. Below is the link to the advice Napo issued just before Christmas. We are working urgently on further guidance and advice for members which we will issue shortly.

Essentially, this policy was drawn up and implemented without anything resembling negotiation, and apart from some late and very cursory consultation where we managed to secure some changes, it was very much a case of ' carry on regardless' (for those of you who remember the lamentable series of movies of that genre) but without even the remotest semblance of humour.

While the NOMS supremos cannot escape the accusation that they have palpably failed to bat for their team, this is yet another example of the attitude that this government has for its employees who it sees as wasters and malingerers who jump at the opportunity to take sick leave. Unlike the faceless Mandarins in their Whitehall ivory towers who concocted this nonsense, our members live in the real world and we will do our best to highlight and challenge the numerous problems that this is already causing at all levels. Meanwhile, I fully appreciate the difficulties this implementation places on our reps on top of all the other pressures that you (and we) are facing, and Napo will do all that we can to help you represent any members who fall foul of the new instructions.

I aim to publish the exchanges we have had with Michael Spurr once he has been able to consider our latest letter, but issues such as the lack of an Equality Impact Assessment, retrospective treatment of absences preceding the policy, new rules on sick pay, and the way in which serious underlying medical conditions are apparently supposed to be totally ignored as a factor for not attending at work are right up there. So, as a member asked me yesterday, it's presumably ok for someone with an infectious medical condition to drag themselves into the office and put others at risk to avoid being pulled up under the policy?

More news as soon as we can get it to you.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Welfare to Work Cuts

Here's an article in the Guardian that confirms yet more bad news for the criminal justice sector and the chances for many probation clients gaining employment:-  

Thousands of jobs to go in government shakeout of welfare to work sector

Thousands of experienced employment coaches are expected to lose their jobs over the next few weeks as ministers trigger the first stage of a massive shakeout of the government-funded welfare to work sector that will see it shrink by 75%. The employment services industry is preparing for what one insider called “a bloodbath” as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) moves to replace the work programme with the much smaller work and health programme.

Documents seen by the Guardian reveal that seven of the 15 work programme prime contractors, including big private sector names such as Serco and Maximus, have not made it on to the initial shortlist for the new scheme. The work and health programme shortlist, which is to be officially announced next week, begins a process in which the remaining eight work programme firms will compete with three new entrants for just six new regional contracts.

The final outcome, expected when contracts are awarded in late spring, could result in some firms being forced to abandon the market, or diversify into other contracted out public service areas, such as criminal justice or apprenticeships.

“This decimates the welfare to work industry. It represents the unravelling of nearly 20 years of unemployment support experience,” one industry insider told the Guardian. Work coaches provide long-term unemployed clients with help to acquire a range of employment and life skills designed to increase their chances of finding work, such as CV writing, IT skills and literacy, as well as liaising with potential employers.

Thousands of work coach jobs are expected to be lost. “This means large job losses among really experienced frontline advisers, the majority of which are in charities,” said Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association.

The work and health programme is expected to start in the autumn and aims to provide specialist support for long-term unemployed people, especially those with health conditions or a disability. Funding will be about £100m a year over four years. This is about a quarter of the current annual spending on the work programme, which closes at the end of March, and work choice, which will continue for a few months longer.

Ministers have been warned that the cuts will undermine the government’s ambitious commitment to halve the disability employment gap by 2020, which requires it to find jobs for about 1.2 million people with disabilities or long-term illnesses able to work.

Ministers are understood to believe that rising employment levels, coupled with the provision of extra disability employment advisers in Jobcentre Plus, means that recent high levels of investment in employment support are no longer needed. But the Commons work and pensions committee warned in November that the scale of the cuts to the work and health programme meant that many disabled and ill claimants would be unable to access support.

Tony Wilson, the director of policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute thinktank, said: “The work and health scheme will support far fewer people and it would not be able to deliver services to the extent that could be done previously. Our assessment is that this scheme will make a vanishingly small contribution to the halving of the disability employment gap.”

Of current work programme contractors, Serco, Maximus, Seetec, Interserve, Learndirect, NCG and Rehab Jobfit are not on the work and health programme provider shortlist. The following firms have made it on to the shortlist, known as the framework: PeoplePlus (shortlisted in all six contract regions), Shaw Trust (5), G4s (5), Ingeus (3), Reed (3), Working Links (3), Pluss (2), Prospects (1), APM (1), Remploy (1) and Economic Solutions (1).

The regions covered by the framework are: central, north-east, north-west, southern, home counties and Wales. London and Greater Manchester will run their own devolved work and health scheme.

The work programme – which was launched in 2011 by the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith – achieved mixed results and was fiercely criticised for the low numbers of disabled and chronically ill people it succeeded in supporting into work.

It was also dogged by controversy over alleged misconduct by work coaches, and the high salaries earned by top executives. Emma Harrison, the founder of A4E, was criticised for paying herself dividends of £8.6m in 2011, on top of a £365,000 annual salary.

Harrison, who had a brief spell as former prime minister David Cameron’s “families tsar” sold her personal stake in A4E to Staffline group in 2015 for a reported £20m. The relaunched company, PeoplePlus, is shortlisted in all six work and health programme areas.

Industry insiders expressed surprise that Maximus – which has gained notorietyas the provider of the DWP’s controversial “fit for work” tests – failed to make the shortlist as it had been seen as one of the best performing work programme providers in terms of getting long-term jobless people into sustainable jobs.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our new work and health programme – which our providers will help us deliver – will allow us to give more tailored support for jobseekers and there will be an overall increase in funding for people with health conditions and disabilities. Work coaches play a crucial role in supporting people into work and these changes will allow us to do more through our Jobcentre Plus network.”

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Prison Reform 3

While we wait for news of what the Probation Review will bring, here's a useful year-end roundup from Rob Allen on his Unlocking Potential blog:-

A Year in Prisons

A year that opened with David Cameron championing prison reform as a great progressive cause in British politics ended with a record number of deaths, a high profile escape, staff walking out and Tornado teams quelling a series of major disturbances. The first six months saw Michael Gove promising the earth but delivering almost nothing; the second Liz Truss scrambling for funds and ideas to repair the damage inflicted on the prison service by her predecessors.

Her White Paper may not have lived up to its hype, but she quickly recognised that getting more staff onto the landings is a prerequisite for anything more ambitious. Having previously argued that prisons should be tough unpleasant and uncomfortable places, she makes an unlikely reformer but deserves the chance to fix the mess she inherited.

Truss baulked at Charlie Taylor’s extravagant plans to reconfigure youth justice and has so far resisted proposals to reduce the numbers of adults in prison- not surprisingly for a proponent of longer and tougher sentences. Ken Clarke, Nick Clegg and Jacqui Smith joined the list of politicians prescribing radical policies once they cease to have the power to implement them. Their call to halve the prison population received some support from Labour but they have form in calling for - and reneging on - a halt to the arms race on punishment. Michael Howard thinks it gravely irresponsible to slash prison numbers. But even he says there might be room for modest reform.

Measures beneath the radar are probably the best we can hope for in 2017.The Sentencing Council could play a greater role in stabilising sentence lengths but problem solving courts seem to be on hold. It’s not clear how far the devolution agenda has to run in justice.

