Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Napo at Work in the South West 25

As always, thanks go to the reader for forwarding the following:-

Branch Report 31 

June 2019

Dear members,

A short update on the meetings over pay and how far Seetec claim things are developing. Keep in mind many of their initial plans were not based on the contracts ending as early nor the reduced and uncertain TR2. The fantastic news of the case management separation is just the start of the Napo campaign to see 100% return to public service.

Seetec is the contract holder for the remaining period to 31 3 21 which is just about the next 20 months. The Seetec promises of more pay to certain grades is now retracted and evaporated as an outdated wooing of the staff illusion. Their so called repair plan of 90 days is nowhere near target from their 14 of February boasting. No discernible action plan has been shared or mentioned to the Unions which actually deal effectively with the calamities raised within the HMIP report on workloads and the dysfunctional workload indicator process.

There has been a bit of talking up from Seetec and what they have been doing in relation to third party contracts to providers debts, office renewed space and recruiting hopes projections. These are less helpful to staff who should ordinarily expect to have the basics in place and at the least appropriate office base. Understanding facilities are essential tools of the job. In managing the disaster Seetec should have set out to ensure the repair of Working Links gross mis-management were handled sympathetically towards staff with a more gentle approach. Instead we read of the back slapping celebrations that work continued while they seamlessly took the reins. This is no consolation to the absented and overworked staff and still no recognition of a need to have a moratorium in light of the issues raised in the HMIP report. That issue will continue until the safe return of case management to public services.

The meeting in Reading was a lengthy listen to Seetec promoting a new model but still nothing in writing and an agenda that came out the day before the meeting. Most of what we heard was jam tomorrow. The reality of the case management for Wales having to be in place by December 2019 is a good thing and focused attention on the priorities that will have to be in place to ensure a smooth transition and the necessary protection for those staff and for the longer term. Anyone having suffered the Working Links way for this number of years will need full support and a decent period of adjusting built into the arrangements. It is clear to all involved in this issue, the transfer arrangements will have to be tighter than before given what we have learned. The predicted collapse of Working Links may have had some bearing on the Wales’ return to public ownership. What I wonder is where did the money go and will there be an appropriate if not criminal inquiry as to how they spent\ lost so much public monies.

The ongoing meeting provided limited scrutiny of the Seetec future planning especially now they have their news, the whole case management game is up in March 2021. They were very clear that they believed that splitting case management away from interventions is not a good thing to do. On that point we would easily agree however when pushed they would not accept that putting case management back into public ownership was the correct thing to do either. Well they cannot have their cake and eat it.

They still refused to share their planning documents. The General Secretary remarked carefully that the current talks went nowhere near appropriate meaningful consultations. The senior management avoided engagement on the issue. They also want to engage in terms rewriting. How long they have left in in charge makes this a questionable activity.

The Pay talks themselves.

If ever there was a story of how to play important issues into the long grass Seetec have all the same disingenuous approaches, that Working Links excelled. With only three meetings involving the Pan Trades Union Sides and Seetec representatives, none of them appearing to have authority to formally agree any changes or settlement offer. The so-called talks amounted to just a few hours on the claim and that only happening at the end of the meeting. It was worse than poor in that the General Secretary pointed out a range of failures to consult properly and meaningfully with the lack of information and absence of new evidence to support their rejection of the joint unions pay claim. The miserly and below par offer is just 1% but they claim is 2% because they ignore that contractual rights includes 1%. A clear signal that staff just come last every time. It was made clear the South West is well noted as a difficult area to recruit staff, despite the evidence for pay incentive endorsements for the region. Seetec ignored it. We doubt they will find the numbers of staff they will need in the short term. This in turn led them to continue to ignore the real issues of overwork and stress for staff. They continue to bluff by directly ignoring staff terms and conditions. Workloads weightings will not go away and as more staff are feeling the pressure the area remains as it was and the next HMIP report will most likely say much of the same. I take no pleasure in reporting this view. We have all the information we need to help the area and yet we have the private profits motive paying staff less but expecting even more.

Wages in the South West

Workers in some sectors are gaining pay rises but real wages overall in the South West are still £21.78 a week lower than a decade ago. The Government has been keen to herald a return to above inflation pay rises but any rises have not been spread equally or fairly.

Average real pay in the financial sector has increased by 9.3% (£119 per week) since 2009 reaching a record average of £1,405 per week – driven by big pay rises for London’s bankers. Other sectors that have seen real wage growth include, retail and hospitality - boosted by increases to the minimum wage. The story is very different for public sector workers.

People employed in health and social work and education are still £36 a week worse off than in 2009. Real pay for workers in manufacturing of food and drink, a key sector for the West Country, is still down by £52 per week.
Source TUC.

Nonetheless and despite the meeting closing with a promise of a letter to the NAPO General Secretary which rejected flatly the Pay claim, the response had been swift from Ian Lawrence and the combined Unions. Members will have seen the issued bulletins on talks and the subsequent letter notifying of the additional dispute on pay. We wait for continued talks but I doubt they will pass on any appropriate pay increase to staff no matter how much the MOJ floated them.

As a branch in the SSW we have our AGM on the 27th of June please attend have your say and question your branch officials on strategy and direction for the protection of your role terms and conditions through this next year. It will be challenging and as we stick together easier to ensure your protections and the future transfer arrangements are managed fairly and properly no matter what the intentions of Seetec, the NPS in terms of the staffing ratio, and the possible although not yet certain split of interventions .

If you’re not in Napo and reading this then please join now. Whatever the future shapes up for probation together we are stronger. Whatever it takes.

Dino Peros 

Napo SSW Branch Chair.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

MoJ Give Evidence

Last Wednesday the House of Commons Justice Committee had the opportunity of grilling the new man at the MoJ, along with Jim Barton, Sonia Crozier and Amy Rees. As on previous occasions, although somewhat lengthy, it's important that what was said is examined in some detail, but in several chunks:-   

Q375 Chair:
Minister, thank you very much for coming and bringing your officials. You are well known to us. All of us have met your officials in the past, but perhaps they could introduce themselves for the record. 

Jim Barton: I am Jim Barton, the director responsible for delivering the probation reform programme. 

Sonia Crozier: I am Sonia Crozier. I am chief probation officer of the National Probation Service. I also have responsibility within HMPPS for women.

Amy Rees: I am Amy Rees. I am the interim director general for probation and Wales. 

Q376 Chair: Let me kick off. There have been some important announcements about the future of probation, welcome ones as far as this Committee is concerned. What changed the Government’s mind from last October? 

Robert Buckland: First, can I pay tribute to the work of the Committee, which has taken a long and informed interest in this? I am grateful to all members for having considered the matter and helped inform the process. 

I am fairly new in post, but, as you know, Mr Neill, I have had a long involvement with the system and have worked with probation officers for the better part of 30 years, so I know their worth and value. I think we acknowledge that, although there has been important change brought about by transforming rehabilitation, we needed to make further changes. There had been a process during the TR regime from 2014 onward where we had made adjustments. Most notably, the decision to end the CRC contracts earlier than planned was a major adjustment, but we based our decisions on the evidence and the information, and as a Department we are not frightened to acknowledge when change is necessary. 

