Monday, 20 October 2014

AGM 2014 Speeches 2

AGM Scarborough 2014 Motion  

A Parting Shot -The Questions remain!

This AGM views with considerable interest the valedictory report from the Probation Association (PA) ‘A Parting Shot -The Questions Remain’ published in July 2014. Colleagues will note that although the report offers a critical timeframe of the progress of the Ministry of Justice's Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme. The PA, with few honourable exceptions, offered little effective opposition to the unwarranted privatisation and abolition of a public probation service and maintained throughout this period a shameful collusive silence to TR, best captured in this tell tale quotation from page 7 of the NOMS Annual Report 2013/14: “progress could not have been achieved without the positive engagement and support we have received from Probation Trusts."

However, the report does pose some vital unanswered questions for the continuing viability of TR, in particular with the run-up to the 2015 election, which Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, cannot evade (even with his record of dissembling!) which include the following:

By how much have the reforms reduced re-offending?

Has the CRC bidding process proved successful in funding the provision of services, across all of England and Wales, to those with sentences of less than 12 months leaving prison?

How significant is Payment by Results in the new arrangements, or are the contracts really block payments with a bit of a reward added on?

In addition to the declared costs, how much have the reforms really cost across the piece to implement?

Are the CRCs any more liberated than Trusts could have been and wanted to be?

Has the NPS been able to sustain managing the exclusively high risk caseload?

What has been the effect on staff professionalism, morale and motivation in the longer term? 

This union will, of course, continue to campaign vigorously against TR in the run-up to the 2015 election and press for definitive answers to the above questions (and many more). This AGM therefore calls upon the national officers’ group, when making contacts with all MPs standing for election in 2015, as part of its anti-TR campaigning strategy, to continue to press the MoJ strongly for answers to the above questions, expose Grayling's TR plans as unworkable and dangerous, and publish every response received from those MPs canvassed.

Proposer: Mike Guilfoyle
Seconder: Christopher Hignett

Chair, Conference - Mike Guilfoyle, Professional Associate Member, Greater London Branch. 

Colleagues, just before I left Probation in 2010, a Senior Manager described my relationship with the service as akin to a 'marriage that had broken down due to irreconcilable differences'. My retort was that it was more like an 'enforced separation occasioned by unreasonable behavior'. A politically driven and bewilderingly stupid bureaucratic target mania meant that processes trumped people. What now of the totemic achievement of Trust Status, ostensibly set up to liberate probation from the suffocating prison-centric carapace of Noms? An association that has since proved to be, as this union knows all too well, a truly unmitigated disaster for probation. Although in spite of these enforced changes and NOMS bullying culture, probation still performed!

My late mother used to say 'I know that something's amiss in probation when I see one of Michael's letters in the papers'. Indeed former General Secretary Judy McKnight once paid me the accolade of being an 'indefatigable letter writer' intent as I was in rebutting in letters and debate some of the lattice of half-lies and MoJ speak that has so soured the probation landscape. And I take some wry satisfaction from the belief that at the MoJ there is a fusty sub-office entitled 'replies to Mike Guilfoyle'. At one MoJ presentation a civil servant in an audible whisper to a former Justice Minister and with weary familiarity noted after I had asked a pointed question on TR, 'it's that bloke from Napo again'..

Conference, I arrived late for AGM yesterday (missing Ian's Keynote Address) as I was being sworn-in as a newly appointed Magistrate. Greater London colleagues please note that I will be sitting on the SE London bench. Due notice having been shared, but I can promise you that I will continue to unashamedly champion probation at every available opportunity. 

At the reception following the swearing-in ceremony, a magistrate colleague asked 'who is speaking up for probation these days?' I hesitated for a moment, 'of course this union with its many parliamentary, academic and high profile supporters'. The now defunct Probation Association in its valedictory report 'A Parting Shot' provides a grim timeline leading up to its own, dare I say it predictable, demise. Aside from a snide reference to Napo, and some self-serving, supine observations noting without a hint of irony the positive engagement of probation trusts in securing thus far an almost unruffled passage for a politically driven TR timetable. 

It is important to acknowledge the principled and fearless contributions from a handful of PA members in the fight to save the Probation Service. How could such an untried, untested and uncosted and unevidenced ideological experiment pass with such little vocal dissent? I note the MoJ's Stalinist gagging clause, but what a truly shameful collusive silence in the destruction of the service has shrouded the PA's dismal epitaph. The paper does however provide a tally sheet of pivotal questions which should send out a clear message to politicians to think again before rushing into a hasty CRC share sale. If this is allowed to proceed will those with the power and influence look back and recoil when they fully appreciate the true consequences of TR? Will these reforms reduce reoffending? Has the CRC bidding process enabled funding to be released for those serving under 12 months? Is the Payment by Results mechanism now just a specious loss leader? How much have these reforms 'really' cost?  What has been the lasting effect on staff professionalism, engagement, morale and motivation?

Colleagues - you are now at the sharp end of this pernicious TR process. The service and union are at an existential moment. We know that Chris Grayling has nothing but withering contempt for all those who he sees as a hindrance to his dismantling not only of an internationally recognised Probation Service but a decent, accessible and humane Criminal Justice System with a veritable origami of private providers perched to feed off the carcass of an already fragmented service. With a contract culture displacing any semblance of public accountability, just how many Judicial Review's can he afford to lose before he bows out? If ever the designation of defender of justice was so poorly served in one office holder. And as for Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes stating at his party's Conference 'Day in, day out we are holding Ministers feet to the fire on justice issues' - seems TR has yet to flame up!

With the run-in to the 2015 election now months away and the prospect of further targeted draconian public sector cuts in store, whatever the political stripe of the party in power, this union, in spite of its recent travails, remains a bulwark and bastion in defence of a publicly owned and accountable Probation Service. 

