'Steady as she goes No1!' is pretty much the message from Joe Kuipers the Captain of the good ship Avon and Somerset in a recent circular to all staff:-
".....our well regarded good ship ASPT is sailing along effectively, well helmed, brilliantly crewed and partnered, but it is now entering as yet poorly charted waters. As well as taking actions to avoid rocks and grounding we have to consider how best to ensure that our effective services have the best chance of improvement, continuity and survival and that our staff have the best future opportunities. In short, what sort of craft or ‘lifeboat’ might we in ASPT need to build to meet these objectives?"
Skilfully written in a measured tone, the document seeks to convey to staff as much information as possible that can be gleaned from the Transforming Rehabilitation process, aka omnishambles. It's clear from reported meetings with the MoJ/Noms TR team that there are still loads of unanswered questions as the whole shambolic process begins to gain momentum, but I'm sure something will be cobbled together.
As with other Trusts, Avon and Somerset are busy talking to other interested parties in the hope that some form of 'lifeboat' can be constructed in order to try and keep some staff safe and dry and ready to crew some new probation vessel.* The document makes clear that ASPT is 'not rushing into anything', but the outlined timetable and obvious hurdles involved must make any such viable initiative highly unlikely.
In the meantime reports are beginning to emerge of some Trusts using the annual staff appraisal process to assess the degree to which individual staff members are willing to 'embrace' the TR agenda. Very naughty!
The Welsh government have made it clear that they want nothing to do with the TR proposals and are demanding that responsibility for probation in Wales is transferred to the Welsh Assembly. Plaid Cymru have confirmed their opposition to the privatisation plans and we wait to see if the government is prepared to devolve responsibility, leaving just England to go it alone.
Interestingly a recent article in the Daily Telegraph by Peter Oborne hints at unease within Tory ranks that Conservative radicalism 'has gone too far'.
"If anything this admirably radical administration deserves criticism for doing too much. In its urgent ambition to leave an enduring mark on society, it is arguably in danger of trying to make too many changes at once.
But there is also a deeper criticism. There are too many radicals at the heart of the Cameron government - and not enough Conservatives. These radicals fail to share the Conservative insight that continuity matters more than change, and stability more than either. Conservatives understand that there is a great deal to be said for leaving things alone. They respect the wisdom of the past, the necessity to preserve inherited institutions, and the rule of law.
This is the reason we Conservatives, contrary to popular opinion, value a strong state, so long as it is virtuous and not corrupt. We do not (as many believe) merely value a powerful state for purposes of national defence and to uphold law and order. All serious Conservative thinkers grasp that only the state can embody all those ideals which bind us together, and which count for so much more than self interest."
Yes that really is from the Daily Telegraph and sounds like a case for keeping the probation service as it is to me.
The petition can still be found here.
*Some might say a better analogy is up shit creek in a barbed wire canoe without a paddle.