This was one of the key moments when both the Secretary of State and I felt very strongly that we needed to streamline responsibility for provision in the area to make it clearer and more straightforward, in particular to understand the important role of the National Probation Service. These reforms will give the NPS a stronger and clearer role in managing all offenders. We believe that the system we are going to develop will enhance and encourage voluntary sector involvement in rehabilitation to a greater level than we have seen previously. 

I have described the scenario as a mixed economy. I believe that very fundamentally. It is important that we retain the voluntary sector, and indeed the private sector, in helping us to make that provision, but the overarching framework within the NPS and the creation of 11 regions will underline the importance of allowing each part of the sector to play to its strengths and deliver more investment in further enhancing the role of our probation staff. That aspect of our proposed reforms has perhaps been somewhat overlooked. 

For me, it is absolutely vital not only that we increase the number of probation staff, which is happening, but that they feel valued and understood by wider society as a vital part of the system, whose judgments are to be relied upon by sentencers and whose assessments within the community are an important part of offender management and rehabilitation. As part of that process, your Committee played its role, but the observations of the former chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, also played a very important part in influencing the thinking that has brought us to this position. 

Q377 Chair: It is Keynesian; the facts or evidence have changed, and you have changed your view. 

Robert Buckland: To condemn TR out of hand and say that it was a failure is unfair to many aspects of it: for example, the increase in the overall number of people supervised; some of the really good projects that we saw in the south-east relating to stalking; and the work done on unpaid work requirements. I do not think it would be fair to write off the past four or five years as a blind alley, because it certainly was not. A lot of what we have learned from that will be taken forward in the new model, but the end of the division between serious offences and less serious offences will help us, most notably not just with overall accountability but with the workload of probation officers. Perhaps we can explore that as we go into questions. 

Q378 Chair: You have come into post recently. Have you had the chance to meet many frontline probation staff since you have been there? Perhaps you would tell us what you have found in terms of their response. 

Robert Buckland: In the few weeks that I have been in office I have already visited a probation centre in Greater Manchester, together with senior probation staff, but, most importantly, to meet probation officers working with offenders on the ground in an innovative way. In the particular probation office I visited they were managing quite hard-to-reach offenders with a particularly innovative programme that involved therapeutic and support services to understand the underlying reasons for offending. For me, it is reacquaintance with a profession I have worked with and been impressed by over nearly 30 years. 

Q379 Chair: I understand and agree with what you are saying. I think we would all endorse what you say about probation staff. 

One of the things that troubled us was what seemed to be a diminution of confidence on the part of the judiciary and sentencers in the way they could rely on the follow-up to sentences. Can you talk to us specifically about how that is going to be addressed in the new system? The decision was that the people who wrote the reports were NPS staff, but in the past the follow-up was done by CRCs. How is the confidence of magistrates and judges going to be addressed? Bring in your officials by all means. 

Robert Buckland: Absolutely, but can I lead off on that basis? I come to this job in the sense that I will take the position of the sentencer. Having done it myself and sat in the judge’s chair and looked at the options when sentencing, I understand that the confidence sentencers need in their options is absolutely vital. We are already seeing some important examples of work being done to improve the options that have existed for a very long time in statute but which, in reality, have proved somewhat different. 

Let’s take mental health treatment requirements as part of a community order. A number of pilots are now being undertaken in Milton Keynes, Northampton and a few other centres—I think London is piloting two. We have not yet seen the outcome evaluation or the process evaluation, although we will, by the way, have some idea shortly from the Department of Health as to the process evaluation, but we are already seeing a tailored approach to individual need. I accept that that can be a challenge and there is always a resource issue with these options, but it is my aim to try to make sure that sentencers have a proper choice, that the words on the page in the 2003 Act become more and more of a reality, and that by improving that choice prison is not the only staple in the diet of sentencing, if I can use that phrase. That is well understood. I am happy for officials to come in to develop those points. 

Q380 Chair: I understand that and agree with it, but I am interested in the nuts and bolts of how we give the sentencer reassurance that there will be a better follow-through than appears to have been the case in the past. Who would like to deal with that? 

Amy Rees: To add to what the Minister said, in July we launched our probation consultation document called “Building Confidence”. As part of that, we trialled the new model in Wales, which looks very similar to the model we are now going for in England and Wales, so we were able to gather quite a lot of detailed feedback about what people thought about that model, including the judiciary, and they were very supportive of what we were planning to do in Wales. 

It comes down to some quite simple things. There will be one person responsible for probation in a region. If you have issues that you want to follow through, you will be able to go directly to one person. The system will have an owner in a region that gives a point of interface with the judiciary that we think has been missing over the last four or five years. 

Q381 Chair: A resident judge at Chelmsford, Maidstone or somewhere has a specific person they can go to. Is that what it comes down to? 

Amy Rees: And who manages the whole system. 

Q382 Chair: That can be followed through, and the recorder, Mr Buckland or I, is in the same position to do that. 

Robert Buckland: Indeed. I think the relationship between the judiciary and the probation service is absolutely vital. The judiciary need to have confidence that the authors of pre-sentence reports are people who have the experience, authority and understanding to reach judgments that can be relied on. I am not a nostalgist, Mr Neill, but we are looking at building those relationships in a stronger way. With technology, there are many other ways in which it can now be done just as effectively. The relationship—the liaison—is strengthened so that resident judges, circuit judges and recorders can have confidence. 

Q383 Chair: I understand that. Does anyone want to add anything to the details and specifics of that? 

Jim Barton: I acknowledge that the model we are now proposing to implement removes the disconnects you have referred to, Mr Neill, in terms of the person offering advice to sentencers not necessarily working for the organisation that is then responsible for those cases. Under the new model, that disconnect is simply removed. 

Q384 Chair: There will be a direct link between the author of the report and those who do the administration. Similarly, if for any reason there is a breach and people are brought back, do you think you can give better assurance under the new system that it will be joined up? 

Robert Buckland: Yes. 

Q385 Chair: That is helpful. How does it differ from the old probation trusts? The Secretary of State says it does not, and I can understand why to some extent. Eleven regions are a bit different. What would you say are the key differences? 

Amy Rees: There is obviously a size difference, which we have acknowledged, and that is important. Beyond that, there are some more important differences. As I just referred to, there will be a single director responsible for probation services in a region. That means both the directly delivered part and the commissioned part, but that responsibility is through a civil service relationship so the Minister will still be able to have a line of sight, not just on the direct delivery but on the commissioned services. 

Jim Barton: Perhaps another point of difference with probation trusts is the size of the market involvement. I know that the Committee has followed the history of probation very closely over many years since the creation of probation trusts in 2010. You will remember that there was always an intent that probation trusts should commission out potentially up to 20% of their services. From my anecdotal memory of that time, having worked for one of those trusts, I think only one or two got anywhere close to that level, despite a considerable push from Ministers through successive Governments to try to achieve it. What we are committing to under this model is that there will be an absolute requirement that the National Probation Service commissions the provision of interventions from market providers, whether they be private or voluntary sector organisations. 

Sonia Crozier: The other obvious difference is that we have become a national probation service in areas where it is important to have a greater degree of consistency. We have pursued that very hard and have taken out some of the differences that we inherited from 35 trusts—for example, in the use of our approved premises and the targeting of that. The benefits of being a national service will be taken forward into the new regions but will be combined with the kind of flexibility at local level around commissioning and engagement with the voluntary sector that Jim Barton has just described. It is about taking the best of what works nationally but combining that with new opportunities to have a greater focus on local engagement. 

