Friday, 29 May 2015

Napo Questions

The following questions have cropped up in the course of private correspondence and it would be interesting if some answers were forthcoming.

1. Has the normal process of NEC ratification and reporting of committee work been abandoned? And if so, why?

2. What has made the limited choices concerning the AGM so urgent that it appears to have taken priority over other important work, such as redundancy concerns for our members, especially in Sodexo?

3. Who authorised and agreed this survey, or which National Officer is taking the lead on this?

4. Exactly what is the justification for attempting to vary the AGM arrangements outside of asking the AGM itself? T
he AGM is the only place where such constitutional changes can be agreed. I understand it has long been known that the NEC has fought off previous reforms through motions at AGM.

5. 
In the AGM memo there is mention of costing efficiencies 4 times in 6 lines and one could be forgiven for thinking there may be a funding crisis. With reducing membership, 'check-off' to end and NPS cocking-up payments for at least 100 staff, isn't it time the leadership came clean about things?

6. Is the Napo Finance Sub Committee doing its job properly and can Napo afford its AGM in 2016, or not? Is there a concern that in 2016 there will be insufficient members or income to support its constitutional commitments to members?


7. How much did the Judicial Review actually end up costing Napo, what were the legal costs and why has there not been full publication of these details is before being required at AGM 2015?


8. In the Napo news in April Ian Lawrence reports that Napo HQ staff will all have new role opportunities and that all jobs are apparently safe. How can he say that if membership income is in reduction? There is still a full team at Chivalry Road, but leadership seems poor and not much seems to be happening, apart from taking over the National Reps roles in order to save costs and arguably reduce representation effectiveness.

9. Napo's ability to represent members properly at local level seems significantly reduced. How is Napo to overcome the issue of ensuring representation of members is met in the CRC's or NPS or is it looking to potentially drop the representation and membership involved with multi employers?

10. Napo recognition is in jeopardy in CRC's if membership falls below 51% of those employed. Have the figures been collated in order to understand the extent of the issue and efforts made to ensure branches are aware in order to protect the recognition rights in those areas? If not, why not?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Napo AGM

Further to my recent post on the future of the AGM, here's more from Napo HQ:-

BR 49/2015

TB/KF

To: Branch Chairs, Vice Chairs, Secretaries & Convenors Family Court SEC
Officers and Officials

26th May 2015

Dear Colleague

URGENT – CONSULTATION ON 2016 AGM

This circular is a follow up to BR46-2015 which consulted branches/section/members on a new format for AGM from 2016. The proposal is to concentrate the conference over two days, rather than spreading the business over three days as we do at present.

The options put forward are as follows:

1. Stay the same – AGM starts currently on Thursday afternoon and runs until Saturday lunch time.

2. Two day conference – Starting on Thursday morning and ending on Friday afternoon.

3. Two day conference – starting Friday morning and ending Saturday afternoon (which reduces the time members need to take off work).

Responses so far show a significant preference for option 3 – but the consultation is open until Monday 1 June, and we are eager to get as many views as possible. We would be grateful therefore, if you have not already done so, if you could circulate BR46 and this circular plus the additional information to members and ask them to respond either to the branch/Section or direct to Kath Falcon at Chivalry Road.

Additional Information

We thought it would be helpful to share additional information arising from questions already asked by members – please see the attached paper appendix 1

BR48-2015 Appendix 1

New Format AGM – 2016

We currently run a two day conference over three days – i.e. 2pm Thursday – 1pm Saturday. Prior to this (up to 2008) AGM ran from Friday to Sunday – starting late morning on Friday. The change to the current format was to address falling attendance owing to (we believed) members not wishing to give up their entire weekend. This seemed to be borne out by a revival in attendance. However, we believe it is time to review this again, given increased problems with members being able to take time of work and also in the interests of making best use of our current, stretched resources.

The two main reasons for the proposed change are therefore:

Financial

As stated in BR46-2015, the proposal is about savings, particularly in relation to the cost of venue hire, but also other cost e.g. hotels, entertainment, etc. However, it is not simply about cuts. We currently keep costs down by using seaside venues, out of season, which attract local authority subventions. The number of days hire is not a particular consideration in these venues. There has, however, been an increasing call from members for us to hold AGM in more centrally located, inner city, venues – offering easier access and travel. A two day conference would put these, more expensive venues, within our budget.

Time-off to attend

We know from feedback from both branches and individual members (particularly in relation to registration for the 2014 AGM) that there is increased pressure on members taking time off work to attend AGM. This is the main reason given by those members responding to the present consultation for favouring option 3 – a two day conference on Friday and Saturday. As one member put it ‘times are changing’.

A two day conference – practical considerations

Members have asked more detailed questions about how a two day AGM would operate.

Conference would start early on day 1 – i.e. 9am. It is understood that this would require the vast majority of attendees travelling to the venue the evening before. However even though the current start time of 2pm on the Thursday is supposed to enable members to travel on the Thursday morning we believe that the majority of members do stay overnight on the Wednesday – particularly given the geographically far flung location of the venues.

Conference would finish early on the afternoon of day 2 – i.e. 3.30pm/4.00pm.

This coupled with the more centrally located venues, would mean that almost all members would be able to travel home on day 2, rather than staying for an additional night.

It would be a more intensive/focused conference – but we believe this is something we need to take on board given the constraints of the times.

However, it is for members to decide – and we would urge branches/Section/members to let us have their views on the three proposed options ASAP and by Monday 1 June.


*****
Well, children, if you hadn't demanded that we spend all your pocket money on JR, we might have been able to have a nice conference with jelly & ic-cream. As it is, you're left with bread & water & an early bed. And with what's left we'll treat ourselves to a bonus, because we were right!!

*****
It is a disgrace from Napo. Another way of trying not to spend Napo's money on its members. If Napo wants to choke itself from oxygen and life blood, all they have to do is to encourage far flung branches to travel all those distances for a day and to return again, without having any networking at all costs for professional exchanges. Another reason to ask why are we paying membership subs? Napo can't be shooting their foot on this one as they have already blown themselves off! Also, this is the first time I have seen Tania Bassett's signature as we have not seen anything from her lately. Does she actually work for Napo? It's like waiting an hour for a bus and when it comes round the corner, it has the 'Not in Service' sign above the door. How does this proposal fit in her job description?

*****
I applied to go to another conference and was told that branches have had a budget cut from Central and if I go to the AGM then I have to pay for my place at any other NAPO conference. This was an instruction and not up for discussion. I thought this must have been nationally agreed so I'm interested to hear others opinions.

