Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Omnishambles Update 3

Readers will be aware that I've not been averse to having a pop at probation chiefs, basically for just rolling over and having their tummies tickled by their MoJ/NOMS masters down there in London. Ok, we know they recently 'dissed' Chris Grayling the Justice Secretary with a display of churlish silence, but credit where credit is due, a bit of backbone has at last been displayed in this comment piece by Sarah Billiald in Monday's Guardian. It's the closest we've seen yet to fighting talk, and therefore worth quoting in full I think:- 

"In the Queen's speech last week, the government announced an ambitious set of proposals for the rehabilitation of offenders. The following day, it announced the dismantling of the very bodies who have the experience, professionalism and track record of delivering this work: probation trusts.

Their argument for this almost total outsourcing of probation is the need to make reforms affordable and yet, given that probation has a track record of quality delivery while achieving 20% efficiencies over the past four years, this doesn't stack up. Probation trusts, as public sector bodies, will not be allowed to bid for this work but will be dissolved by the secretary of state with the work being sold in the market. The investment required to buy this work and deliver high-risk payment by results contracts will mean that only those with significant investment behind them will be contenders, ruling out all but the largest players.
The government says it is not taking risks with public safety and yet by fragmenting the current provision between high- and medium-risk offenders that is exactly what it is doing. Only a fraction of current probation provision will be managed by a new national probation service. To counteract widespread concerns about managing the dynamic risk posed by complex individuals the government will have to create a complex system of checks and balances which will need to be used every time risk changes significantly (something which occurs in half of all cases according to the probation inspectorate). The outsourced cases are not only low-risk individuals but domestic abuse cases, child protection issues, prolific burglars amounting to 88% of the caseload. The more disjointed the system, the higher the risk that something will go wrong.

The probation service, which has existed for 106 years, has delivered everything that government has asked of it: all targets, all efficiencies, all quality improvements and a year-on-year reduction in reconvictions for those on community orders (10% reduction since 2000) and those on prison licences (21% reduction since 2000 for prison sentences of one to four years).

It is a high-calibre service recognised by the British Quality Foundation in 2011 with a gold medal for excellence – the only public service to receive this accolade. It is packed full of dedicated staff with years of professional experience, qualifications and knowledge about what works best in their locality. National commissioning by the Ministry of Justice of huge multinational firms will crash through these local relationships and runs counter to the increasingly local focus of other parts of government such as Police and Crime Commissioners and clinical commissioning groups.
Government should think again and build on the excellence of probation rather than relegating it to the annals of history.
Risk is going to be mentioned a lot in the coming weeks and in many respects it's our strongest card to play in terms of the whole probation privatisation agenda. I couldn't resist copying the following two tweets from Ian Lawrence, acting General Secretary of NAPO:-
Govt plans an omnishambles can't work unless Trusts acquiesce so let's make it very very difficult.
At West Mercia mutuals conference Chief Executive says Government not accounted for 20k high risk offenders in their probation reform plans!
It's great to see the omnishambles monika seems to be gaining traction and I just love that little snippet about the 20,000 high risk cases having somehow not been factored in! You really couldn't make some of this stuff up.
In addition to risk, the other strong card to play in this whole omnishambles-in-the making of course is the quality and standing of the inevitable big bidders, G4S and Serco. Starting with G4S, we all remember the Olympic security fiasco, but lets remind ourselves how they are doing on that other big MoJ contract, the asylum-seeker accommodation one that was awarded last year, despite G4S having no experience in the field of social housing.
In March the Independent published this article following sight of a leaked e-mail indicating that there were major problems in being able to fulfil the contract through their sub-contractors. Sound familiar that? 
In the email, sent by the G4S managing director for immigration and borders Stephen Small, to staff, the company admitted that subcontractor Mantel tendered its resignation in January and had been released from its obligation to serve nine months' notice. Mantel was hired to provide services to cover G4S's obligations in its contract running the UKBA's Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services, referred to in the leaked document as Compass. Mr Small wrote in the email: “It has become increasingly evident over the past few months that a number of our accommodation partners are finding it difficult to manage aspects of this contract, for example their ability to address the high number of property defects.” He added: “We have signed a contract with the Home Office and are committed to delivering the Compass services in our two regions for the next 5+2 years and we have no intention of reneging.”
But to put some flesh on the bare bones reported here, I've come across this blogpost from an expert and activist in the know, and the story he tells I think should serve to give everyone a flavour of what we might expect if G4S get involved in our line of work. I quote selectively in relation to the real, but anonymised case of Angela:- 
"Regular readers may recall that G4S won a government contract last year to house asylum seekers in Yorkshire. I have followed this story closely. I am an activist and researcher and I work alongside asylum seeker tenants in Yorkshire and the North East. Over the months together we have revealed how companies to whom G4S subcontracts the work have repeatedly failed to provide housing fit for human habitation, how their staff have been accused of harassing vulnerable tenants.

