I think disarray would be the best way to describe the state of probation at the present time. I guess it's no great surprise to see that there's absolutely no unity of purpose or direction forthcoming from Chiefs by way of a response to Chris Grayling's privatisation plans and effectively it's 'everyone for themselves!'
According to twitter, West Mercia, Lancashire, Cumbria and Merseyside Trusts are all apparently 'absolutely delighted' to have been accepted on to the Cabinet Office's bespoke programme of support in order to become mutuals. As the CEO for West Mercia put it, 'what's it all about? Not waiting to be taken over and keeping probation value-led.' Mmmm we'll see. Others would say mutualisation is simply a Trojan horse to effect full privatisation by a sleight of hand and further down the road.
Meanwhile other Trusts are no doubt busily cosying up to all the usual commercial suspects and a general silence descends, lest any rival Trust gets wind of what's being cooked-up behind closed doors. All very unseemly and utterly alien to the ethos and ethics of probation in my view. I dread to think what the likes of recently-deceased David Mathieson and former Chief of Merseyside Probation would make of it all.
I have to say I'm truly astonished and more than a little embarrassed to be associated with all this new business-like nomenclature crap that 'go-ahead' trusts are coming out with at the moment. Take Lancashire for instance with it's glossy brochure singing the praises of its seven-strong team in the newly-formed 'business and commercial' department at Head Office. I'm sure they all think they're doing a terribly worthwhile job, beavering away feverishly on 'future-proofing', but I'm equally convinced it will do nothing for the morale of hard-pressed staff at the frontline.
The sad fact is that all Trusts have allowed their Head Offices to become massively over-staffed in recent years with layer upon layer of managers doing pretty much sod all. I can say without a shadow of doubt that if privatisation or mutualisation comes about, that's the first place the axe will fall. To use the business-like analogy, it's all about the 'bottomline' and if your post is not contributing towards actually delivering something really useful, it's sayonara.
If this is what is going on at the top, what's happening further down the food chain? People are jumping ship basically. Those of a certain age took the opportunity of redundancy or early retirement packages in droves before the end of the last tax year and those less experienced and younger are urgently re-considering their career paths. A good few of these have gone already, leading to more stress, higher caseloads and reduced morale for those left behind. Remaining staff are being re-shuffled into high and lower risk teams in readiness for privatisation and everyone is trying to grapple with new 'improved' OASysr.
It's so cruelly depressing to be witnessing the destruction of a fine public service in front of our very eyes. For many of us, this was never just a job, but a vocation. There's virtually no national leadership. No direction, no champion. The Grayling gag has had the desired effect and management comment has returned to the anodyne. NAPO is still in utter disarray having lost both its General Secretary and now long-standing Assistant General Secretary who I understand has decided to pursue other interests.
So, what can we do? Basically hope and pray that it will all go horribly wrong rather sooner than later. After all, we know the computer systems are crap. We know primary legislation will be required if supervision of the under 12 months custody cases is to be mandatory. We know PbR won't work, but Grayling still thinks it will. We know there are not enough trained mentors out there. We know the whole thing is daft, dangerous, won't save money and won't reduce re-offending. Finally, it can't be done in two years and therefore before the next General Election. There's many a slip twixt cup and lip, as my gran used to say.
Sign the No10 petition here.