*****
Napo HQ need to be held to account - veto proposals outlined above and advise membership cancellation if they attempt to push this through. I can't speak for other areas but I do feel that management are riding rough shod over NAPO in my area. Something tells me that after the last AGM, NAPO HQ are concerned about a revolt.

*****
And the more networking time allowed, the more likely a revolt is... real reason for above proposal to shorten the AGM?

*****
With respect to the gainsayers, a two day conference full of business is the same 'air time' as a three day conference with two half days and one full one. Is it me, or is the amount of time available for AGM business pretty much the same on all of the proposed models? It is the travelling time that is compromised, not the business. As for networking, if management were on this kind of conference and asked for networking time, we would be calling it a 'jolly'. I see no conspiracies here, just an idea to cut costs when membership income is falling.

*****
Stop moaning and just sign out of NAPO. Starve the union of your hard earned money which NAPO routinely wastes such as paying of a GS and a certain ministers legal fees. The leadership is poor and they make mistake after mistake for members. I ask not what you can do for your NAPO but what does NAPO do for you???

*****
Typical. I have seen Ian Lawrence criticised for NOT wanting to go for Judicial Review and now he is criticised for incurring costs for GOING for JR. He can't win.

*****
OK good point and well made. Leaving Napo is not the way forward though for anyone. Ian Lawrence has been well critiqued on here for his disastrous leadership if that's what you can call it. He ran like a greyhound into the power house to become involved in the development of the transfer arrangements. He was on the consultative SCCOG group and was incompetently supported in the venture by the then Joint chairs. Subsequently, the remaining one of the collapsible duo assisted him in the conflict of role as they were both new and inexperienced. We all know the inept judgement he showed by applying for role in CRC and then resigning more likely to afraid to face the voters than any disagreement with the General Secretary yet still we have no real detail on whether he was bullied out or not.

JR should have gone ahead a long time before it actually was lodged when they finally went forward having been tackled at the AGM. Much call for JR was raised on here by JB. Sadly there was no forcing motion or full debate in the AGM for the JR. It was lodged on weak issues because all the best stuff had been run out of strict time. We have not seen the full details of the case because Napo has found a self defence clause by claiming the Court ruled confidentiality. Yet none of us have seen the Court papers showing this ruling.

Use your memory if not your brain its not hard. Prior to the election there were was a real fear the cavalry were coming in the form of labour. There may have been a feeling for many we had hope. That has now gone yet we are stuck with the GS who has made some terrible mistakes. Shamefully he wont admit or concede any notion that he has not managed well! It wont be long before what is left of this union calls for him to go and go quickly. This will not be likely until the NEC grow some teeth. Most of them do nothing meaningful and actually command the top table to do anything. Farcical?

*****
Thank you, very thorough analysis, many important points raised. What is the way forward to set new NAPO leadership in motion?

*****
I think what I am reading is that because Napo was involved in the transfer arrangements, as they were being developed, Napo could hardly object via JR, having foolishly participated in it. They have done this through collaboration. Is this right? Am I just asking the wrong question?

*****
I was thinking the same, but was it because IL was involved with the SCCOG group, and therefore nullifying any opposition to JR? Was that why he was reluctant?

*****
I fear, particularly with the dubious suggestion of a further reduction in conference time (remember the Thursday starts and the Sunday finish?) will diminish further AGM's relevance to the membership. AGMs had in any case contrived to reduce member participation by staged platform debates by invited guests (all friends of Harry?). Our own debates became increasingly perfunctory with formal proposals, seconding and often passed nem con. We face the challenge of a trades union ill-structured to serve, with at least 22 employers in the criminal justice arena and with CAFCASS also. Combined areas present a challenge for Branch organisation by virtue of their size alone (though Wales impresses). Bullet biting time I think. NAPO should focus if it can on union issues.

*****
Agreed on trade union matters and NAPO learn what being a trade union is. Sadly this may well be beyond Mr Lawrence's limited abilities. Professional issues certainly are! When Sodexo bring their machines there will not be any call in CRCs to discuss professional issues.

*****
Wondering if JB next topic should be whether members have any confidence in the General Secretary and if, as I suspect will be the case, most have none, how we go about raising a vote of no confidence and bring in some new blood, professional who is capable of leadership, achieving results and who demands respect from the membership due to integrity? How do we begin this process? Time for action as most have had enough of the current self serving, egotistical, ambition above ability character we reward with our hard earned subscriptions, otherwise known as the General Secretary.

*****
Also remember the frustration of wanting to progress Napo agenda at conference but lacking quoracy due to excesses of previous evening many times! NAPO do need to develop more professional approach to AGM!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Bleak Futures Week 21

With all of the plans towards people working from home and completing more home visits, there doesn't seem to be any conversation about staff safety. Many years ago, 2 people were murdered at the home of a family they had visited many times before and that was in the days when Probation and Social Services were viewed as helpful and positive.

*****
When the number of home visits increase, and the services and time to deal with clients issues decrease, you end up entering clients homes where they are increasingly frustrated and angry about not being able to resolve their problems, view the home visit as an intrusion rather then a point of assistance, and that's not a good recipe for a safe or harmonious relationship.

*****
I always feel uneasy when I do home visits to known single males and yet when you turn up one of their 'friends' is there. It's very disconcerting. I'm meticulous about ringing the office once I'm out but I'm wondering if I should ring when I'm going in as well.

*****
I don't really get this Home Visit business. Of course we all know that HVs have a place and usefulness, but the new models of mobile working seem to make them the norm. It's useful, but very inefficient. We also know it is difficult to sequence multiple visits and get the timings right. I wouldn't mind an increased flexibility in home visiting, and work in general, but all I can see so far is the CRC demanding people stay at their desks to do assessments.

*****
We can't stay at our desks - there aren't enough. Not enough rooms/desks/terminals. Home visits & tablets/laptops are the future.

*****
It is apparent to anyone who is looking closely at the developments as they progress (an inappropriate word if ever I saw one) that the practices in each area, each CRC and each piece of the NPS are getting more and more diverse and inconsistent. The offender experiences across England and Wales are getting increasingly variable and the supervision of cases in Somerset will be radically different to that that occurs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Cumbria and Lancs will look nothing like West Mercia and Greater Manchester will look nothing like London. All of this is potentially undermining the idea of consistency in sentencing. One wonders if it is even legal to have that level of variance. Transferring cases mid Order will be interesting!