Q386 Chair: One of the criticisms of the previous regime was that, whatever the intention, in practice some voluntary groups were involved, maybe not as many as had been hoped, but that one thing the old trusts had was a fairly direct link into the local community through representation and membership of the trusts. That seems to have been very much lost. 

Given that a lot of the folk who will be dealt with by probation will have housing and social services issues, potentially education issues and health issues, how will you get a meaningful say at local level as well as national level rather than everything being referred up the line to the Minister, as I found when I was in a health authority, and becoming very centralised? How are you going to avoid that? 

Robert Buckland: We are already having active dialogue with police and crime commissioners. There was dialogue prior to the announcement, as you would expect and hope, and that has carried on. I met a representative sample of PCCs only last week to discuss ways we can jointly commission local services. 

It seems to me that the “and crime” element of the PCC model is one that comes into play when we are dealing with prevention and rehabilitation. Therefore, it is an entirely logical step to use that network as an important framework, below regional level, to identify some excellent examples of local provision so that we can, as you say, have a direct link with the small charity that might be working with veterans in Wiltshire, for example, or an organisation that might be working with a particular cohort of vulnerable offenders in another part of the country. There will be a direct link in terms of how the relationship with the NPS is maintained. As Sonia says, the local being blended with the national is where the balance needs to be struck. 

Q387 Chair: It is local knowledge, isn’t it? Some of the key decision makers being involved is critical. What are the practical means by which you can achieve that, Ms Crozier? 

Sonia Crozier: As we take forward future design, we want enough well-informed local managers who are working to a common set of principles engaging with local partners. That is different from the position we have been in previously where you might have managers from the NPS and the CRC combining two voices locally, which can be confusing, or perhaps there are no voices because one thinks the other is doing something. We will have a unified approach, with leadership flowing down and sufficient local managers on the frontline doing all the things you have just described, building relationships with local charities at a very local level in small towns across the country. 

Q388 Chair: You signed MOUs with both the Mayor of London and the Mayor of Greater Manchester in relation to elements of justice devolution. Many of us would say that some elements of probation work are pretty obvious examples of areas where you could devolve a lot of the delivery of these matters. How will that fit together under the new set-up? 

Amy Rees: We are in active dialogue with both of those Mayors and both regions. We already work quite closely with them. For example, in Greater Manchester we have had an intensive alternative to custody pilot running for some time, so it is building on a dialogue that already exists. We think the new model will be much better placed to allow us to work much more closely with those kinds of partners and others. Why? Because we are directly commissioning from a framework that will both allow much smaller organisations to be part of that framework and enable us to commission together with all sorts of organisations—PCCs, metro mayors or local authorities. 

Q389 David Hanson: I will take you back to the National Audit Office, if I may. In its report in March this year, it said that the part-privatisation of probation services had been extremely costly to the taxpayer. What is your current estimate of the cost? 

Robert Buckland: Where we are with the overall cost is that the net figure, in fact, is somewhat more encouraging when one takes into account the fact that we will have ended the contracts early. 

Q390 David Hanson: What is it? 

Robert Buckland: The projected spend? The overall non-spend on the contracts is £1.4 billion. The net figure is £800 million in terms of money actually not spent, so there is still an overall excess, if you like, rather than a deficit. 

Q391 David Hanson: There is a figure of £171 million in the National Audit Office report as the cost to the taxpayer. How do you account for that? What is that for? 

Robert Buckland: That figure is included very much in the net figure. I can break that down. That £171 million consists of £113 million that the Department agreed with 20 of the 21 CRCs with regard to changing the baseline. You will remember that there was a frequency of reoffending baseline assessed as at 2011. What happened was that that was not reflected by the reality of the number of cases being dealt with by CRCs, and it was remodelled to a figure based on the 2015-16 year. 

Q392 David Hanson: There was £467 million put in 18 months to two years ago. Where has that gone? 

Robert Buckland: I am just trying to explain, if you will bear with me. A figure of £1.8 million was allocated to the Merseyside CRC. There was a particular issue there because they had overseen quite a significant improvement in the frequency of reoffending in their area and were making some progress. There was a request made by the parent company for the original baseline to be maintained because they were performing. 

A figure of £30.2 million was agreed by the Ministry with regard to some technical variations with providers, which related to the source of the data used to calculate the volume of casework by CRCs, and £43 million was agreed with CRCs to deliver an enhanced through-the-gate specification right through to the end of 2020. There was £213 million that was a marginal adjustment factor change; in other words, that was the change to the contracts made back in 2017. That payment was made to rectify the original assumptions that we know have been looked at carefully by the PAC and which I know you understand. 

There was an £82.2 million additional fee for service payments made to CRCs in the financial years 2016-17 and 2017-18, but, as I have said, because of the underspend of £1.4 billion, you take that into account and, although that money has been significant, the overall net sum that we are not spending—it is a bit inelegant—or the net money we have avoided spending because we ended the contracts earlier is £800 million. 

Q393 David Hanson: But by ending the contracts early you are still going to spend that money in some form or other in the next couple of years, but not with the current CRCs. 

Robert Buckland: Yes, but it is an important point— 

Q394 David Hanson: As a taxpayer, Minister, what I am interested in is that the National Audit Office has said that the cost to the taxpayer is £171 million. I want to hear from you whether you agree with the National Audit Office or whether you can publish figures that show a different form of defence. I would appreciate that.

Robert Buckland: With respect, I have gone through the figures with you because you deserve particularity. I know you would insist on nothing less as a former Minister for Prisons yourself. 

What I am saying is that the projected overall spend on the contracts was going to be £3.7 billion. By ending them, we spend only £2.3 billion. You then add on the £470 million I have talked about. I am not giving you a conservative estimate. There are other rounding figures that mean an overall £800 million underspend. 

Q395 David Hanson: Has it been a good deal for the taxpayer, Minister? 

Robert Buckland: I have acknowledged that there have been problems with TR. That is why we are making these reforms. I am sitting here telling you frankly that we think we can do better, of course; but it would be wrong to say that overall, looking back on this period, we will have ended up spending more than the projected £3.7 billion. In fact, we will be spending £800 million less than that, which I think is an important overall framework in understanding where we are financially. 

Q396 David Hanson: How much additional money have you put into the current CRCs for 2018-19? 

Robert Buckland: I do not know whether Jim has any more granularity on that. 

Jim Barton: You will appreciate that this is a reasonably confused figure, because, within the £467 million total, some payments, essentially, are backward looking because they correct assumptions in the original payment mechanism; some of them reflect adjustments to the ongoing monthly payments that we make—the changes to the fee for service mechanism that we made in 2017—and some of them are straightforward top-up payments to buy new services. 

On the specific question about 2018-19, the changes we have made previously that will impact this year are the £22 million additional spend on a significantly enhanced through-the-gate service. That service is now live in all bar four resettlement prisons, with 500 additional staff in post delivering improved support for offenders pre-release. The changes that we made to the frequency baseline that the Minister referenced previously mean that as a result most CRCs would, if we had not made those changes, have been paying us because of underperformance on the frequency measure. Most CRCs are now in a position where their frequency payments hover around a zero figure. 

