Friday, 21 July 2017

Latest From Napo 156

Here we have edited highlights from today's blog post by the Napo General Secretary:- 

Ministers do some window dressing before the summer recess

I don’t suppose for one minute that any of our members will have been surprised to see the statements of intent from the Ministers with responsibility for probation that were issued on Wednesday evening.

Timing is always important but so is quality; and it was clear from the traffic appearing on social media such as ‘Twitter’ and the enquiries that followed my media release yesterday that the open letter from David Lidington and the written Commons statement from Sam Gyimah, were widely being seen as deeply disappointing as well as contradictory in one important respect.

Personally, I have no difficulty understanding why they both wanted to tell the world that more taxpayers money has been thrown at CRC Contracts to enable them to keep their heads above water, but perhaps they should really have stopped there rather than offer the suggestion that the current operational difficulties were ‘unforeseeable’ which was tantamount to taking not just one biscuit but several packets of them.

Let’s face it; this is a glaring example of how the pressure to say something to defend an uncomfortable position merely served to highlight the extent of the problems.

I have had the opportunity to speak over the phone to both Ministers over the last few weeks. They were receptive to what I had to say and we have been promised meetings with them. I have also undertaken to write to them about the state of probation and once I have done so and received a reply I will of course publish the exchanges.

Meanwhile, I have seen that Bob Neill MP has been reappointed as Chair of the Justice Select Committee and I will also be in touch with him to rearrange the appointment that was unfortunately cancelled on account of the general election. I am hopeful that the Committee will press on with considering the need for an enquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation that we have been pressing for.


Napo members in the media

Two recent programmes on probation have appeared: ITV Wales http://www.itv.com/walesprogrammes/wales-this-week scroll down page to the ‘ Why was my son murdered?’ feature and BBC East http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08xcnwd/sunday-politics-east-16072017 (starts at about 41:41) the latter featuring Heidi Allen MP Conservative Cambridge and Sandy Martin MP Labour Ipswich.

Here serious questions have been raised about service standards offered by CRC providers Working Links and Sodexo. I was able to assist the producers in both cases and get a brief slot on both. More important were the anonymised contributions from members and former probation staff about the issues that were featured.

Appreciation to all those who took part in the programmes, and whilst I hope there will be no attempt by employers to investigate who said what and to whom, I will need to be notified immediately if this should happen.

Napo’s future: have you some good ideas to share?

Last week I mentioned the work that is currently underway to look at how Napo can grow and make the necessary changes to prepare itself for the huge challenges ahead of us. At the last NEC meeting it was suggested that we should open up a direct route for individual members who have something useful to say and we have now created the following e-mail conduit:

Innovations@napo.org.uk.

Nothing you say will be published anywhere without your permission and I will personally ensure that all contributors will get a reply.

Can you assist with some important research?

We have been contacted by Sebastian Carro who is an MSc Candidate in Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Sebastian is currently conducting extensive research into the general employment relations climate across the UK and is particularly interested in exploring the business attitudes that paved the way for the dreadful Trade Union Act 2016.

I have been asked if I would publicise the link to the survey that Sebastian is running as part of his research project and encourage our members to consider participating

The link to the survey is:

http://bbk.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/a-short-survey-on-business-attitudes

Many thanks to any members who decide to take part.

--oo00oo--

Here's that press release:-

Press Statement
20 July 2017 - Immediate Release


Union accuses Ministers of misleading the public about probation reforms

Responding to last night’s Ministerial statements on probation reform, the leader of the largest probation union accused the Government of misleading the public over the true impact of reforms to the probation service.

Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of Napo said: “The notion that the current difficulties besetting probation were unforeseeable is a gross distortion of the facts, and is an insult to staff who have been put under huge pressure by increased caseloads and the unsafe operational models introduced by many of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies.”

He continued: “Napo is especially angry at the contradictory claims by Ministers about 'Through the Gate' support services for offenders after a recent report by HM Inspector of Probation revealed that this much vaunted initiative is in fact a total shambles.”

The union has been campaigning through Parliament for an enquiry into the probation reforms in 2014 which saw a gold standard award service divided into a National Probation Service and 21 companies run by private providers including the catering company Sodexo and facilities management specialists Interserve.

Ian Lawrence added: “While Napo stands ready to work with Ministers to see improved standards of delivery, we believe that failing CRC contracts ought to be returned to public control.

“Our members, whose hard work has at least been acknowledged by Ministers, expect urgent action to alleviate unrealistic workloads, stressful working environments and their pay which has reduced by 21% in real-term value over the last seven years.”

Crime Going Up - Shock!

Well, it's that time of year again when the utterly cynical nature of our political system is on full view and when the government releases a shed-load of bad news in the hope that it goes pretty much unnoticed as kids finish school and the nation heads off on holiday. 

The timing is always precisely stage-managed to fit neatly into the nation's calendar of sporting and other events such as the beginning of the parliamentary summer recess, so with all our elected representatives giddy on free booze and in full 'gate-fever' mode, there's zero chance of holding anyone to account. There's no BBC Question Time either and even the utterly brilliant Channel 4 news is reduced to barely 30 minutes, so the perfect time to announce:- 

1) a further raising of the state retirement pension age 
2) the scrapping of the promised northern rail electrification programme
3) a large increase in reported crime

Of course number three is particularly significant because as Theresa May continued to do battle with the Police over budget and staffing reductions when Home Secretary, she continually pointed to a reduction in crime as a justification. This was always somewhat contentious of course, not least because huge increases in on-line fraud was not included. 

This most unelcome news also goes to the very heart of the Tory political mantra that Tory government = lower crime and even worse, just might be connected to a steadily reducing number of police officers.  

This from the Guardian:- 

Crime rise is biggest in a decade, ONS figures show

Police-recorded crime has risen by 10% across England and Wales – the largest annual rise for a decade – according to the Office of National Statistics.

The latest crime figures for the 12 months to March also show an 18% rise in violent crime, including a 20% surge in gun crime and knife crime. The official figures also show a 26% rise in the murder rate to 723 homicides, which includes the 96 cases of manslaughter at Hillsborough in 1989.

More alarmingly the official statisticians say the rise in crime is accelerating, with a 3% increase recorded in the year to March 2015, followed by an 8% rise in the year to March 2016, and now a 10% increase in the 12 months to this March.

The accelerating rise in crime comes as Home Office figures show a further fall of 924 in the past year in the number of police officers, to 123,142 in England and Wales. This is the lowest number of officers in England and Wales since 1985. Police numbers have fallen by 20,592 since 2010.

