Saturday, 2 February 2013

I Am Spartacus!

There's just 20 days left in which to submit comments to Chris Grayling regarding his plan to privatise most of the probation service. We all knew this was coming and now is the time to decide how to respond. 

Probation staff are not particularly renowned for militancy, a fact reflected by NAPO the trade union having dual status as a professional association.  Membership has been slipping, especially amongst more-recently qualified staff and other unions such as Unite have been steadily increasing representation.

Unlike other public services, such as the police, we also suffer from the lack of an effective national voice. This is partly to do with our historical local roots, but more recently due to having been nationalised and then denationalised within a very short time frame. The current plans involve regionalisation and privatisation, also in very short order. Most people would agree that we've been seriously pissed-about and I would argue that the time has come for some unity and sense of common purpose.

So, where is that to come from? Each of the 35 Probation Trusts is independent and collectively are represented by the Probation Association. I don't know, but I guess each Trust is preparing its own response. We know what the Chair of the Avon and Somerset Trust thoughts are, but what will the others be saying? Until recently, each Trust had been looking after it's own interests and planning cosy deals with various private and third sector partners. Hardly a good starting point for trying to come up with a unified voice.

Then there is management. The probation chiefs are represented by the Pobation Chiefs Association and their main spokesperson is Sarah Billiald CEO of the Kent Trust. I've recently queried the wisdom of fielding an accountant to speak authoritatively for probation, and this recent piece written for the Guardian doesn't exactly fill many practitioners with a great deal of hope:-  

"The reforms do, however, present some real opportunities to increase reductions in reoffending, particularly through the new work with prisoners sentenced to under 12 months and by the incentives that payment by results can generate if designed correctly. There is huge potential to bring together the best of public, private and voluntary sector skills in different social and commercial vehicles to bid for and deliver the work in the proposed 16 geographical areas.
The real prize will be if players can come together in genuinely joint ventures that move away from traditional contracting arrangements. Negotiating these arrangements and commercial business planning will be the new leadership challenge for many chief executives who choose to lead a significant part of their service out of the traditional public sector. Suddenly, my chartered accountancy background is coming into its own as I find myself discussing working capital requirements, equity versus social investors, payment mechanisms and the like.

For others, the challenge will be the likely creation of a national probation trust from the existing 35 trusts – a pretty significant merger, requiring the best of public sector leadership.
It is clear that the government needs the leadership of the probation service to ensure changes are managed safely, business as usual is not compromised, and that the new market is vibrant, outcome-focused and successful. It would be helpful, therefore, if more thought were given to how best to support leaders over the next two years in their biggest challenge to date."

I would venture to suggest that now is not the time for management speak, but rather a collective and passionate decision to defend our profession and to say:-
"enough is enough Minister; you are wrong, mis-guided and we are standing together in resistance of these daft ideas!"  

Footnote. Of course in the Kirk Douglas film all the slaves are crucified - but lets look on the bright side.     


  1. You're correct Jim - "we all knew this was coming" - ever since the Carter Report and the critical few/trivial many notion. Pity then that the Trusts have failed to regionalise themselves and instead remained concerned only with their provincial fiefdoms, which are now ripe for the private sector picking. (Pedants Corner - I think he was called SpartAcus)

  2. Thanks for that - I hate spelling mistakes - now corrected!

  3. You have to watch the typos. Burglary confused with buggery in a PSR can lead to all sorts of bemusement or worse. Mind, they both involve forced entry, so maybe not all that dissimilar. (Groan)

  4. ...I guess each Trust is preparing it's own response...
    Would you be allowed to misuse the apostrophe in official reports? Enquiring minds want to know...

    1. Well spotted and now corrected thankyou!