With the planned share sale now in December it will need to summons together its most resolute fighting strategies to challenge and defeat TR, raise a deafening cacophony of noise to resist the potentially irrevocable sale of CRC's to new (read single contractor dominant) commercial providers, cloaked by confidentiality and seemingly immune to public scrutiny, with profit the only driver, with rehabilitation being downgraded, a significant rise in Electronic Monitoring at the cost of more human interventions, and warehousing and processing becoming the name of the game?

This motion aligns itself with what Napo is already doing, it simply seeks to reaffirm and reinforce the need to critically question, challenge, call to account and record all responses from those politicians supporting the implementation of TR in the forthcoming election that it remains ideologically unworkable dangerous dogma  and also serve to remind those now unthinkingly doing the bidding of politicians in the MoJ of the undoubted risks that when you decimate a professional probation service, things start to go wrong and this whole sorry TR mess crashes. The confidence of victims, communities, probation staff and partners, courts and users will take a very long time to repair. 

Colleagues, it's that bloke from Napo again this time saying,

Conference, I move....

Sunday, 19 October 2014

TR Week Twenty

I've never had so many offenders who I have seen so little of. Caseload currently 76 with 15 inside. PSOs now only induct people on a fortnightly rota and it's all group inductions. All officers see their new cases for appointment one immediately after the induction which is used in general as a full FDR interview because the FDR from court is so bare with not much to inform an ISP.

In the midlands area they are warning about posting anything that will put probation/sell off in a bad light.


What? Like the Target Operating Model?


Target Operating Model!!!! Oh yeh......has anyone told the bidders that TOM failed some time ago and now we're just making it up as we go along. Certainly our IT departments are. They're working with an entire crock of shite. Unstable and dangerous, that's where we are at. 

One thing I do like about the current situation is that it has set us back to twenty years or so ago, when everyone just did their own thing. Working it out as we go along. I'm sure there was some theoretical underpinning back then, whereas now it's just a means of muddling through.


Walking around my office today, I have heard seven, yes SEVEN separate colleagues in unrelated conversations say (exact words) 'this doesn't work'. It includes a director, an SPO, an offender manager, TVP facilitator, MAPPA Manager, Restorative Justice Officer and Partnership agency worker. The issues relate primarily to having to make decisions based on limited, inadequate or unsubstantiated information. I have heard the term 'dangerous' used three times, each relating not to the offender but to the SYSTEM. It is palpable. Probation has been rendered ineffective by the MoJ and by t he Justice Secretary and practitioners far and wide, at all grades are fully aware of it.


Yesterday allocated a female case who if I hadn't received information from the Mental Health worker at Court could have put other Service Users at risk. I was unable to access the report or any information on her from Delius to assist me in my group induction today! I am so tired of having to chase information that previously was at my fingertips!


Public Protection by accident! That'll work!


Inspectors were in our office today. I made a point of telling him that we are in meltdown and total chaos. He said I know. No proper breach process. Offenders turning up without any paperwork or information. Most of us in crc with numerous oasys outstanding. An offender on a SOPO not allocated been seen twice by CRC staff. It is not only lack of proper processes and increased bureaucracy but a lack of goodwill that the probation service was so dependant on.


Spoke to an NPS PO yesterday. Just had her first supervision since June. I also know of another TVP facilitator who has still not had supervision since 1/6/14. Never see their manager. Apparently, they have been offered a date in November. And that is the HIGHEST RISK WORK WE DO!!


One of my colleagues facing an SFO. She is feeling really bad because she had not completed an initial Oasys. Working on 120+ per cent. This could have been one of my cases or any of my colleagues. Not able to manage offenders effectively with the relentless chaos in CRC.


Please, please (a)reassure your colleague the responsibility for the offence lies with the client (b)the relevance of an Oasys having been completed or not to SFO commission is very limited - the point of Oasys is evidencing an analysis of issues and risk and hence a plan but (c)what is arguably more important is, what did she and, if there was one, PSR author identify as key issues to work on in supervision especially if linked to reoffending and what did she and client actually work on thru supervision? ie accounting for what one was able or not to do (which is linked to resources) Also, see if can get local Napo rep to accompany; we have no right to this but some areas have agreement that members can be accompanied in meetings for support.


Re the SFO, I would be interested to know what risk the offender was assessed as presenting - my experience is that most SFOs come from medium ROSH cases - and therefore CRC under the TR split.

Look at recent information from this blog, how CRCs are managing cases by telephone reporting and mass reporting centres and many cases transferred without handovers..... NONE OF WHICH IS WHAT PRACTITIONERS WANT. The capacity for significant increase in SFOs is just growing and growing....


My tasks are SLOWER and LESS efficient as a result of the contracts of the NEW policies and systems. Everything was so much more logical and efficient before Grayling threw his tantrum and stamped all over probation. I am hanging on to the fact that I enjoy my role but despise and detest those who are being paid out of hard working tax payers money to do nothing but arse lick and dribble bullshit wherever they go.


Here's an example from today - Paperwork from the prison was sent to one of the offices in another area, asking that an address be identified for someone they wanted to release on HDC. They sent it to NPS (this area), who sent it to another office (CRC) - I guess because this prisoner's last known address - which he was unable to return to - had been in our area.

Anyway, the prisoner is not current to any office, being sentenced to only 11 mths custody - as you know, we don't YET work with the under 12mths.  We told the prison that if they wanted to identify an address, then they should do it.  As the prisoner has no address - why were they considering release on HDC?  He should simply be released at the usual half way point and told to report as homeless on release, to Access to Housing teams - it's not like he's going to be supervised on licence.

Another example of the confusion is that prison staff rang our office one Wednesday requesting licence conditions and reporting instructions for someone they were releasing on the Friday of that same week. This man had been sentenced only the week before, after being RIC for around 9 mths, and he'd been sentenced without reports. Obviously there wasn't any OASys and so no assessment of risk was available.  He'd last been in the system 2 yrs previously.  He didn't report on release. Contact was made with the prison, who confirmed he'd been released. On checking the release address he'd given, it wasn't in our catchment area. The prison had obviously gone off the address on the system from 2 yrs previously!  

