Saturday, 20 July 2013

A Dangerous and Divisive Farce

The sheer breadth and depth of this omnishambles takes a bit of understanding. I simply can't get my head around how it's expected that business is supposed to continue as normal, but at the very same time, Trust Boards, management, unions and staff all have to not only consider their futures, but also actively engage in orchestrating the demise of their jobs and organisation. 

Not surprisingly morale is low and all over the country experienced staff are 'jumping ship'. Union officials are having to sit in meetings and discuss setting up 'mutuals', knowing full well it will mean redundancies and worse terms and conditions for all. There is a dearth of information and a strong rumour mill. Suspicions abound as to the criteria for deciding who 'stay's and who 'goes'.

Managers are seen to be 'feathering their own nest' by beating the drum for TR. This process is proving incredibly divisive. I saw this on twitter recently and it's not uncommon:- 

"A colleague called me naive today for thinking these reforms could still fall through. She said it's full steam ahead. Boss saying try not to see the private sector as the enemy. It may open up a lot of doors and we might like it better."

CEO's are gagged and appear to just be 'cowtowing' to the MoJ. Trust Boards seem clueless and increasingly irrelevant having been told they cannot take part in discussions regarding setting up mutuals. There is no strong and effective leadership anywhere, whether it be unions, PCA, PA or NOMS/MoJ. I could go on, but you get the picture and I'd become so depressed I would not be able to complete this post.

The whole thing is rapidly descending beyond omnishambles to an utter bloody farce, and a dangerous one at that.  

By way of illustration, I want to reproduce the gist of two recent documents that have come in to my possession. The first was sent from a Trust CEO to all staff and the second was an e-mail sent by the Napo union branch chair to all members. I don't think it is important, or relevant to identify which Trust it concerns, because I'm fairly sure a similar shambolic charade is being played out in every Trust, but I do think it's important to share the scope of the mess that has been created. The CEO writes:- 

The Transforming Rehabilitation change programme will affect us all and there will be none of us that are not affected by this. Some may stay in the national probation service and others will end up in a new employing body; some may leave voluntarily, others less so. Whatever you do it will be different to that which you do now and the work will be challenging undoubtedly, but exciting in new aspects and inevitably dominated by an environment of less money and still more to do and achieve.

In some respects the greatest deal of uncertainty will be for managers and for senior managers within that group. This is not to imply that they are a special case but to emphasise that this is not a change agenda being implemented by senior managers that want to change the delivery part of the organisation and in so doing expose the delivery side to uncertainty. This is a change programme that impacts us all. Whilst some may say that age and position will mitigate the impact of this change we all have individual circumstances and it is foolish to make simple judgements like that and assume that this can explain the position or make it seem less impactful on certain groups.

I am working hard with the trades unions to manage this change process and you will hopefully have seen recent pieces of communication in the team brief, in response to direct questions from trade union reps on the email, on the intranet site and the discussion board on the intranet.

As a senior employee of the xPT it is my view that we have to engage with this change process. I, the Board and other senior leaders have, and will continue to highlight the risks but there will be times in the process when decisions are made and we will need to implement them. That is our role as public servants. It will serve us all no good to pretend that we can sabotage it, delay it, or de-rail it. We have to work with the resulting agenda to ensure that we set up the very best arrangements that we can for offender services and maximise the positive outcomes for staff/employees. This is about politics, and the current Government wants this to happen and it is their will and right to do this. Politically one might be opposed to this and there may be some things that you choose to do in your private time to mitigate this but at work we have to manage this change.

Deliberate avoidance will damage the reputation of us all and will not benefit staff who will be working in different parts of the new rehabilitation services world (I include the national Probation service in this) and will want to be able to demonstrate that they can add value to operational practice, be potentially freed from much of the existing bureaucracy that gets in the way of innovation and creativity in working with offenders and want to show that they can be flexible.

xPT will manage this change as best it can and are committed to take decisions that are in the best interests of us all. To that end we have
        engaged with the opportunity to think about the establishment of a Mutual (see Team Briefs and the Intranet) so that staff are given a real opportunity to shape future services and how they are provided rather than be ‘done unto’
        we have ensured that our redundancy Agreement is in alignment with all other Trusts which has resulted in enhanced provision for xPT staff
        we have provided feedback to the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) team in NOMS about our services and partners in xPT and what is needed to manage in this working geography
        we will work to the staffing and recruitment changes that will be required by the national position and operate these as required
        we have contributed to the Joint Employers/trade Unions NNC so that they can pursue some of the national agendas about changes or not to codes of conditions, TUPE and future working conditions

The phrase “we are all in this together” is trite and always has a hollow ring. Consequently it has become devalued in recent times. However it is not as inaccurate as phrases that imply that senior managers are “rolling over” to accommodate this change without a “fight” and a “struggle”, that we must sabotage this change process and not comply with any deadlines required of us by NOMS/MOJ and that we as employees must resist at all cost. It would not be helpful if this became a contest between managers and staff, employers and unions. It would be misdirected energy. We all must think carefully, calmly and weigh what we hear reasonably and then try to act together to manage what is required of us.