G4S had no experience of housing management when it was given a slice of the national asylum housing £620m contracts in June 2012. The private security company had of course a stake in other parts of the ‘asylum market’ with a rocky human rights record in managing immigration detention centres and deportation escort services. Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan father of five, died after being "restrained" by G4S escort staff during an attempt to deport him in 2010.

The Home Office, with its 2012 privatised asylum housing contracts, has produced cut price contracts for slum housing based on a "new delivery model" which is hopelessly inefficient. The model is based on three or (as in the Leeds case) four tiers of landlords, each one slicing off a share of the profits. In Leeds and West Yorkshire, G4S is in overall charge, with actual housing provision subcontracted to Cascade Housing.

A few of Cascade's 700 West Yorkshire asylum housing properties are owned directly by the company. Most are subcontracted from very small private landlords. In Angela’s case Cascade used a lettings agency to rent the property from a small landlord. This added yet another layer of complication and cost and stretched even further the distance between Angela and the state which owes her a duty of care.

Within this ‘flexible’ delivery model the real losers are asylum seekers and their families. G4S and its subcontractors like Cascade have simply failed to find decent properties for asylum seekers. G4S’s own figures released in February suggest that in Yorkshire up to 300 asylum seekers have been placed in ‘no choice’ housing which is unfit, and breaches their contract with the Home Office.

The G4S asylum housing contracts in Yorkshire and the North East have descended into chaos and farce. The real losers are vulnerable asylum seekers like Angela, harassed and abused by housing companies, and constantly uprooted and moved by the Home Office and G4S.

The other losers are of course taxpayers who provide public funds for G4S to wreck the everyday lives of mothers like Angela. The Parliamentary Home Affairs committee inquiry into asylum support is due to hear evidence on the G4S asylum housing contracts in the near future. Having observed this unfolding disaster, and having worked with others to try to protect vulnerable people from its harmful effects,  I urge the Committee to recommend that the G4S asylum housing contracts (and the Serco and Clearel contracts in other areas) should be cancelled and transferred to not-for-profit providers in the housing association and voluntary housing sectors."

My blog doesn't have to be 'balanced', but in fairness to G4S lets remind ourselves of what they said last week in response to hearing that a lot more MoJ contracts were in the offing:- 

"A G4S spokesman said the company was well placed to deliver the kind of innovations that the government was looking at. He claimed its long history of working with offenders in partnership with the public and voluntary sectors meant G4S had developed substantial expertise in the area."

That should be ok then, but just in case, I'd sign the No10 petition here I think. 


  1. Wanting some advice; im qualified PO (only 6 months qualified experience). Currently working as a PSO in AP. Do i apply for recently advertised PO job or stay put?????

  2. Apply. PO is the place with options. AP is gone

    1. I think I'd concur with the commentator above and go for any substantive PO post. It won't guarantee a job with the 'rump' Public Probation Service, but it will give you more options.

      I don't think I've heard what's happening to Approved Premises (hostels). Can anyone enlighten us?

      Best of luck,



  3. APs are staying in the public sector, as is high risk (PO?) work.

  4. Been told the same, AP's and VLO's will remain public.