There are unmistakable signs that people who feel strongly about what Chris Grayling and this government are proposing for the Probation Service are beginning to make their views known. One way is the Downing Street e-petition and I notice a fresh one has been started here and has already attracted 5262 signatures.
What's interesting is that the previous attempt only attracted 325 signatures last August. I detect a serious change in attitude by a normally fairly mild and compliant sector of the population. Even NAPO is showing signs of seriously gearing up for a fight - it's membership of late have been notably unwilling to display much sign of unity, let alone militancy.
Now really is the time for probation to call in all our favours in the widest sense and garner as much support as possible for keeping probation as a public service. I notice that Professor of Criminology Carol Hedderman at Leicester University had an abridged letter published in the Independent on 15th January. The full version can be found here on the Probation Chief's Association website.
It would seem that Sarah Billiald the Chief Executive of Kent Probation Trust holds lead communication responsibility for the PCA and therefore speaks on behalf of probation. I saw her briefly on Channel 4 News and wondered who she was. She has had a letter published in the Guardian, but I have to say I think it's a mistake not to put up a probation officer to defend probation. By profession she is an accountant who rose to become a senior Civil Servant before taking over at Kent in 2008. When interviewed in the Guardian last July she said:-
For leaders without frontline experience, getting the right team in place is important. Sarah Billiald, chief executive of Kent Probation, quickly appointed a probation officer as her PA, who was able to give her insider tips when she first took on her role.
Billiald, who previously worked for the National Audit Office and the prime minister's delivery unit, has also made one of her senior operational team a "head of profession", with a direct line into the board's chair.
"You need to find a way of understanding and valuing frontline experience. Some have it by having done it themselves; others by having people close to them who have done it," she says.
A PO as PA 'who gave a few insider tips' OMG!
We now know that Sarah is a keen 'tweeter' and whatever some of us may feel about the usefulness of this particular means of communication, without doubt the development of social media and the internet generally is beginning to have an effect on how decision-making is conducted in a mature democracy like ours.
Organisations like 38 Degrees have been able to exert considerable influence over government policy decisions simply by using the internet to inform and mobilise public opinion. We've got to do the same and I see there are already some tentative signs of the word spreading on Facebook.
PS For those readers interested, a lot of tweeting probation action seems to be happening here.