*****
"It is apparent to anyone who is looking closely at the developments as they progress (an inappropriate word if ever I saw one) that the practices in each area, each CRC and each piece of the NPS are getting more and more diverse and inconsistent".

With this in mind, it's very concerning to hear the deafening silence of the unions. In the next couple of months the Tories will pass a bill that will stop industrial action being taken unless voted for by at least 50% of membership (that's 50% of membership- not 50% of those that respond to ballot).

The unions ability to take action will be very much reduced. The privateers are well aware of this, and are happy to develop their business models behind closed doors ready for implementation as soon as the Tories announce they've all but crippled the unions. Then they're free to do whatever they like fully aware of no resistance from unions, and no reprisals from the MoJ.

I really do believe this is why Sedoxo have 'wound their necks in', (for the moment), regarding redundancies and Terms and Conditions. They can just sit back and wait a few months until no-one has the power to challenge them. If people think it's bad now, don't wait for the rainbow, it's going to get much worse!

*****
Adult probation services under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme presented a mixed picture, said Paul Wilson, Chief Inspector of Probation. Today HM Inspectorate of Probation published a second report on the early implementation of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

Paul Wilson said:

“Given that we are still in the early stages of the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation, it is not surprising that we found many of the challenges identified in our original report still remain. In what is clearly a fast moving and complex programme of reform, this inspection confirmed that it will take time for a number of the issues to be resolved. It is also true to say that some of the challenges identified by our inspections pre-dated the introduction to Transforming Rehabilitation, and some of the issues are in the process of being addressed. On the ground too, National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Company staff are working collaboratively to ensure a good standard of delivery of services.

“There is much still to do to streamline processes and reduce bureaucratic burdens that could stifle innovation. There remains too the need to continue to review and improve IT systems and processes, so that this supports the business of delivering effective, quality services to offenders that contribute to reducing reoffending and the protection of the public.”

*****
I am beyond disappointment after reading the report. The Inspectors promised us anonymity, 'say whatever you need to say' they said, then asked specific questions about middle and higher management in terms of the support they were giving to staff and how they were operating as managers. But then NOT A DICKIE BIRD anywhere in the report to reflect what we said (and what they hinted had been echoed by the other areas)? So why ask, why give the impression they wanted to hear about managerial support, and then not refer to it ANYWHERE?

Where's the honesty and transparency in that - if you wanted the info for other purposes, just say so. And don't then come passing subjective judgement on what you are told in good faith as part of me explaining my dire working conditions (ie my 'indefensible' decision not to do an ISP). Because YOU asked the question. An independent Inspectorate? I think not. An Inspectorate with a predefined (read Tory) agenda to confirm all is bedding down nicely under TR? Definitely.

*****
- Most cases allocated correctly & timely - nowt new there cos admin staff know their onions
- Risk escalation carried out swiftly - it takes a lot of CRC time & effort to submit, but 30 secs for NPS to knock it back
- Offenders are "positive" - not sure about that either.
- IT needs to be improved - wow!
- Reduce Bureaucratic burdens - I can't believe my eyes!!

Well done Paul, lad. Outstanding & innovative. Cutting edge, even. You've got the job. That's a nice pension pot you've secured for yerself. The first casualty of nepotism is the truth.

*****
Strike over pay, how stupid. Well I am not striking this time. I was treated terrible over the last strike by so called work mates. Heckled at the door, disgusting in this day an age. Well I will continue to work to pay for my children to eat. This is the 2015 not 1980's.

*****
Pleased I'm on leave - would have chuckled passing picket line - just as Unison members did when I took strike action for more than just pay - but whole Probation future.

*****
Can't wait for sentencing hearings in the next couple of years:

"Mr Bloggs, after hearing what your solicitor has said - Weaseley & Weaslier, specialists in criminal law - and having read the Sodexo Kwik-Style Report - available at all good CRCs & adaptable for all court settings - we have decided to offer you a Community Order with Nacro, experts in crime for over 25 years. You'll have to complete 100 hours of unpaid work for the Sodexo chosen charity of the month sponsored by Pfizer - Pfizer, proving drugs are good for you. We rather think that making you available for clinical drug trials would mean you give a positive contribution to our profits, er, sorry, to society. And as for rehabilitation we're giving you the chance to attend 40 days' RAR at the Nacro Academy, sponsored by Grayling Enterprises. You'll attend as instructed, allowing Grayling Enterprises to reap the rewards of rehabilitation. This sentence was brought to you by Mags'R'Us, the only proven sentencing courts powered by Unintel in partnership with PCWorld."

*****
Love it! Sad thing is that when NACRO were part of the Work Programme in Wales they were giving out the wrong information. They have been superseded by another company who's name escapes me.

*****
Courts have also been driving their own agenda to eliminate the traditional PSR as here in the North courts are expecting 100% of reports done on the day with "any errors being sorted out later" and we are already seeing serious errors as corners are continually being cut.

*****
Errors to be sorted out later without legal aid....mmmm.

*****
For example, to date, six orders on my CRC caseload made in the last 6 weeks are having to be returned to be varied/amended because requirements are inappropriate/unworkable. Hours of unnecessary admin & stress/distress. Why? Made without reports, made with McDonalds' fast-food reports, or simply NPS staff at court unable to access relevant information about cases. It's SHIT!

*****
It is indicative of the attitude of this organisation, an organisation that in its current form is well beyond its sell by date, that none of the factual content of your post appears in the public "news" area of its website. Having resigned years ago from the M.A. along with hundreds of others is it any wonder that many consider it a self serving organisation for the benefit of its gong seeking executive.

*****
"Providing probation and resettlement services in Wales has some key differences from the South West CRCs where we also operate."

Interested to read in Wales CRC Annual Service Plan that they state they also operate in the South West. Seems they may be a bit confused about their true identity. Working Links may operate in the South West but I am pretty sure Wales CRC doesn't (not yet anyway).

*****
Probably written by someone in WL rather than CRC. Maybe they want just one area incorporating all 3 CPAs. One admin, HR etc based in one of the main cities? "Services commissioned and managed by Wales CRC will be reviewed as we move forward to ensure they continue to be fit for purpose." WL are reviewing all their stand alone projects such as IOM, PPO and women's Pathfinder. They are looking to bring them back into the generic CRC.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Food for Thought

Two items I've noticed that are worthy of note, first this from the Lawyer:-

Criminal barristers are threatening to go on strike again, in protest against the goverment’s cuts to legal aid.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association voted overwhelmingly in favour of direct action with 1,328 out of 1,385 - or 96 per cent - in favour of action and only 57 voting against in a CBA survey. The CBA, which has a membership of about 4,000, says this is “a very high turnout” for such a survey.