Probation could normally be expected to play a greater role in replacing prison but its reckless privatisation has left it struggling to cope with existing work let alone take on more. We will find out early next year if a review leads to contracts being torn up – or more likely tinkered with.

We are due a progress report too, on the 10,000 new prison places due to be built in 9 new prisons by 2020. Don’t be surprised if these have been delayed. NOMS Chief Michael Spurr told the Justice Committee last month that it will be 2025 at least before prison cells hold only the number of prisoners for which they were designed. Prison reform may just about still be a great progressive cause - but it's a long term one.


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I understand that prison reform will feature on BBC1's 'The Big Questions' scheduled for Sunday 22nd January 10.00am and tickets for the audience in Bradford might still be available. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

Inspector Finds Problems with RRP

Here we have the latest inspection report from the Probation Inspectorate:- 

Foreword

This is our second inspection of adult probation work undertaken in the Midlands division of the National Probation Service (NPS) and in a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) owned by the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP). 

RRP is applying the same ambitious operating model in the two CRCs it owns, and it is reassuring to see the progress made since our inspection in Derbyshire just a few months ago. Implementation in Staffordshire and Stoke is almost complete - albeit case management software and systems are still pending - and the operating model is now almost fully fledged. 

RRP’s model provides for an extensive range of interventions and it was pleasing to see some in good use, for example, substance misuse services. We were impressed as well by RRP’s commitment to specific services for women, and commend its strategy to others. 

That said, the CRC is not yet delivering the full range of planned services. Delivery has been inconsistent during a period of rapid change, but there is the prospect of steadier times ahead. Individual caseloads, however, look set to stay high with some officers now responsible for up to 80 cases. 

High individual caseloads are becoming commonplace in CRCs. Of course CRCs must manage within anticipated resource, but the public is at greater risk when officers are spread too thinly and if quality assurance is not robust. 

In common with other regions, the Midlands division of the NPS has so far experienced less (and less complex) change. It was not surprising then that the organisation was more stable and effective. This is generally consistent with what we have found elsewhere. 

Overall, the NPS work inspected was of sufficient quality but there were notable weaknesses in places, for example in the provision of rehabilitative services. There was little evidence of the NPS purchasing services from the CRC to assist here, whereas CRC provision of services to the NPS is a key tenet of the model for probation services nationally. In practice and despite leaders’ intentions, the rate card (listing services available) and/or concerns over pricing remain sticking points, here and elsewhere in the country. 

Both the CRC and NPS in Staffordshire and Stoke need to improve the quality and impact of their work. We hope that the findings and recommendations from this inspection will help them to do just that.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation January 2017

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Russell Webster has summarised the report here and the following is is a taster. 

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the CRC were:
  • Assessments of risk of harm were done consistently and to an acceptable standard, thereby providing a good grounding for future work, but those assessments were not followed through sufficiently well.
  • In almost half of the cases insufficient steps had been taken to keep to a minimum the service user’s risk of harm to others. Moreover, in a high proportion of cases, sentence planning was poor.
  • There was no evidence of the CRC seeking to quality assure public protection work. Management oversight was limited.
  • The CRC was not sufficiently effective in delivering interventions to reduce reoffending.
  • In most cases, the CRC produced an assessment and plan sufficient for the purposes of reducing reoffending. There was evidence of some effective work but this was offset by adverse consequences of organisational change, particularly disruption to the continuity of supervision due to frequent changes of responsible officer.
  • Members of staff were confused about their roles, and the availability of appropriate interventions.
  • The use of ‘step down’, where contact is reduced or managed by telephone calls, was not compatible with the risks associated with cases, nor did it support rehabilitative work.
  • Most CRC service users had abided by the conditions of their sentence. If they did not, appropriate enforcement action was taken.
  • Individual diversity was taken into account in the assessment, planning and delivery arrangements in almost all cases.
  • The high turnover of responsible officers was less of a problem in this area of work, but in almost one in four cases the lack of continuity led to unacceptable levels of contact and poor enforcement work.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

A Forseeable Mistake

Continuing with our TR retrospective theme, just before Christmas an Editorial from December 2015 in the Independent was highlighted by a number of people on Twitter and I think it fits in rather nicely at this point in our deliberations:-   

Privatising probation services was a foreseeable mistake – and now we all stand to pay the price

When the Government flogged off 70 per cent of the probation service to the private sector earlier this year, the then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, who was the driving force behind this change, insisted it was “great news”. The public, he said, would “finally benefit from the best of the private and voluntary sectors, working together with the public sector, to cut reoffending”. 

That assertion was widely contested, and with good reason. There is no sign of reoffending rates falling; the prisons minister, Andrew Selous, makes only the modest claim that the reforms are still “bedding in”. Meanwhile, as we report, part of the service may be taken back into state hands after Sodexo, the French firm running the South Yorkshire region, flunked a justice ministry audit. The report is a catalogue of shortcomings on Sodexo’s part, noting gaps in terms of safeguarding information, recording appointments, supervising offenders and more. It gave Sodexo until February to up its game, warning that its contract may be terminated. 

It would be easy to focus on the tragi-comic absurdity of choosing a company best known for supplying catering services to run a probation service but this would be to miss the point. The real problem with Mr Grayling’s changes is not which companies were chosen to run the probation service but the fact that it was privatised at all – without good reason, without pilot schemes and in the teeth of opposition not just from the unions but from almost every expert in the field. All the evidence points to this being privatisation of the worst type – driven by an obsession with free market principles and the belief that every department of national life can be turned into a money-spinner.

The sell-off might have been justified had the old probation service been a vastly expensive system of Byzantine complexity, but it was not. In 2013, the Ministry of Justice rated all 35 probation trusts in England and Wales as good or excellent. The old trusts also had the virtue of simplicity and clear lines of accountability, all of which have become blurred since Mr Grayling pressed on with divvying them up, handing 70 per cent to 21 private community rehabilitation companies, or CRCs, while keeping 30 per cent in state hands as the National Probation Service, the NPS. 

From the start there were concerns that the private contractors would be unprepared for the task. Even supporters of privatisation, such as the former prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, said Mr Grayling was “moving too fast” with a national rollout. The arbitrary 70-30 per cent division of assets has created a muddle, establishing two services delivering similar services where there had been one. CRC staff have complained that they are not able to see the files of offenders allocated to the NPS. Morale in the CRCs is dismal. No surprise there. One of Sodexo’s first announcements on getting the job in South Yorkshire was that it intended to axe hundreds of jobs. Union surveys show more than half of those working for CRCs are looking for new employment. 

The shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, recently said Labour should renationalise the probation service by getting out of the contracts “as quickly as we financially and legally can”. This would be hard to do because Mr Grayling agreed lengthy contracts with the contractors that would be very costly to scrap. 

Almost everyone can see the damage that was done to the railways by privatisation. Because the work of the probation service affects only a minority of the population, there is far less interest in what has happened to it. This is unfortunate because if the probation service does not work we are all at risk in terms of rising crime. The current Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, is making a name for himself as a determined reformer of our broken prison system. He would do well to try to undo at least some of the damage that his predecessor inflicted on the probation service. 
I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!
I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!
I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!
a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!
I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!
I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!