As the Minister pointed out, we believe that the change in the frequency baseline was, with the benefit of hindsight, absolutely the right thing to do, because the deterioration in performance between 2011 and 2015 happened before the CRCs existed or were under private ownership. If we had our time again, we probably would not have signed a contract that linked frequency payments to a baseline in 2011 that we and providers did. Last year, we made the choice that to enforce that element of the contract would have meant that contracts would have been underfunded. The consequence of that is a poorer probation service. That is not in our interest. 

Q397 David Hanson: What is the plan for payments for 2019-20 until the contracts expire? 

Jim Barton: We will apply current contractual terms, so it will depend on the volume of work that CRCs do and their performance under the PBR mechanism. 

Q398 David Hanson: What is your rough estimate of the net cost to the Department of that contract for 2019-20? 

Jim Barton: That is included in the figures you cite. When the NAO rightly says that the cost of those contract changes is £467 million, that extends from the date we made the changes to the end of the contract. For example, through-the-gate is £22 million a year, and £43 million in total between the point when we made that change and the end of the contracts. 

Q399 David Hanson: In a previous session with Richard Heaton, we asked for a breakdown of the costs for each CRC, and the net plus or minus figure for each CRC. I have a letter from Richard Heaton dated 8 April in which he says: “You also asked for a breakdown of costs for the financial year… We are still finalising our year end position, so are not yet in a position to provide this data. We will provide you with an update as soon as we are able.” Do you know when that will be? 

Robert Buckland: I will take that away and make sure that the Committee is furnished with that information as soon as possible. 

Q400 David Hanson: This is the final question from me on financing. In May this year, the permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, required a ministerial direction to process payments to CRC subcontractors because he could not reconcile those payments with his duty as accounting officer. Why could he not reconcile those payments? Why did the Minister overrule the decision of the accounting officer? 

Robert Buckland: I do not have the information before me with regard to that particular decision. I accept that the procedure is not one that is commonly used. 

Q401 David Hanson: It has not been used generally in the last 10 years. 

Robert Buckland: I accept that, Mr Hanson. It is a matter on which I will want to furnish the Committee with full information. I do not have it to hand. 

David Hanson: I am grateful for that, Minister. Could we have an explanation as to the reasons why the accounting officer’s decision to rule out payments to subcontractors was made by the Minister, unless anybody at official level can help?

Q402 Chair: It will be helpful to have that. 

Mr Barton, you talked about proceeding on current contractual arrangements until they terminate. Is there a risk of any further payments being necessary? You are working on the current volumes and assumptions until the end of the contract. Those assumptions of workload proved erroneous and unreliable in the past. Is there still a risk that we may need further bail-outs for some of those firms? 

Amy Rees: As Jim outlined quite clearly, the contracts will operate in the way we have now set out. The package to which we have been referring in terms of the £467 million was one that we designed in order to take us to the end of the revised contract period. We believe, from the best knowledge we have, that that will be enough to stabilise as we go forward. Having said that, in the way we have just described, the contracts are built on changing metrics. Did they reduce reoffending? Is that binary or is it among the reoffending group? What happens to fee for use? What happens to the rate card? Lots of elements can change over the next two years, so it is impossible to say it will be exactly as this, but in good faith we negotiated those contract changes in the belief that they would take us to the end of the contract period, and that would be sufficient to stabilise the system. 

Q403 Chair: I think the Committee is rather in favour of the change you made. There remains a risk, but your view is that it is a manageable one. 

Amy Rees: There are lots of changing numbers, and multiple parts and frequencies, which mean that it is difficult to say, when you take all of that, that there is no risk at all, but we believe we have taken steps to eliminate the risk as far as we can. 

Q404 David Hanson: Can I get a commitment from the Minister, helpfully, for the Committee? When the period with the current CRCs has been finalised and completed, will you agree to publish a cost analysis of the final package for the costs of CRCs and the changes from 2011 to 2020? 

Robert Buckland: What we can do is provide as much information, with as much granularity as possible, for the Committee, so that we understand the whole period. What that will look like precisely I cannot tell you now, as Amy has said, but in terms of learning we have had to deal with a number of issues—for example, Working Links and what has happened in Wales as well. We have the learning and experience of the model now to deal with any contingency issues that might arise between now and the end of 2020. 

Let’s not forget that the issue was the profile of offences and the unforeseen outcome that was the increase in serious offences that had to be dealt with by the NPS. The workload of the NPS increased in a way that perhaps had not been foreseen, which meant that there were fewer of the less serious offences that would have been dealt with by the CRCs. 

Understanding that fundamental reality can perhaps inform as fully as possible not just members of the Committee but the wider public about the scale of the challenge that CRCs faced.

Jim Barton: On the question about further contractual changes, you will have noticed in previous evidence that we had planned to end current contracts on 4 December 2020, but in our announcements on the future direction of travel we are referencing transition happening in spring 2021. We think we need to take the time to manage transition well. That is a hard lesson learned from transforming rehabilitation. To provide us with the small number of additional months needed to do that, we have an option to extend CRC contracts into the first half of 2021. We have recently published, through the Official Journal of the European Union, notice that we have that option and that we intend to make that contract change. That would be on amended contractual terms. 

Q405 Chair: I understand that. Perhaps hard-wiring anything by an absolute fixed date is never wise. 

Robert Buckland: That’s right, Mr Neill. As Jim said, the pace of change is different from the period prior to the introduction of TR in 2014. We will be developing our business case by late summer and looking to move on to the next stage, the competition stage, in the autumn. You are looking at a clear set of milestones within which there will be a lot of work that I will be keeping a very close eye on, because I get the point that we have to get the commissioning right. You will be bearing down upon me very hard if we do not, so it is very well understood. 

Chair: That is fair enough.

(To be continued)

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Napo at Work in the South West 24

Thanks go to the reader for sharing the following:-  

10th June 2019

Some progress on improving the dialogue but Unions reject shabby Pay Offer

This bulletin sets out the key outcomes from last weeks’ meeting between KSS CRC and SEETEC senior leadership and the Trade Unions in Reading over 6/7th June.

This engagement followed the recent correspondence from Napo, UNISON and GMB in which we explained our serious disappointment at the lack of tangible progress by KSS CRC and SEETEC senior management following agreed actions from the earlier meetings’ with the unions. Even allowing for the chaos that SEETEC have inherited from Working Links, the employer has so far failed to show that they are that much different when it comes to recognising the role of the unions and entering into negotiations.

It has taken some time, but at least a number of joint objectives on future engagement were agreed. We expect these to help facilitate urgent and long overdue dialogue on a range of very important issues. Many of these are the result of the legacy failures of the incompetent former CRC provider Working Links. Some are existing priorities (such as the transfer of Offender Management work to NPS Wales by December this year and the overall operational plan up until April 2021).

New structures for improved engagement

The unions have agreed to a regional engagement structure. One will cover the former Kent Surrey and Sussex area of the enlarged CRC, and one for the South West, West and Wales. There will be a standardised agenda to ensure consistency and an overarching JNCC comprising of union reps and senior management as has been the case in the meetings at Chippenham, Cardiff and Reading. We need to see a serious improvement from what has happened so far.

