Tuesday, 12 March 2013


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.

Nevertheless, there is, I believe, an inherent dissonance in the NOMS model, which essentially incorporates two organisations with different functions and governance arrangements. Unlike the prison service, which is a national organisation, the probation trust CEOs report to a locally managed Board but are accountable to NOMS for their achievement of targets. When these arrangements are considered in the historical context of a probation service that has gone through four major reorganisations over the past 15 years, and is currently awaiting the response to the probation review which will herald yet another one, it’s not surprising that relations are a little tense.
What this means is, given that the line management arrangements of the probation service is different from those of the prison service, as is its history and its focus on the community, so the dialogue NOMS has with probation trusts also has to be different. And this isn’t achieved with sufficient consistency. As a result, the work of the probation service is not fully understood at the centre and as a consequence not properly valued and too easily dismissed."
In a situation where things look like they're rapidly going 'pear-shaped' the last thing Chris Grayling wants is probation CEO's just rubbing it in how crap the whole idea is beginning to sound. The mood could get a lot nastier of course with reports of campaign posters being removed in London and dark rumours as to how the Serco Community Payback contract is being operated there.

This is very important for the government's privatisation agenda and clearly there is a keen desire to make sure a tight lid is kept on any bad news. You will recall that Heather Munro, London CEO, recently questioned via twitter Chris Grayling's assertion that 'the contract was delivering savings of 40%.' She described it as 'pure fantasy' with savings 'nearer 20%.'  

Sign the No10 petition here.  


  1. GCSE replacement, flood defences, payments to victims of minor crime, west coast mainline (the Vigin fiasco). There's loads of u-turns by this government and you can see the full list at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/31/coalition-u-turns-full-list I don't think Grayling would suffer too much loss of face if he abandoned PbR. I don't think he will. He is criticised by a probation CEO for claiming 40% savings on community service in London, when the saving is nearer is 20%. A saving is a saving and this seems to shoot the CEO's fox.

    Nice to hear the CEOs will see their heads on blocks if they put them above the parapet. Pity they weren't speaking up much sooner, if twittering counts as speaking up!

  2. This development should be a matter of profound shame for Grayling. He has earned my contempt.