I ran a department in the public sector prison service co-ordinating a wide range of support services for prisoners nearing release, varying from housing services, through mental health, education, employment and benefits to rehabilitation. We made wide use of volunteer groups and especially one to one mentoring. The system was complex, but cheap to run and effective. It worked in conjunction with the Probation Service to avoid duplication and to ensure public safety. It is now run by one of these CRC's, is completely ineffective and has become an excercise in box- ticking to ensure " contract compliance" , I.e  to get the money. The previous service had been widely praised as a good model for other prisons to follow, as we achieved a notable reduction in reoffending. Now, all gone to hell!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Reflections on TR

In the context of the on-going Probation Review, lets continue with our theme of looking back at how and why it all went wrong. Here's an absolutely fascinating interview given by one of the top officials on the CivilServiceWorld website in April 2014. She didn't stick around for long of course:-
  
Interview: Antonia Romeo, MOJ

The Ministry of Justice’s track record on outsourcing is a shaky one – but in its probation reforms, it’s running one of Whitehall’s most ambitious greenfield contracting-out schemes. Matt Ross meets project chief Antonia Romeo

The last time Civil Service World interviewed a senior Ministry of Justice figure, in March 2013, it wasn’t a comforting experience for either side. The MoJ’s programme to contract out the management of court interpreters had not gone well, with many criminal cases delayed by shortages of skilled linguists. But when presented with the concerns raised by two select committees and the National Audit Office, permanent secretary Ursula Brennan kept giving the same answer: the MoJ had needed to move fast to avoid “further confusion and the belief that we weren’t determined,” she argued. The desire to appear confident about the scheme, it appeared, had trumped basic elements of good practice such as properly assessing the task at hand, acting on the warnings of the MoJ’s own due diligence assessors, or piloting the planned reforms.

Given this history, when CSW returned to the MoJ’s Petty France HQ to talk about the probation outsourcing programme with Antonia Romeo, director-general of criminal justice, it was with both a long list of questions, and a certain amount of scepticism. After all, since last year the MoJ’s mismanagement of the electronic tagging contracts run by Serco and G4S has raised yet more questions over its ability to manage private suppliers. And the probation scheme is far bigger and riskier than either the interpreters or the tagging projects.

The probation scheme does, though, have the advantage that it’s been conceived to introduce new approaches to rehabilitation and increase productivity – allowing probation services to be extended to a new group of offenders – rather than simply to cut costs. Those sentenced to prison terms of less than one year currently receive no support when they’re ejected back into the community: “The point of this programme is to bring into scope 50,000 offenders,” explains Romeo. “This is an affordable way of extending provision to the under-12-month group, where we think we’re likely to have the most impact in terms of reducing reoffending.”

Compressing the quart

The MoJ’s plans involve squeezing these additional 50,000 offenders into the budget that currently funds around 150,000 low- and medium-risk offenders overseen by the probation trusts. But this isn’t about telling service providers to “stick with your old processes and take on an additional 50,000 people,” says Romeo: by changing the roles and expectations of those working with offenders, she believes, the scheme will cut the costs of reducing reoffending. “This work is going to be done in a completely new way,” she says.

Most offenders, she points out, have “a very complex and intractable set of problems that need to be looked at holistically.” Reducing reoffending involves helping people tackle challenges around housing, drug use, skills, literacy, mental health and a host of other issues; it means coordinating public and voluntary sector bodies’ work; and it demands new services, such as one-to-one mentoring, and ‘through the gate’ programmes that prepare offenders to leave prison and support them once they’re free. The MoJ’s plans are built around the idea that ‘community rehabilitation companies’ (CRCs) – contractors that bring together the finance and systems of large firms, and the skills and local knowledge of local charities – will monitor offenders more cheaply, and reduce reoffending more effectively, than our existing probation service.

Probation is currently delivered by 35 probation trusts – each with its own board – whose boundaries align with those of the police forces; however, there will only be 21 CRC areas, with each contractor overseen directly by the MoJ’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Given that the programme is ostensibly designed both to mobilise local charities, and to foster cooperation between local public service providers, the probation reforms look remarkably like a classic top-down reorganisation. But Romeo emphasises that the system will vary from place to place: “We’ve got to design a system that works locally, and we spend a lot of time engaging with local partners,” she says. “We’ve got competition teams whose job it is to make sure that we really understand, in running these competitions, what the local issues are. Police and crime commissioners and local authorities are very involved.”

With the contractors looking upwards to NOMS, why should they engage with other local organisations to build those holistic services? “Because they’ll have some of their money at risk against reductions in reoffending,” she replies. “What works is working across the piece with local partners – so they’ll be highly incentivised to do that.” At the “stakeholder events” being run in each area, she adds, “we’re finding that potential bidders really want to understand the local landscape and how those local partnerships work. And we’re asking bidders to say how they’ll sustain and build on local partnerships. We’re not just hoping it’s going to happen; we’re expecting them to tell us in their bids.”

On cash and contracts

In December, the MoJ announced that 30 bidders had passed the ‘pre-qualification questionnaire’ stage – a mix of private companies, consortiums, and probation trusts working towards ‘mutual’ status. At this point in the process, Romeo won’t say much about how the probation budget will be divided – either between the CRCs and the rump National Probation Service (NPS), which will manage high-risk offenders and write court reports; or between the ‘fees for service’ paid to CRCs for delivering their core work, and the funds awarded according to CRCs’ success in reducing reoffending. She does note, though, that “we’re not seeking to take a huge amount out of the overall probation budget over the next few years” – the challenge is to improve productivity to fund a rising caseload, rather than to maintain quality as income declines – and that “the majority of the contract will be on a fee-for-service basis.”

In fact, it sounds as if Romeo hasn’t yet made the final decisions on the risk within the payment-by-results mechanisms: it’s “being set through the competition”, she says, with the MoJ “asking people to tell us how much they’re prepared to put at risk, and what reduction in reoffending” they think they can achieve. The important thing, she says, is that the competition isn’t designed to deliver a set of defined services for the smallest possible sum, but to identify those contractors who’ll provide the best possible service within the set budget. “This is not a price competition; this is a quality competition,” she says. “It’s about getting incremental reductions in reoffending over the long term, to help us live within our means in future years.”

The NPS, meanwhile, will continue to oversee high-risk offenders. As the new system is established, these will be identified using what Romeo calls an “actuarial tool”: a piece of software that “looks at all the indicators and does something rather complicated and determines what level of risk someone is.” When your correspondent expresses scepticism over a machine’s ability to predict a criminal’s chances of reoffending, Romeo emphasises that the final decision will be made by NPS professionals – as will decisions over whether to recategorise offenders once the system is up and running.

Because those deemed low- and medium-risk are handled by the CRCs whilst high-risk offenders are overseen by the NPS, offenders may find their supervision being transferred between CRCs and the NPS – and there are obvious dangers around handing over offenders just as the risk of them reoffending is increasing. However, Romeo denies that such offenders will suddenly be presented with a new set of staff and procedures: “It doesn’t necessarily mean a completely new set of people; it will all depend on what’s best for that particular case,” she says. “They will now be the responsibility of the NPS, but in terms of who’s doing offender management and what are the interventions – that won’t necessarily completely change.”