Ministers will also be concerned that the country is becoming increasingly violent in nature, with gun crime rising 23% to 6,375 offences, largely driven by an increase in the use of handguns. Knife crime has also spiked by 20% to 34,703 incidents – the highest level for seven years. The largest increase in knife crime came in London, which accounted for 40% of the rise.

There has been a particular increase in the number of robberies at knife point to nearly 13,000 incidents. Rape or sexual assaults at knife point also show large percentage increases, although the numbers remain low with a total of 142 offences.

The 10% rise in police-recorded crime to nearly 5m offences include increases in burglary and vehicle theft, suggesting that the long-term fall in these higher volume offences may be coming to an end.

In contrast to the ONS figures, the separate official crime survey of England and Wales also released on Thursday, which asked 35,000 households if they had been a victim of crime in the previous year and is not designed to measure high-harm but low-volume offences such as murder and knife crime, shows a 7% fall compared with the previous year excluding fraud and computer misuse offences. If online is included, the number of crimes estimated by the survey rises from 5.9m to 11m.

The policing minister, Nick Hurd, said that crime, as measured by the crime survey, was down by one third since 2010 and by 69% since its 1995 peak.

“The Office for National Statistics is clear that much of the rise in violent offences recorded by police is down to better recording by forces but also believes some of the increases may be genuine and clearly there is more we must do to tackle the violent crimes which blight communities,” said the Home Office minister.

“We recognise that crime is changing and we are determined to get ahead of new and emerging threats to the safety and security of our families and communities. Our latest action, announced in the past week, includes urgent work to bear down on acid attacks and proposals to strengthen the law to get knives off our streets.”

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said the figures were a damning indictment. “The Tories have cut police officer numbers again in the latest 12 months and now there are well over 20,000 fewer than in 2010,” she said. “The Tories simply aren’t allowing the police to protect the public. Labour in government will tackle rising crime.” She added that Labour would bring back 10,000 officers when in power.

The Liberal Democrats’ Ed Davey said the figures had exposed the Conservative record of failure on crime. “This government is failing in its duty to keep our streets safe,” he said. “The Conservatives have utterly disrespected the police by freezing their wages and cutting their budgets time and again.”

John Flatley, head of crime statistics and analysis at the ONS, said: “The latest figures show the largest annual rise in crimes recorded by the police in a decade. While ongoing improvements to recording practices are driving this volume rise, we believe actual increases in crime are also a factor in a number of categories.

“Some of the increases recorded by the police are in the low-volume, but high-harm, offences such as homicide and knife crime that the crime survey is not designed to measure. If the increases in burglary and vehicle theft recorded by the police continue we would expect these to show up in the survey in due course. We will continue to monitor these trends and investigate the factors driving any changes.”

The 10% rise in police-recorded crime – an increase of 458,021 offences – was largely driven by increases in violence against the person (up 175,000 offences), theft (up 118,000), and public order offences (up 78,000).

There were smaller volume increases in criminal damage and arson (24,000), sexual offences (up 14,000), burglary (up 10,500), and robbery (up 8,000).

The 26% rise in the murder rate to 723 homicides, an increase of 149, cover the 96 cases of manslaughter at Hillsborough in 1989, which were included in the annual figure as the inquests were finally concluded. Without the Hillsborough deaths the number of homicides rose by 9%.

All forces across England and Wales, except Cumbria and North Yorkshire, recorded an annual increase in their latest figures.

Official statisticians say that although police-recorded crime figures lost their national statistics status in 2014 because of quality issues in changes in recording, they say the year-on-year increases represent actual increases in crime. The 10% rise in police-recorded crime contrasts with a 7% fall in the official crime survey.

Alexa Bradley, deputy head of crime statistics at ONS, explained why the CSEW and police records data appeared to show different trends. “It is important to remember that the sources differ in the population and offences they cover,” she said. “At least half of the increase in police-recorded crime series is in offences not covered by the survey, including shoplifting, public order offences and possession of weapons.”

Thursday, 20 July 2017

History Lesson For David Lidington

Here is Alan Travis writing in the Guardian of June 24th 2013 and proving that the 'unforeseen challenges' of TR mentioned yesterday by David Lidington were in fact very much foreseen:- 

Privatising probation service will put public at risk, officials tell Grayling

The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has been warned by his most senior officials that plans to privatise 70% of the probation service lack support, are being pushed through on an aggressive timetable and potentially endanger public safety, leaked documents show.

They also warn that promised cost savings are unlikely to be achieved.

The official internal risk register for Grayling's "rehabilitation revolution", which he has so far refused to publish, warns that there is a more than 80% risk that his proposals will lead to "an unacceptable drop in operational performance" triggering "delivery failures and reputational damage".

The cost of failures in the probation service have been illustrated by cases such as those of Anthony Rice, who sadistically murdered Naomi Bryant in 2005, after being released from prison on a life licence, and Daniel Sonnex, who tortured and murdered two French students in 2008 after blunders in his probation supervision.

The warnings are contained in a document marked "restricted policy", prepared for the Ministry of Justice board responsible for the rehabilitation programme. It also says there is a high risk of insufficient support within the probation service to push through the changes.

Grayling's proposals are the most radical in the probation service's 100-year history. They involve abolishing the existing 35 public probation trusts and replacing them with 21 government companies, which will tender out the supervision of all medium and low-risk offenders on a payment-by-results basis.

But the officials warn that it is likely that the transfer of 70% of probation work to the private and voluntary sectors will fail to deliver the promised scale of savings.

A second leaked document, dated June 2013, on the future of the much smaller public probation service that would be responsible for the remaining 30% of work with high-risk offenders and public protection cases, shows that it faces cuts of 19% by 2017/18.

The shake-up would result in reallocating the supervision of 250,000 offenders, moving 18,000 staff to new employers and the appointment of 22 senior management teams. The plan is to put the changes in place by October, so the new service is up and running by the general election in 2015 – "a complex, large-scale change programme to be completed within an aggressive timetable," the risk register notes.

The disclosures come as peers prepare for a key vote on Tuesdayon Grayling's offender rehabilitation bill which provides the legal framework for the proposals.

Among the concerns expressed by the authors of the risk register are the "considerable challenge" of closing down 2,000 separate computer packages and moving to a single shared services computer system.

The document also reveals that while many probation trusts are continuing to voice concerns about the proposals, nearly all are actively making preparations: "Our concerns focus on some trusts whose senior staff seem less able to make the transition themselves. Although these senior staff recognise their responsibility, as public servants, to manage the process of change, there is a difference between managing change and leading it."

