Saturday, 1 November 2014

Wheels Coming Off

It will be interesting to see how long it is before Chris Grayling announces he has full confidence in Paul McDowell, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, now that we all know that his 'close relationship' with Sodexo is through marriage. Alan Travis of the Guardian last night outlined the whole astonishing situation:-   
Probation inspector at centre of row over wife’s job at outsourcing firm
The future of the chief of the probation watchdog has been put into question as a fresh conflict of interest row hit Whitehall. Paul McDowell, the chief inspector of probation, is at the centre of a row following the disclosure that his wife is the deputy managing director of a private justice company that this week won the largest number of contracts to run probation services in England and Wales.
The disclosure came shortly after Fiona Woolf stepped down as the head of an inquiry into historical child sex abuse after a conflict of interest row. McDowell was appointed by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to the crucial watchdog role last November. He is also a former chief executive of the crime reduction charity Nacro, which, in partnership with his wife Janine’s outsourcing company, Sodexo Justice Services, won six of the 21 regional probation contracts to supervise more than 200,000 offenders each year.
The Sodexo-Nacro partnership was named as preferred bidder to supervise tens of thousands of low- to medium-risk offenders in six parts of England, including in South Yorkshire, Essex, Northumbria, Cumbria and Lancashire, Norfolk and Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire as part of a £450m-a-year privatisation of 70% of the work of the probation service.
On Friday McDowell said he would not resign, saying that he had declared the conflict of interest when he applied for the £135,000-a-year job and that it could be “managed appropriately” by delegating inspections of the work of his wife’s company and his former charity. “My wife and I do not discuss issues which it is inappropriate for us to discuss. We are very aware of what is appropriate and what is not,” he interrupted his holiday to tell the Guardian. “We have acted with absolute integrity and professionalism … I will not be got at by anybody.”
But Sir Alan Beith, the chairman of the justice select committee, and the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, said the disclosure raised serious questions about McDowell’s independence. Beith is particularly concerned that his committee was not told of Janine McDowell’s leading role in Sodexo when they endorsed her husband as Grayling’s preferred candidate at a special pre-appointment hearing for the job last autumn. He said: “If the secretary of state was notified at the time of Mr McDowell’s appointment of the close family member, the justice committee should have been told. That interest has now become more significant now that Sodexo, as a preferred bidder, is likely to be directly involved in the provision of probation services with Nacro in six community rehabilitation company areas.”
Beith said that McDowell’s background had meant he was well suited to be a fully independent chief inspector. “The secretary of state and the committee will now need to consider the implications of the interest issue having become much more significant.” The conflict of interest was not disclosed in either the evidence submitted in a letter by Grayling to the committee, nor in a lengthy CV or in oral evidence. McDowell told the Guardian he could not remember the issue being raised in the hearing and he didn’t think it had been. The committee confirmed on Friday that it had not been disclosed.
Khan said that so far McDowell had been “all but silent” on reports of chaos in the probation service caused by the government’s privatisation programme. “With this information coming to light, some will question whether this silence is because of his links with a company and a charity that has hoovered up big chunks of the privatised probation system.”
On Thursday the justice minister, Simon Hughes, highlighted McDowell’s key role in monitoring Grayling’s shakeup. Hughes denied claims of daily chaos, telling the BBC Today programme: “The independent inspector of probation has alerted us to no concerns that the system isn’t moving across.”
When he appointed McDowell, Grayling said: “We are making radical changes to the rehabilitation of offenders, and we expect HMI Probation to play a vital role in maintaining high standards and shining a light across the new system, helping us to get the best from our crucial reforms.”
Khan said that during a critical period for the probation service it was crucial the chief inspector did his job without fear or favour and independent of government, political parties or big corporate interests.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The chief inspector of probation did not have any involvement in the procurement of probation services. The terms of his appointment include a commercial confidentiality clause. This includes members of his family.” Justice ministry sources said McDowell had always been upfront about the professional role of his wife. They also pointed to the legislation on potential or actual conflicts of interest involving chief inspectors which allows them to delegate all their duties, including signing off the report and leading on their media coverage.
Both the MoJ and McDowell believe the issue could be “worked out over the next week or so”. An MoJ spokesperson said: “Preferred bidders have only just been announced and as with any contract the department will, of course, ensure that any potential conflicts are fully evaluated and appropriate arrangements put in place as necessary.” 
McDowell said his role as a watchdog or in producing thematic reports would not be compromised by his withdrawal from inspecting the work done by Sodexo-Nacro. He said he would still be inspecting the work of the remaining 15 community rehabilitation companies, 150 youth offending teams and the rump national probation service. He insisted that inability to comment on the national probation situation or produce thematic reports would not be compromised as they did not involve assessing the work of an individual supplier. 
He said while he was chief executive of Nacro before he became chief inspector in January he had withdrawn from all discussions about a possible partnership with Sodexo and the negotiations had all been conducted by his chairman.The McDowells met while both were in the prison service. Paul was at one point governor of the public-sector Brixton prison, while Janine, was the director of the Sodexo-run Bronzefield women’s prison in west London.
Even if he doesn't know it yet, Mr McDowell will shortly be learning the harsh lessons of political reality as Grayling seeks to look after his own interests. But the chickens keep coming home to roost at the beleagured MoJ as the judiciary continue to turn on the Lord Chancellor. On Friday a very senior judge in the family division threw down the gauntlet and clearly intends to defy the ministry, as reported here in the Guardian:-  
Government ‘washing its hands’ of legal aid problem for vulnerable parents
A senior judge has accused the government of washing its hands of the problem it has created by failing to provide legal aid for vulnerable parents in child custody cases. In what amounts to a confrontation between the judiciary and the executive over who controls spending in the courts, Sir James Munby, president of the family division, has handed down a judgment saying “some state agency” should pay the costs of legal representation in a case. 
Munby’s judgment, delivered in stark terms, is one of the most direct challenges over legal aid funding thrown down by a judge. It is the second time that Munby has threatened to order the courts service to pay for legal representation that parliament has explicitly withdrawn. In August, he warned the Ministry of Justice in the parental access case of Q v Q that costs would have to be borne by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) if a father’s right to a fair trial were to be upheld.
The language in the latest judgment, known simply as “In the Matter of D (A Child)”, goes even further. It relates to the removal of a child by Swindon borough council from his parents, both of whom have learning difficulties.
Munby explained: “What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation.”
Munby explained: “What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation.”
What could be worse for a parent, Munby asked, than having their child permanently taken away from them? The parents of child D are unable, because of their own problems, to represent themselves in court. Munby continued: “In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the [European convention on human rights]; it would be a denial of justice. The child is also entitled to a fair trial.”
Munby then went on: “Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the state itself has created – for the state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession.
Actually this is as good a time as any to mention a few other chickens coming home at the MoJ and that got over-looked as we concentrated on TR. There's Graylings plans for a massive prison for child offenders and the mounting opposition discussed here on politics.co.uk:- 
Critics frozen out of MoJ as Grayling pushes ahead with child warehouse plan
If you want to get Chris Grayling's attention, you need to appear in the Daily Telegraph. That's what he reads with his breakfast cereal. Apparently it's the only newspaper he cares about. Campaign groups took note of that as they tried to halt the creation of massive child prisons ahead of today's debate in the House of Lords. Their letter to the newspaper won the attention of Grayling's colleagues, Andrew Selous and Simon Hughes, who wrote to them to invite them in for a meeting.
But they didn’t invite all of them. The Howard League, of course, was rejected, along with a few others. The Howard League is persona non grata at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Grayling thinks they’re some sort of left-wing pressure group, rather than a critical voice from civil society. He imagines himself in a manner which is not dissimilar to a Chinese bureaucrat, conspired against by imaginary enemies.
We don’t know which other signatories were rejected, because the MoJ won't say. It could be Liberty, or the Prison Reform Trust, or Action for Children, or the Royal College of Psychiatrists, or any of the other groups who are intensely uncomfortable with the proposals.
"Thank you for your email," the MoJ reply said. "A selection of organisations working in the youth justice field were invited by Andrew Selous and Simon Hughes to discuss the secure college. In particular, ministers are keen to hear from those whose views have not perhaps been a matter of public record or as well-known, and/or who might not have had a chance to discuss matters with ministers previously. Therefore, we are keeping the cast list for the meeting to those who have received an invitation." All the classic MoJ traits are here: secrecy, an aversion to criticism, pushing on regardless of the evidence.
One might ask why the MoJ invited critics to discuss it at all, but when it comes to the child prison proposal critics are all you're likely to find. The plans go against everything we know about what works: small, family-style residences with a focus on rehabilitation.
Instead, we are building warehouses, dubbed 'secure colleges', to house 320 people, far away from home, at a cost of £85 million. Use of force will be a central part of the regime, even though the court of appeal found it to be unlawful in 2008. Chris Grayling's draconian approach to penal policy means violence is making a come-back. Restraint will be allowed "to maintain good order and discipline where a young person poses a risk to maintaining a safe and stable environment" – a definition so broad as to be applicable for the most minor of indiscretions.
Then there's this from the Law Society Gazette about possible claims:-
Compensation warning on parole delays
The Parole Board could face more compensation claims as it grapples with a growing backlog of cases requiring oral hearings, public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned. The board has estimated that the number of oral hearings each year could increase from 4,500 to more than 14,000 after the Supreme Court ruled last year that prisoners are entitled to an oral hearing more frequently than before.
In its report on the Ministry of Justice for 2013/14, the NAO notes that the board received additional funding to meet this challenge and was undergoing significant change as it developed a new operating model. The backlog of cases due to receive an oral hearing increased from 1,245 in September 2013 to 2,087 in March 2014.
‘The growing backlog of cases at the Parole Board will lead to further delays in releasing prisoners, making the Parole Board liable to more compensation claims and increasing the costs incurred by the prison system by extending the time prisoners are held,’ the NAO said. ‘It may also increase the number of prisoners held in crowded prisons.’
The 2013-14 National Offender Management Service annual report and accounts noted that 22.9% of prisoners were held in crowded prisons, where the occupancy exceeded the Certified Normal Accommodation in that unit. The average annual direct cost per prisoner was £26,000 in 2012/13.
Finally, a reminder that the MoJ is not very good at spending our money wisely, as reported here:-
MoJ launches “lessons learned exercise” after writing off £45m on abandoned court projects
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has promised to launch a “formal lessons learned exercise” after writing off £45.8m on abandoned building projects for new courts. The figure was contained in a National Audit Office (NAO) report ahead of a hearing this week of the justice select committee into the MoJ’s operations.
Sir Alan Beith, chairman of the committee, asked MoJ officials about the money which the department “seemed to have lost” at a hearing yesterday morning. Craig Watkins, director of finance and planning at the MoJ, said the projects were initiated “many years ago” prior to the creation of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the MoJ.
“They were initiated at a time when the financial context was very different and also the operational needs of the courts’ service at that point was different from what we now think it will be going forward,” Mr Watkins said.
Stop Press 