The relationship between the CRCs and NPS will clearly be crucial here, as will the exchange of data between them. CRCs will, says Romeo, have to make their IT systems compatible with the NPS’s network, enabling them to share information about offenders. However, contractors “will need some support during the first part of the contract; we’re not expecting them to suddenly come in with a whole raft of new IT on day one,” she says. “There will be a period of being supported and using our systems; then a period of them choosing what systems they want to run.” The CRCs and NPS will also be expected to share offices, facilitating joint working and the retention of a strong local branch network. “They will be separate organisations, but there won’t be separate approaches,” Romeo claims.

Getting it right this time

The complexities of the new system are bound to make its introduction challenging – and it’s far from proven that the ministry is capable of successfully managing such a big outsourcing project. After all, four days after the CSW interview in which Ursula Brennan rejected the challenges put to her concerning the courts interpreters project, the Treasury quietly published a response to the Public Accounts Committee report in which it accepted every single recommendation: at that time at least, there were clearly big holes in the ministry’s outsourcing capabilities. So let’s run through some of the things the MoJ got wrong that time.

First off, PAC found that the MoJ “did not have a clear understanding of its requirements under the new system”, and ended up being “driven by bidders’ proposals rather than its actual requirements.” What’s more, it didn’t pilot its scheme before implementing it nationwide. What evidence is there that the new probation system will meet the MoJ’s aim of reducing reoffending? Romeo acknowledges that the ministry hasn’t trialled its final proposals anywhere. “You have to turn on the statute once nationally,” she says. “You can’t provide rehabilitation services to under-12-month cohorts in some areas and not in others – not least because people go in and out of prison, and end up in different areas, so whether they were covered by the statute or not and whether that service provision existed would become impossible to manage.”

Furthermore, she notes, there’s “a timing issue, because the government’s policy is to roll it out by 2015, so we can really start feeling the effects in reductions to reoffending.” There is clearly a political timetable behind the pace at which the MoJ is moving – but Romeo argues that the ministry’s payment-by-results pilot in Peterborough prison has “a lot of similarities” with the probation reforms, providing confidence about the new system. The Peterborough scheme offers the under-12-month cohort intensive support from local charities, with investors rewarded according to their success in driving down reoffending.

Here, says Romeo, the interim results show a 10% reduction in reoffending, compared to an increase of 10% nationally. “The providers have chosen to commit quite a lot of resource to ‘through the gate’ services,” she says. The MoJ’s belief is that, by setting out expectations in contracts and using payment-by-results incentives, it can encourage CRCs handed a much broader caseload of offenders to maintain that focus on rehabilitation.

Taking the con out of contract

Asked about contract management, Romeo emphasises the role of the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in approving and monitoring its new contracts. In the courts interpreters scheme, PAC said, the MoJ’s own credit rating report recommended that its chosen provider “should not be awarded a contract valued at more than £1m” – but the ministry ignored it. This time, Romeo says, things will be different: “The Cabinet Office has a very clear process for awarding contracts.” The CCS has “brought together all the things departments need to be doing, and obviously we are following those guidelines”: the ministry is currently “building a best practice contract management function, and that will have the deep domain business expertise that is required as well as the commercial expertise and the corporate services support.”

The ministry’s proposed payment-by-results model has also come in for criticism, with the Social Market Foundation arguing that the 3% margin for error initially set out by the ministry would incentivise contractors to let reoffending rates creep up. “One thing is clear: we will not be operating a payment mechanism that incentivises people to do nothing,” Romeo responds. “We published our payment mechanism so that people could give us feedback, and we have looked at what people said in developing the final version.” For example, the MoJ moved from a “binary mechanism” – which required offenders to completely stop breaking the law – to a “hybrid mechanism”, rewarding both complete cessation of offending and a reduction in the number of crimes.

The contracts are expected to run for 7-10 years, but they’ll include a set of penalty clauses and the right for the MoJ to “step in” and take over a failing service. “We’ll have, both within the contract management function and also within the NPS, expertise in probation services,” she points out; the ministry will be equipped to take over if required.

Moving safely in a risky world

As the ministry introduces the new system, Romeo argues, it’s taking every precaution to ensure it’s robust. “To get large transformation programmes working, you’ve got to have really good assurance in place so that you know you’re not believing your own hype,” she says. “We have external, independent assurers telling us if we’re doing the right thing and, before we proceed with any part of the programme, whether it’s sensible and appropriate to do so.” NOMS has a business assurance board designed, she adds, to “give me, the senior responsible officer, the assurance that this is going to work and isn’t taking on any unnecessary risk.”

Equally crucially, the ministry has “a very thorough programme of communication with the trusts themselves; and transition managers who spend all their time talking to trusts about what’s going on. I know that one of the risks in a major programme can be the people at the centre of the programme not understanding how it’s bedding down, and I’m determined to make sure that doesn’t happen. So I personally listen very carefully to what people tell me; and I go out all the time and talk to trusts, and to local authorities, and to police and crime commissioners.”

Romeo is sure that the new system will improve results. “At the moment, we have a very serious and professional group of probation staff working incredibly hard with local partners to reduce reoffending,” she says. “We’re seeking to allow those that move out to the CRCs the freedom and innovation to bring in new and better ways of doing things.” And in that process, she adds, “my job is to make sure that we don’t take any unnecessary risks as we move; that we look very carefully and seek assurance that what we’re doing won’t lead to any reduction in ‘business as usual’ or to any risks.”

Over an intense 50 minutes, Antonia Romeo has answered every question about this wholesale transformation of our probation services – but the risks involved in the reforms remain substantial. Convicted criminals are an unpredictable set of people, and the stakes are high: if contractors take their eyes of the ball and their clientele break the law, people will get hurt. Given the MoJ’s past mistakes in outsourcing schemes, the programme’s success is far from guaranteed.

Yet Romeo is clearly aware of the dangers, and determined both to manage the process as carefully as possible, and to watch carefully for emerging problems. “We need to progress this in a really disciplined and controlled way. We don’t take any risks in moving from one phase to the next,” she says. “My job as senior responsible officer is to make sure we deliver the benefits of the programme. We need to really understand what’s going on – and there are no prizes for not listening.”

Written by Matt Ross on 24 April 2014

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

What Investigation?

With the Probation Review well underway into the omnishambles created by Chris Grayling's TR, maybe it's time to reflect on exactly what went on during the bidding process and the 'dodgy' prospectus the successful contractors say they were sold. For instance, what ever happened to this, as reported in an article from 13th March 2016 in the Daily Mail:-  

Ministry of Justice orders an urgent probe into former civil servants helping private firms to win multi-million-pound contracts

The Ministry of Justice has started an urgent inquiry after The Mail on Sunday uncovered evidence that ex-civil servants were boasting of Government connections while working for private firms to secure multi-million-pound contracts in Britain and abroad. 


This newspaper found several senior MoJ officials recently left Whitehall to take up jobs with a consultancy. In the months before they departed, the consultancy’s UK branch had helped secure contracts worth more than £600 million for a controversial US firm to run probation services across swathes of the South East, and a Northamptonshire young offenders’ unit.