The risk register uses traffic lights to describe the risks facing the programme, coding each risk factor as green, amber, red or black, but makes no assessment of the financial risk of not delivering the programme to the agreed timescale, quality or cost.

It appears that detailed Treasury approval for the proposals will only be secured after the framework bill reaches the statute book.

The senior MoJ officials rate the risk that a campaign against the proposals will delay or block them in parliament as a "code red". They reveal that the bill being debated in the House of Lords this week has deliberately been kept slim to "minimise the dependence of the reforms" on the passing of the legislation. Media messaging is also being used to "keep key elements of reform at the top of the agenda".

The register also makes clear there are anxieties at the highest level that not enough private sector and voluntary organisations will bid for the work (code red) and that once privatised the supervision programmes will be ineffective or fail to meet the required quality.

The highest rated concerns – code black – detailed in the document are:

• There is a more than 80% risk that an unacceptable drop in operational performance will lead to delivery failure and reputational damage. The report says the failures could be caused by industrial action, falling staff morale, staff departures or probation leadership disengaging.

• There is a 51% to 80% risk that insufficient support for the proposals by probation management and staff will lead to failure to implement the changes properly and on time.

• There is a 51% to 80% risk that cost savings will not be met.

Harry Fletcher, a criminal justice expert, said the documents showed that the plans were ill-thought through and potentially dangerous: "Probation's sell-off is being carried out too hastily, there is too much risk. It is highly likely that service delivery will collapse and public protection will be undermined. The government must think again about the future of its successful and efficient probation service."

'Unforeseen Challenges' With TR

It looks like the penny has dropped with the new Justice Secretary and he's noticed some 'unforeseen challenges' with those pesky reforms of Chris Grayling's. We know the CRCs have been rewarded for their failure, but no direct mention of the 'Probation Review' here in this bit of ministerial puff on the MoJ website and sneaked out just before the Parliamentary summer recess:-

Justice Secretary David Lidington provides an update on the probation system.

Successful offender reform depends on so many people. Among the most vital are probation staff, who seek to improve the lives of those they work with and, by extension, society as a whole. They are key to disrupting the cycle of reoffending.

At present, half of all crime is committed by those who have broken the law before, often more than once: there is no doubt that society is owed a probation service in which judges and magistrates have confidence and which consistently and effectively enforces sentences handed down in our courts.

Since becoming Justice Secretary I have been privileged to see probation in action, helping bridge the gulf between life in prison and life on release. Each day the service must assess the risk that an offender poses to their family and the public and decide about how best to support their fresh start. As importantly, probation staff support victims of violent and sexual crime.

While there is no such thing as a typical offender, all of them must overcome similar hurdles if they are to build a better future. A job, a home, decent mental health, and a determination not to abuse alcohol or drugs: these are the common goals. In pursuit of this, probation services are assisted by an invaluable band of charities and volunteers as well as staff from local authorities, police and the NHS among others.

They have all worked hard through the recent period of fundamental change in probation, driven by significant government reforms to this very complex public service. Over the past year my department has been reviewing the progress of these reforms, and I will myself take a close and careful look at overall performance in the coming months.

The structural reforms saw the caseload divided between the National Probation Service (NPS) – which took on higher-risk offenders - and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs,) set up to supervise those judged to be low and medium-risk. Here, the system has encountered unforeseen challenges. Demand has been stronger for the NPS caseload and this has created different financial and operational pressures for both CRCs and the NPS.

We are putting in place balancing policies aimed at addressing these challenges. To date, we have adjusted the CRCs’ contracts to reflect more accurately the cost of providing critical frontline services: given this, we are calling on them to provide better support as they help offenders build more positive lives.

It is also clear that ‘through-the-gate’ arrangements – which support prisoners as they leave jail and re-join society - are falling short of our vision for a high-quality service that both reforms offenders and commands the confidence of courts. In this, I recognise the problems identified by the Probation Inspectorate and am looking at how to address them most effectively in the context of the wider probation picture.

With mental health and treatment services in such high demand among offenders, it’s also my priority to improve their access to and engagement with them. We are developing a joint protocol with the Department of Health and other bodies to bring the work of probation, health and treatment services closer together. And since transparency is key to effective public service reform, probation providers will come under keener scrutiny. Taxpayers should know how money is spent on their behalf to improve lives. To that end, we are giving more funds to the Inspectorate to carry out annual performance reviews and publish individual ratings.

In coming weeks, our conversations with staff, judges, magistrates and other key partners and stakeholders will continue. Reform is as much evolution as revolution and we will never stop seeking to improve the public services on which we depend.

I remain firmly committed to cutting reoffending with the support of an effective and stable probation service.

The wider vision for offender rehabilitation is the same: to push ahead with prison reform, harness our probation skills to achieve the best possible outcomes for offenders – and create a safer society for all.


David Lidington

--oo00oo--

Some reaction on Facebook:-

The Tories have a fantastic style of writing, the beginning of his bull crap was agreeable but more money for CRC's = profits for the privateers. In this world words are cheap and the only action I see from his sentiment are more tax funded blank cheques for corporations. I'm not impressed one bit. x

The warped logic of this is mindboggling. Higher demand on NPS, smaller than expected demand for CRC, so give CRCs more money. They can't disappoint their corporate chums and they will never ever admit that TR was one massive utter pile of shit. Bastards

You succinctly hit the nail on the head.

"Here, the system has encountered unforeseen challenges". Lol. Just lol

"I remain firmly committed to cutting reoffending with the support of an effective and stable probation service". You mean the service your own Party splintered, shattered and rendered unstable don't you Minister????

It's utterly gobsmacking, isn't it?

Staggering...just staggering...

Dean Rogers - Remarkable on many levels but no Minister seems capable of taking responsibility these days. On the plus side, they're not seeming to blame anyone else this time. And interestingly, there are no solutions being offered so it could really be game on. For certain, as the inspectors recognise, there can be no improvements without deeper, more honest and open conversation with probation staff at all levels...never been a more important time to be in Napo or for Napo to be able to lead the engagement across all grades.

Really really cowardly of him to push this out just at the start of recess. Justice Select Committee needs serious lobbying. I see Bob Neill is chair again, so at least he has heard some of the story already. They have done a lot of hand wringing, and need to up their game, imho

Dean Rogers - Napo briefed Neill and his Committee before the election and will be aiming to follow this up asap. Things feel like they're moving fast, which is positive, and we're currently working on numerous briefings and responses. We will need a lot of member input and to overcome barriers in the MoJ still defending their past over the coming months. There are also big risks in the hugely unstable operating environment - but we must be positive as the momentum is now shifting.