One of the key issues that barristers are concerned about is the proposed implementation of the Duty Provider Scheme (DPS), also known as the ‘two-tier contract’ scheme. They believe that proposed cuts and changes could result in work that has traditionally been done by barristers being done by solicitors instead.


The CBA’s leadership believe the changes “will destroy the quality of legal representation within the Criminal Justice System. The most able and committed young lawyers will have no future, and the independent bar will collapse.”

CBA chairman Tony Cross QC, said: “The response for such a survey was unprecedented and 96 per cent of those who responded have urged the CBA to take action to press the Government to think again.

“The proposed changes have no sensible economic foundation and will lead to irreversible damage to the Criminal Justice System. The proposed scheme will reduce competition, stifle innovation and paralyse the market as it becomes closed to new entrants.Spending on legal aid has already dropped by one third since 2009/10, meeting government targets several years ahead of schedule. No other sector of Government spending has borne such brutal cuts. There is simply no room or need for more.”

“We remain committed to constructive dialogue with the Government to ensure that our country has a Criminal Justice System that is fit for the 21st Century. 
No barrister wishes to withhold his or her labour. It is a measure of the extreme nature of our concern that so many of our members are contemplating such action.”

And Rob Allen sounds a word of caution in his latest blog about the Magistrates Association cosying up to private companies in the form of CRC's:-

Private Troubles and Public Issues

It is concern about how things might appear rather than risks of corruption that have alarmed a number of current and former JP’s about the burgeoning financial relationship between the Magistrates Association (MA) and a number of private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC's).

The MA is a charity operating under Royal Charter which represents the vast majority of the 22,000 JP’s in England and Wales. As part of its income generation strategy, the MA has set up an Education and Research Network to be made up of organisations “working within and around the justice system”. According to the latest issue of The Magistrate Magazine, “we already have five founding affiliate organisations on board”. According to one of the members of the Board who oversees the network, these are all CRC’s who have contributed £10,000 to join. In return they will enjoy the fruits of the research which is commissioned, with any money left over helping to fill a £50,000 gap in the MA’s budget.

What’s the problem some might ask? Surely this is simply an entrepreneurial effort to add to the body of knowledge about the workings of the criminal justice system while strengthening one of its key stakeholders. What happens in court and the decision-making of magistrates are relatively under researched areas where new information could be of considerable public benefit.

The problem is not about the work that the Network might produce, although there must be doubt about whether it can both research high quality studies and return much of a profit to the MA. It is rather that the investment by private companies gives an appearance that improper influence might be being sought. CRC's are controversial bodies, the outcome of a highly contested process of privatisation. Labour's election manifesto referred to the reckless privatisation of probation, meaning dangerous offenders are more likely to be monitored by companies with no track record of success, putting public safety at risk.

The most recent inspection report about the Transforming Rehabilitation changes that created the CRC's found signs of developing tensions with the National Probation Service "as managers considered what they were actually contracted to do and entitled to receive, rather than what they had traditionally done". In this unsettled context, the CRC's will be looking for all the friends they can find.

The Guide to Judicial Conduct advises judges to take care in considering whether, and if so to what extent, their name and title should be associated with an appeal for funds, even for a charitable organisation. “It could amount to an inappropriate use of judicial prestige in support of the organisation and may also be seen as creating a sense of obligation to donors”. This is something that Lady Justice Hallett who sits on the Network Board will no doubt have considered. The Guidance does make clear that “there will be occasions, for example in the case of charities supporting the work of the Courts, where the objection would not apply”. But the vexed nature of the CRC’s, and the concern which their owners will understandably have to enhance their reputation should argue for caution on the part of the judiciary.

From the Magistrates side, the MA’s activities include the provision of information and advice to magistrates, developing guidance to improve the delivery of justice in the courts and responding to proposals which affect the delivery of justice. They cannot be put in a position where the content of that guidance, information and advice could be seen to be influenced by commercial considerations.

It is interesting that the Senior Presiding Judge has issued guidance about liaison between providers of probation services and sentencers, emphasising that it is the National Probation Service (NPS) who have that responsibility and not the CRC’s. It is not clear whether channelling communication through the remaining public sector part of the probation service is a matter of administrative convenience or of ethical propriety. It is perhaps worth the Magistrates Association considering both dimensions as they move forward with their new initiative.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Question Time

Missive received from Working Links chief about how pleased he is with the general election result. Meanwhile CRC leaders seem embarrassed their foot soldiers aren't dropping everything to complete a ridiculous staff survey.

*****
Increasingly desperate emails being received from senior managers about completing the WL survey, saying it "only" takes 30 minutes, and apparently we can minimise the length of time it takes by only answering questions about our "core tasks"... so do you want it filled out properly or not? Sounds like someone's bonus is at risk...

*****
I've heard that Deloitte is doing a business review of WL and the survey is part of that. They are looking to merge some job roles.

*****
That survey is a massive waste of time and there's something very sinister about it.

*****
The Staff survey it to assess all job roles, see where there are overlaps and act accordingly.

*****
Union advice is not to complete survey.

*****
The advice from Napo might be not to co-operate with this survey, and the cynical might be tempted to say they're hoping for a low response to the following:-   

BR 46/2015 TB/KF

To: Branch Chairs, Vice Chairs, Secretaries & Convenors, Family Court SEC Officers and Officials

18th May 2015

Dear Colleague

URGENT – CONSULTATION ON 2016 AGM

Napo has recently secured a venue for our 2016 AGM in Cardiff at the St David’s Hall. In line with our on going objective to reduce costs, and to run as a efficiently as possible, the AGM planning group has been discussing the future format of our AGM, which is currently the single most expensive event we run. As a democratic union that is member led it is vital that members have a say in how our AGM is organised and how members’ subscriptions are spent.


We currently run a two day conference over three days which adds significant costs to the venue booking fees. As such the AGM planning group has drawn up three options (see below) for members to discuss with a view to finding a more efficient, cheaper but still member led AGM for 2016.

Please circulate these to your Branch/Section members and ask them for feedback. It is a short turn around time for responses as we need to secure the exact dates for 2016 AGM and confirm the booking with them as soon as possible.

Please see the options below:

1. Stay the same – AGM starts currently on Thursday afternoon and runs until Saturday lunch time.

2. Two day conference – Starting on Thursday morning and ending on Friday afternoon.

3. Two day conference – starting Friday morning and ending Saturday afternoon (which reduces the time members need to take off work).