They had worked for the commercial arm of the MoJ – shut down last year after disclosures it was to be paid £6 million to ‘reform’ the prison system in Saudi Arabia. This operation, Just Solutions International, closed in September. Its former chief Tony Challinor, now a director of consultancy TDPi, boasts of using experience and knowledge gained in government in the private sector.

His profile on business networking site LinkedIn says he had led a Ministry of Justice team to ‘scope and develop solutions’ for governments and criminal justice agencies around the world, adding: ‘I am very pleased to be able to continue to develop and deliver this work through TDPi.’

Former civil servants must not ‘exploit privileged access to contacts in Government or sensitive information’ gained in their duties. If a job risks breaching these rules, it must be approved by a Whitehall committee.

Mr Challinor is one of several ex-mandarins at TDPi to whom the checks were apparently not properly applied. The firm’s website mentions Sibylle Batten, who led the MoJ’s International and Market Development Unit, and ‘has extensive experience in business and partnership development’.

Sources told The Mail on Sunday that TDPi is looking at contracts in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Somalia, where it hopes to ‘rehabilitate’ pirates. 


Its director Rebecca Grattan is also chief operating officer of MTCnovo, the British branch of prisons firm MTC. Its successful bids to run probation services in London and Thames Valley and the Rainsbrook youth detention centre were organised by TDPi’s sister company. By 2021, the income from these will top £600 million.

In the US, MTC has been beset by scandal. Last year a Texas immigration detention centre it ran was destroyed when prisoners rioted. The state of Mississippi is facing class-action lawsuits from prisoners in MTC-run jails who allege they endured violence and were denied healthcare.

Criminal justice expert Harry Fletcher branded it ‘outrageous’ that a firm with such a record was to run Rainsbrook. MTCnovo said it plans to bid for further UK contracts.

The Ministry of Justice said it had started ‘an immediate investigation with support from the Cabinet Office’ as a result of the findings.

Asked about the probe, Mrs Grattan said: ‘Both Tony Challinor and Sibylle Batten have followed the recommended procedures. Neither individual is working in any capacity for MTCnovo nor has done so in the past.’ Mr Challinor and Ms Batten did not respond to requests for comment.


This article from the Guardian:-

Ministry of Justice officials 'helped private firms win government contracts'

Ministers have ordered an immediate inquiry into allegations that former senior civil servants from the Ministry of Justice have used their Whitehall knowledge and contacts to help private companies secure government contracts worth millions.

The inquiry follows a Mail on Sunday investigation which questioned the role of a director of a consultancy, TDPi, whom they named as Tony Challinor. Challinor is the former chief executive of the MoJ’s commercial arm, Just Solutions International, which was shut down last year in a row over a Saudi prisons contract.

The prisons minister, Andrew Selous, said the reported allegations involved claims that former MoJ employees had behaved improperly and that knowledge they may have acquired while working for the department had been used to gain a competitive advantage.

“We take all allegations of impropriety extremely seriously,” said Selous, adding that an immediate investigation had been launched with Cabinet Office support.

“The rules around former civil servants taking up employment in the private sector are made very clear when they leave. Under no circumstance should they exploit privileged access to government contracts or sensitive information which could be used to influence the outcome of commercial competitions,” he said.

The Mail on Sunday said that Challinor was one of several senior MoJ officials who had recently left Whitehall to take up jobs with TDPi. In the months before they left their Whitehall jobs, TDPi’s UK branch had helped secure contracts that would be worth more than £600m by 2020 for a US company, MTCnovo, to run probation services in London and the Thames Valley as well as Rainsbrook secure training centre in Northamptonshire.

Challinor, who was also head of commercial development for the prisons and probation service, says in his Linkedin profile: “After a brief period of retirement from the UK civil service I am leading a new company building on the work I previously delivered.” He left his role as head of commercial development at the national offender management service in December after more than four years in the post.

Challinor goes on in his profile to highlight his experience in creating a dedicated MoJ team to develop solutions for governments and criminal justice agencies around the world and says he hopes to develop this work through the TDPi consultancy. The paper also named a second former MoJ official who had a senior role in the department’s international and market development unit.

Selous added in a written ministerial statement to MPs that the MoJ had improved its commercial capability in the last six months by doubling the senior commercial experts monitoring work with the private sector.

A spokeswoman for TDPi told the Mail on Sunday that Challinor had followed the recommended procedures and had never worked for MTC Novo. Challinor declined to comment.


--oo00oo--

This article from CivilServiceWorld

Ministry of Justice launches probe into former commercial staff

The Ministry of Justice has begun an investigation into claims that a number of its former commercial staff have emphasised their links to government while seeking private sector work.

The Mail on Sunday reported at the weekend that several senior MoJ officials who had been part of the now-disbanded Just Solutions International team – set up to sell British criminal justice advice to governments around the world, including Saudi Arabia – are now working for a private consultancy called TDPi.

The consultancy's website promises "a fresh approach to solution development in international justice and correctional services", and its team includes director Tony Challinor, who stepped down as head of commercial development for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in December.

In a statement to MPs published on Monday, justice minister Andrew Selous said: "Yesterday the press reported allegations that former employees of the Ministry of Justice have behaved improperly and that knowledge they may have acquired while working for the department has been used to gain a competitive advantage.

"We take all allegations of impropriety extremely seriously. We have launched an immediate investigation to ascertain the facts, which the Cabinet Office's Proprietary and Ethics team will support."

Under rules governing post-Whitehall business appointments, senior civil servants "are expected to refrain from drawing on any privileged information which was available to them when in office", with appointments subject to clearance by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

Selous added: "The rules around former civil servants taking up employment in the private sector are made very clear when they leave. Under no circumstance should they exploit privileged access to government contracts or sensitive information which could be used to influence the outcome of commercial competitions."

Selous said the Ministry of Justice had, "over the last six months", taken steps to improve its commercial capability, "more than doubling the senior commercial experts monitoring work with the private sector". But there was "still more to do", he added, and promised to update MPs with the findings of the joint investigation once it had been completed.

Monday, 9 January 2017

New Year - Same Issues

Seen on Facebook over New Year:-

Happy new TR year! Did others experience what I did before Xmas. Us CRCs tearing our hair out for fear of losing our jobs and trying to get people to report, whilst the NPS downstairs played board games! That's my Xmas 2016 experience. I even had an NPS OM say come down and join us!

I'm a PO for the NPS and it was nothing like that in my office.

Wasn't like that in our NPS office either 

Not like that in my NPS office. Been way over WMT for months

Happy new year to you too. Had to respond though as I know far too many NPS colleagues who are also tearing their hair out but for slightly different reasons... you know, those nightmare very high risk cases.. those parole reports.. those high caseloads where you don't have time to do the work you need to do, and where your professional standards don't allow you to compromise the service you give so you risk burning yourself out on a daily basis. 

TR has caused a shit storm on both sides of the divide. We don't need to fuel that fire by the endless comparisons to whose side is worse off. 

Personally I can't wait to get back after being on maternity leave.... from everything I'm hearing it just sounds like an awesome environment to be going back to...