Your remarks at the recent branch AGM in Leeds were really encouraging Dean...hope we find an effective way forwards through this mess...

Do you want examples of how bad things get ... I have had a few shockers recently all down to the business of escalation and handover across the divide

oh lordie, and recruitment and shared services! Appalling

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A National Scandal

This from the Guardian:-  

Prisons inspector warns of 'staggering' decline in safety at youth jails

There has been a “staggering” decline in standards and safety at youth jails in England and Wales, the chief inspector of prisons has said.

Peter Clarke, the former Metropolitan police head of counter-terrorism, said no young offender institution or privately run secure training centre officially inspected in early 2017 was safe to hold children and young people.

His annual report said assaults and self-harm rates were running at double the level of six years ago and, while the reasons for the drop in standards were likely to be complex: “The current state of affairs is dangerous, counterproductive and will inevitably end in tragedy unless urgent corrective action is taken.”

Following the revelations about the mistreatment of children at Medway secure training centre in Kent, Clarke inspected other prisons holding 764 children in February and was so shocked by the findings that he raised them privately with ministers.

“In early 2017, I felt compelled to bring to the attention of ministers my serious concerns about the findings in the youth estate. By February 2017, we concluded that there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people. This is the first time this has been the case,” he said.

“The speed of decline has been staggering. There seems to have been something of a vicious circle. Violence leads to a restrictive regime and security measures that in turn frustrate those being held there. We have seen regimes where boys take every meal alone in their cell, where they are locked up for excessive amounts of time, where they do not get enough exercise, education or training, and where they do not have any credible plans to break the cycle of violence.”

The Ministry of Justice responded to his private warning by announcing that a new youth custody service – a distinct arm of the Prison Service – would take over the running of the youth estate, but Clarke said only time would tell if this could improve the situation. Since February, Clarke said, he has inspected one young offender institution that was rated reasonably good, but “there is an awful long way to go”.

The chief inspector’s assessment of adult prisons found a 38% increase in assaults on staff, suicides doubling since 2013 to 113, and 21 out of 29 local and training prisons rated poor or not sufficiently good for safety.

He says prison reform will not succeed unless the violence and prevalence of drugs in jail are addressed and prisoners are unlocked for more of the working day. Staffing levels in many jails are too low to keep order and maintain standards, he reports, with drugs, debt, bullying and self-segregation by prisoners looking to avoid violence commonplace. One in five prisoners have developed a drug habit.

“I have often been appalled by conditions in which we hold many prisoners. Far too often I have seen men sharing a cell in which they are locked up for as much as 23 hours a day, in which they are required to eat all their meals, and in which there is an unscreened lavatory,” Clarke said.

“On several occasions, prisoners have pointed out insect and vermin infestations to me. In many prisons I have seen shower and lavatory facilities that are filthy and dilapidated, but with no credible or affordable plans for refurbishment. I have seen many prisoners who are obviously under the influence of drugs.” The chief inspector added that he had personally witnessed violence among prisoners.

The situation is most acute in youth jails and at local and training prisons, with conditions better in women’s prisons and the high-security estate, Clarke said. But he added that change was overdue and described the loss of the prison reform bill after the June general election as a setback.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the safety and welfare of every young person in custody was their “absolute” priority: “We are clear that more needs to be done to achieve this. But we also want custody to improve the life chances of children in our care and to deliver improvements to education and health services within youth custody.

“That’s why we have created a new youth custody service, with an executive director for the first time in the department’s history – to make sure this vital area is given the priority and weight it deserves. The new director will lead on reforms to the running of the youth estate, including boosting the number of frontline staff by 20% - all of whom will be specially trained to work in the youth estate,” they added.


--oo00oo--

This is what Rob Allen has to say on the matter in his latest blog post:-

Prisons - a Collective Failure?

As part of the celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela, today has seen efforts to promote the rules bearing his name which seek to establish minimum standards for the world’s prisons. The first of these rules states that “the safety and security of prisoners, staff, service providers and visitors shall be ensured at all times”.

How shameful therefore that today also saw the Chief Inspector of Prisons publish a damning indictment of the prison system in England and Wales. A year ago, in his 2015-16 report, Peter Clarke found that too many prisons had become violent and dangerous places. Far from seeing improvements since then, things have got even worse with “startling increases in all types of violence”. Surely, it is - or should be - a national scandal that there was not a single establishment that Clarke inspected in 2016-17 in which it was safe to hold children and young people.

There may be some satisfaction but limited value in allocating blame for what is in truth a collective failure over the last seven years. Successive Justice Secretaries since 2010 should carry the bulk of the can. In the Coalition years, Kenneth Clarke made a gung- ho financial settlement with the Treasury which he failed to adjust when his plans to reduce the size of the prison population crashed and burned. His successor, Chris Grayling focussed on making the prison system “cheaper not smaller” by allowing it to remain largely publicly run in return for reckless staff reductions. The Lib Dem Coalition partners were silent throughout.

Post 2015 when prison reform allegedly became a top social justice priority, Michael Gove was allowed to pontificate endlessly while conditions in jail continued to deteriorate. It’s perhaps only been Liz Truss who came close to recognising the scale of the crisis and started to get staff back on the landings.

There are questions too for the senior officials in the Ministry of Justice who could arguably have put more obstacles on the path to destruction. Exactly ten years ago, the Labour government were forced to release prisoners 18 days early to combat overcrowding. Ministers took flak for the End of Custody Licence Scheme but had been told by officials that the system couldn’t cope without it. One would like to think today’s generation of prison bosses at least suggested something similar. The Youth Justice Board too fell asleep at the wheel of the children’s secure estate and has now been relieved of those duties.

In truth, there are uncomfortable questions about the arrangements as a whole. Can a monitoring system said to be working when most Inspectorate recommendations are not achieved, and the Ombudsman finds prisons unable to learn lessons from his reports? It is dispiriting that pre 2017 election plans to strengthen monitoring bodies and require a response to what they say have been scrapped.

On the wider front, the Justice Committee has found it hard to hold ministers to account in Parliament. Perhaps like some of civil society they have been taken in by the grandiose rhetoric around prison reform. While looking at the stars they have forgotten that prisons are in the gutter. Today’s report did not merit an urgent question or statement in the House of Commons.

Peter Clarke says, without conviction, that he hopes sharper responses to his Inspectorate reports can be realised through administrative directions. For all our sakes, a much more comprehensive set of answers are required to the grave charges he makes in his annual report.