Grayling is a slippery character alright and with his PR background knows how to massage the media. He's come up with a brand new wheeze to grab public attention ahead of the General Election by just making an announcement regarding police cautions, as reported here by the BBC. I fail to see how it will be 'less bureaucratic'.
Police cautions 'to be scrapped' in England and Wales
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said victims should not feel that criminals are "walking away scot-free". Under the new system, offenders would make good damage they have done or pay compensation for less serious crimes. Those who commit more serious offences would face court if they fail to comply with conditions set out by police.
The system is to be trialled for a year in the Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and Leicestershire police force areas. If successful it will be introduced across England and Wales. The government says the new scheme - which will also give victims a say in how the offender is dealt with - will be both tougher and more simple.
Mr Grayling said: "It isn't right that criminals who commit lower-level crime can be dealt with by little more than a warning. "It's time we put an end to this country's cautions culture. I think every crime should have a consequence, and this change will deliver that. "Under the new system we are introducing, offenders will face prosecution if they fail to comply with the conditions set by the police, so that no one is allowed to get away with the soft option." 
The overhaul of out-of-court disposals would see conditional cautions, simple cautions, penalty notices for disorder, cannabis and khat warnings and community resolutions replaced by the new two-tier framework. First-time offenders committing minor crimes would face a new statutory community resolution as part of the scheme.
This could see them offering a verbal or written apology to their victim, paying compensation or fixing damage. More serious crimes would be dealt with by a suspended prosecution which would have one or more conditions attached, for example paying a fine, or attending a rehabilitation course. Suspended prosecutions would be traced on a criminal record but community resolutions would not, the Ministry of Justice said.
Mr Grayling added: "Our police officers do a brilliant job in keeping our streets safe. But victims should not feel like offenders are walking away scot-free. "I'm not prepared to allow the current situation to continue and that is why I am making these changes. "This new approach will empower victims and give them a say in how criminals are dealt with, as well as making it easier for officers to deal with more minor offences."
Chief Constable Lynne Owens, national policing lead on out-of-court disposals, said the reforms should reduce bureaucracy and help increase public understanding. She said: "The pilots seek to test a new approach which gives officers and staff the discretion to deal with cases appropriately. "It will engage the victim in the process and require offenders to take responsibility for their actions." Police officers will use their judgement to assess each offence, as they do with the current system.
Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said: "We have pressed hard for a simplification of cautions, so this pilot is welcome especially in empowering victims. "However, we need to see more detail on the measurement of the pilot's effectiveness because our members tell us there are existing challenges with local scrutiny panels in evaluating the current regime for out-of-court disposals. "It's also important that this doesn't lead to an over-escalation and criminalisation of behaviour currently dealt with by informal community resolutions."
"Community Resolutions are a good approach but this move intended to create illusion of fall in reconviction rate." Comment via twitter by Sally Lewis.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Latest From Napo 46