I don't normally comment but I agree with you, let's not make sweeping statements that further divide this job - employers may have changed but the value base that's drives us has not. Happy new year xx

NPS PSO here and no board games - too many cases and dual location working for that.
I don't normally comment but I think both NPS and CRC have very difficult jobs. Lack of staff, high caseloads, endless processes and procedures. I feel my role now is polar opposite to the one I started 15 years ago. It is thankless and grueling at times. I sometimes mourn for what was and hope that one day things will change, but alas hold little hope. 

Doesn't matter what side we now find ourselves on I think many people feel the same. We need to respect and support our colleagues we are all trying our best in difficult circumstances. I hope 2017 improves for you xx

Imagine me 30 years gone 4th December 2016, nothing whatsoever like the job I started and loved! Join the service now....erm no thanks, the only thing that hasn't changed are the nice people and the dedication to keeping communities safer for all...... Happy new year my confident competent committed colleagues!

I have worked in a AP for the last 8 years and I handed in my notice on the 26th I can't tell you the relief that I felt handing it in! Have a good new year everyone!

To be honest as soon as I find somewhere else I am out of the service. I do admin for NPS. Not my original role as I was redeployed after the PSO cull in 2012. I recently took the opportunity to apply again for the PSO roles that were advertised through an external company and got told no as I had not passed their situational judgement test - that has crap all to do with being a PSO. I did the PSO role for 7 years. So as soon as I can I am telling Probation to take my job and fill it. It seems a waste after all that studying and doing that job both here and back home in Xxxxxxxx for several years. But after 11 years nah not for me anymore. The new ones they are going to get in won't know anything critical to the role and there will be new Hanson and White/Sonnex cases. Not for me. At the moment I can honestly say I'm doing it for the money and working with the small team I have. My motivation is gone, my commitment to the job ha I'm more committed to finding the odd socks in my drawer. Sorry Probation this is your own doing to loose staff some even more experienced and longer service records than me. Sorry rant over - Happy new year!

No...in our NPS office...CRC had left by one yesterday leaving NPS to deal with three prison releases! 

It's chaotic and stressful on both sides. I've worked for both. The scenario you describe must be very unusual. Hope things improve in the New Year but not holding out much hope.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Putting The Boot In 2

Another long read, but this letter from Phil Wheatley on the PrisonDialogue website and written 12 months ago is worth reading in order to remind ourselves of some of the history behind the current prison crisis:- 

Letter from the UK by Phil Wheatley 

9th February 2016

This is the fifth in a series of occasional letters from the UK that since August 2013 have followed the twists and turns of UK Government policy on prisons and community corrections. Coincidentally, I began writing this letter on the day our Prime Minister, David Cameron made a major speech to announce a major overhaul of prisons and their management. 

There are proposals in this speech that are to be welcomed (such as the commitment to reform and rehabilitation, and the greater operational freedom offered to prison Governors), there is much that is not said (in particular about the significantly different directions taken by of each of his three Secretaries of State for Justice and the consequent demands on prison managers of managing significant change), and there are a series of substantial issues that will have to be faced with these latest policy proposals. I shall address all three in this letter, along with the relevant context. Mainly, however, the new proposals seem to view prisons as independent and competing establishments, rather than one integrated system, and there is no recognition of the resource implications of securing the improvements the Prime Minister outlines. So the politically challenging issues of reducing the overall prison population and/or restoring adequate funding are ignored. 

He described the current situation as "the scandalous failure of prisons". He omitted to mention that a sharp decline in prison performance began in 2010, when he became Prime Minister. This slippage in prison performance has continued since then, with a steadily increasing level of violence between prisoners, more assaults on prison officers, a higher incidence of suicide and in 2015 the highest ever number of murders in prisons. Nor did he mention the 25% reduction in prison budgets over the same period. The outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick has identified this reduction in funding, and the staff reductions and major changes to prison routines that it precipitated, as some of the main factors contributing to the decline in prison performance, which his Prison Inspectorate has been clearly evidencing in its reports, including the most recent Annual Report published in July 2015. 

In his speech David Cameron announced changes that he believed would reverse this period of poor performance. He said he intended to give Prison Governors greater autonomy over the use of the budget for their individual prisons, along with the power to commission locally services like education. 

He omitted to mention that Governors had actually lost the power to commission many such services under his Government as a direct result of their policy to save money by contracting out services on a large scale in order to gain economies of scale. 

Cameron did not remind his listeners that his last Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling had approved the imposition of standardised prison routines with tight staffing levels in order to reduce cost to manage within the reduced budget allocated to his Justice Ministry. Nor did he reference his own previous speech on prison policy made on the 21st of June 2011 when he ruled out radical Government action to reduce the prison population and affirmed that prisons should be places of punishment. Nor did he remind his listeners of his decision to remove Ken Clarke as his first Secretary of State for Justice in September 2012 after Ken attracted criticism for proposing to reduce the prison population. 

An analysis of the reform proposals in David Cameron's speech must begin with an understanding of the context, including the two previous major policy initiatives on prison and corrections reform announced since May 2010. 

In July 2011 the Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke announced a major programme with the title ‘Competition Strategy for Offender Services’. Initially the operation of eight public sector prisons and a private sector prison, Wolds, were subject to a competitive tendering process. This was to be followed by a rolling programme to compete over a period of years the operation of all non statutory services overseen by the Ministry of Justice, including prisons. 

On 8th November 2012 the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling abandoned the strategy of competing all prisons and said there would be no further competitions for the operation of existing prisons. Following on from that in November 2013, Mr Grayling announced he had also terminated the competition for seven prisons that was already in progress. Only two prisons (Castington and Acklington) of the initial nine completed the procurement process before it was abandoned. A contract was awarded to Sodexo in July 2013 to run these two prisons now renamed "HMP Northumberland". 

In his announcement on the 8th November 2012 Chris Grayling substituted an alternative policy to that of competing individual prisons. He asked the Prison Service to speedily implement a programme of imposing standardised routines on prisons, based on tight centrally approved staffing levels. He maintained this was the only viable way of making the savings required to keep within his budget without having to reduce the prison population. For the same reason he decided to put out to contract on a national basis services like facilities management which were regarded as a non-core custodial activity. He also announced his intention to put out for competition the resettlement work done in prison and most of the work done by probation services. He badged this programme as a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ and announced the contracts would be let on a regional basis. The savings which he expected to make by adopting this strategy were to be re-allocated so that short term prisoners could be placed on licence, with supervision and support in the community for a year following their release from custody. This programme of work, including the contracting out of facilities management of prisons, was completed just before the May 2015 General Election with the new contracts for resettlement and community rehabilitation going live from February 2015. 

These were major change programmes with extensive work not only for the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service but also for private and charitable sector providers. They created great uncertainty for all the staff in scope. Many were deeply worried about job security and concerned that their terms and conditions would change for the worse. At the same time the programmes created a degree of planning blight, with those services being competed not being subject to the normal investment and improvement processes, which were put on hold until the results of the competition process were known. In the face of such substantial change and budget reduction a deterioration in prison performance was predictable and inevitable. It is perhaps surprising that it has not been much worse given the scale and intensity of the budget reductions and changes over a such a short period. 