Rob Allen

Monday, 17 July 2017

Charities Not Getting Paid

This on the CivilSociety website:-

Report: Criminal justice charities struggling to recover costs

Criminal justice charities are struggling to recover all the money they spend on service contracts they are delivering, according to new research. Some 224 organisations responded to a survey by membership body Clinks. The body also did 10 in-depth interviews and analysed the financial data of 752 charities and 220 companies. Only 22 per cent of respondents said they always achieved full cost recovery on contracts they deliver, while 14 per cent said they never received full cost recovery. Some five per cent of organisations said they were at risk of closure, but this rose to 30 per cent for organisations providing specific services for people from black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Compared to the wider charity sector, voluntary organisations working in criminal justice had much lower reserves.

Voluntary organisations as a whole in the UK had on average around six months of reserves in 2013/14. For the same year, organisations working specifically in criminal justice had an average of 1.9 months of reserves, which fell to an average of 1.7 months of reserves in 2014/15. Grant funding from government has significantly declined for organisations who are criminal justice specialists. In the financial year 2008/09, government grants for organisations whose core purpose is to work in criminal justice were worth £23.9m but this had dropped by 50 per cent by 2014/15. But during the same time period, larger non-specialist criminal justice organisations experienced an increase in government grant funding. Many organisations were increasingly concerned about their staff wellbeing, with 41 per cent saying their workers are taking on larger caseloads.

Anne Fox, chief executive of Clinks, said poor conditions were preventing charities from delivering prison services. “Voluntary organisations play such a large role in supporting people affected by the criminal justice system that it is almost impossible to imagine what it would be like without them. “We know that our prison system is in desperate need of reform, and probation services are struggling to resettle people leaving prison. “Organisations are partnering more, developing new services, involving service users and their families to change what they do. In order to truly reform the criminal justice system we must ensure that we have a vibrant and healthy voluntary sector that can deliver change.”

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Shooting the Messenger

We've previously discussed the disgraceful dismissal of Faith Spear, the former Chair of a prison IMB in Suffolk, and now I notice the story has been picked up by the BBC:-  

The prison monitor sacked after voicing her concerns

She was the watchdog who was accused of causing "embarrassment" by ministers and driven to the depths of despair after voicing concerns about prison monitoring. Then serious rioting erupted at several English prisons. Was Faith Spear right to blow the whistle on the state of England's jails?

Her fate was sealed with a printed, rather than handwritten, ministerial signature. Received on a cold morning this January, Faith Spear, the suspended chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Hollesley Bay in Suffolk, knew what the letter from prisons minister Sam Gyimah would say.

She had, he told her, "repeatedly disclosed classified and other information, often in an inaccurate manner" and had "failed to comply with agreed policies and procedures". Her role as chairman was terminated and she was told she could not serve on another IMB for at least five years. To this day Mrs Spear believes she was punished by a system more interested in controlling its own reputation than listening to grave concerns over the state of prisons.


The spark for the Faith Spear case was an article published by The Prisons Handbook in April 2016 entitled "Whistle-blower without a whistle". Using the pseudonym "Daisy Mallett", Mrs Spear challenged the idea that monitoring boards were truly independent.

"I want to speak out," said Mrs Spear in the article, which named neither individuals nor her own prison. "I am here as the public's eyes and ears, that is my role, but my voice is silenced. Prisons today are starved of resources. When I make the prison aware of issues with prisoners I am made to feel like I'm an irritation to them, but I am not here to irritate the prison process." The repercussions were immediate.

A letter was fired off from the HQ of the Independent Monitoring Boards Secretariat - housed in the Ministry of Justice London HQ - to every IMB member in the country. In it, president John Thornhill alleged Daisy Mallett's article contained "inaccuracies and misunderstandings". He warned the Justice Secretary (then Michael Gove) had been alerted and "legal advice" sought.

In less than a year, Mrs Spear would be unmasked, suspended, involved in various hearings and ultimately sacked from her voluntary role as an IMB chairman. Her experience echoes that of Ray Bewry, who to this day is the only former prisoner (his conviction was eventually quashed) to have served on an IMB.

"Any effective IMB member cannot do their job," claims Mr Bewry who served for a decade on the IMB at HMP Norwich. "They want them to do what they are told, and not rock the boat." Having revealed she had three years of service and a degree in criminology, the outing of Daisy Mallett was perhaps inevitable. Sure enough, within days of publication Mrs Spear, a mother of three, was called at home by then vice chairman Christine Smart asking her if she was behind the article. Mrs Spear confirmed that she was.

And at the April 2016 meeting of her IMB board, Mrs Spear was made to read out a statement confessing to being the author of the offending article. She was then expected to resign. "It had already been planned as to how it was going be," she said. "I was ambushed."

"Faith just walked on to a minefield," says Mr Leech, the Thailand-based founder and editor of The Prisons Handbook. "She should have refused to answer any questions and just move on with her business as chairman." Perhaps. But hindsight is a beautiful thing.

"I read my statement then had 50 minutes of every member questioning me, bullying me, taunting me. It was one of the worst experiences I have endured," Mrs Spear says. Sent outside for 40 minutes, she was then told her board had unanimously decreed she should "step down as chairman". "If I did not, there was an ultimatum," she said. "They would not work with me."

So what caused such a revolt? Mr Leech believes the most likely trigger was that Mrs Spear "criticised the recruitment process". This, he said, was tantamount to suggesting some IMB members were not up to the job.

The IMB Secretariat told the BBC it encourages members "to engage in the national debate on prison standards" though it cautioned "this must be a way that does not compromise their independence and draws upon evidence and experience". The secretariat would not comment on the "specifics" of Mrs Spear's case, saying "any questions on the termination of an IMB member should be directed to the MoJ press office as these are ministerial appointments".

Something else happened while Mrs Spear was absent from the boardroom. Nomination forms were created for her successor and a new vice chairman. Mrs Spear only learned of this because a fellow member broke ranks and sent a chain of emails to her. One, from Mrs Spear's predecessor Dr David Smith to the then vice chairman Christine Smart, concerned "nominees for board positions". In it, he wrote: "A delicate one, that was devised in the hope or expectation that Faith would resign. "She has not and if she became aware that nominations had been requested, it would add fuel to the fire. "I suppose we could always tear up the nomination forms and pretend it never happened."

Mr Leech, who was also sent copies of the leaked emails, said: "What we had here were people saying 'we will just rip it up and pretend it never happened'."

The BBC approached Dr Smith and Mrs Smart about both the attempt to get Mrs Spear to stand down and the leaked emails. Dr Smith declined to explain what he intended by his emails to fellow board members. However, he said an investigation into the matter had concluded that those "complained about had no case to answer as the allegations against them had not been substantiated".