A warning letter was sent to the correct address with reporting instructions for the correct office.  However, when the service user rang following receipt of the letter, he said he now had a different address - which, when checked, was in the area covered by the Exclusion Zone requested as part of his licence!  He was promptly advised to move back to the previous address!

Prisons are instructed to complete an initial assessment (Start Custody) and sentence plan for all prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more who will be allocated to a CRC.  In this particular instance, HMP didn't bother to do this at all - perhaps they didn't have a clue where to begin as the prisoner had been sentenced without reports, perhaps due to the prisoner's release being so soon after sentence (due to time spent on remand), or maybe its a resource issue?  Nevertheless, it remains that this mandatory action had not been completed by the prison and so it's now left to probation to do what is effectively a full PSR interview, assessment of risk and sentence plan - which will be recorded as a "Start Licence"  assessment on OASys - which of course knocks the chronology of the event out of sync on that system. 

Another thing I heard today was that hard pressed (NPS) court staff are not completing the RSR tool correctly.  When it is done incorrectly, the system will err on the side of caution and allocate the case to NPS.  This is happening now in our area - IOM staff have already highlighted this.  Also, of course, it means that NPS could at some future point, effectively starve CRCs of work.

I am really, really aggrieved that PSOs and trainee Probation Officers in NPS are able to do the job I am fully qualified to do, but no longer allowed to do. I hear that NPS trainees will be given placements in CRCs as they can't get the breadth of experience they require within NPS - well, I hope they don't ask me for any help, advice or support - I'll simply refer them to their own managers. 

What are they looking for? We have it all just let us know what. Perhaps case studies on the offenders CRCs are working with so the public are aware of the man with extreme violence in his past who is hearing voices telling him to hurt people or the sex offender with no acknowledgement of his own risk, or the prolific offender with a long history of knife crime, or the arsonist with mental health issues. The public might want to know that these are the 'low and medium' risk cases private companies will be making money out of.

Across BeNCH CRC average sickness levels have increased from 17 days in August to 23 days in September. Apparently this is 'of concern' to the CEO and Directors.

This makes for gloomy and depressing reading. This is the fight of your lives, for your life. Courts being unable to impose conditions such as unpaid work or drug treatment? So are we moving to generic sentences - every sentence fits...? That process of appropriate individualised recommendations defines the Probation Service's expertise in assessment of every individual. So what will happen to the excellent programmes if this is to be another nail in the coffin?

Sentences will soon be 'Joe/Jane Bloggs must attend for x amount of sessions'. We've already been told that if we 'discover' early on that they do not need as many sessions (read support)then to take them straight back to Court for early revocation......although I'm not sure that the grounds of 'good progress' after 5 sessions is going to cut much mustard with the Courts!!!


TR in crisis already BUT there is more to come! Please remember the consequence of the Osborne decision (Osborn (Appellant) v The Parole Board (Respondent) and recent comments that the Parole Board are not releasing enough prisoners (ref this Blog two days ago).

Sir David Calvert-Smith ( Chair) "In July, the board had 780 cases against the usual 400-500. In due course, if the delays get any longer or a delay in a particular case gets longer we will have to pay damages," he says. "Even though it's not our fault, we owe them a hearing and we haven't given them one." 

The consequence of this is additional work for Probation (and Prison) staff at a time when we have no capacity at all. So undoubtedly our workloads are set to increase again. This will have a massive impact on probation, more pre release assessments, referrals and reports and of course cases to supervise in the community given the presumption is for release.


The crisis for STAFF now must not be lost in all this discussion. I do not know a single member of staff who is not adversely impacted ranging from dissatisfaction through anguish to full blown stress (which has serious health implications). In my(many years)of probation work I have never seen such fractured working conditions. If staff deluged by processes (and trying to even figure them out, yes it is that chaotic) and have no time to even consider the needs of our service users, all really is lost. Points are valid about who is to blame over time, but the crisis now needs to be dealt with in its immediacy.

As an SPO, I am now being asked to provide explanations for performance 'failures' in the past 5 months in relation to 'missed' OASys terminations. The first of these was a 'miss' in mid-June at a time when, you may recall, the split was in full flow, case records and assessments were disappearing into the ether, staff were anxious and angry, colleagues who had sat next to you for years had disappeared to 'the other side' and the whole service was in chaos.

Can we start to get information out here about the specifics of what each area is actually doing eg reporting centres, what types of buildings are being used? I know of a church hall without panic alarms (yet obligatory in former public sector probation offices). Staff travelling long distances to serve several offices, lone working of necessity when there are not enough staff of your own "brand" available to ensure your goes on and on......

In response to the suggestion that TR had no satisfactory framework and requirement on CRCs for good training and continuous professional development, Grayling responded that "there was NAPO and the PI".

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Omnishambles Update 72

A few more bits and pieces to tide us over this agonising waiting period while Napo and others decide on a legal challenge to TR, and the MoJ hunker-down and tighten the screws in case there's any leak of information.    


It feels like we're all in trenches, and yet the propaganda says we've accepted the changes and are working hard on making the whole pile of TR shite function. Well, that's what Michael Spurr says in the latest edition of 'Getting Started' :-
Chief Executive’s message 
I’m very conscious of how hard Probation colleagues have been working over the last few months as we’ve moved to new structures, implemented new case allocation processes and moved to new working arrangements both in the NPS and in CRCs.

The change process has been intense – and whilst I recognise there are real and genuine pressures across the system the fact that the change has been managed so effectively is a tribute to the professionalism and vocational commitment of staff across Probation.

I’ve managed to visit a number of offices and courts over the last few months both in large city areas (such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Croydon) but also in towns (such as Aylesbury, Chelmsford, Bedford, Maidstone, Halifax and York) where the issues and pressures present different challenges. I use these visits to talk to colleagues at all levels to get a better understanding of how things are actually working ‘on the ground’.