In the Prime Minister's speech, delivered on the 8th of February 2016 to an audience at the Public Policy Exchange think tank, he announced another radical change of direction and one that directly countered the reforms so recently implemented by his own Government. The value of economies of scale provided by centrally led contracts were rejected. Instead the Prime Minister announced that the school Academies model will be adopted giving "governors unprecedented operational and financial freedom". They will be given "total discretion over how to spend" their budget and they will "be able to opt-out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers". 

The Prime Minister explicitly abandoned another element of his Government's policy, that of ministerially directed central control to standardise regimes for prisons and thus ensure they are tough enough to satisfy the public demand for punishment. The Prime Minister was silent on the current policy of centrally developed evidence based interventions being prioritised over others, implying that with local autonomy now back in fashion there is no support for this way of operating, except for programmes dealing with radicalisation. The Prime Minister was clear that prison governors will "be able to tailor their own regimes". Success will come from giving "much greater autonomy to the professionals" and "empowering staff as well as charities and businesses to innovate and try new things". Professionals will be in the lead and the "bureaucratic micromanagement that disempowers them" will be removed; they will be held "to account with real transparency over outcomes" with "better data to allow meaningful comparisons to be made between prisons so the best performing institutions and best performing leaders can be recognised and rewarded". He said that "piecemeal, fragmented solutions don't work, you need to see how an individual's problems link together and intervene in the right way" by drawing on "the latest behavioural insights evidence and harness new technology". 

He made no reference to the hard evidence of how between 2000 and 2009 the Prison Service improved the reoffending rate by over 23% for prisoners serving over two years and by over 12% for shorter sentenced prisoners serving between one year and up to two years. This improvement was secured by running centrally devised offending behaviour programmes based on evidence and rigorously implemented, well funded education programmes, detox and drug treatment programmes equivalent to health best practice in the community, all backed by well staffed prison regimes based on decent treatment for prisoners. These substantially improved results have now begun to be reversed as budget cuts have reduced the ability to provide such interventions and regimes have reduced as a result of lower budgets and less staff. 

There are some contradictory messages in the speech. The Prime Minister says he is going to "allow new providers and new ideas to flourish" and because he says state monopolies are very slow to change he will ensure "there is a strong role for businesses and charities" in the operation of the six prisons piloting the new reforms and the nine new prisons that will be built in this Parliament. This suggests that there will be some restriction yet to be specified on the freedom of Prison Governors to decide how their prison is to be operated in order to ensure businesses and charities are involved, and would seem to contradict the apparently drive for autonomy as the answer to progress. 

The one area in which the Prime Minister did endorse centrally devised programmes however was in an important section of his speech on countering radicalisation. He said that the purpose of these programmes is "for countering the non violent extremism that can lead to terrorism and violence". They will be focused "on those at risk of radicalisation, regardless of the crime they originally committed, as well as those convicted of terrorism offences and to deal with the most serious cases, just as we introduce mandatory de-radicalisation in the wider community, we will also introduce these in our prisons". 

Although his speech appears very strong on empowering Governors, the Prime Minister implied doubts about the skills of existing prison leadership as he said he intended to "put rocket boosters under direct entry and fast-track schemes to attract the very best into managing the prison system so that it can benefit from greater diversity, fresh ideas and new leadership". 

The Prime Minister did not specifically address the resourcing issues raised by the outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons. He promised no new funding, though he did pledge to protect in cash terms the existing prison education budget. Nor did he propose any significant reduction in prison population, but rejected "the idea that prisons are packed to the rafters with people who don't deserve to be there.....and that somehow we could release tens of thousands of prisoners with no adverse consequences as nonsense". He endorsed the incapacitation effect of prison as "absolutely vital" and confirmed the need for the tougher approach to sentencing introduced by his Government. This tougher sentencing has already increased the length of sentence for many serious crimes and has been the main factor keeping the prison population at a very high level, consistently above 85,000. The Prime Minister did however use his speech to reject any further need for "ever higher levels of incarceration". 

In spite of the current tight resourcing of prisons and his endorsement of the current sentencing tariff he was content to commit the prison system to what he described as "full on prison reform" so that we can "lead the world with new rehabilitation techniques and smarter ways of managing prisoners" that will "deliver lower reoffending rates". There can be no doubt therefore that he intends these reforms to be yet another major change programme, announcing that these new ideas will first be tested in six prisons before a national roll out would begin. 

There are a number of important but complex issues that have not been addressed in the speech but which need to be considered fully before any reasoned assessment can be made of what is proposed. Some of these issues will need to be carefully examined during the six prison pilot stage. 

The first is to recognise the pressure and uncertainty on management of prisons caused by the stream of major policy changes announced over the last five and a half years, which have had to be delivered at the same time as a 25% reduction in budget. The Prime Minister's speech on the 8th of February marks the third change of direction on prisons since he first came into office. To date all of these policies have incurred full start-up costs, but none have been persisted with long enough to deliver all the planned benefits. The changes of direction are not minor but rather a wholesale reversal of previous policies. This process of partially implemented change followed by a rapid about-turn to go in exactly the opposite direction has proved to be a major distraction for prison managers at all levels at the same time as they have been faced with pressing operational issues like coping with the effects of new psychoactive drugs, adjusting prison regimes to reflect the increasing number of older prisoners, and the higher proportion of prisoners serving very long sentences. If the Prime Minister's latest reform policy proves similarly short term and impracticable it is likely to do more damage to prison performance. 

The second issue for consideration is the apparent lack of recognition that prisons are not standalone institutions but rather they operate as part of an integrated system. For example most medium and long term adult male prisoners will not serve their sentence in a single prison but will instead move down through the security categories as their risk of escape and risk to the public reduces. Typically they will start their sentence in a secure local prison serving the courts, then be allocated to a medium secure training prison and finally for the last part of their sentence to an open prison. This is an efficient way of operating as higher security drives additional cost in prisons and it is therefore very wasteful of scarce resources to hold prisoners in higher security conditions than are required to keep them in custody. In most cases more than one prison will play a part in reducing a prisoner's risk of reoffending so attributing their success or failure to a single establishment is simply not possible.

Measuring success in rehabilitation is in any case difficult. It cannot be judged until prisoners have been released long enough for them to reoffend and for their crimes to be investigated and prosecuted, typically an eighteen month period after release. The problem is compounded by the length of time prisoners spend in prison. For example on average for prisoners being sentenced to an indeterminate sentence it will be over seventeen years before the rehabilitative success of their imprisonment can be measured. There are over twelve thousand prisoners serving such sentences so this is not a trivial issue. Many other prisoners have very long fixed sentences with release dates that are years away, raising similar issues. Some prisons, for example the five long term high security establishments, have a population exclusively drawn from this group making it very problematical to judge their success in terms of reduced reoffending. Deciding which of the many prison governors they will encounter over their lengthy period in prison should take the credit for the prisoner's success or failure will be impossible. 