There will also be a restoration of localised and more informal ‘short sides’ discussions to try and deal with day-to-day issues that may arise in between the above.

Specific working groups are be established covering:
  • The transition of OM work from Wales
  • Unpaid Work
  • Workloads as a result of the intended Operational Model
More details of dates for these and the names of the respective union reps will follow.

Pay dispute on the cards

Sadly, it did not prove possible to make any progress whatsoever in terms of securing an acceptable position on pay. We were strongly critical of the employer who has not only failed to understand the dreadful position that they have inherited, but have not provided us with information that we are legally entitled to and who also apparently lack the authority to actually negotiate an acceptable outcome.

Moreover, we said that the Probation U-turn has markedly changed the longer-term approach to pay reform that the employer envisaged. The unions are demanding that urgent remedial action be taken NOW to establish pay parity across the whole of the extended CRC, and redress inadequate pay rates following the imposition of a pay award to staff in the original KSS area last year.

The employer has undertaken to reply to the Unions by the middle of the week and we will issue further news as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile, we have put the employer on notice that in the absence of a positive response we reserve the right to move to a dispute.

Future of Probation

As you would expect, a debate took place at Reading following the news of the Governments policy U-turn which will see an estimated 80% of offender management work move to 11 new NPS regions by the time that the current CRC providers are shown the door by April 2021 (latest) or sooner if there is a Labour Government in power. This means that the National negotiations on the selection and transfer process for Wales will be vital in terms of these being the benchmark for England. The unions have also said that we expect the employer to carry out the instructions it receives from the centre, and that we are not prepared to see this, or any other CRC provider, determine the future placement of staff to the NPS.

We reiterated that while the U-turn is a victory for the probation unions it does not give us all that our members are demanding. We have made it clear to senior KSS and SEETEC as well as Ministers, that we do not see any justification for retaining Intervention and Programme work in a so- called ‘mixed-market’ and we will continue to demand:

  • The total reunification of all probation work to public control
  • The harmonisation of all staff on to NPS Pay rates before the ending of CRC contracts
Join a union now!

In light of the foregoing, we must again emphasize the importance of belonging to a trade union. Please share this bulletin with colleagues who may not be in a trade union.

The unions are campaigning for:

  • Fair pay for all
  • The reunification of all probation work
  • An end to all privatisation
  • A moratorium on formal action against staff caused by inept management and the operational failures identified in previous HMI Probation reports (e.g. Gloucester and Devon, Dorset Cornwall)
  • Restoration of effective collective bargaining across the extended KSS CRC
  • Immediate action to reduce workload pressures
  • Staff to be treated with dignity and respect.
Can you afford to leave the struggle to everyone else?

Ian Lawrence 
General Secretary Napo
Siobhan Brown/Simon Dunn/Debbie Monkfield Regional Organisers UNISON
Helen Coley Regional Officer GMB/SCOOP

Friday, 14 June 2019

Latest From Napo 189

According to Napo, the centralised civil service-controlled HR and payroll arrangements are still not working properly, which doesn't bode well for further changes coming down the line:-  

Another SSCL screw up

Napo members have been contacting HQ worried after receiving demands from NPS payroll for historic overpayments to be returned. These overpayments range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds and date as far back as the creation of the NPS in 2014.

Napo is of course challenging this latest systematic failure of the computerised HR and payroll system. Given recent announcements about the future of probation, Napo are in the process of preparing a comprehensive case to present to ministers arguing zero confidence in SSCL and the NPS being able to cope with any of the many complexities that arise from the proposed transfer of CRC staff into the NPS at the ending of CRC contracts.

Given the scale of this issue, Napo have issued guidance on what to do if you receive an overpayment demand.

If you are not yet a member of Napo but encounter this problem we are willing, as part of the collective nature of the dispute, to be flexible around our usual rules about not representing someone who joins with an existing problem.

If someone fills in the questionnaire and joins Napo then we will progress their case alongside others in the same position. However, you must join Napo immediately for us to progress a questionnaire and we will review the level of legal support we can afford to support for members who had not taken out our “employment insurance” by joining Napo prior to the overpayment demand arriving.


Advice to members regarding overpayments made by the NPS

Over the last weeks many members have informed us that they have received demands from the National Probation Service, via their SSCL HR service provider, for monies relating to alleged historical overpayments. These overpayments range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds and arise from a period stretching back to the creation of the NPS in 2014.

Napo is challenging this latest systematic failure of the computerised HR and payroll system. Being able to pay your staff properly is the most basic requirement for any employer and it is both incredibly frustrating and worrying that the National Probation Service still cannot provide a stable, safe payroll service. Given recent announcements, Napo are in the process of preparing a comprehensive case to present to Ministers arguing that no-one can have any confidence in SSCL and the NPS being able to cope with any of the many complexities that arise from the proposed transfer of CRC staff into the NPS at the ending of CRC contracts.

The scale of the problem is still emerging but is clearly significant. Accordingly, we will be asking Ministers for an amnesty on overpayments. The NPS have resisted such suggestions citing arguments about public money needing to be recovered – taking no account of the public money being wasted managing the fallout from this failing system.

However, whilst we argue for this and for a safe and stable future service we are acutely aware that members need Napo’s advice and support in responding to the failures in the existing provision. The following advice aims to do so.

As well as following the advice below, any member with an overpayment demand are also asked to fill in the attached short questionnaire to help Napo make sure the NPS have your case and are progressing it.


 A. Ask SSCL to prove the money is owed

The overpayments seemingly arise from past payroll errors. However, no-one can be confident that SSCL’s calculations and records are now correct. We have seen examples where they have been unable to present a consistent account of what someone was paid; why it was wrong; and how they have calculated the overpayment. You are entitled to an explanation before you can agree to any monies being taken. This is a legal right.

Therefore, we advise that you:
  • Acknowledge receipt of the request but ask for a full breakdown of how the overpayments were accrued with an explanation for each variation to your normal wages;
  • Ask for copies of your actual wage slips from these periods (to cross reference against the ones available at the time if you still have them) to double check that what they say they paid you was correct;
  • Challenge any discrepancies; payroll errors or changes they do not explain clearly;
  • Keep doing so until there is a clear record that looks safe and factually correct.
Notify your line manager of the problem and ask if they will support you if you need assistance. Keep a copy of both this request and their reply.

B. Ask about any errors or correction that maybe needed before any safe and final amount for any overpayment can be confirmed

In some cases it is clear that SSCL have not recorded important information. For example, if a line manager had exercised their discretion to waive sick-pay reductions these may not have always been recognised by SSCL and could account for the alleged overpayment. They may have wrongly calculated your sick pay, as we know the SSCL computer has struggled with NPS staff having a different sick leave calculation period than other HMPPS staff. Any questions you may have relating to such possibilities should be raised and answered before any alleged overpayments are recovered.