Mrs Smart too said the matter had been "independently investigated and reported to the minister and a decision taken" adding: "I have nothing further to add."

The Ministry of Justice was asked whether the nomination forms were a contravention of IMB rules and whether it felt Mrs Spear's allegations of bullying behaviour against fellow IMB members had been properly investigated. Neither question was answered. Both Mrs Smart and Dr Smith subsequently resigned from the IMB of Hollesley Bay. For weeks after that fateful meeting in April, Mrs Spear continued to carry out prison visits at Hollesley Bay. And at the May 2016 board meeting, she found herself sitting alone.

"Faith wasn't eating properly," says Mrs Spear's husband of 30 years, Joseph. "There have been some real lows. Seeing the physical and mental impact on Faith in front of me was remarkable." During this time, she spoke about her experience to the East Anglian Daily Times (EADT).

In June, she found she had been suspended. A letter from previous prisons minister Andrew Selous cited the EADT article - and not the Prisons Handbook piece - as grounds for the suspension. The letter told her she was accused of "failing to treat colleagues with respect" and for "acting in a manner which could bring discredit or cause embarrassment to the IMB".

"It was just astonishing what people had engineered against her," says Mr Spear. "I have seen her rebound and find her feet and a place to rearticulate the issues she was concerned about."

Independent Monitoring Boards are "part of the UK's obligations to the United Nations for independent monitoring of prisons", says Mr Leech. "IMBs need to be fit for purpose. They are not. They are groomed to be quiet."

The Ministry of Justice said: "We value the work of Independent Monitoring Boards which play a vital role in ensuring prisons are places of safety and reform."

A few months after Mrs Spear was suspended, her worst fears were realised with a string of prison riots at places such as Bedford , Birmingham, Lewes and Swaleside in Kent. At Bedford, £1m of damage was caused while in Birmingham stairwells were set alight and paper records destroyed during trouble on four wings of the category B prison.

The IMB Secretariat issued a statement on the riots. Its irony was not lost on Mrs Spear. In it, Mr Thornhill claimed: "IMB members have regularly expressed great frustration that their real concerns about the state of prisons has been largely ignored over the years." He spoke of "serious issues" and "staff shortages", words not too far removed from Mrs Spear's own warnings that prisons were being "starved of resources".

And then, in January, she was sacked as IMB chairman. "The crisis in our prisons has never been as bad as it is now," says Mr Leech. "In the case of the Faith, they shot the messenger and they did not read the message."

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Latest From Napo 155

Here we have edited highlights from the latest offering by Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence. Regular readers will be aware that we covered the topic of Napo's future some weeks ago when I published the 'discussion' document 'Pride in Napo' written by Napo Assistant General Secretary Dean Rogers. To put it bluntly, a somewhat dense document, it generated zero discussion here, so it's to be hoped some effort is put into explaining the proposals rather more succinctly. However, the following disclosure by the incumbent General Secretary might generate a greater degree of interest and hope:-
"Also for the avoidance of doubt, and as a clear signal to our membership, I will be making my case for a second term as your General Secretary when the electoral cycle commences again early in the New Year. I have never been one to run away from difficult challenges and I certainly don’t intend to do so now."
Napo members to decide our future

Between now and the October AGM, our members are being asked to consider the future direction of travel for Napo.

My experience of organisation and structure reviews in the three unions I have been privileged to work for prior to Napo, suggests that these are not exactly the key issues on members minds as they face the perennial problems of inadequate pay, increasing workloads and the privatisation agenda.

Unfortunately, we cannot put off the uncomfortable task of deciding on the long term viability of Napo any longer, and that’s why we are asking members to take a look at the “Pride in Napo" discussion document which is starting to be discussed within Napo branches and which is also being considered by a working group elected by your National Executive Committee.

There are a number of recommendations on which the elected leadership need a steer but essentially we are looking for endorsement of a strategy that will see us spend some of the proceeds from the sale of our former Chivalry Road premises and invest in new methods of communicating with you and assisting you at the workplace. We also need to equip and support our staff and your representatives to play a more integral role in the process of representation.

It’s not exactly rocket science, but we clearly need to take a long hard look at the way in which we operate and use our precious resources and consider new ways of working to make sure that we retain our position as the second largest union within HMPPS.

Locally, we know that many Napo branches are doing a sterling job trying to pursue numerous issues that impact on members and we need to see how we can offer additional support, possibly by introducing a new role that would see elected ‘regional ambassadors’ offer their knowledge and experience to work in partnership with branch activists and provide representative support if needed.

At the same time we have identified the need to encourage new activists to come through to replace the high number of long established Napo reps that have been difficult to replace since the introduction of Transforming Rehabilitation and the job losses that resulted from it.

The discussion paper also poses questions about the effectiveness of Napo’s ICT Systems and how we can reach our members (and importantly the prospective members who you work alongside) more effectively with specific news of the issues we are trying to resolve with the 24 employers that we engage with.

The alternative?

Again, it’s no secret that the triple whammy of TR, job losses and members leaving a service that they couldn’t envisage wanting to remain in, has had a huge impact on our finances. Add to this the cynical removal of ‘Check Off’, and it leaves us with three scenarios: grow, merge or fold.

To be absolutely clear, and to the disappointment of any conspiracy theorists, I have not been (and nor has anyone else) been party to any discussions with other unions about the possibility of merger. Moreover, this will simply not happen unless and until it is so instructed by our members. Anyone who has heard me at our Annual Conference or the many branch meetings that I have attended ought to be in no doubt of my belief that Napo can remain as a strong, independent and professional voice for our members in the NPS, CRCs PBNI and Cafcass.

For that to be the case, we need you to consider all the options in the run up to this year’s AGM where we will need our members to make some radical decisions to give your leadership group the flexibility they need to achieve this objective.

Also for the avoidance of doubt, and as a clear signal to our membership, I will be making my case for a second term as your General Secretary when the electoral cycle commences again early in the New Year. I have never been one to run away from difficult challenges and I certainly don’t intend to do so now.

Friday, 14 July 2017

More Prison Trouble

Recent prison inspections and IMB reports have often made mention of the poor state of the fabric, insanitary conditions and repairs taking ages to fix. Could this possibly be part of the problem:-   

Press release:-

Carillion signs contracts worth approximately £200 million to provide facilities management services for public sector prisons

Posted 23 January 2015

Further to the announcement on 19 November 2014 that the UK Ministry of Justice had selected Carillion as the preferred bidder for two contracts to provide a range of hard and soft facilities management services to the National Offender Management Service for public sector prisons in two geographical areas, Carillion announces today that it has signed these contracts.