As the NOMS CEO, I am responsible for making the whole Offender Management system work effectively – and I will remain responsible for the ‘whole system’ after CRCs have transitioned to new providers later this year. My focus is on how things are actually working – and what more we need to do to develop and improve our systems, processes and professional practice to better support the new structures and to deliver the best service we can for the courts, for our offenders and for the public we serve.

I know that for many colleagues the structural changes have been difficult and painful and that the new processes have been challenging and created additional work and pressure. But I have been encouraged, heartened and impressed by the way colleagues have responded, are adapting to the new arrangements, and are working collaboratively to solve problems and improve our performance.

The Solutions in Partnership Team has been set up specifically to harness this approach and bring practitioners from across the NPS and CRCs together to develop practical solutions to improve processes and to tackle and address common issues and problems.

I recognise that there has been particular pressure on court staff following the introduction of the RSR/CAS process. That’s why additional administration staff have been recruited for courts facing particular pressures and why the Solutions in Partnership Team, working with colleagues from the North West Division, have prioritised the RSR/CAS processes for early review; looking to streamline arrangements wherever we can.

IT issues continue to be a frustration whenever I talk to staff in the field. It’s important to remember that the roll out of Delius as the single national casework system was only completed last October and it then had to be adapted to run the new case allocation processes required for the TR reforms.

The reconfigured system is now generally working as planned but some ‘work-arounds’ remain and it’s slower and less ‘user friendly’ than any of us would want. We know that we need to improve overall performance and ‘user experience’ and have plans in place to do this – but these improvements cannot take place until we have delivered the final reconfiguration of the system to incorporate the changes resulting from the new Offender Management and Rehabilitation Act (OMR). I know this is hugely frustrating but IT colleagues are working hard to ensure that the OMR changes can be incorporated successfully – and we will then concentrate on significantly improving the way the system operates from a ‘user’ standpoint.

Finally, I want to say something about ‘morale’ and the future. I know that the pace of change has created anxiety and concern for many colleagues – but as we develop the new structures I’m increasingly convinced that there will be a positive and exciting future for staff in both the NPS and in CRCs.

The aim of these reforms is to reduce reoffending and to extend service provision to 50,000 offenders who currently receive no statutory support in the community. The NPS and CRCs need to adapt to meet the requirements of the Offender Management Rehabilitation Act – this is challenging but looking forward, the extension of service provision means that there will be lots of opportunities for staff to develop their careers – both within the NPS and in CRCs.

I am committed to maintaining public service values at the heart of the work we do – and providers who are bidding for CRC contracts are required to abide by public service values and demonstrate a strong ethical commitment both in their bids but also in the way they deliver their services.

I am equally committed to promoting staff professionalism and professional development. We are currently looking to refresh and retender the Professional Qualification Framework – and I am passionate about providing opportunities for staff across Probation to develop professional skills.

I was involved in establishing the PQF in 2008 and am a committed advocate of providing opportunities for PSOs and other Probation staff to develop skills and progress their careers within the Service. Time constraints mean that we are currently only recruiting graduate learners for the final cohort of the current PQF contract.

This will ensure that we will be able to fill vacancies and manage the anticipated natural turnover of staff over the next 12 months – but I want to reinforce my commitment to providing opportunities for PSOs and administrative staff to become Probation Officers in future and to professional development more generally.

This will be a key priority for the NPS. In addition we have required all prospective CRC providers to set out clearly how they will develop and maintain a professional skilled workforce to deliver the services we require from them in the future.

As I’ve said to colleagues many times on my visits – the work we do is challenging and complex – all prospective providers realise this. Their success will depend on the quality of the staff theyemploy and for that reason I have no doubt that their structures and staffing arrangements will reflect this and that this will provide genuine and exciting opportunities for colleagues in CRCs over the next few years.

Thank you again for everything you are doing and for all your hard work and commitment. Despite the pressures, we are continuing to deliver a crucial service for the public professionally and extraordinarily well and whilst that often goes unrecognised in the media it is very much appreciated.

Michael Spurr
NOMS Chief Executive Officer
I've mentioned the excellent blog 'Prison UK : An Insider's View' before and I hope the author doesn't mind me quoting this revealing excerpt from a recent post:-
When I was still a con, I once had a very lengthy and remarkably honest discussion with a deputy governor about the problems the Prison Service was facing in the Team Grayling era. This governor was, in my opinion, a very decent bloke who truly despaired of the increasing politicisation of the British penal system, as well as the imposition of ideologically-motivated punitive regulations that bore little or no relation to evidence-based prison practices – for example, the forcing of many prisoners back into prison-issue clothing, which was proving costly and causing chaos for many local nicks.
This governor mentioned that when NOMS was consulting senior prison managers on the new National Facilities List in 2012, a number of governors warned that the resulting Prison Service Instruction (PSI 30/2013 on Incentives and Earned Privileges) would prove unworkable, particularly since it removed much local discretion from governors over how they actually managed the establishments in their charge. He told me that most of these warnings were simply swept aside because decisions at a political level had already been made. 
NOMS then informed the dissident governors that no further representations to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) would be made. The die was cast and, predictably, many of the problems that experienced prison governors had foreseen have indeed come to pass. 
Of course this, in itself, raises important questions about how much autonomy Governing Governors now really have. It seems that they are largely being reduced to the role of bureaucrats who are charged with carrying out Whitehall’s diktat, even when all the evidence suggests that our prisons are deep in crisis. Just one more in the ever-lengthening list of disasters being caused by the failure of ‘Crisis’ Chris Grayling – and his sidekicks in the MOJ and NOMS – to listen to those people who actually know what they are talking about.
And here's something to ponder on raised by a recent exchange of comments:-

The Probation market has been shrinking for some years now. Lower crime rates and other types of disposals. The CRC bidders will have spotted this though and made allowances in their calculations. I think the less predictable bit is how sentencing and proposals change. If JPs lose confidence in what CRC are offering in terms of rehabilitative options they will move towards more expensive options like UPW or short custodials for complex cases, or choose fines for the low complexity cases. This is where bidders should worry because if the low risk of reoffending clients get fines instead it will really screw up any calculations they mad eon PbR as they will never be allocated many of the easier cases.