Further, all members impacted should ask for written confirmation that all deductions taken from pay at the time are also correct and/or identified before any overpayment plan is finalised. This will include potential adjustments to PAYE tax and NI contributions. You should ask if your employer will, as part of their contractual obligations under PAYE resolve any necessary adjustments with HMRC prior to any alleged overpayment recovery, so that you can know your full financial position prior to reaching any agreement with the SSCL.You should also specifically ask them to confirm that both your employer and employee pension contributions are correct and if not that any rectification has been made – again before any overpayments are recovered. In most cases, your pension should not be impacted as the employer is under a legal obligation to make up full contributions whenever someone is on reduced salary due to illness, maternity leave, etc. However, if you opted for part-time work and continued to be paid at full pay this could be an issue. Asking will force the employer to check – and we are aware of errors that have taken place in recent months.

Anyone who by being overpaid thinks that SSCL will have recovered more Student loan repayments than was necessary can also appeal to the Student Loans company – and can inform the SSCL of the need to do this before beginning any repayments so that you know your full financial position before agreeing to a repayment plan.

C. Consider the reasonableness of the proposed repayment and challenge this if needed.

The SSCL will propose how much they want to recover from you over what period to make up for any alleged overpayment. Once you have gone through A and B and can be sure the alleged overpayment was made you can still challenge the fairness of any recovery and/or the reasonableness of their proposed recovery schedule.

They cannot take any monies off you until you have specifically agreed for them to do so. If they do so this would be a potential illegal deduction of wages and you should immediately contact Napo so we can help members challenge this in the courts if necessary.

There are several examples we have already identified where we have challenged the reasonableness of any recovery. This is especially relevant where someone has retired since the alleged overpayment and have no income other than their pension to make a repayment.

Likewise, if the case relates to an alleged overpayment that is now more than three years old we would argue it is not reasonable to ask for a recovery now.

Equally, if you were aware of a potential overpayment at the time and can evidence that you raised a concern with the SSCL / your line manager / HR and they offered reassurance or said that payments were correct you should use this now as evidence of a lack of confidence in the current claims; as well as evidence of your employer frustrating your contract by not paying you properly and fairly. Napo can advise in these specific cases directly.

In cases where a member was on maternity leave when the alleged overpayment took place and/or has reduced hours the legitimacy and reasonableness of the alleged overpayment can also be challenged.

In all of these cases, Napo cannot guarantee that a challenge would be successful in removing the alleged overpayment but by presenting such challenges members can delay the repayment process and increase the potential of the NPS changing their collective position whilst the challenges take place.

D. Challenge to make sure the alleged overpayment recovery plan is fair and affordable

Napo believes that no repayment, even if fully explained and legally justifiable, should be more than 5% of disposable income. Nor do we believe that it is reasonable to seek to recover money for an excessive period of time as members should not have the consequences of their employers errors impacting upon them for a prolonged period.

These two benchmarks may not however be compatible. For example, in one recent case the overpayment for someone who had significantly reduced their hours was several thousand pounds and using the 5% rule could have taken almost a decade to pay back. The threat was that any amount unpaid if and when they left would have to be recovered in full – meaning they could be tied to the NPS which of course is itself potentially illegal. In that case the alleged overpayment was greatly reduced, after Napo’s input, to accommodate some fair and reasonable recovery.

You are entitled to negotiate a reasonable recovery plan and one must be agreed before any monies are taken. The evidence you are asked to provide to support your case in negotiations should also not be intrusive or compromise your own data protection rights.

Any costs incurred in relation to addressing the alleged overpayments can also be accounted for and set against the claim as it should not cost you anything to help them rectify their error. This will include all mobile phone calls to the SSCL (charged at premium rate so use work phones and time where at all possible) and potentially compensation if you have had to use your own time (e.g. you’ve retired or are on sick or maternity leave).


If you are not yet a member of Napo but encounter this problem we are willing, as part of the collective nature of the dispute, to be flexible around our usual rules about not representing someone who joins with an existing problem.

If someone fills in the questionnaire and joins Napo then we will progress their case alongside others in the same position. However, you must join Napo immediately for us to progress a questionnaire and we will review the level of legal support we can afford to support for members who had not taken out our “employment insurance” by joining Napo prior to the overpayment demand arriving.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

MoJ and Secrecy

As time goes by it will become increasingly apparent to more people why probation should never be part of the MoJ and disappear behind a wall of secrecy, subject to a stifling civil service command and control philosophy. The following ET case reported by Buzzfeed sheds some light on what the issues are:-   

An Academic Says She Was Bullied At The Ministry Of Justice After Revealing It Was Running A Programme That Made Sex Offenders More Likely To Reoffend

An academic whose research revealed that the Ministry of Justice’s treatment of sex offenders in prison might actually increase their chance of reoffending is suing the department. She says she was bullied out of her job after whistleblowing about the results. Dr Kathryn Hopkins worked as a researcher in the MoJ’s analytical services department. Her study of the controversial Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) suggested that five years on from release, prisoners who had been on the programme were more likely to commit a sexual offence again.

The SOTP was a six month group therapy course taken by thousands of prisoners serving sentences for rape, child abuse and other sexual offences from 1991 to 2017. The controversial scheme involved bringing offenders together in groups to discuss their crimes. 

Amongst those believed to have undergone the treatment programme are the black cab rapist John Worboys and several notorious paedophiles. Another alumnus of the SOTP course is Clive Sharp, who took the course after being convicted and jailed three times for sexual attacks including rape of an underage girl when he was 17. According to a report in the Mail on Sunday, he told his SOTP facilitator in the 1990s that he fantasised about tying up a woman, then raping and murdering her. When released in October 2012 he went on to do just that, sexually torturing, killing and dismembered a woman. He is now serving life with a minimum 37-year term.

Hopkins says she raised the alarm in early 2012 that it was not working – and indeed that her early findings suggested it increased reoffending and was a risk to public safety. In June 2012, an independent peer review recommended that the report could be published, subject to some changes. Instead of stopping the programme, the research was re-run in different ways over several years and eventually given to a different researcher to complete.

The hearing started at the Central Employment Tribunal in London on Monday and is expected to conclude next week. The MoJ had a solicitor and barrister appearing in court for them. Hopkins is making her case with no lawyer and began giving evidence on Tuesday. She argues that her career suffered after whistleblowing because she was taken off the project, given a critical performance review, overlooked for promotion, bullied by managers and was not named as an author on the final report.

The MoJ disputes her account. It says It had issues with her performance and that she was not listed as an author on the final report because it was a “complete reset and reconstruction and analysis of the data set” undertaken after she had been moved off the project.

It was not until January 2017 – almost five years after Hopkins raised her initial findings – that the MoJ stopped the SOTP. The MoJ argues this was because the research was more robust by this point. Despite multiple freedom of information requests which began in 2012, the final report was not published until June 2017, and that only happened five days after the report findings were published in the Mail on Sunday following a leak. The MoJ published the latest version of the research without naming Hopkins as an author.

In a witness statement to the court, she described the horrified reaction of managers and prison service officials when she called a meeting to break the news of the results in early 2012. “It was met with shock and anger - I was told that the results could not possibly be correct. I assured them that the methodology was robust, the datasets large, the follow-ups long, but this was not accepted. I pointed out that previous research in the area, upon which the claims of efficacy of the SOTP were based, were far inferior to the analysis I had undertaken, but I was not believed. I was told that the results must be wrong - but not given any indication as to why.”