One contract will provide services in prisons in London and the East of England and the second will provide services in prisons in the South West, South Central, Kent and Sussex.

The contracts, which cover approximately 50 prisons, will be for an initial five-year period, but with the potential for two subsequent one-year extensions, subject to satisfactory performance. Mobilisation has begun with service delivery due to commence on 1 June 2015.


--oo00oo--

This in the Guardian 13th July 2017 :-

Carillion has 'no future without rights issue of at least £500m'

For many, the morning of 8 July promised a feast of sport: the British Lions Test in New Zealand, a Lord’s Test and Wimbledon. But a small group of bankers were about to have their weekend ruined by a summons to an emergency meeting in London’s Maddox Street.

Board papers had been delivered to the homes of the directors of Carillion, a FTSE 250 business best known as a builder that works on huge construction projects, and the documents contained disturbing news. A review of the group’s finances, commissioned two months earlier from accountants KPMG, had unearthed a gaping hole in the accounts.

Meetings through Saturday and Sunday produced an 800-word statement to the stock exchange, which shocked the City when it was released at 7am on Monday morning. It was a monster profit warning following an £845m writedown, of which £375m related to three large public private partnership (PPP) contracts in the UK and £470m to the cost of pulling out of several markets in the Middle East and Canada.

The announcement continued: chief executive Richard Howson had immediately stepped down, and a new interim boss, Keith Cochrane, had been parachuted in to conduct a “comprehensive review of the business” until a permanent successor was found. Predictably, the shares reacted violently to the news – slumping 39% on Monday – but the bloodbath didn’t stop there.

They were down again by 33% on Tuesday, plus another 27% on Wednesday, and suddenly a business with annual revenues of £5bn and 48,000 employees was worth less than £250m. The shares are now changing hands at just 57p – down from 200p a month ago and 350p two years ago. The City now expects the company will need to raise double that figure just to survive.

Sam Cullen, an analyst at investment bank Jefferies, said: “Realistically, we see no future for Carillion without a rights issue of at least £500m as we believe the group will find it increasingly difficult to win support services work with the balance sheet in its current state”.
What is Carillion – and how did this happen?

The company is an intrinsic part of the UK economy, being one of the major contractors to the Highways Agency and to Network Rail, and is essentially set up around three businesses. Firstly, it is perhaps best known for construction, where it has just completed the expansion of the main stand at Anfield and is working on the conversion of Battersea Power Station.

Secondly, there is a support services arm, which includes maintenance on buildings and cleaning services. And, thirdly, there is PPP, where it might fund and manage the building of a new NHS hospital. PPP is one of those financial inventions that was sold as being a win-win for both sides. The government might get some new infrastructure more quickly and without having to to pay the huge upfront costs of building it, while the private companies financing the deal gained a valuable long-term income stream - often over 20 years or so. At least, that was the theory.

Just three Carillion PPP contracts – thought to be the Midland Metropolitan hospital in Smethwick, Merseyside’s Royal Liverpool hospital and an Aberdeen road project – are behind the bulk of the £375m losses that relate to the UK.

Industry watchers say that project delays – caused by such astonishing occurrences such as cold weather in Aberdeen over the winter – have introduced huge extra costs. Construction of the Royal Liverpool hospital has also been beset with hold-ups, most recently after after workers found “extensive” asbestos on site and cracks in the new building.


Meanwhile, just before the profit warning, it was revealed that another Carillion project – an experimental tram-train linking Sheffield and Rotherham – has cost more than five times the agreed budget and is running almost three years late. The government has been forced to compensate tram operator Stagecoach for the delays with a £2.5m payment.

These types of setback are frequent complaints of investors in the sector and is one of the reasons the City has long taken a dim view of Carillion. For months, the company has been one of the UK stock market’s most shorted companies – meaning that investors have been placing bets on a fall in the company’s share price.

The short-sellers have also been motivated by Carillion’s dependence on support services, which account for about 70% of operating profits and an area where companies regularly embarrass themselves with overly optimistic profit forecasts. All of which means that City analysts are now speculating that the company could run out of cash – with those at Liberum wondering if it might breach a banking “facility”, effectively the company’s overdraft. Carillion also has a pension deficit of £587m to deal with.

The company has outlined a plan to avert all this, including accelerating a plan “to reduce net borrowing” and disposals to raise up to £125m in the next 12 months. By pulling out of construction in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is withdrawing from its business in the Middle East almost entirely. Further annual savings will be announced following a “strategic and operational review”, while the firm also plans to get better at collecting money that it is owed.

Will that be prove to be enough? Analysts at UBS say the company can potentially be recapitalised, but it is predicting more hefty share price falls in the short term. Its worst case scenario is particularly frightening: the Swiss bank reckons the shares could fall to zero.


--oo00oo--

This from the Independent:-

What we should learn from the crisis at Government contractor Carillion

How long can it be before a crisis at a Government contractor turns really nasty, and the National Audit Office’s warning that the big guns have become too big to fail proves prophetic? The week in the City has kicked off with yet another finding itself in the midst of a very big mess. This time it’s Carillion.

Having trumpeted it’s “high quality order book”, reassured that performance was “in line with expectations” and repeated a pledge to reduce debt in March, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. The company, that does everything from catering to construction, and employs 47,000 people worldwide, has issued a brutal profit warning and suspended its dividend in a bid to save cash. Chief executive Richard Howson is on his way out and a “comprehensive review” of the business is to be launched (KPMG is already poking around the construction operations).

Amid longstanding investor concerns about its finances, debt continues to rise, despite the actions that the company has taken to stop the rot. They include exiting construction public private partnerships in this country, pulling out of construction in the Middle East, and being ultra careful when it comes to taking on new projects.

It looks awful, and it’s interesting to note that Mr Howson is supposed to be sticking around to help keep the show on the road with his interim replacement Keith Cochrane while the company tries to find someone to get it back on an even keel. The thing is, we’ve seen this sort of thing before, and on repeated occasions. As the mania for outsourcing took hold on the part of Government and in the private sector, a host of companies like Carillon grew and got fat.

They used the vast revenues they earned to expand overseas, taking on more and more diverse streams of work in more and more parts of the world. Jacks of all trade, masters of… well it hardly needs saying. 
Pick a contractor, any contractor, and Google will probably be able to find you a crisis like the one at Carillion. Just last year, Capita’s shares hit a ten year low after the second profit warning in three months. Meanwhile Serco, which appointed Winston Churchill’s grandson to sort out its financial mess, has found itself smack in the middle of an operational foul up. 