Please send responses to the consultation by MONDAY 1 JUNE.


Regular readers will be aware that I've not mentioned Napo of late, but many may feel the above has worrying hallmarks of some attempt to 'bounce' a decision without adequate discussion or consideration. To me it yet again demonstrates just how dysfunctional things are at the top. There appears to be no visible leadership and the vacuum created has allowed this sort of initiative to appear, seemingly out of nowhere, based on virtually no analysis or adequate explanation and with a completely unreasonable time frame attached. 

The 'top table' at Napo just don't seem to 'get it' and I predict some serious unrest within the ranks unless communication improves significantly and there is some sign that the General Secretary is being held to account. There is a rumour that the staff salaries budget has been raided in order to fund a recent bonus for staff, despite a wage increase being turned down last year. I assume the NEC has been fully involved in all key decisions, or is it time for them to be a tad more assertive?        

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bleak Futures Week 20

Maybe not a psychopath but possibly a Thatcherite moron carefully chosen because he's callus enough to finish the job. This is the same Michael Gove that wanted to dismantle the NHS and issue personal health accounts instead. He then moved on to bullying and intimidating the teaching profession. The end result was receiving a public vote of no confidence by the entire teaching profession. It's worth noting that while this was happening our probation leaders were cosying up to Chris Grayling just like they'll cosy up to Gove. The only plus is that he's not bff's with the PM.

Prepare for the swarm of introductory and congratulatory emails about this Tory appointment when you open Lotus Notes on Monday morning. I'd like to optimistic or believe that nothing can be worse than Grayling, but alas I'm struggling with that. With a Justice Minister and Lord Chancellor at the helm with no education or experience of the CJS I doubt the next 5 years will be positive for any of us. Anybody taking bets on long will it be until probation officers issue a vote of no confidence in Gove?

*****
Give Goves a chance before giving him a hammering before he has even started his role. For people who are supposed to be non judgemental a lot of judgements are being made on here. If you're unhappy then find a new job. Whether you're CRC or NPS, it is what it is and nothing can change things, so whatever your grade or role, get on with the job you are paid to do!!

*****
Do you mean JFDI?

*****
Sorry but have to applaud the JFDI response because that is the message we get daily - it does not matter that on a daily basis it's falling apart, teams are being depleted in one way or another JFDI. Going to quote that at SFO hearing.

*****
All we want to do is "get on with the job we are paid to do" but therein lies the problem. The processes seem to change by the week, the tools we are using are woefully not fit for purposes (specifically IT and constant workarounds that change then change again).So perhaps what we really need is for leadership to be shown by those paid to do so. This is NOT a practitioner problem - we are working amazingly well to deliver the work we do. It is a serious senior management failing.

*****
Most who comment on here have a sense of social conscience. Whether it's Gove, Grayling or any other 'officer' of our neolibreral right wing government is almost irrelevant. The issue is ideology plain and simple. It's not the person charged with the 'enforcement' of that ideology that rankles people most, it's the ideolgy itself that most people find abhorrent.

These next five years of ideological doctrine will no doubt spell out the Tory parties 'final solution' for public services. Gove, Grayling who cares, they're just figureheads in different offices, delivering an ideological paradigm that 80% of the population don't actually agree with or want.

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How do we assess risk of reoffending, risk of harm? On previous behaviour. Look at Gove's recent history and we have an idea of what's coming. Ask a teacher.

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We look at past performance. Gove has been Education Secretary in the previous Con-Dem gov and in my role as a School Governor I know exactly what is he is capable of. There is much to worry about with his appointment, he is equally unsuitable as his predecessor. There is little I would look forward to in his appointment.

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I too am very concerned about Gove but any Tory they'd give us would be a disaster. We know what's coming, a long hard 5 years. We thought the last five had been tough!!

I want to talk about the probation training, slightly off topic I know. I fear that our professional qualification is being watered down too much for the sake of getting some newly qualified PO's through the door. Within two months we had one trainee writing a report for Crown Court. How did that happen? I was so shocked. Even worse she wasn't even observed conducting the interview with the offender. How can this be a professional service? Really? Same with NPS PSO's, they can't hold any cases so they are thrown into Court with little training. It's just awful. I care about my profession deeply and feel it's being torn apart. Long term it will do us no favours!

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Well good luck with your debate and discussion with Mr Gove. My view is you'll find him in place to finish the job off that his predecessor started. His "management" of education should already show you that he is not one to listen to reasoned debate from the masses or even those in the know. His hands may be tied, but I see no evidence in the man that he will fight to reverse the damage already done.

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Part of me is wishing I went into the CRC as I feel that I am now at greater risk of being made redundant once the cuts start. Of equal concern is how our TPO's must be feeling knowing that they are doing nearly 2 years training and most likely not guaranteed a job at the end. I know Gove left Education following the Teachers passing a vote of no confidence, can we do this with this Tory Government??

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I thought we did put a vote of no confidence in Grayling, he responded with a 'big gone peasants!' I have nothing against these trainee's, many are talented and committed to doing the job but I'm concerned that they are all under 25 and female. I saw one on twitter complaining about having to clean her room. If that's all that worries her in her life, how can she relate to the cases she's supervising. I know lots of PO's who entered the service years ago as new graduates but to recruit so many on block isn't healthy for the service. I imagine they will be kept and we will be made redundant for standing up for the true values of probation.

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TPO's are cut price staff to fill in the gaps, then there is no prospects of a job after training.

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Charlie Falconer is good news. He is knows about Probation and was a great support for the brief months after he took over from John Reid when the MOJ was created. He was the one who said " it's time that the sun came out for Probation" Today we need a miracle rather than the sun!

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I have re-read the posts and comments across the last week, a week in which we have all been stuck with a long 5 years of a Conservative government, where I fear we will regret that they are no longer Condems. And what is everyone on about? NPS vs CRC; young vs old; social work vs crim justice training; client vs probation officer? If we carry on in-fighting and whinging like this (oh, I forgot, PO vs manager) we will just disappear in a puff of Delius outage. Do something, stop effing banging on about what someone else hasn't done. Join something, get out, speak out, work with your clients, do what you can, please just stop fighting each other.

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I work in an office with a young female manager who seeks to rule by isolating the majority of her team and surrounding herself with yes men. This seems to pass for 'management' these days. So this in-fighting as you say whilst being divisive is actually encouraged in some quarters. Better to have a few quislings than be at odds with an entire team....