The MoJ disputes her account of the meeting, arguing that she did not disclose her concerns that early and that the results were “insufficiently certain” at that stage for them to act. By the end of 2013, after another year of working on the project, Hopkins says she had run the evaluation again and discovered that increasing the sample size produced results that were stronger “and therefore even more alarming” than previously.

Hopkins says that she was made to re-run the study in different ways multiple times, including increasing the sample size, but the research was still not published. She told the court: “We kept on getting the same results, over and over and over again.” She says she blew the whistle multiple times to people within the MoJ and prison service, arguing that the SOTP should be stopped at least temporarily given the public safety implications of her findings.

In court documents she says: “I expressed my concern again about the public safety implications, and suggested that the SOTP should be stopped, even temporarily, until the research was finished. However, I was ignored.” Hopkins’ manager at the MoJ, whom she has accused of bullying her, argues in her witness statement that Hopkins was too emotionally involved in the research and “would just re-write the same analysis without undertaking full quality assurance”.

In court documents the manager says she considered “the problem was competence on [Hopkins’] part, as she did not appear to understand or be able to act on my and others’ concerns and/or a refusal to consider any other point of view except her own.” The manager said the department delayed publication because of quality concerns. “Publishing something that I still had major concerns about was going to damage the reputation of the department and may have an unwarranted negative impact on operational practice,” she said in a statement.

The MoJ argues that the need for extra scrutiny and to re-run the data was because of the seriousness of the national and international implications of the subject. It says they had concerns about the robustness of the methodology and that the delays were to make sure the report was of the best quality. However, the conclusions of the final study are similar to Hopkins’ initial findings. Hopkins’ initial report found that 7.9% of offenders who had attended the SOTP sexually re-offended, compared with 4.3% of untreated offenders. When the research was finally concluded, officially under a different author using slightly different methodology and a longer time span, the results showed a similar trend.

The final study said that 10% of sex offenders who went on the course committed at least one sexual re-offence (excluding breach) compared with 8.0% of matched comparison offenders who did not. The difference was even more marked for child sex offenders, with 4.4% of those on the course reoffending, compared to 2.9% of the comparison group.

Hopkins was told not to discuss the research findings and in December 2013 was told to respond to an FOI withholding the report, as it was 'about to be published'. She recalled: “I was not happy to do this, as I knew that there were no plans to publish the report, and felt that I had been asked to breach the Civil Service Code”. Hopkins argues that it was “common practice to make false statements in response to FOI requests,” citing revelations by BuzzFeed News last year over the failure to release a full report into unrepresented defendants under FOI. The Ministry of Justice disputes this.

In March 2014 Hopkins emailed a long complaint about the public protection issues associated with the SOTP to managers, alleging a cover-up by the MoJ. She complained about being asked to run and re-run analysis that always came up with the same results and said that her professional expertise was being ignored. She pleaded to have the report sent for independent peer review.

One manager said that they were unable to support the report’s publication in 2014 because “I and others both within and outside the Directorate could not be confident [it] was robust, as it had not addressed all issues raised through quality assurance processes.”

In December 2014 she was told her performance was “must improve”. Hopkins argues this was because of her whistleblowing and the pressure she was putting on the department to publish. However, in court papers her managers argue “there was evidence to support that her quality of work was inconsistent and had a higher volume of errors than was expected, and that she needed to demonstrate better collaborative working.”

Hopkins worked for the MoJ from 2007 until September 2016, when she moved to HMRC. The final paper was published on 30 June 2017.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

MoJ Minister Says Very Little

Nobody seems to hang around long at the MoJ and after the breath of fresh air from Rory Stewart, the new incumbent doesn't sound that inspiring judging by his inaugural speech at the recent Modernising Justice conference. He reckons he 'knows what works' which should be sufficient cause for concern and he's obviously happy not returning 'probation' to his title.  

Robert Buckland QC speech: Modernising Criminal Justice Conference 2019

This is my first keynote speech as the Minister of State for Justice. That’s my full and frankly rather formal title. Many of you will be familiar with the more colloquial, the more catchy title: ‘Prisons Minister’.

As I have said to my team, I think the term ‘Justice Minister’ is actually a better fit for what I’m doing. That’s not some sort of rebranding exercise on my part, it’s because I think it’s important to take a ‘whole system approach’ to our criminal justice network, of which prisons are one important constituent part, but by no means the whole story. My other responsibilities include the probation service and they include sentencing policy as a whole.

Of course, in a sense, we’re not really talking about a single system at all – we’re talking about a kind of eco-system – made up of a complex network of separate yet interconnecting and mutually dependent systems, services and organisations. It’s where I’ve spent, as you’ve heard, most of my professional career – over 25 years in fact – first as a criminal barrister in courts like Swansea, Cardiff, Merthyr and Newport and also as a part-time judge in a Crown Court. For nearly 5 years I was the Solicitor General before taking up this post last month.

I have seen the trends. I have seen what works. I’ve also seen what doesn’t work. And I have seen how important it is that different parts of our system – and other sectors and services well beyond it – work properly together. And today’s conference provides an opportunity to share insights, to collaborate and to learn from each other as we continue to build a modern justice system, taking advantage of new technology and new approaches.

My direct experience of working within the criminal justice system has informed and shaped my views on how we improve it. In fact, in my very first speech in the House of Commons as a newly-elected MP some 9 years ago, I was clear about the need for us to be smart on crime and to look at tackling the causes of criminality, with the root of it all being crime prevention and early intervention. That’s what I still believe and will be one of my guiding principles as Justice Minister.

Now we all know that the criminal justice system should be much more effective at rehabilitating offenders so they don’t go on to commit more crime and to create more victims of crime. We all want to see justice delivered for victims of crime and a system that properly supports and protects those victims and vulnerable people too. And we all recognise that those who break the law need to be punished in a way that is proportionate, purposeful, and which protects the public.

Now I believe we are all united in that and, in general, in what needs to be done to deliver it. In a whole-system approach, we also need to make sure that respective structures and systems are united too. That’s why there are new structures in place in Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service that will ensure we will have an equal focus on probation and prisons, and I’ll be working with Jo Farrar and her team to do just that. But as well as structures and systems, there’s another ‘S’ word that I believe is right at the heart of driving and implementing reform – and that’s ‘staff’.

Now having worked over the years with our hard-working and dedicated prison officers and probation officers – I don’t need to be persuaded of their contribution and huge importance to our system. You will know that we have invested significantly to increase staff numbers. We’ve recruited over 4,500 new prison officers – that’s exceeding the original target of 2,500. And that brings the total figure in the system to over 22,500 officers, returning us to around the same staffing levels as in March of 2012. And we’ve also appointed 700 extra probation service officers too.

Now I’d like to warmly welcome everybody who’s recently joined the service and sincerely thank everyone – old and new – who works in our prisons, in probation services – and indeed our wider justice system – for the often challenging and difficult work that they do – day in and day out. And I am clear that there is more we need to do to support our staff and to ensure that the workforce is more representative and I’ve already been listening to those needs and concerns. And I’ve also been struck by the expertise and commitment of the people I’ve met. And I look forward – politics permitting of course – to meeting many more of you very soon and to share in and see the great work you are doing.