In fact the more I reflect on this, the more unpredictable and volatile I think these contracts will be. It's not like the work programme where you can be confident about the number of referrals. Magistrates could throw the contractors all sorts of curve balls, and if the CRC lose their ability to deliver sentences that satisfy them, then will choose other sentences. And so much depends on police and CPS processes. Conditional Cautioning and Neighbourhood Resolution Panels are outside the scope of TR, and anyone commissioning these services is likely to ignore the big players. Just keep thinking of what problems lie ahead for contractors and go for local agencies. Keep thinking and you will build a long and lengthening list of calculations you can't make..

I understand the future powers of the Magistrates - and for that matter the Judges - differently. If - as I understand it the Offender Rehabilitation Bill 2014 is ever actually implemented it will effectively remove from Magistrates and Judges the Power to impose an Unpaid Work Order or other conditions of a Community Order, such as drug treatment conditions - under section 15. I still find this hard to believe and hope I am wrong - but time will tell.

It just occurs to me I am not sure whether the courts or CRCs and perhaps NPS will also be responsible for imposing conditions of psychiatric treatment? It is probably not worth spending any time on this at least not until we learn that the Act is actually to be introduced.

I'm sure I've read somewhere that the OR Act is to be activated pretty soon. Could someone out there tell us what they've heard and pass comment on the above? I think it's all to do with that Post Sentence Assessment that West Yorkshire dreamt up as a money-making wheeze.

I think we missed this as reported by the Law Society Gazette website:- 
Non-lawyer lord chancellor is a ‘benefit’ – Grayling
Chris Grayling told peers today that it is a ‘positive benefit’ that the lord chancellor is a non-lawyer. Grayling, who is the first non-lawyer to be in the post for 440 years, appeared before the House of Lords constitution committee, which is holding an inquiry into the role.

The Epsom MP was grilled for more than an hour on the constitutional role and whether his position as justice secretary caused a conflict in his commitment to the rule of law. Grayling told committee members that it was an advantage for a non-lawyer to be lord chancellor – particularly at a time when legal aid cuts have to be made.

‘I don’t think that the person holding my job suffers from not being a lawyer,’ he said. ‘We don’t need a health secretary who is a doctor. I don’t believe you need to be a practising lawyer and understand the minutiae of the court to protect the values of our justice system.’
He added that a non-lawyer could take a ‘dispassionate’ approach to reforms and that these may not be well received by the legal profession. He also rejected as ‘misplaced’ the idea that a lawyer would have chosen to retain legal aid as it was before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, pointing to cuts made by his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke QC.
‘Perhaps there’s a belief that a separate lord chancellor would take different decisions on legal aid. That’s simply not the case,’ he added. Grayling, who said it would be a ‘big mistake’ to separate the roles of justice secretary and lord chancellor, revealed he had admonished one fellow minister in his time in office for public criticism of a judge.
He also stated he was ‘not comfortable’ with a senior judiciary dominated by men but insisted it was not right to artificially promote people before they are ready for the role simply because they are women.

Grayling said he was ‘satisfied’ with the legal advice available to him despite three recent defeats in the High Court on judicial reviews. ‘Sometime we are right and sometimes we are wrong – we are only human.’ But he defended his plans for reform of judicial review as ‘necessary, proportionate and dealing with an area that’s not working very well’. He says this is a matter for parliament and it would be a mistake to invite judges to comment.
In response to Grayling’s evidence, Bar Council chair Nicholas Lavender said the lord chancellor should be a ‘champion’ of the justice system as well as guardian of the constitution.‘He is entrusted with lead responsibility in government to maintain the delicate balance between, on the one hand, upholding the rule of law and protecting the independence of the judiciary and, on the other hand, respecting the interests of the executive. ‘Legal expertise is essential to fulfil such a unique role. The lord chancellor should be a very senior lawyer.’
Meanwhile the cuts to legal aid are beginning to have widespread effects amongst criminal lawyers and the service offered to our clients, as reported here in the Guardian:-
Evidence has begun to emerge of the impact of legal aid cuts on criminal law firms, with internal memos from one large business showing that lawyers are being asked to take a 4% pay cut or face losing their jobs. The effect of Ministry of Justice cutbacks and reorganisation of duty contracts covering police stations and magistrates courts could, according to leaders of the profession, lead to two-thirds of criminal solicitors losing their jobs. Poorly paid paralegals are increasingly being hired to carry out criminal defence work, critics of the government’s plans warn, prompting fears of an increase in miscarriages of justice.  
Finally, some sobering analysis of what lies ahead as discussed here in the Guardian Professional section recently:-
Over the next five years, the pain will be concentrated where it has been for the past five: local authorities, the civil service and the police. Budget projections by shire counties, city councils and London boroughs point to large-scale redundancies over the next few years. Civil servants have heard ministers making ominous promises about efficiency savings in public administration, which can only mean cuts in headcount. What justice minister Chris Grayling is doing to probation may be the template for what a reinvigorated Cameron second-term government would do in other service areas – prisons, policing, benefits administration, even parts of HMRC.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Latest From Napo 41

This is the latest Napo blog published yesterday:-

TR Campaign Update

Following our excellent, united AGM Napo members have returned to the final weeks of the TR campaign to stop the share sale.

Below is a summary of current activity and an outline of our understanding of the competition process.

Napo have received clarification from numerous sources inside the process, including from bidders and Michael Spurr himself, that the last published timetable remains in place. Rumours and local misdirection to the contrary are inaccurate.

We expect:

1. Local preferred bidders to be announced as scheduled between 24th and 31st October. Napo is preparing strong local, regional and national responses for release in parallel with announcements.
2. A period of negotiation known as due diligence will then take place over the preceding 5-8 weeks. This takes place before contracts are signed. NOMS assert that contracts will be signed towards the end of December.