The next pressing issue is to identify which of the present prison instructions can safely be abandoned. Most prescription has a purpose though sometimes it has simply been to implement the wishes of a particular Minister. Chris Grayling's decision to ban books from being handed in for prisoners or Jack Straw's intention to prevent prisoners having a pay rise or enjoying parties are good examples. However some operational specifications and standardisations play a more critical role and it will cause significant disruption if they are abolished, such as those that ensure prisoners can be transferred between prisons without excessive disruption to their engagement with the process of reducing reoffending. This is easier if there is some standardisation of regime and offending behaviour work between prisons but it will become much more difficult if each prison governor is encouraged to pursue their own individual approach. Also required are standardised documentation, a nationally shared prisoner information system and a degree of standardisation on what prisoners are entitled to have both in their possession and in their stored property. Without this bureaucratic minutiae the process of transfer will create inefficient repetition of administrative work and much disruption and aggravation for the prisoner. Other standardisation, for example recruitment of staff, procurement of supplies or setting of terms and conditions for staff allows the prison service to exploit its collective bargaining power to secure lower prices or to centralise and use digital technology for the many repetitive tasks which would otherwise need additional staff at each prison. Delegating these tasks to prison level may increase local ownership and influence but will raise costs. It is interesting to note that in the same week that the Prime Minister announced the intention to abandon this centralised approach for prisons, the Government's review of efficiency in the NHS led by Lord Carter recommended the opposite, i.e. taking a centralised approach to the same issues in the NHS. 

The Prime Minister was silent on the issue of perverse incentives but in a prison system where Prison Governors' pay will depend on achieving specific results, care will have to be taken to avoid incentives which impact adversely on the success of the whole system. A good example is the current practice where Governors will take difficult prisoners on transfer in order to help stabilise another prison, or will hold out of area prisoners to relieve population pressure elsewhere in the system. Both these practices are very helpful in the overall context of running a stable prison system but they can make it more difficult maintain the type of positive ethos that best supports reducing reoffending. There is a serious risk that autonomous Governors judged on performance will be resistant to facilitating such transfers because of the impact on their own prison. Even if they are not able to refuse outright there are lots of less overt ways to resist that will make it more difficult to run a stable prison system. 

The Prime Minister listed the performance criteria on which he envisaged Governors being judged, rather than having to comply with all the current 924 prison service instructions which he said created a "morale sapping, initiative destroying culture". The new performance measures he outlined as being "reoffending levels compared to the predicted rate, employment outcomes for prisoners; whether or not the offender went into permanent accommodation; and what progress was made on basic literacy and key skills ". 

Unusually he did not include any measures of custodial success or of prison safety in his list. Most Prime Ministers have valued the prevention of escape and prison riots. These events are rare but when they happen they undermine confidence in the whole prison system. The failures in the late 1960s and in the mid 1990s to prevent the escape of high profile offenders including some of the Great Train Robbers, a Russian Spy, convicted IRA terrorists and other serious violent offenders were public scandals that brought the Prison Ministers responsible to the brink of resignation or dismissal. 

In order to ensure high profile escapes did not recur much investment has gone into standardising security procedures, ensuring they are carried out thoroughly and prioritising this work over all other areas. Similarly a lot of staff resources are required to make prisons safer for example by supervising prisoners properly, by collating intelligence on threats to good order, by controlling potentially dangerous items like knives and by searching to detect illicitly obtained items such as drugs. Preventing suicide is another example of vital staff intensive work which requires prisoners at risk to be identified and for staff to intervene effectively. 

If as the Prime Minister's speech suggests these crucial areas of prison operation are either not included in the measurement of success or are not otherwise valued it is highly likely that some of the resources currently allocated to them will be reassigned to those areas that are measured. This will make prisons less safe and increase the risk of escape and disorder. 

The most important issue on which the speech was silent is funding. The key facts from what he said are that the Prime Minister is not prepared to countenance any action that would significantly reduce the current prison population (85,679 on the 12th February 2016). He commits to the policy of building nine new large prisons first announced by Michael Gove on the 9th November 2015, which will allow many smaller and older prisons to be closed. The operating costs of large new prisons are lower than small old prisons so this will produce a saving but this is not available for reinvestment, rather it is required to help the Ministry of Justice make the cost savings required to manage within their tough budget settlement. Therefore it is likely that further savings will be required from prison budgets. The most optimistic scenario is a flat cash allocation to existing prisons over the next four years. Around 80% of prison spending is staff related so the only obvious way of making further reductions is by more reductions to staffing levels or reduced staff wages. The latter option does not seem a realistic option at least across London, the South East and much of the Midlands where recruitment of new staff is already proving difficult. What is without doubt is that a significant increase in funding is required if staffing levels are not just to be held steady but to be increased. The current tight levels of staffing have been blamed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in his Annual Report for 2014/15 as a major factor in the increase in suicide and violence in prison. The most the Prime Minister appears to be offering is a hope that when freed from central contracts and prescription Prison Governors will find a no cost solution to this issue, which up to now no public sector or private sector operator has been able to do. It would seem that therefore this is a political solution based solely on Ministerial optimism and accordingly it should be viewed with genuine scepticism. 

These reforms deal with very difficult issues and so it is particularly important that the pilot about to be conducted in six prisons should provide a realistic test of the proposed changes. Simply proving that six handpicked Governors in carefully selected establishments, particularly if they are given additional resources, can secure immediate improvements will not mean the same changes will work well at full scale in the long term. In assessing the outcome of the pilot to judge whether it is truly workable at scale it will be important to look not only at the formal measures, but also to take into account other factors, for example whether the governors who have run the pilot prisons have been selected for their exceptional skills and leadership qualities, skills that are greater than those of the average prison governor, whether additional resources (either money or exceptionally skilled staff) have been allocated to help them and whether the pilot prisons been protected in any way from the normal flows of prison population. 

In summary, the Prime Minister's commitment to prison being a place where reform and rehabilitation are central is to be welcomed. His willingness to allow Prison Governors more operational freedom to achieve this is also very positive and could make it easier to run positive and decent prisons if it results in less detailed prescription and control from Ministers. 

However the risk of failure is more likely if Ministers fail to understand the complexities of operating prisons as an integrated system and make the mistake of thinking they can be judged on a few simple measures as stand-alone institutions. Importantly they must understand the adverse consequences of the constant churn and reversal of Ministerial policy that has been a feature of the last five years.

Crucially however, political willingness to fund prisons at an adequate level to deliver the benefits and improvements that Ministers’ want is essential. At the moment the Prime Minister's unwillingness to reduce the size of the task by taking action to reduce the prison population and the Chancellor's inability to allocate additional funding because of his policy of continued austerity make it likely that this latest reform, like the many others before it, will fail and simply prove a distraction to the real business of running effective prisons.

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Phil Wheatley was appointed Director-General of HM Prison Service on 1st March 2003, the first DirectorGeneral to have previously been a prison officer. On 1st April 2008, the Prison Service was merged with the National Probation Service to create the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which he subsequently led as Director-General. On 14th June 2004, he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. He retired in June 2010. Jack Straw, Justice Minister during Wheatley's time as Director General of NOMS, praised him as "an extraordinarily dedicated individual" with "a record of public service that is second to none". 

Phil Wheatley went on to serve as a member of the Northern Ireland Prison Review Team led by Anne Owers. The Review Team report was accepted in full and is currently being implemented, committing the Northern Ireland Prison Service to regimes based on desistance criminology. He is currently a non executive director for the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and in a consulting role he has worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Government of Bermuda and the private company G4S which operates prisons and justice services in the UK and elsewhere. His successor is Michael Spurr who was previously the Chief Operating Officer of NOMS.