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When are NOMS going to look at the link between long term stress and particular managers? Say for example someone gains a temporary appointment and suddenly staff stress related sickness increases then that person is then appointed as a manager and staff stress sickness increases, would it not be prudent for SOMEONE to make the correlation?

Use grievance procedures I hear you cry. But what if that person is such a bully that no-one dare? What if that new manager is merely doing the bidding of a senior manager and so has no sanctions to his/her behaviour since they would be the person to hear the grievance. Yup, no point at all. I think whistleblowing to the HSE can't be far away in terms of staff stress levels and the management of this.

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Repeatedly I have suggested that grievances are monitored and managers questioned and penalised over excessive rates. How else do you detect discrimination for example? Instead the managers are promoted.

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I have been in a situation where the entire team bar one was bullied by a new SPO. I was the only one who pursued a grievance. We were labelled as trouble makers and the manager had arse covered by senior management all the way. I eventually escaped to another office. You can have all the bullshit policies in the world, snr management don't want to know. That which didn't kill me made me stronger. I can laugh about it now but it's a nightmare when it happens. A tip for statements. Keep it factual and evidence based. Keep notes on a daily basis. Keep opinions to yourself and adopt a neutral tone. Good luck.

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I believe that people are venting on here as it's better than doing it in an open office. I have had to stand up for myself in an open office on two separate occasions, not nice. However, back off and do your job and leave me to do mine has worked. I don't want to say this but the sooner everyone knows where they stand the better.

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The thing is that the horrors of a newly-elected Tory majority government and our troubles as a newly-privatised, disintegrating public service are inextricably linked. We should all stand together because worse is on its way for the public services, welfare benefits and further attacks on Trade Unions. Those of you who aren't in Napo or left Napo should really consider joining again. This is where we could make ourselves stronger and more able to face the onslaught of the Tories scorched earth policy towards the state and its vital functions.

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Trade unionism in the UK is under threat. The irony is that trade unionism started in the UK because of the ways in which people were treated by employers. The threats to the movement come from all areas of society but the biggest threat is undoubtedly ambivalence. I understand that 28% of the UK workforce are union members. The issue is that only about a quarter of these are willing to stand up and be counted. The idea is to stand together. Without that collective consciousness, we will be unable to fight the powers that wish to use us at their whim and discard us without concern. Trust in your leaders and your employers will bring you nothing but disappointment.

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Why are Kent, Surrey and Sussex recruiting to the extent that they are???

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Because we are totally understaffed on the coal face and won't be able to fulfil the contract? More highly paid managers always useful/needed??

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We, in Cumbria and Lancs, having previously been told by Sodexo they want rid of 30% of us, are just waiting to see when/if/how this will happen. No chance of any recruitment for us.

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A member of CRC staff (PO) walked out sick today after having had a panic attack at their desk. The amount of work is just overwhelming and looming/missed deadlines contributed to the attack. This was in full view of an open-plan office.

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Same happened in NPS NE same area two very capable POs. Both off for months with work place stress...made ill by work...disgraceful.

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Dedication is one thing, dedication to the point of collapse is another. Pleease look after yourselves.

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In our middle size office there is something interesting happening. CRC staff are spending even less time with clients/offenders and spending all their time on ridiculous OASys targets. Meanwhile, in the NPS there is a sense of calm and thoughtfulness - reflective practice perhaps. People are talking about practice all the time, and a move away from group based interventions to more individualised pathways of work. Bloody hell - despite the CRC owners talking about client centred approaches and desistance all the time, it is actually taking hold in the NPS.

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I've never considered OASys as an effective tool to assess or predict an offenders risk. In fact I'd go as far as saying it's actually pretty rubbish in terms of assessing risk. The only real value in OASys (IMHO), is to provide the supervising officer with a document that provides evidence that they've followed due process and protocol in their duties whilst supervising an offender.

To that effect it offers some form of protection to the supervising officer when something goes wrong or have to account for their actions when a client commits an SFO. Once the detail contained in the document becomes diluted, any value it may have had as a method of risk assessment is gone, and as a document to evidence due process and practice it no longer provides the officer any protection at all. In fact it becomes a document that can be used against the supervising officer in the event of an SFO.

The less detail that goes in, the greater the risk to the supervising PO. I think it's time to get rid of OASys altogether now as it provides no value to client, PO, or public protection, and the unions need to keep copies of any instructions given to dumb down the detail in the assessment.

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The Purple People Eaters model of OASys reinforces my view that the new CRC providers are seeking only to maintain the illusion of risk management. As long as it LOOKS like they are doing it, the Quality Assurance structures will be satisfied.

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If combined with a thorough PSR, and genuinely reviewed following significant change of circumstance, the above guidance might actually make OASys useful. The trouble is, it's a long time since I saw a thorough PSR - at least in the sense of one that had all relevant current and historical information in it. This isn't meant as a criticism of PSR writers, by the way - it's the fault of the report factory system that we've ended up with.

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Whatever the rights and wrongs of the systems involved, isn't it a worrying development that things are reverting to the bad old days of quantity over quality? All those lessons we were to learn from SFO's etc, all worthless. The general public are not stupid and will ask that very same question, just as they have in respect of all the serious case reviews for children killed under our noses from Marie Colwell to Baby Peter! Shame on this frightful, heartless and witless government!

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Just to put the record straight, I am DipPs qualified and Maria Colwell and Victoria Climbie featured heavily in my training and since training have done specific training about outcomes from Lord Laming's reports 1 and 2 (Victoria Climbie and Peter Connelly). Can we stop the social work rules debate starting up again please. Sometimes we work within the training provided.

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"sometimes we work within the training provided..." - The current level of training provided does not provide the kind of training required to work with complex needs and issues which many offenders have.

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Sounds like Purple Futures are starting to lay their stall out as all of our Area's CRC staff have now been put on standby and told that the current buildings are unsustainable due to cost and plans are afoot to move us out. This is being hindered due to the Gateway problem with the IT system. Sounds like there is a workaround that they are currently testing and then we'll be gone. The big question is where to? Does anyone know about the buildings - will CRC have to give landlords notice or do MOJ own them?

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CRC offices in Newton Aycliffe (County Durham) and Bishop Auckland apparently closing and staff moving to Darlington. There is talk up there about their CPA having one or two hubs then staff doing home visits to clients who do not live near the hubs. Appears the ball has started rolling.

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If our office closed the other CRC offices are so far away that the OMs from the closed staff would constantly be doing home visits as no offenders could get to the new office. It would literally mean a day trip out. Unless we did home visits and rang a hub and the duty officer updated delius from our phone-in.