Napo continue to prepare for a potential legal challenge as detailed at the AGM and since. Members have responded brilliantly to our request for support. Conversations are ongoing with sister unions about supporting any potential challenge. A full assessment in regard to the potential success of a legal challenge will be presented to Officers and Officials of all unions by the end of this week. Action, if the advice is positive would commence shortly afterwards. This timetable wouldn't be impacted by any acceleration of the sell-off timetable, although we stress this does not appear to be the case at present.

Napo Officers and Officials want to thank all members for their response to our calls for support throughout this long campaign. We have again, since the AGM, seen the advantage of being an open, accessible union. It is now important that energy and resource are well directed, our nerve and discipline holds and we continue to show Unity in Napo.

Yours sincerely

Napo Officers & Officials

"I always think of the many staff that have worked in the service and retired or are sadly no longer with us. They left us this service to look after and pass to the next generation of probation staff." (Facebook)

Omnishambles Update 71

It's been ages since the last roundup. First off from the Guardian, the Prison Governors recently confirmed what we all know:- 
Prison staff shortages approaching tipping point, says top governor
Jails across England and Wales are facing an unprecedented “toxic mix” of increasing prisoner numbers, chronic staff shortages and rising violence that is driving them towards instability, prison governors have warned. Eoin McLennan-Murray, the outgoing president of the Prison Governors’ Association, dismissed claims by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, that although jails faced pressures they did not amount to a crisis.
In his valedictory address on Tuesday, McLennan-Murray said that in his 36 years in the prison service he had never known a situation “as challenging, tough and difficult and as bad as it is now”, in the wake of a 30% reduction in prison staff numbers and much harsher rhetoric from ministers. “Prisons are moving towards and tending to instability. The only thing that will stop that is if we get staff back into our prisons and normalise our regimes. It seems to be there’s a race now on. That race is: can we get sufficient staff into our prisons before we reach tipping polnt?” McLennan-Murray said at the PGA annual conference. “I don’t know how we can reverse the situation. It is a worrying time.”
A series of damning reports by the chief inspector of prisons on individual jails have detailed a rise in violence among a record prison population of 85,000, a large proportion of whom spend most of their days locked up on restricted regimes with little to do. Despite repeated warnings by the chief inspector and penal reformers, Grayling has remained adamant that there is no crisis and that overcrowding remains below the levels under the last government.
Talking of the chief inspector, it looks like Chris Grayling intends to rid himself of a troublesome incumbent who just brings him bad news. This from Eric Allison in the Guardian last week:- 
Getting rid of the prisons inspector would just be shooting the messenger
A reliable source had told me Chris Grayling, the justice minister, wanted rid of Hardwick following a series of damning inspection reports on prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs), since he was appointed in 2010. Whereas predecessors had often been critical, unusually, every recent inspection by Hardwick was damning. My source indicated Hardwick wanted to serve a second term, as did his predecessor, Anne Owers. But a spokesperson for the MoJ says that Hardwick’s tenure expires next June and that “it is simply policy to readvertise the role at the end of the five-year appointment”: no decision has been made. But they did not readvertise Owers’ second contract. So I trust my source more than I do the MoJ, and my belief is that Grayling wants Hardwick out. 
This is not the first time chief inspectors have fallen foul of ministers. The same fate befell Ramsbotham, who held the role from 1995-2001. In his case, the axe was wielded by Jack Straw, who had always spoken up for prison reform, until he became home secretary after the 1997 election. Rambotham’s term was for five years, extendable, by mutual agreement, to up to eight years. But, in the event, Straw telephoned the chief inspector in 2000 and told him an announcement would be made in parliament that day that Ramsbotham was retiring and his post advertised. Not a word about “mutual agreement”. 
So the question is whether Grayling is following Straw’s suit and shooting the messenger. What could have Hardwick done to deserve dismissal? He has told the truth. Ramsbotham describes him as a “fearless reporter of the facts”. The prison system is in meltdown and Hardwick tells it as it is. That does not sit comfortably with this government which would have us believe the criminal justice system is doing just fine, thank you.
The Parole Board recently voiced concerns as reported here, again in the Guardian:-
With our prisons bursting at the seams, it is shocking to hear Sir David Calvert-Smith, who chairs the Parole Board for England and Wales, say that prisoners are not being released as early as they should be. He lays the blame at the board's increased workload following a supreme court ruling last year which has led to a huge backlog in parole board hearings. 
"The pressure brought upon us by the Osborn ruling, has meant, and will continue to mean for some months that the backlogs will grow. And that means more people staying in prison for longer than they would otherwise have done," says Calvert-Smith. "We have already increased our workload by 45% by working more smartly, running pilots in which instead of having three panel members we have two so we can hold more hearings." 
In July, the board had 780 cases against the usual 400-500. "In due course, if the delays get any longer or a delay in a particular case gets longer we will have to pay damages," he says. "Even though it's not our fault, we owe them a hearing and we haven't given them one." 
Ever since its inception under a Labour government in 1967 the decision-making process of the parole board has been a bit of a mystery to prisoners. A bigger mystery for today's prison population is when they might actually get a hearing. Before the supreme court ruling in October 2013, the majority of prisoners who wanted to challenge the lawfulness of their imprisonment had their case decided at paper hearings where a panel of one, two or three members sat and made their decision after reading a dossier of reports and representations. Oral hearings numbered around 5,000 a year. Now, prisoners have the right to a face-to-face oral hearing. As a result, the number has doubled, creating a huge backlog with hearings being delayed by six months or more. To cope with the mounting workload the government increased the board's budget by 10% to £12.6m.
As we all await news as to who will be awarded contracts to run the CRCs for the next 10 years, this is an interesting observation from an insider to the process:-
The Transforming Rehabilitation programme has been ambitious, and has affected a huge amount of change within tight timescales. It is perhaps inevitable then that there have been shortfalls in planning and execution of the programme to date. Here’s just one indication of that; at a recent training event provided by the Cabinet Office on the new EU procurement rules (to be implemented this year... consultation out now!) the trainer noted that if a procurement team receives too many clarification questions it’s an indication that the procurement itself is flawed. By the time TR bids were being submitted, the log of clarification questions submitted by bidders to the MoJ procurement team ran to over 2,000!
As the lawyers continue to do battle with Chris Grayling over legal aid cuts, and regroup following their recent legal challenge victory, I can't help feeling we could learn a lot from them:-
There is everything to play for. Only this time around we should have the full backing of the Law Society, the MOJ know we are serious in our commitment to upholding the law, and we have shown we are prepared to fight, with a campaign funded by thousands and the simple power of argument in a Court that recognises unfairness and illegality even if the Ministry of Justice cannot. Please join us in this fight. Join the LCCSA or CLSA today or just pledge to the fighting fund (contribute here)I know that both organisations will write to all members in the very near future with help on how to respond to the latest consultation. Spread the word. Stay informed. This isn't over yet.
Finally, we learn from the Independent that apparently the Tories have 'only made three mistakes' and two of them are 'minor'. Bloody hell. Is history really going to record that destroying the world-class Probation Service was only a 'minor' mistake?  
Government’s reorganisation of the NHS was its biggest 'mistake', say senior Tories
The Government’s reorganisation of the NHS was its biggest “mistake”, senior Conservatives have reportedly admitted. Labour has pledged to repeal the “toxic” 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which saw a major restructuring of how the NHS is funded. Some claim the bill was designed to pave the way for private firms to take over much of the running of the health service or even its privatisation. Experts said the reorganisation, which is estimated to have cost about £3bn, had caused “profound and intense” damage to the NHS with one saying former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, would be facing disciplinary action if he had been a doctor.
A senior Cabinet minister told The Times newspaper: “We’ve made three mistakes that I regret, the first being restructuring the NHS. The rest are minor.”
One insider said the plans, which were drawn up by Mr Lansley, were “unintelligible gobbledygook” and an ally of Chancellor George Osborne said: “George kicks himself for not having spotted it and stopped it. He had the opportunity then and he didn’t take it.”
A former No 10 adviser also told The Times: “No one apart from Lansley had a clue what he was really embarking on, certainly not the Prime Minister. He [Lansley] kept saying his grand plans had the backing of the medical establishment and we trusted him. In retrospect it was a mistake.”