The following is a circular from Napo HQ sent out today and republished here with permission:-

To: Branch Chairs, Vice Chairs, Secretaries & Convenors
Family Court SEC (for info)
Cc: NEC Reps Napo Officers and Officials


Dear Colleague,
URGENT REQUEST FOR INFORMATION FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

Further to Napo's announcement to proceed with an application for Judicial Review, both Napo and our legal team are going through the Treasury Solicitors response and have identified areas where we require further information from the front line in order to challenge the MOJ on certain points. As such we urgently require the information outlined as attached. As much or as little detail as you are able to give would be extremely useful at this stage.

This is urgently required and we would ask Branches to try to respond by 5pm Monday 3rd November where possible to tbassett@napo.org.uk
                                
Yours sincerely

IAN LAWRENCE
General Secretary

BR 132/2014

URGENT REQUEST FOR INFORMATION FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

Please try to respond by 5pm Monday 3rd November where possible to tbassett@napo.org.uk

QUESTIONS:

1. What support are the CRC's currently providing to the NPS in terms of working across the divide, sessional work supervising cases/acting as duty etc? This is likely to vary around the country.

2. Access to nDelius and OASys records for CRC staff. The MOJ are denying that there is a problem with staff accessing records. In particular those in interventions. We need members in the CRC's to confirm if there is still a problem accessing records? How easy it is for NPS staff to allow access and if this is being done routinely? What information is available on the "front sheet" and how helpful is that to staff?

3. Further to above have any CRC managers seen the proposed extended front sheet due to be released in December? If so how helpful is this for CRC staff seeing NPS offenders in the absence of NPS staff being available?

4. Workloads - We need to gain a picture of what workloads are like across both the NPS and the CRC's. In particular workloads according to grade. Are PSO's still holding high risk cases? Are there examples of caseloads of 50+? TPO's holding complex cases above their training and experience?

5. Risk escalation process- The MOJ is asserting that very few CRC staff have needed to use the Risk Escalation Process implying that risk escalation is rare. Napo believes that at least 5% of offenders are subject to risk escalation during their sentence but we need evidence to support this. How often is the risk escalation process being used? How much more complex the process compared to processes prior to the 1st June?

Omnishambles Gets Bigger

Some four months on from the split, we know in some detail the extent of the chaos reigning everywhere in both NPS and the CRCs and now we know the identity of those in the frame who are likely to be owning and running 70% of this increasingly dysfunctional Service.

Not only do most have little or no knowledge of our work, many have murky backgrounds, and to top it all off, information is already emerging of interesting and cosy relationships and connections that are worryingly going to give rise to thoughts of possible conflicts of interest.

But, as if that wasn't enough, mindful of the expression that truth is usually the first casualty of war, the junior justice minister Simon Hughes managed to tell three lies in two sentences yesterday morning on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme. Here's Ian Dunt on the politics.co.uk website:-
Did minister mislead public over probation sell-off?
Questions were raised about ministerial comments related to the sell-off of privatisation today, following Simon Hughes' appearance on the Today programme. The justice minister said that:
  • a pilot had been carried out
  • there had been no criticisms from the independent inspector
  • serious cases would still fall to the national service
But critics of the scheme cast doubt on all of those statements, as the war of words over the sell-off turned into a full blown legal battle.
Lawyers are currently preparing to issue papers after the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) decided to pursue a judicial review over the plans. The announcement came a day after the Ministry of Justice published the winners of the sell-off, with private firms Sodexo and Interserve winning the lion's share of contracts. Probation workers have warned that officers, offenders and members of the public are being put at risk by an atomised system, with staff overworked and unable to access all the information about the people they are responsible for. This morning, Hughes said:
"When you change the system there is naturally nervousness amongst the people who work in the old system but we have taken our time, we have done this deliberatively, it's not done in a rush, there’s been piloting of the new sorts of system in parts of the country. 
"The independent inspector of probation has alerted us to no concerns that the system isn't moving across and there will be a new national public probation service for serious offenders, in every part of the country, in England and Wales."
Critics say the comments contain several inaccuracies. Firstly, they say there has been no pilot of the scheme.