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ARCC is the Durham Tees Valley CRC and sounds to be the best by far - think it is the only staff mutual? I think they are closing all offices and will have two hubs, staff working from home using tablets. Staff seem pleased from what I've heard. Also a colleague there said the best of the managers went to ARCC.

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I work for ARCC as a OM. There are some teething troubles which are most likely due to TR and the working model but things are fairly positive but very busy. I think if something serious goes wrong then most, if not all OM's could claim to have high workloads. Probably the only thing that is spoiling what could be a prosperous venture.

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"... some teething troubles most likely due to TR." Thank you for one of the most amusing & innocent understatements of 2015. Good luck. x.

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Day trips to reporting centres, that will conflict with the requirement to be available and looking for work 5 days a week

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Same for most CRC's GATE IT is a massive hold up. RAR groups not in place in some areas.

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With ORA cases, how are people enforcing induction & info gathering appointments for sentence planning? Those appointments don't fall under the RAR as far as I'm aware or do they and essentially count as 2 days?

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Wales Working Links CRC offices were measured up last week. The guy even measured the ladies loo. Thought maybe we were having new carpets until then.

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I've heard that some offices in the DTV area CRC are on their knees due to a large percentage of staff being directed to prisons for TTG.

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Yep, we lost 4 OM's and 2 admin in our office. We are pretty much fire-fighting now. I agree 100% with what my colleague wrote about staffing levels. If my manager addressed this then ARCC has potential. If not then.. We are now starting to get a lot of post ORA custody cases and this is only going to go one way...

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The stripped back OASys should be a godsend to you lot then.

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It is. As long as they have NEVER had one or more of the following concerns:
DV
Violence
Child Protection
Witness Intimidation
Lots of D&D
Sex offences
Abuse
Childhood abuse
Adult abuse
Victim of DV

The list goes on. Looking at my caseload and it's safe to say that I can do a big fat raspberry to the thought of completing a T1 OASys. So yes, it's a veritable boon.

Friday, 15 May 2015

OASys Special

Purple Futures have issued new guidance for OASys:

1) All standalone UPW to have basic layer within 10 days.

2) All ISPs to be completed within 10 days on the info to hand.

3) When ROSH & RoR are both low then no need to fill in text boxes - just score sections 3-13.

4) If criminogenic ROSH fill in appropriate text box.

5) If after 10 days info from FCIU etc still missing the ISP must be locked and a review must be done within 8 weeks.

6) OMs to make assessments concise, no need to write numerous paragraphs.

7) Section 2 needs completing fully.

8) A risk of harm screening is to be done in all cases.

9) All ISPs must demonstrate client involvement ie include ENAM/SAQ items in the sentence plan.

10) All sentence requirements to be included in the plan.

11) Always put delius entry that OASsys has been completed - this can be done prior to OASys countersignature as we are being marked on timeliness and not quality!!

Definition of ROSH: many offences of assault where an injury's been caused which isn't life threatening or traumatic and where recovery will not be difficult or impossible are not viewed as 'serious' therefore no ROSH needs completing because although the offender poses a risk it is not a serious risk. We're to avoid using 'risk of harm' and focus upon risk of SERIOUS harm.

Despite the rights and wrongs of the above it is going to save me some serious time.

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Yes until your interviewed for an SFO and you will be asked "serious" questions about your assessment and your ability to risk assess.

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I don't think so as the assessment is based on the information to hand ie even if it's an assault, so long as no harm done then we're clear. We are no longer expected to have crystal balls and that will always be my defence. Very interesting the timeliness is prioritised over quality. Oh my word!

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SFO's will not be about crystal balls. It will be about information that is already available but the worker 'failed in their duty to investigate further'.

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But we're being encouraged not to enter text in boxes and only to score. Therefore keep Delius brief and they will have to prove we were aware of information and didn't investigate. Don't forget if it's not written down it didn't happen.

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I agree with your comments, although I would have to question what kind of culture are we being made to develop and what is our responsibility in that? Yes you have to look after yourself, but we also have a responsibility to challenge the oppressive nature of our working environment in which we are required to practice. We can't let our professional integrity become undermined.

Important to raise the issues of good and safe practice at every team meeting and at every supervision meeting. Self refer to occupational health and leave a paper trail of evidence of concerns. Have it recorded and have it documented, so when something does happen you can say..."see, I told you so, but I was ignored in favour of profits for shareholders".

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Sounds dreadful. How can they demand that?! They don't know anything about OASys and ROSH.

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Thank goodness, some sense at last. Hopefully this will provoke a long overdue review of exactly what is risk of serious harm, and what is meant by high, medium and low is actually meant to be about.

It wouldn't hurt to get people to actually read OASys before filling it in either, ie; it says insert language if other than English and what is consistently in the box? Provide the exact detail of the offence it says and what is in the box?, not the exact detail, the why and how.

Risk of Serious Harm, insert detail of the most recent offence/behaviour that raises the risk of serious harm and what is in the box? The current offence is not indicative of serious harm or the pulled through detail of the current shop theft. Over the page in previous behaviour is the sentence along the lines of convicted of, lets say, Indecent Assault, no detail available.(detail there in full in the assessments completed when that was current), but hey who has time/cares enough or even thinks of reading the previous sentences assessments?

Oh and score the sections according to the analysis in the guidance, rather than 0-2 as least to worst. (It's guaranteed that there is at least one person happily completing assessments, hitting the targets, doing it without even speaking to the person concerned, oblivious to the impact of what they write on the person concerned,(bet they would love to be told in supervision that they have a number of 'deficits') and is totally oblivious to the existence of help and scoring guidance. Oh and don't forget that if it's written down it certainly doesn't mean it DID happen.

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OASys at birth was a somewhat agricultural tool which was originally a useful concept, i.e. Bring all assessments together in one place. OASys now? Try to imagine a transatlantic aircraft intended to carry 500 passengers with all modern luxuries, but built upon the original Wright Brothers' flying machine. It's utter bollox, well intentioned but nevertheless bollox. And worse still, NOMS got their grubby mitts on it & decided to build in a spy network. Result - uberbollox.

Good points raised above, but it's difficult to make those points because of the complexity of the bolloxing stoopid tool and the lack of clarity of definitions. How many different systems now refer to "risk" as high, medium or low? How many different forms of "risk" are there - serious harm? Serious sexual harm? Serious psychological harm? Red, amber or green? Reoffending - same type of offence? Any offence?