Having taken on a big contract at the four hospitals overseen by the Barts NHS Trust (ironically Carillion previously handled part of it), perhaps evidence of renewed official faith in its abilities, it managed to provoke a strike among cleaning staff at the Royal London Hospital after just three days.

Three months on, and 1,000 cleaners, porters, caterers and security staff, at the latter and the other hospitals, are poised to begin industrial action. And so it goes on. And on and on. Badly managed finances, badly managed contracts, unhappy staff, unhappy customers, unhappy workers.

You’d think, given all this, that someone would ask seriously whether it’s really such a good idea to have handed such a wide range of state services to companies that operate in this manner, and that keep falling flat on their faces. Yet, with the notable exception of the NAO, it’s not happening.

Faced with situations like those above, the Government shrugs its shoulders, perhaps because, ultimately, the companies concerned have always just about found a way through their difficulties. It seems we might have to wait for a truly dreadful crisis, one that really hurts people, for this to change. It always seems to be that way in modern Britain.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

More on Tagging Omnishambles

I rather liked this contribution for some context to the current situation:- 

Timeline of Shame


2012

"Like greater use of state-of -the-art GPS technology that we’re going to be
trialling and rolling out, so that we really would know whether a paedophile
was, for example, hanging around school gates." Grayling in The Sun.

Satellite tracking will also be brought in and a £5,000 cap on fines set by magistrates will be removed to "make community sentences much more effective", according to Grayling. He will say: "We will use the latest GPS technology to track offenders' movements, and are giving the courts increased powers to set fines that hit offenders in their pockets and are lifting the cap on compensation orders to provide proper compensation to victims."

2013

FURIOUS Police and Crime Commissioners have rounded on the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling accusing him of blocking the roll-out of hi-tech tags to stop criminals re-offending.
A group of 27 local crime tsars have accused the minister of putting Britons at risk of falling victim to crime by refusing to allow them to use new GPS tags on criminals in the community... But Whitehall mandarins are currently negotiating a nationwide contract to retain the old-style electronic ‘proximity’ tags meaning the Commissioners cannot bring in the new technology on an area by area basis.

2014

MoJ press release:
"Under the new arrangements the Ministry of Justice will have far greater oversight over costs and charging than previously, with direct access to the supplier’s systems to increase transparency. Capita have been managing the service on an interim basis since April this year. We will begin using the new tags by the end of the year."
Notes to editors:
1. The 6-year contract with Capita has a net present cost of £228.8 million. The other contracts are all 3 years in length. The contract with Airbus Defence and Space has a net present cost of £10.4 million, Steatite’s contract has a net present cost of £23.2 million and the contract with Telefonica has a net present cost of £3.2 million. All sums are exclusive of VAT, which is payable.


2015

The introduction of the next generation of GPS tracking of offenders, including convicted paedophiles, has been delayed for at least another 12 months, the Ministry of Justice has announced. The prisons minister, Andrew Selous, said there had been significant problems with the project which meant it was impossible to meet the deadline for the £265m six-year contract to begin. The previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, promised parliament that the first satellite tracking tags, which allow for dangerous and repeat offenders to be monitored around the clock, would come into use by the end of last year.

2016

A problem-plagued project to develop satellite tags for offenders has been abandoned after two and a half years of technology glitches and delays, costing the taxpayer up to £23 million. Ministers wanted to develop their own “bespoke” tags to monitor offenders on release or bail via GPS. But a string of delays and problems has forced the Ministry of Justice to abandon the scheme. Previous attempts have been beset with technology problems including losing the signal when the offender is next to a tall building or even under a tree. 

Around £21 million of the £23 million research project has already been spent and officials refused to say whether the department will be liable for the rest as well. Instead, they will now simply look to buy the technology that is already on the market. The move marks the latest in a string of U-turns since Michael Gove replaced Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary, including scrapping the controversial criminal courts charge, ditching plans for "secure colleges" and terminating a controversial £5.9 million bid to run prison training services in Saudi Arabia.

--oo00oo--

But the saga goes back even further and here we have Rob Allen's take on things:-

Satellite Tracking of Offenders - Pie in the Sky?

The National Audit Office Report on recent efforts to expand electronic tagging paints a sorry picture of failed procurements, contract disputes and wasted public money including £60m of sunk costs. The report finds the new generation electronic monitoring system (EM) – which both enforces curfews by verifying whether an offender or suspect is at home and a location tracking function -will be five years late if it gets going by next year.

Whether this is realistic or not “will largely depend on the plans of G4S, the new preferred bidder for the tags”. It’s hard to understand how the controversial private security company is still involved in this field at all. For one thing, they are under investigation for fraud following the 2014 overbilling scandal - one of the factors identified by the NAO as contributing to the delays in the new system. Should criminal wrongdoing be proved, could they really continue with the contract? And while G4S’s future role seems to be limited to providing the tags themselves, only last year faults were found with these. As a result enforcement action may have been taken against offenders or suspects in response to false tamper reports.

What the NAO report doesn’t do is make a broader and longer term assessment of the contribution that EM has and could make to criminal justice. If they had, they’d find the delay in getting location tracking off the ground is closer to fifteen years than five. In 2004, with the prison population at 74,000, then Home Secretary David Blunkett promised that satellite tracking technology could provide the basis for a 'prison without bars', potentially cutting prison overcrowding, and expensive accommodation. Plans were announced for the 5,000 most prolific offenders in England and Wales to be tagged and tracked using the global positioning system (GPS). Pilot schemes were duly arranged and evaluated with magistrates and District Judges finding tracking “a helpful sentencing option”.

Since then, while the prison population has increased by 11,000, the NAO found that the average number of subjects having their movements tracked using GPS in 2016-17 was …20. It’s true that more than 10,000 people are subject to curfews of one sort or another and some - particularly those on Home Detention Curfew - would otherwise be in prison.

But for whatever reason - political, technological, administrative - the promise of tracking as a way of emptying prisons has simply not been delivered. When I put this point to a provider of EM recently, I was told something to the effect that only 2% of households had fridges in 1950. Success, it seems is just around the corner.

An excellent recent study of EM concluded that it has universal appeal, with its chief purpose being “its perceived ability to bring about cost savings by operating as an alternative to prison”. But as the NAO finds “there is still limited evidence" about its effectiveness. While their report documents a shocking history of failure to organise EM properly, it avoids the bigger question about the role it is expected to play in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Rob Allen