"It is a fact that there has been no piloting of these plans," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told Politics.co.uk. "What's more, Chris Grayling cancelled the pilots of the scheme in his first week in the job, instead boasting to the House of Commons he prefers to 'trust his instinct' over hard, statistical evidence." 
Hughes' insistence that the independent inspector has not warned of risks in the plans is also open to doubt, given he is not due to give his report until December.
The comment that serious offenders will be kept in the public probation service was also dismissed by critics.
While it is true that high-risk offenders will be kept in the national service, many of the low-to-medium risk offenders who will now be handled by private companies have committed violent crimes, including robbery, violence against the person and sexual offences.
"On the day a legal challenge is launched against the government's reckless probation privatisation, Simon Hughes is out on the airwaves doing the Tory party's dirty work," Khan added. "The Lib Dems have fallen hook, line and sinker for the propaganda that this massive gamble with public safety has been tried and tested to make sure there are no problems or risks."
Lawyers for Napo will pursue the absence of published evidence on the new system's safety as the basis for a public duty legal challenge through judicial review. They will also pursue a private law duty based on the secretary of state's duty of care to probation staff.
The Ministry of Justice refuses to publish details of the safety tests it says it has conducted into the break-up of the national service and will not respond to freedom of information requests. 
Grayling originally received the letter threatening legal action on Monday last week but Treasury solicitors did not respond until the deadline, on Friday afternoon, when they issued a holding letter asking for another two days. Before the two days had passed the Ministry of Justice quietly published the list of preferred bidders. They then issued a response insisting there had been sufficient consultation on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme – a claim probation staff deny.
Academic Rob Allen is more measured on his Unlocking Potential websitebut raises other worrying issues and a whole new aspect of the ever-growing TR omnishambles created by Chris Grayling:-
Is Inspectorate up to the task of alerting Ministers to risks of Probation reforms?
This morning, Justice Minister Simon Hughes defended the government’s probation reforms. He used three main arguments, all highly questionable. First he claimed that Transforming Rehabilitation has been undertaken “deliberatively” and over an appropriate time scale. 
Yes there has been consultation but it is hard to see much evidence of how debate has influenced the shape of the programme. And the timescale has been widely criticised as too rushed, dictated by the need to sign the contracts ahead of the election. Even new providers are concerned about the pace. Only half-jokingly, a senior representative of one told me recently that there was only one thing more worrying than losing out in the bidding process and that was winning the contracts.

Hughes’s second contention was that the reforms had been piloted. This is a half- truth at best. Yes there has been piloting of post release supervision of short term prisoners which seems to have shown positive results. Payment by Results has been tested in a number of contexts. But just as trying out new computer programmes is of limited relevance if you are planning to change the whole operating system, so there is a good deal of uncertainty about how the moving parts in the new probation machinery will actually mesh together. Yes that new system has been running for a few months; not before time, it looks as if a court of law will judge on the reasonableness of such a wholesale reorganisation given the risks that have been widely identified.

But perhaps Hughes most interesting point was that the independent inspector has alerted us to “no concerns that the system isn't moving across”. In fact the Chief Inspector of Probation wrote in his most recent annual report that “like all significant change programmes the transitional phase of Transforming Rehabilitation carries inevitable heightened risk.” But to be fair to Paul McDowell’s position, he recognises “the opportunity to innovate, to think afresh, and to make a significant impact on reoffending outcomes”. 
If Ministers are to look to the Chief Inspector to alert them to problems, it is obviously important that the office is structured to do that effectively, impartially and independently. In the case of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Chief Inspector is always appointed from outside the prison service to give that assurance. Moreover, the Prison Inspectorate website contains a register of interests for the Chief Inspector. On it, Nick Hardwick reports that he has a close relative who works for the Metropolitan Police service.

In the case of the Chief Inspector of Probation, there is no requirement that the post holder is drawn from outside the service which he or she inspects. Most have been former senior probation staff. Paul is a former Chief Executive of NACRO, the charity which will henceforth play a major role in the probation landscape which he will inspect. NACRO (for whom incidentally I worked from 1989 to 2000) has been named as the preferred bidder in six Community Rehabilitation Company areas.

NACRO’s partner is Sodexo, whose deputy managing director is Janine McDowell, who is a close relative of Paul. I have no reason at all to question the integrity of either Paul or Janine, whom I have met, like and respect as professionals. But I do think there is a potential for a perceived if not actual conflict of interest. It needs addressing at the very least by greater transparency and in future by recruiting Chief Inspectors from outside the world of probation and community rehabilitation companies.
Here's Mr McDowell explaining Nacro's plans on YouTube in 2011 and here's a couple of contributions from yesterday:- 

To be clear - Mr McDowell, former Nacro Chief exec, is now HM Inspector Of Probation, a person who SoS Grayling quotes as having no issue or concern with the probation split or TR. Ms McDowell (wife? Sister? Mother? Of...) is Deputy Managing Director of Sodexo Justice Services, who have just been awarded six preferred bidder spots in the probation sell-off. Ms McDowell moved into Sodexo Justice Services in 2007 - the point at which New Labour Govt passed the Act Grayling has just used to expedite TR. What did she do up to 2007?

I wonder who Sodexo's partner is in the six bids? A charity called NACRO perhaps? What's that we can smell?


******
Seems Ms McDowell made her name within the prison service, then moved to UKDS to run Bronzefield. At some point she was at HMYOI Feltham.

******
Bronzefield was a purpose-built establishment which opened in 2004. Originally run by UKDS (private company UK Detention Services), then Kalyx, then Sodexo. I suspect (to be confirmed) that UKDS became Kalyx which then became Sodexo.