For me, the tool should be an ever-expanding chronologically aligned single record. No locking off, guillotines or multifarious versions where data is abandoned or deleted - simply one continuous rolling assessment with key milestones/markers, e.g. new offence, start of order, new offence, hospital admission, transfer to prison, release, etc. Then, at any point, assessors can review without having to close & open multiple documents hoping to find if/where/when certain data was entered/deleted.

Recent example - new case, name was familiar, looked at last OASys, nothing to link with what seemed familiar. Out of curiosity I looked back at random assessments as far as records went and found one with mental health report attached. All reference to that had been deleted on the subsequent OASsys and thus any "pull thru" after that contained none of that vital information. I have now resurrected that historical information because it informs the why & how of risk to female staff. Last known officer told me "it all makes sense now. We couldn't work out why he kept on about being a risk to women when his offences were shoptheft."

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Time For Another Break

Regular readers will recall that I went off to Berlin for a week last year and you all had to be trusted not to be too beastly to each other. Well, as this comment ably demonstrates, you can't please all the people, all of the time:-

Bored now.
Your horse didn't win the race.
GET OVER IT

Not the most erudite of contributions admittedly, but as it happens perfectly timed because I'm off again for at least 10 days. I will have internet access throughout, but feel somewhat under a self-denying ordinance to try and knock on the head the temptation to keep dipping in. Obviously, if something dramatic happens that might relieve the boredom felt by our disgrunted reader, rest assured I'll be on the case.

Before I sign off, I have another appeal for information as follows:-

In relation to the blog entitled 'Assessment Special' last November and concerning SARN, if any readers have direct involvement in helping develop treatment plans based on the SARN, and are not prevented from openly discussing your experiences, please contact Kush on tchr@trentchambers.co.uk

So, look after each other, keep the info coming in and think about the offer of writing a guest blog.

Election Reflections 3

Before we inevitably move on from analysis of the election last week, the more I learn and try to understand what happened, the more convinced I become that we must look afresh at our 'first past the post' electoral system. In this vein, I hope legendary London blogger diamond geezer does not mind me reproducing his take on things from a post dated 11th May:-

My most-shared tweet of the last week, by some distance, is this one.



It's an eye-catching statistic, but how could it be true? Well, I'm obliged to Ian for compiling a list of the 20 most marginal seats in the country, from which we need to consider the closest seven that are Tory-held.

Gower maj 27
Derby North maj 41
Croydon Central maj 165
Vale of Clwyd maj 237
Bury North maj 378
Morley & Outwood maj 422
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport maj 523

Had these majorities swung to Labour instead then the Conservatives would have had only 324 seats out of 650, which is technically a minority. And for that to happen, what's needed is for half of those forming the majority to switch from Conservative to Labour. For example, the majority of 27 in Gower would have been wiped out if just 14 people who voted blue had voted red instead. Not voting one way brings the majority down to 13, and then voting the other way creates a Labour majority of 1.

Gower 14 switchers
Derby North 21 switchers
Croydon Central 83 switchers
Vale of Clwyd 119 switchers
Bury North 190 switchers
Morley & Outwood 212 switchers
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport 262 switchers

Adding these seven figures gives a total of 901. OK, so that's one out from my rounded figure, but you get the idea. 901 voters choosing to back Miliband rather than Cameron would have cut Tory support sufficiently to create a minority Conservative government. And yes, that's only technically, because Sinn Féin never turn up at Westminster so the winning post is effectively 323, and yes, even with 320-ish MPs the Conservatives could have ruled from a position of effective control.

But the fact remains that there are fewer than 1000 people out there on whose choice the outcome of this election hinged. If you changed your mind in Gower, Croydon Central or Bury North, one of those people could be you. Thank goodness nobody knew who you were before the polls opened, otherwise you'd never have been left alone. Electoral reform, anyone? Or does this random selection of a handful of VIP citizens actually work rather well?

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I thought this comment on the diamond geezer post worth bearing in mind as well:-

 .... and who can forget the 2000 US presidential election, won by Bush Jr on a margin of five electoral college votes after a recount to determine how Florida should cast its block vote of 25. The winning margin in Florida was 537, or less than 0.01% of the total votes cast in that state. That's 269 Floridians who decided the outcome.

The infamous "hanging chads" and other uncertainties gave the margin of error as anything up to 700 more votes for Al Gore.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Modern Tale

Here's a tale of modern-day Britain and with a brand new Tory government intent on returning to 'One Nation' politics, the triteness of David Cameron's words couldn't be better illustrated in my view. From the Daily Mirror:-

'How are they expected to live?' Judge slams theft charge for desperate dad who stole out-of-date food from Tesco

Paul Barker, 39, and Kerry Barker, 29, were spotted on CCTV sifting through groceries at the back of a store which were destined for the bin. The couple are down on their luck and say they have virtually no money to look after themselves or their kids. But they found themselves arrested and taken to court after police were called to the shop in Sunderland in January.

Mr Barker told officers the pair were hungry and they knew there would be unwanted food available. But they were both charged with theft and Paul admitted the offence at Sunderland Magistrates Court. Kerry is yet to enter a plea and will appear before magistrates later this month.

District Judge Roger Elsey handed Mr Barker a conditional discharge and refused to impose any financial penalty. He asked the court: "How are they expected to live? It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge. "I clearly can't make any financial order."

Prosecutor, Jeanette Smith, said the pair were seen in the rear compound of the Hetton Road Tesco Express store, Sunderland, removing a pallet of food. She explained that although the items were to be thrown out, they were in a secure compound, adding that Tesco's policy is not to give away discarded food.

Angus Westgarth, defending, said that when the offence occurred the couple had not been given benefits and had no way to fund food. He said: "At the time, they hadn't had benefits or any money since December. It just seems that the state has failed them. They were told they would not get any benefits for a year from December. He is having to duck and dive to feed himself. 

"Without a crystal ball I can see that this will continue to happen. He is trying to survive however he can. I think they call this way of living 'freeganism'. They take waste food and consume it. They are managing to live as, I think, Social Services are paying some money for housing. Their children are living with grandparents because of the situation."

It's interesting that the solicitor quoted 'freeganism' which, according to our old friend Wikipedia, is a political movement spawned in West Coast America, whereas I suspect the British variety is rather more about a desperate act borne of being bloody hungry:-

Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and freeganism are often seen as part of a wider anti-consumerist ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.

The word "freegan" is a coinage derived from "free" and "vegan". Freeganism started in the mid-1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.