Thursday, 16 October 2014

AGM 2014 Speeches

I mentioned a few days ago that I felt it would be a good idea to try and publish some of the speeches I particularly enjoyed from this year's AGM. So, here's the first and thanks go to Martin Cawston for sending it to me. It was passed unanimously if I recall and received raptuous applause, not least from former CEO Sally Lewis.


Reconnecting Probation with Social Work

This AGM reasserts the probation service’s proud history rooted in social work and recognises the fundamental relevance of social work theory, practice and values to the probation service today.

To this end, AGM instructs:

(i) The Training Committee to immediately seek the inclusion of social work as a relevant degree for the purposes of the Probation Qualification Framework.

(ii) The Professional Committee to undertake a review of the international definition of social work and produce a report on how this relates to probation practice, identity and values.

(iii) The General Secretary, or a representative he shall appoint, to write to the head of the Probation Institute, informing them of the contents of this Motion and that, as co-founder, NAPO insists that the relevance of social work be properly recognised and active connections between social work and probation be developed, now and in the future.
Proposer: East Midlands Branch

Reconnecting Probation with Social Work

Conference, this Motion is entitled Reconnecting Probation with Social Work and I think I need to begin by saying a bit about what this is not about, before I say what it is about.

This motion is not about nostalgia. It is not a retreat into some kind of romantic past in an attempt to forget the horror of Transforming Rehabilitation. Neither does it deny the real and positive advances made by probation in the last twenty years.

What this motion is about: is making our profession stronger and more coherent. Anyone with the smallest knowledge of the history of social work will see that it is virtually identical to that of probation. Voluntary sector, faith based organisations working with the poor and the dispossessed that were absorbed into the state to perform statutory functions. If not exactly twins, Social work and Probation must be close siblings.

And yet Michael Howard, in his wisdom, tore us apart in 1995. Conference, there was a reason he did this and it was not so different to why Chris Grayling is trying to tear up our service now:

They do not understand what we do, and why we do it, and they despise our core values. Of course, probation staff never stopped doing social work.

As David Smith said in the British Journal of Social Work a few years ago:

“...for all the rhetoric of punishment and public protection, risk management and enforcement, when practitioners decide what they are actually going to do to engage and motivate clients, help them access resources, and convey a sense of hope in the possibility of constructive change, they will find themselves using the ideas and skills that have emerged from social work theory and research.” (2005:634)

At the Probation Chiefs Association conference earlier this year, Professor Rob Canton said the following:

“Just as probation was kicking social work out of the front door it crept back in through the back door“ But what did he mean by this? He meant that although a public show has been made of ejecting social work from probation we actually have no option but to draw on the theory, skills and values of social work, because we need them to be effective. A multi-disciplinary approach, ideas about professional judgement, care and control, a focus on communication skills - that relational dimension that Professor Gelsthorpe was talking about yesterday - safeguarding, anti-discriminatory practice, are all drawn from social work.

These are some of the keys areas of probation practice and yet social work isn’t even deemed a relevant degree for entering training. This is both sinister and nonsensical and is the reason why the first thing this motion instructs is:

(i) That the Training Committee immediately seeks the inclusion of social work as a relevant degree for the purposes of the Probation Qualification Framework.

If supported, this motion will also instruct:

(i) The Professional Committee to undertake a review of the international definition of social work and produce a report on how this relates to probation practice, identity and values.

It would also instruct the General Secretary to write to the head of the Probation Institute, informing them of the contents of this motion and that, as co-founder, NAPO insists that the relevance of social work be properly recognised and active connections between social work and probation be developed, now and in the future.