Over the coming days we're all going to be kept very busy digging up more details of these fascinating relationships and the murky past of the privateers. I notice Harry Fletcher has posed some questions via twitter:-
Who is behind Purple Futures, and who is their Chair? Did all Primes know that contracts would be packaged?
These new provider Purple Futures, MTC Nova! Must be under complete scrutiny. Who are they? Whats their track record?
Which preferred bidders are backed financially by Gem Capital and by how much and will this be made public?
Will providers of probation services who also have contracts for work programmes for offenders be paid twice for same work?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Latest From Napo 45

Latest e-mail from Napo HQ sent this afternoon:- 
Dear Member,
Authorisation given to Lawyers to apply for Judicial Review
Last night on behalf of the Napo Officer Group, I was pleased to issue instructions to our lawyers Slater and Gordon to move to an application for a judicial review of the Secretary of State's plans to sell off 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) formed under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. This move, which followed receipt of an inadequate reply to our pre action protocol letter yesterday afternoon, also followed yesterday’s cynical announcement of Preferred Bidders by Chris Grayling, and has received excellent coverage today on the BBC TV News channel and BBC Radio 4, together with numerous regional and social media news outlets.
The application for a judicial review has two strands, a public law angle which includes a call upon the Secretary of State to publish the results of his testing processes so that he can evidence it is safe to proceed to a share sale of the CRCs, which he has thus far refused to do, and to ensure the new processes operate to protect the safety of the public and service users; and a potential private law angle which relates to a lack of duty of care by the employer to ensure the safety of staff.
Ministers in total self-denial 
On Radio 4 this morning Justice Minister Simon Hughes wrongly claimed that ‘the TR programme had been piloted and that the government had taken its time with the TR reforms.’ We will of course be challenging this, but it is more vital than ever that members alert their Members of Parliament to the facts about the disastrous TR agenda, citing that from the outset how the splitting of the probation service into a National Probation Service and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies has had a seriously damaging impact on services, and that there had been no piloting of the new model prior to national roll out. The significant IT failures and the chaotic operational lack of infrastructure has undermined the supervision of offenders, placed staff at direct risk of harm and has significantly increased the risk to communities and the public at large.
This is a major step for Napo but given the MoJ’s refusal to listen or act on our concerns we have been left with no other option but to take legal action against the Secretary of State in order to try and prevent an irreversible disaster.
Finally, can I thank members for their tremendous messages of support for Napo they are much appreciated and we need to build on the unity that we have established even more in the coming weeks.
Ian Lawrence General Secretary and the Napo Officer Group

The Reaction

In anyone's book, yesterday will go down as remarkable in the history of probation. At times of great anxiety and stress, people turn to Facebook, twitter and this blog for news and mutual support. We broke another record yesterday with a staggering 13,048 hits and this will not go unnoticed by the MoJ and potential successful bidders for our work.

Just in case there is any doubt regarding the reaction of the workforce to being taken over by a ragbag of outfits who know nothing about what we do, here's the first batch of responses:-    

Oh shit! What a bollox up...how did we get to 5 shit companies cleaning up?(!) Not one has any clue...a bloke down the pub told me the French catering company had done so badly that they extended the competition so they could get it right! It stinks to hi heaven. We have bin SOLD to the lowest bidders! GOOD LUCK COLLEAGUES. Lets see if there are any genitals left in the departing chiefs/aco to speak out. Sad sad day.

******

I can't believe Nacro come up trumps it's a rubbish organisation do nothing really to help offenders they don't even pick up the phone half the time. And to say they are the biggest reducing reoffending in South London sorry to say bull s**t they will fall flat on their face then others will have to clear up the mess or sub contract. But probation officers please don't give up your clients need YOU 100%.

*******

This can be said of a lot of the organisations and charities they have chosen, they have been doing this type of work for years and haven't been effective. Having worked with some of the agencies who are given funding they are just as bad as the private companies for taking money and providing a shocking service.

*******

I work in Northumbria where Sodexo have just been announced as the preferred bidder. Having seen the EPIC shambles they have made of running the local prison (HMP Northumberland), right down to being unable to answer the telephone, combined with the laying off of 200 staff within days of getting the contract, I fear for the future of Northumbria probation!

Once upon a time being a probation officer was my passion...now it's simply a job.

When (or if) they take over, they need to know that they are inheriting a workforce that is utterly demoralised and will do the bare minimum required to get through the day. No more working through dinner hours, running round after work to see clients, 'going the extra mile'. Zilch. Nada. From me, personally, you can all go to hell. Where you belong.

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Surely there is a conflict of interests Sodexo running CRCs and prisons?

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Sodexo will sub contract all your work to NACRO. You will be lucky or unlucky to see anyone with a croissant in their hand. Get used to Nacro shit everybody and as for kiosks...coming to an office near you...utter wa*k. I am furious....as someone has said, let one of the shisters from ANY party darken my door and I will rip their rossette off and shove it where a poor quality cleaning company won't clean.

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What happened to Carillion and Capita? I thought Mike Maiden was advising Carillion and wasn't it Roger Hill advising Capita? I can't see that they have been selected for anywhere.

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As a result of non selection, Crapitas share price has dropped by 6% today.

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Hmmmm... I know a mate who works in the prisons in a large area of England. The public prisons had Nacro doing their housing service but Nacro really struggled to meet the KPI of 100% housed on day of release. Shelter won the contract. Nacro staff were tupe'd over. Shelter hit the KPI as they use charitable donations to find the unlucky NFA's a B&B for the night of release. Shelter aren't really bothered what happens to them after that first day of release as it doesn't affect their KPI. 

Nacro pay atrociously low wages so the tupe'd staff were "ok-ish" with being moved over (Shelter's comparable salaries are about £6,000 less than our current salaries for similar roles). However, it quickly became clear that Shelter is a scary corporate dictatorship of an organisation and this caused serious unhappiness amongst the housing workers in prisons who constantly live in fear of which direction the organisation are going to take next. The sweetener of the added couple of grand in the pay packet wore off very quickly. My mate says the Shelter front line are genuinely lovely people but the hierarchy are more corporate than McDonalds.


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Working Links who can't look after offenders properly on the work programme and who were done for fraud in 2012 are going to run Wales CRC.

