Friday, 21 June 2013


Although probation officers are all about encouraging change in their clients, there is a very well known mantra that says 'past behaviour can be a strong indicator of future behaviour.' With this firmly in mind it should therefore be a very serious warning to us all when considering the degree of competence present within the Ministry of Justice.

An article in yesterday's Guardian highlights the shambolic contract negotiated by civil servants in the department to procure interpreters for use within HM Court and Tribunal Service. The language used by Sir Alan Beith and his colleagues on the Justice Affairs Select Committee couldn't be much more damning and gives further confirmation of the impending omnishambles being cooked-up for probation and legal aid this summer:- 

The contracting out of key services by the Ministry of Justice could end in a "multiple train crash" because the department displays naivety and lacks the capacity to understand what it is doing, according to a parliamentary watchdog.

Sir Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat chairman of the justice select committee, said the "inglorious saga" of the court interpreters service was being swiftly followed by plans to contract out most of the probation service, court infrastructure and criminal legal aid representation.
Three damning reports – from the justice select committee, the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee (PAC) – have criticised the MoJ's decision to hand over all courtroom interpreting in England and Wales from February 2012 to the private contractor Capita.
In a parliamentary debate, Beith said the service "never reached a satisfactory level" and its performance had since slipped back. "This is a department which is putting out to contract about 70% of rehabilitation services, [court infrastructure and] a large part of criminal legal aid," he said.
"If things go wrong in the same way as they have in the court interpreter services, it will be a multiple train crash we will be facing."
The MoJ did not have the capacity to contract out all these services at once, he added, nor did it have a sufficient understanding of the complexity of court interpreters' work. "The MoJ's naivety seems to be matched by [Capita's] under-performance against the contract," Beith said.
Hugh Muir also writing in the Guardian recently wondered if there was a deliberately subversive wing at work within the MoJ, or just evidence of some childish behaviour to while away the dull and boring hours spent within the lower reaches of the department:-  
Things seem little better at the Ministry of Justice, where it appears that officials seek to undermine Chris Grayling's plan to privatise probation services. They can't oppose him directly, but there must be something seditious about the decision to call the new payment mechanism Straw Man. And who'd have thought they would get away with calling the payment system FFS? It stands for Fees for Service in Whitehall-speak, apparently. Something much, much ruder to everybody in the outside world.
The 'straw man' document referred to can be found here, but it can hardly be that reassuring to know that the destiny of our profession seemingly resides with a group of incompetents who are having a laugh at our expense down in London? Or, just to positively reframe that for one moment, surely there's got to be hope that common sense will prevail and someone a bit older and wiser will call a halt to this charade?  


  1. I agree it is a charade. The changes to the translation services were a mess from the outset and it was predicted, but governments hell-bent on ideological reform will never stop and listen to wise counsels. The same will happen in probation and the rest of the CJS and so the multiple train crash is an apt analogy. I wish I had confidence and trust in a public ethos dedicated to the public good, but when I consider the behaviour of so-called public servants in the Care Quality Commission, my confidence and trust drains away. Even the cack-handed way the new incumbents have dealt with the publication of a critical report does not inspire confidence that this new generation of public servants will do any better. At least when G4S screwed up over the Olympics it cost the company millions in compensation and share price losses. In the public sector there seems to be no accountability: they lie, deceive, hide their errors and then walk away with handsome pay-offs and lucrative pensions. We see people take to the streets in Turkey and Brazil and it almost seems that the only way the current corrupt ways will change will be when the masses in this country take to the streets because my sense is that good governance is increasingly an elusive quality, as all we have are sycophants and egomaniacs running public services. I see charades everywhere. 'We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!'

    1. Firstly the alleged miscreants all had backgrounds in private business. Secondly, given one of them going public questioning the whole thing you may have rushed to judgement.

  2. Yesterday, Job Centre Plus went crying to the government for more money. Why? Because they're failing to help employment prospects with regards to the most difficult groups , namely those on sickness benifits and disabled. But you made your bid, did the maths, entered into a PbR agreement, and signed the contract. Why would you want more money? .....The repy? We didn't think it would be so difficult !!
    Grayling must have dementure if he has any confidence in success with his proposals.