Conference, we may be in a time of crisis but now is surely the time to hold firm to our core values, set a positive course for this profession and to join arms with our comrades in CAFCASS, in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the global social work community. Please support this motion.

Martin Cawston (East Midlands Branch)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

MoJ Press Panic Button

The MoJ have been quick to react to events at Scarborough on Saturday, and have pressed the panic button. 

Some Napo members might have been a bit slow to pick up on what actually happened at the weekend, but not those bright things down at Petty France who have been accurately reading the runes at Chivalry Road for months. They knew immediately that the General Secretary had been rumbled with his plan to just keep going through the motions on the JR front and soon realised to their horror that a legal challenge just might bloody happen.    

Of course you wouldn't get any hint of a shift in power by reading yesterday's blog by the General Secretary, who has clearly been picking up some tips from someone on the dark arts of spinning:- 
The Officers and Officials all agree that this was an extremely successful AGM, and make no mistake about it, the main highlight was the way in which members received news of and endorsed the Judicial Review strategy that we have been pursuing vigorously over the last 12 months.
At a closed session of AGM I explained the various strands (and frustrations that we have endured during it) of the JR campaign, and why Napo has not been able to seriously consider a possible route forwards until now. I was also transparent about us having spent a lot of money paying for some of the best specialists in the field to help us and Edward Cooper explained the complexities involved and answered questions from members.
Members support
On Saturday I reported that we would write to members about the feedback we had helpfully received following the closed session, so that everyone could be briefed on the position we had reached and that members would receive as many assurances as possible in terms of us exhausting all avenues. The e-mail to members which we issued yesterday sets out as safely as we are able to, what we have been doing and where we hope to go next; and it explains that our call for evidence on a number of fronts (now that we have seen what a disaster the staff split has been and what it has led to), is crucial in terms of us seeking redress against the Secretary of State through the legal system.
We had a huge queue of members waiting to give statements to our lawyers at AGM and we have had further testimonies coming in over the weekend and yesterday and again today. This is now being analysed and sent across for possible inclusion in the portfolio of evidence. This represents an absolutely brilliant response from Napo members and another massive thank you for the way that people have stepped up to the plate when needed.
Cool heads and unity
So we now at last have a potential route for legal challenge against TR, and just as the Officer Group always intended we are now trying to pursue it to its conclusion. If the opinion says ‘go for it’ we will. If so I cannot guarantee victory, but I can as always, promise you that we will fight as hard as we can to try and seize the opportunity; the rest will be in the hands of the judiciary and wherever a bit of luck comes from these days. As I made clear to conference, we are in the most testing times in the history of this union but I am confident that the new Officer group will be up to the challenge and pull together just as the last group have done. We won’t raise your hopes unfairly and, as you would expect, we will keep a cool head as we try and steer us through all this.
Lets just clarify this bit:-
"The Officers and Officials all agree that this was an extremely successful AGM, and make no mistake about it, the main highlight was the way in which members received news of and endorsed the Judicial Review strategy that we have been pursuing vigorously over the last 12 months."
Some members were so impressed with the strategy that they spent all Friday afternoon drafting the following Emergency Motions:-
1. Having been informed that evidence is needed from members regarding JR in the closed session of conference, we mandate the officers to clearly inform AGM exactly what information can be shared with members outside of this conference given the stated deadline of October 17th. We further mandate the officers to inform conference what the implications are for any JR challenge if there is insufficient evidence from members to support the current JR exercise. 
2. We believe that a legal challenge to the SoS is absolutely crucial to stop or delay the share sale of the CRCs and whilst we respect the legal opinion of the current Napo lawyer, we mandate that Napo obtains a second independent legal opinion by 31st October should the current opinion advise against the JR option.
As you know, these were eventually withdrawn during negotiations with the Executive in return for the General Secretary delivering a prepared and agreed statement. Whatever the spin being put on things, we now have two problems. First, we have to make absolutely sure that every sinew is being strained down at Napo HQ in actually preparing a legal challenge, rather than just talking about one as previously. 

Secondly, the process must be even more urgently instigated, given that the MoJ have disgracefully brought forward the contract timetable in order to try and head off this new threat of a Judicial Review, as opposed to the previous empty threat. We know about the moved timetable from Harry Fletcher and the following tweets:-
Primes to be notified in 3 weeks if won contracts then signed off 2 weeks later. If JR a runner it must be filed urgently.
Successful bidders to learn in 3 weeks if won contracts, sign off 2 weeks later. So just 5 weeks left to save Probation!
Primes to take control of Companies by 1/2/15 and take responsibility for providing services from that date.
Private companies 'have until 1/4/16 to fully implement the target operational model' by which they mean total control.
So contracts awarded 17/11/14, sole responsibility to provide services by 1/2/15, fully implement operating model 1/4/16.
A case might be constructed that letting contracts on 17/11/14 is reckless, high risk to reputation and a danger to public.
Joanna Hughes has expanded a little in this comment left last night:-
Our Probation Service is due to be sold in 5 weeks yesterday. Providers have been told to mobilise in 1 week, will be told in 2 weeks who has won the contract but will not be allowed to make it public. On 17 Nov it will then be for e.g. Sodexo Probation. On 1 Feb they will take over sole responsibility and from that date they have until April 2016 to implement TOM. They have obviously reacted to the JR and have moved the contracts forward before any provider is ready. The MOJ's lawyers can ask to expedite the JR as a spoiling exercise and the lapse between the 2 hearings can be very short. The only person who has actually handled a JR in Napo has told me all this, so knows what he's talking about. We need to get everyone who can to give evidence asap and the lawyers have about one week to get this JR in. There is no message from Napo but they need to let the members know and we need to keep the pressure up. 
So, not only do we have an omnishambles of epic proportions, we now have one on steroids. This is not only highly irresponsible, it's highly dangerous. 


One consequence of a return of mojo is that almost certainly this blog will hit 1.5 million sometime today - that's 500,000 hits since TR was imposed on 1st June and when we passed the first million mark. Thanks everyone - I'll raise a glass to you all tonight!