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Seetec (KSS) have a dreadful reputation as a work programme provider. It's all looking pretty grim.

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Nacro have been trying to grab Probation 'work' for years 25+. Quite a few colleagues jumped ship in that direction at previous times of change... never seen anything effective or consistent come from Nacro...seem to be good at bids and PR though.

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My experience of the Third sector is that they don't cope well with high caseloads. The workload that Probation have to deal with will be quite a shock to them. Yet their multinational allies will expect the caseloads to get higher yet. NACRO run a young persons project in my area and it's a shambles. Not sure if the likes of NACRO and Shelter have anything at risk in these contracts. If they do, we can expect these organisations to be bankrupted quite quickly.

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I can't sleep. How dare charities be actively working with large multinationals to destroy such an honourable profession for PROFIT? They are now complicit in the Terms and Conditions of thousands of workers being destroyed and the idea that they will support offenders by delivering ANYTHING meaningful is just ridiculous. 

As someone posted earlier, if the measurable target is accommodation for an offender upon release, then one nights B&B will be found and that's it, job done. These charities are sitting there watching their little empires grow but I warn them, they will be scrutinised and held accountable. You can't pretend to be the face of honour and altruism and in reality mired in 'filthy lucre'. 

See You In Court!

The uncertainty and wait is over! This from the BBC website:-
Probation union launches legal challenge over government reforms 
A legal challenge to government plans to privatise some probation services in England and Wales has been launched by the probation officers' union Napo. It says the government's decision to split up services has put probation staff and the public at risk.
It comes after the government announced a list of preferred bidders to buy and run private companies to supervise low and medium risk offenders. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said changes will help reduce reoffending. "These reforms are all about changing lives. We cannot go on with a situation where thousands of prisoners are released onto the streets every year with no guidance or support, and are simply left to reoffend," Mr Grayling said. "These reforms will transform the way in which we tackle reoffending."
Under the changes, the probation service - which was split in two earlier this year in preparation for the new system - will continue to supervise high risk ex-offenders. The National Probation Service (NPS) will supervise and rehabilitate 31,000 high-risk offenders. New Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) will supervise 200,000 low and medium risk offenders, including 45,000 short-sentence prisoners who currently do not receive any probation monitoring.
The contracts are worth around £450m a year over seven years. On Wednesday, ministers named the private firms they expect to take on the running of the 21 CRCs.
However, Napo (National Association of Probation Officers) says the new way of working has already caused problems. It says protection laws stopping private companies accessing personal data mean probation officers working for CRCs have found themselves unable to look at an offender's full criminal history. Napo says it means staff cannot assess individuals safely or make a rational judgement as to their risk to the community. The union now wants courts to decide whether the government's decision to privatise part of the service was reasonable.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, said the Ministry of Justice had "refused to listen to our concerns". In a letter to the MoJ - which has been seen by the BBC - the union's lawyers, Slater & Gordon, say a number of "real and immediate" risks have been posed to probation staff, as well as to the public. It calls for the government to make public results of safety tests to ensure CRCs are capable of running the service.
The letter also referenced examples of when members of staff have been put at risk because of the information access problem, and their subsequent lack of knowledge about the background of an offender.
It details: 
  • An occasion when a female probation officer was subjected to inappropriate sexual behaviour from a male offender because she was unaware of his history. She had to be signed off with stress, the letter said
  • An inability by staff to accurately make a judgement call on the suicidal tendencies of an offender, again, because of a lack of information
One probation officer, who spoke to BBC News anonymously, said they had been managing an offender "blind". "I cannot access his case files. He has got a history of previous sexual, violent offences, but I have no way of getting the detail."
"I'm currently looking for new employment. This is not the job I want to do anymore, we are not protecting the public," the officer added.
However Mr Grayling said the reforms would bring together "the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to battle against reoffending". "I am really pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain's best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around," he added.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Verdict

Was the midnight oil burning at Petty France last night whilst officials scrabbled together a response to NAPO's request? I think not. I am deeply suspicious of the request for more time and dont trust the MoJ one iota. I think manoeuvring is going on behind the scenes and I am worried. 

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Personally I think those so called charities that are part of these consortiums should hang their heads in shame. So NACRO, Addaction, St Giles, CRI and Shelter can kiss my a*se before I will give them a penny. Talk about 50 pieces of silver, do they have no morality, no sense of justice? They are a disgrace.

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If I was CRR and MTC Amey I would have your lawyers on speed dial, not that I want you to win, but you have been had over by Grayling! SUE HIS ARSE.

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I think the mutuals got used to keep us all quiet. Had they been smart they wouldn't have played into Graylings hands. Had there been no mutuals, they wouldn't have got us past the split in June.

