I'ts becoming increasingly clear that the government has lost the argument in relation to privatising most of the probation service by means of a Payment by Results method. Even though the civil servants at both the Cabinet Office and Treasury have very serious concerns and most of the 580 written submissions during the consultation period are highly critical, Chris Grayling does not quite feel ready to announce a change of direction.
What does an organisation or individual do when it knows it's plans are going seriously awry and begins to get rattled by voices of objection and criticism? When it's competency is being questioned and some reputational damage is looming on the horizon? Well, if you're a famous footballer or tv personality, you reach for a 'super' injunction. If you're an NHS Hospital Trust you arrange comprehensive secrecy clauses. Or if you're the government, you gag troublesome probation Chief Executives.
There is now clear evidence that CEO's of all probation trusts in England and Wales have been threatened with disciplinary action should they have the temerity to continue with public questioning or criticism of the government's privatisation plans for the service. Twitter accounts are being assiduously monitored for any dissent by NOMS officials in actions that must seem reminiscent of the People's Republic of China.
None of this should be that surprising though because politics is basically a dirty game where pretty much the ends justify the means. Where spin and dissembling might fail, threats and bullying might work.
We all know that NOMS control of the probation service is pretty much dysfunctional anyway and if confirmation was required, look no further than Liz Calderbank HM Chief Inspector of Probation giving evidence to a Commons Select Committee in November 2012:-
"The National Audit Office (NAO) rightly identifies tensions in the relationship between NOMS and probation trusts. In my view, these result as much from the history of NOMS’ development and the different organisational structures of the prison and probation services as any failings in its management. The restructure of NOMS HQ was, as the report states, well received and both the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NOMS and the Director responsible for the probation service are spoken of positively by probation trusts.