What’s also struck me is just how important it is that we get the support right for prisoners so that they are set on a path towards rehabilitation and away from reoffending. And to do that, we need to focus our efforts from the inside out and from the outside in. Let me start from the inside out. We need prisons that are fundamentally safe and secure. That’s about ensuring we prevent drugs, mobile phones and other contraband entering our prison estate. Now a lot of work has been undertaken already to stop the flow of these items and to disrupt and bring to justice the criminal gangs who frankly are targeting our prisons.

This very much includes the 10 Prisons Project, supported by my predecessor. And may I pay tribute to the work of Rory Stewart. He served for 18 months in office and proved himself passionate, dedicated and brought real energy to the role. Rory of course notably said he would resign if violence and drugs didn’t reduce in the 10 prisons within a year. I have said I am going to do things my way, but I remain passionately interested in the outcomes of this project. As I am sure you will be.

We will report the results of the project publicly this coming August, twelve months after his announcement. We’ll be comparing a quarter’s assaults data from August 2018 with a quarter’s assaults data to June 2019. That will be, at the time, the most up to date data available at the conclusion of the project. And alongside this, we will also report mandatory drug testing results for the 10 prisons.

Being able to safely and securely hold those sentenced to custody – and effectively supervise people in the community – has to be the first thing we need to get right, but it can’t be the only thing. It’s also about having the right support in place that will prevent offenders committing more crime. We’ve just marked the first anniversary of the Education and Employment Strategy, that’s a vital strategy to ensure prison is a place where offenders can develop the skills they need to secure employment on release. It’s one of the key factors that will determine whether they reoffend. Let me give you just two examples of that important work:

The New Futures Network is brokering partnerships between prisons and employers to help businesses fill those skills gaps and for prisoners to find employment, initially it’s working in Yorkshire, Tees & Tyne and Wear and Wales and is now recruiting employment brokers to cover all of our jurisdiction. And last month, we announced changes to the release on temporary licence rules – the ROTL rules – which will allow prisoners to be considered for temporary release earlier to provide more opportunities to work and train with employers.

But as well as getting the conditions and support right in our prisons, we also need to look past the prison gates. We also need to tackle this from the outside in. And in February, the Secretary of State, David Gauke, set out a vision that recognises prison as the right place for the most serious offenders, but looks beyond the traditional prison estate to more innovative, effective alternatives in our community.

In particular, it’s clear that short prison sentences simply aren’t working. Over a quarter of all reoffending is committed by those who have served short sentences of 12 months or less. They trap people in a cycle of crime that is very difficult to break out of. The result is more offending, more victims, more crime. That’s why we think there is a case to abolish or further restrict the use of sentences of 6 months or less with some exceptions, and we hope to set out our proposals for consultation by the summer. And alongside this, we need to ensure that there are more robust and effective alternatives to prison in place.

And I want to make sure that sentencers have a real choice when it comes to the options before them. And having sat as a sentencer, I know from the perspective of the judge how important that is. Getting the balance right, getting the sentence right, not just to fit the crime but also to fit the criminal in the dock before the sentencer.

Now a key part of this shift from custody to community will be about harnessing and embracing modern technology. And we’ve seen how technology is already making a difference in the justice system. For example, our investment in new video conference centres is allowing local courts to hold virtual hearings and avoid the need to transport prisoners. In April, Her Majesty’s Prison and Youth Offending Institution Peterborough became the fourth prison to get a new centre.

Now careful and targeted use of technology can really help – it’s not just technology for technology’s sake – but to help deliver the outcomes we all want to see. And the same is true with community sentences. We’ve already announced the roll out of GPS tagging so that offenders in England and Wales can be monitored 24 hours a day. The tags have a very wide range of uses including creating no-go zones for an offender, checking that offenders are attending a rehabilitation programme and monitoring their whereabouts.

Last month, I visited the Manchester Electronic Monitoring Centre. And there, I saw the teams who are responsible for monitoring information generated from those GPS tags. I also learnt about how staff engage with other stakeholders, including prisons, probation, the police and courts. But new technology on its own is not enough. Collaboration with other parts of the system will be vital for the success of tagging, particularly when it comes to the enforcement of breaches.

Now despite its potential, new technology can only go so far. Confidence in community sentences starts with confidence in the probation services that deliver them. As we announced last month, we will be ending CRC contracts early and streamlining responsibilities for public, private and voluntary sector partners. Now that means a stronger and enhanced role for the National Probation Service in managing all offenders, greater voluntary sector involvement in rehabilitation, and the private sector leading where it has specialist experience and where it can support innovation in rehabilitating offenders and organising Unpaid Work placements.

Each National Probation Service region will have a private or voluntary sector partner – an Innovation Partner – who will be responsible for delivering Unpaid Work and Accredited Programmes in the community. And we will also be developing a commercial framework to allow the NPS to directly commission services on a scale that encourages the participation of those smaller suppliers and truly being responsive to the needs of local areas. And our plan is to ringfence an initial £20 million per year for a Regional Outcome Fund to be spent on innovative, cross-cutting approaches. And that will allow us to test services before expanding them.

These changes I believe will allow each sector to play to its strengths, to deliver more investment in skilled probation staff, and to ensure stronger supervision and support for offenders so that sentencers and indeed the public will have confidence in community alternatives to prison. I want to see prisons and probation systems working collaboratively with partners at a local and national level and work effectively together to deliver our new probation system.

As we make these changes, with care and due attention to the interests of our dedicated staff, we will continue to focus relentlessly on improving operational performance through the way in which we manage contracts and the investments we make in the delivery of services. So this year, for example, we will spend an additional £22 million supporting offenders as they move through the prison gate into the community.

And we also need to make sure that judges and magistrates get the right information on what probation services are available locally to improve the quality of rehabilitation support offered by probation in our communities. So for example, we are working very closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to pilot a Treatment Requirement Programme to increase the number of community sentences that have mental health, drug and alcohol treatment requirements. Because frankly for too long, although those options have existed in the statute book, have they really been a reality for sentencers? I think not.

I know there are real challenges for our system. I am not prepared to just wring my hands and say: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. As I have set out, there are things that we can do, and we are doing, and which will make a difference. Whether that difference is made through more joined-up support, better targeted interventions or by introducing and harnessing new technology, when we talk about “modernisation”, we must understand that our work frankly is never going to be fully done. What is “modern” today becomes quickly out of date if we aren’t constantly vigilant.

The prison and probation population is constantly changing. It presents new challenges each year. The idea that our justice system alone should – or could – be responsible for offender management – itself a term that I think is becoming increasingly inadequate to describe what we are trying to do – is just plain wrong. Without other agencies of national and local government, plus the private and third sectors, the justice system would be little more than a set of pious hopes and intentions.

I believe that by working closely together: prisons, probation, police, the courts, national, local, voluntary, private, public sector, these reforms will allow us to seize the opportunity to finally turn the tide on reoffending. We know what works, we know what the evidence says, we know what to do. And we’re getting on with it.

By doing so, by building on the progress made so far and, by harnessing that new technology, we can ensure our criminal justice system punishes those who have broken the law in a purposeful and in a targeted way – increasingly in our communities – and at the same time can better support offenders to turn away from crime for good and to re-join society as law-abiding citizens. Ultimately, that will mean, as I say, less crime, fewer victims and safer communities.

Robert Buckland QC