This from Alan Travis in the Guardian:-
Two companies to run more than half of privatised probation services
Two outsourcing companies, Sodexo and Interserve, are to be put in charge of more than half of probation services in England and Wales under the most far-reaching privatisation in the criminal justice system.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said the companies, in partnership with rehabilitation charities, were the preferred bidders to run 11 of the 21 planned community rehabilitation companies that will take over probation early next year. They will be responsible for more than half the probation staff supervising 200,000 low to medium-risk offenders.
Four staff mutuals, which include employees of former probation trusts, are included in partnerships to run probation in London, Wales and the west country. But a leading staff mutual bidding to run probation services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex has been rejected. Seetec Business Technology Centre will provide probation services in this area.
The contracts, worth £450m and due to be in place before the election, will hand over 70% of the work of the public probation service to private and voluntary sector providers as part of Grayling’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The public probation service will retain control of services for high-risk offenders.
Grayling said: “This announcement brings together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to set up our battle against reoffending, and to bring innovative new ways of working with offenders. In particular, I am really pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain’s best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around.” 
The list of preferred bidders includes seven private companies, 16 charities and voluntary organisations, and four mutuals. The justice ministry said 75% of the 300 subcontractors named in the successful bids were voluntary sector or mutual bidders. The justice secretary said the fact that 80 bids were received from 19 organisations was evidence of a “strong and diverse market”.
Sodexo Justice Services, which already runs prisons, has been named as the preferred bidder in six of the 21 areas in partnership with Nacro, the rehabilitation charity. Interserve has won the bids in five areas as part of the Purple Futures partnership which includes the charities Addaction, Shelter and P3 and a social enterprise 3SC.
The announcement of the preferred bidders comes as Napo, the probation union, is preparing to launch a judicial review of the sell-off. The ministry of justice faces a disclosure deadline for the official ‘risk register’ which assesses the public safety implications of the privatisation under the possibility of a High Court injunction.
G4S and Serco, the private security companies, withdrew their bids after the Serious Fraud Office was called in to investigate overcharging of more than £100m on electronic-tagging contracts involving the two companies.
The Commons public accounts committee has established that the contracts included a £300m plus “poison pill” clause guaranteeing bidders their expected profits if the 10-year contracts were cancelled after the general election.
This from Ian Dunt on politics.co.uk:-
Grayling forces through probation sell-off despite safety fears
Nothing was ever going to stop him. This morning, with the threat of legal proceedings hanging over his head, a general election in half a year's times and serious concerns about a breakdown in public safety, Chris Grayling announced his preferred bidders for the probation service.
Despite all the usual talk of a diversity of suppliers including charities and voluntary groups, private firms were the overwhelming winners.
Sodexo picked up the largest number of contracts. One gave it a monopoly in the north east, where it also runs Northumberland prison. So it will now be paid for reducing reoffending and (rather more) for increasing the prison population. Whatever happens, Sodexo wins.
The ministerial statement, which was sneaked out with a minimum of fuss, mentions 80 bidders, but by my count there were only eight cleaning up on the 21 contracts.
  • Sodexo, in partnership with charity Nacro, won six contracts.
  • Purple Futures, a partnership which includes some charities but is led by private firm Interserve, won five.
  • Working Links, "a public, private and voluntary company", won three.
  • The Reducing Reoffending Partnership, a joint venture involving a private firm and two charities, won two.
  • MTCNovo, a joint venture involving corporations, charities and "third sector shareholders" won two.
  • Geo Mercia Willowdene, a joint venture involving a private firm, a "social enterprise" and a probation staff mutual, won one.
  • ARCC, the only joint venture which doesn't seem to involve a private firm, won one.
  • Seetec Business Technology Centre, a private company, won one contract.
To have proceeded with this sell-off amid the growing evidence of a threat to public safety from the spitting up of probation is highly irresponsible. Even worse, ministers are doing so while refusing to publish the safety tests the department has conducted.
Pat Waterman is not impressed:-
A MESSAGE FROM PAT WATERMAN CHAIR OF GREATER LONDON BRANCH
Napo acted in good faith and gave the the Secretary of State a further 24hrs to prepare a response to a previous deadline - effectively extra time - and this was in my view more than reasonable in the circumstances. The extension was intended to allow the MoJ to prepare a substantive response to our concerns.
Well we now know what they were doing with the generous allowance of time given to them by Napo's lawyers. They did not work around the clock gathering the information that Napo had requested but rather they were contacting bidders and putting the finishing touches to their plans to announce their preferred bidders for Community Rehabilitation Companies. You will recall that this is information that they have hitherto considered to be no ones business but theirs.

My view is that we should not give them a minute longer. Let us take whatever legal action needs to be taken and do it now.

The Secretary of State has shown nothing but contempt for probation staff and their representatives who have been willing to engage the MoJ in constructive dialogue throughout. It will become blatantly obvious in any legal process that the Justice Secretary and his associates consider that their reckless privatisation timetable is more important than any consideration of public safety, justice, or indeed the risks posed to probation staff on the front-line.

Members can be assured that in the coming days Napo Greater London Branch will be examining both the preferred bidders track records and any other details of the bid or contract that may become available. Our experience with Serco and the Unpaid Work contract however informs us that getting full information can be an uphill struggle.

As always we will keep members informed. We should emphasise that at this stage contracts have yet to be signed and what has been announced are the preferred bidders.

It is not over yet.

Pat Waterman
Chair of Napo Greater London Branch
This from Frances Crook:-
Private firms are the big winners of probation sell-off
Responding to the Ministry of Justice’s announcement of preferred bidders for probation contracts, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“As we expected, the big winner of the probation sell-off is not the voluntary sector but large private companies run for profit. The Ministry of Justice will claim it has created a diverse market, but Sodexo and Interserve are the companies running half of all the contracts.
“A public service is being destroyed without any evidence that the fragmented landscape created will perform any better or help make communities any safer. Indeed, reforms aimed at imposing compulsory support to those leaving prison after short sentences are certain to set people up to fail.
“Given we are close to a general election, it is particularly disgraceful that these contracts include ‘poison pill’ clauses preventing a future government from revising these untested and ill-thought-through reforms if and when they fail. That is not just reckless but fundamentally undemocratic.”
This what it looks like nationwide:- 

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And I'll just throw in Private Eye and Harry Fletcher for good measure:-
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Postscript - This latest blog from Ian Lawrence:-
Cooks and Cleaners to sweep up?

Well, we waited, and we waited for the grand announcement about who all these exciting and innovative providers would be, and the Cooks and Cleaners have pitched up. 
That’s no disrespect to anyone working in those two professions of course but it was really no surprise to see the two corporate giants in the form of Sodexo and Interserve being given the green light to own more than half of probation. The pre-announcement lockdown from Noms and MoJ was as pathetic as it was chaotic with all sorts of folk running around in ‘Castle Greyskull’ (MoJ HQ) to ensure that this less than riveting non-event was kept super -secret until the last moment.
For us this whole pantomime changes absolutely nothing in terms of our continuing campaign and our moves towards exhausting all our legal options. Neither does it change the inescapable facts: 
  • That this shambolic and corrupt reform is all about ideology and self -aggrandisement
  • That these would be providers are buying into a project that is unproven and commercially risky
  • That before contracts are awarded (and after if it happens) Napo will be exposing every single example that we can of previous government contract failures and mistreatment of employees
  • That we will lobby for an incoming government to revoke the CRC contracts without compensation
  • That every case of maladministration or serious cases of further harm that occur if contracts are awarded in the unsafe environment that Grayling has created will be given the highest profile possible.
  • That this union will never give up on our quest for reunification of the probation service.
  • The struggle continues.
More news to follow soon.

Latest From Napo 44

Blog from Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary, MoJ letter and press release:-
Chaos reigns as CRC bidders are announced
Napo members have already signalled their disgust at the news of the preferred bidders for the 21 CRC contracts which are intended to be awarded under the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.
The expected grand announcement that we had all been waiting for was something of damp squib and raises questions about the purpose of the veil of secrecy that had been put up by the MoJ and Noms in the weeks leading up to the news. In a press release issued by Napo, General Secretary Ian Lawrence said: “Chris Grayling is pressing ahead with his untried and untested so called reforms to probation despite increasing evidence that it is not safe to sell off. The 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which will deal with low – medium risk of harm offenders are still in utter chaos following the decision to split the Probation Service up on 1st June this year. Staff of all grades have spoken openly about risks to public safety with offenders not being supervised properly, continuing IT failures, staff shortages and ever increasing workloads.
We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs or the National Probation Service is stable at the moment and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety. The fact so few organisations have won contracts also suggests that this has been a flawed competition with little or no real interest from providers in taking these contracts on.”
The announcement below which was deposited in the House of Commons Library sets out the list of preferred bidders, and copy of a letter sent by the MoJ to Napo is also reproduced.
Ian Lawrence also told Napo News that: ‘Grayling has made a written statement to Parliament rather than risk having to answer questions in the House. Yet again he is trying to avoid scrutiny which is in our view further evidence of a lack of transparency in the whole process. We would urge MPs to ask questions of him and to hold him to account for his decision to press ahead without providing evidence that it is safe to do so.” He added: ‘The underhand manner of the announcement will mean that our members will be even more determined to fully exhaust all possible legal avenues to try and prevent the share sale from happening. 

Ian Lawrence
General Secretary, Napo
4 Chivalry Road
London
SW11 1HT
29 October 2014
Dear Ian, 
TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION – ANNOUNCEMENT OF PREFERRED BIDDERS
As you are aware, in May 2013, we launched Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, which set out the Government’s plans to transform the way we manage offenders in the community by opening up these services to a diverse range of new providers. These important reforms will bring together the 
best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to reduce the unacceptably high reoffending rates. The aim is to give future service providers the freedom to innovate and, via the payment by results mechanism, provide a sharp focus on turning around the lives of offenders.

These important reforms mean that, for the first time in recent history, virtually every offender released from custody will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. This includes the 45,000 most prolific offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, who have the highest rates of reoffending, but who are currently released without supervision.
Following a competitive bidding process and a rigorous evaluation and moderation exercise, I am pleased to announce that we have today confirmed the names of the 21 Preferred Bidders, details of which are provided in the attachment to this letter. 
All our Preferred Bidders have demonstrated how they will use the voluntary and social sectors in the delivery of services – in fact, 75% of the 300 delivery partners identified in the bidders’ offers are voluntary and social sector or mutual organisations. Bidders have put forward a range of new and innovative approaches to address longstanding issues such as getting offenders into housing and employment, as well as proposals for peer mentoring and greater use of technology to make sure that staff can spend more of their time working with offenders to turn their lives away from crime.
The bidders combine the best of the private sector, driving back-office efficiency; the social sector, creating local innovation and new approaches to working with offenders; and the public sector, working to protect the public from offenders who pose the greatest risk to society and now with ever more opportunities to make a difference to the communities they serve.
Next steps 
We will now be holding a series of meetings with the Preferred Bidders in preparation for contract award. These are the final discussions to ensure that contracts offer the best possible value for money before the announcement that contracts are being awarded to the successful bidders. As has been the position throughout the programme, this mobilisation phase will be done in a controlled way that gives time for new processes to bed in and to ensure public protection remains a key priority. We remain on track to sign contracts with the new providers in the coming weeks, as planned, with successful providers taking over the running of CRCs in early 2015.
After successful bidders have been announced and new contracts signed, we will then move towards the service transfer date, when the CRCs start delivering rehabilitation services under the new ownership of the successful bidders.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for all the hard work by probation staff that has already gone into ensuring the successful stand-up of the CRCs and NPS in June and the subsequent work to bed in new structures. I recognise that this has been a time of unprecedented change and that there have been challenges to overcome. The fact that we are on track to deliver these important reforms is a testament to the dedication and hard work of all those involved.

Yours Sincerely

IAN PORÉE
Director, Rehabilitation Programme

For immediate release
Probation Union outraged as Secretary of State announces preferred bidders for the Probation Service despite evidence that it’s not safe to sell off
Napo is outraged today that Chris Grayling Secretary of State for Justice has gone ahead with his announcement of who his preferred bidders are for the Probation Service despite increasing evidence that it is not safe to sell off. The 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which will deal with low – medium risk of harm offenders are still in utter chaos following the decision to split the Probation Service up on 1st June this year. Staff of all grades have spoken openly about risks to public safety with offenders not being supervised properly, continuing IT failures, staff shortages and ever increasing workloads.

Ian Lawrence General Secretary said: “it is purely ideological that Grayling is pressing ahead with his untried and untested so called reforms to probation. We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs or the National Probation Service is stable at the moment and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety. The fact so few organisations have won contracts also suggests that this has been a flawed competition with little or no real interest from providers in taking these contracts on.”
Napo has been on strike twice in the last 12 months in opposition to these outsourcing plans and will continue to campaign against them. Ian Lawrence said: “Grayling has made a written statement to parliament rather than risk having to answer questions in the House. Yet again he is trying to avoid scrutiny which is in our view further evidence of a lack of transparency in the whole process. We would urge MPs to ask questions of him and to hold him to account for his decision to press ahead without providing evidence that it is safe to do so.”