As I have said I remain committed to trying to communicate as best I can about these changes and what they mean and what the impact will be. NOMS has said that they wanted to get the big picture information out (in the form of the Transforming Rehabilitation proposals) and to then use this as the basis of communication about the practicalities about how this could be made to work. They could have done all the designing behind closed doors and presented Trusts and staff with a finished detailed plan. There is still work to do on the detail and xPT will continue to influence the shape of things. We have shared all that we currently know. No one knows the full details yet and one should be wary of those who say that they know more than has been communicated to date. They are only speculating and may not be right. Please keep talking to senior managers and myself in particular, and we will do the same using the various formats that we have set up. I will keep talking to the unions and I will use careful and accurate information and statements in these conversations. I look forward to that dialogue with you and we all remain committed to achieving the best outcomes that we can for all staff in xPT. I am afraid that change is the nature of our business and it is about to happen to us.

The Union Chair writes:-       

I have attended two meetings this week in both my capacities as Branch Chair and Manager. The following feedback from the meetings will provide you with an idea about how complex, confusing and difficult the current landscape is in xPT.  

At Monday's Board meeting a number of union reps were present to hear the Chair of the Board, ........ make it clear that there had been no formal approach or conversation with any external organisations, including the ..... His stance and that of other Board members was clear. There is no mandate or will to progress any "mutual" negotiations and that even if there was, there was guidance from MoJ on the principles of competition that precluded Boards and CEO's from entering into such negotiations. There was some confusion at this announcement because previous Board minutes indicated that a discussion on Mutuals had been deferred to this meeting..!! 

I also attended yesterdays leadership forum where the last agenda item was "mutuals". The item provided the managers present with an outline of the negotiations between the CEO and some senior managers and the .......!! these negotiations included
  • Agreeing Key values
  • understanding the unique selling points of the Joint Venture ( ......., xPT/xPT and .................)
  • Delivery models
  • undertaking a SWOT analysis
  • developing a manifesto
It was announced that there was another meeting today where additional work on the operational  model would be undertaken. 

I asked the CEO for clarification on the above negotiations given the comments of the Board Chair. His reply was that the Board have Governance over running the Trust and that progression to a mutual will not include them as the Trust will not exist in it's present form. An interesting view as The CEO himself confirmed earlier in the meeting that the responsibilities of the Board included:

  • Ensuring that the contract targets are met.
  • Ensure progression of the TR agenda
  • Ensure the best available outcome for xPT staff.
I would like to remind members of two points. Firstly, the House of Lords amendment to the Rehabilitation of Offender Act provides that a full discussion and vote for any re-organisation of Probation Service. An amendment clearly ignored by this Government. 

Secondly, Joint .....Unions are currently in a failure to agree over the advancement of the TR agenda by xPT, in contradiction of National guidance and instructions of NNC circulars 03/13 and 04/13. An instruction clearly ignored by this Trust. There has been no Trade Union involvement in the negotiations with the ........ which appear to be more developed than previously informed. 

Members... we are on the edge of a precipice and the demise of our service is close. Lets be clear about what this will mean for you. It is likely there will be a reduction in the number of staff moving from the proposed Community Rehabilitation Company to the mutual. There will be a reduction in terms and conditions. The average front line worker for the ......... earns £20k - £22K. Middle managers/team leaders £28K and head office managers £40K.  A significant reduction..

However, the arguments for moving to a mutual are compelling..!! Having some input into our destiny is always better than being done onto.. but the speed and lack of transparency concerns me...  I am not against the principle of a joint venture in the current political environment. I have to consider the deadline to express an interest in the tendering process which is sometime in September. If we are not part of a mutual proposal or other delivery vehicle proposal by then we will not be able to bid.. but I also need to consider the right for members to be involved via the proper consultative process involving the Trade Union representatives.This has not happened and there is no agreement with the Probation Association or Trade unions to breach the NNC circulars. 

You will over the next couple of weeks hear from Management their preferred option of progressing with the ......, we have been told there has been no other approach by any other interested party. You will hear that all other Trusts are entering into the same activity which I have not had confirmed and is only speculation.  You will hear that this Joint Venture is the next best deal in Town. Well.. I will make that judgement once I know ALL the facts. 

In connection with this whole sorry mess, can someone please explain exactly what a 'detailed as is template' is all about, that has to be filled in by each Probation Trust and submitted to Noms/MoJ HQ by 5pm on August 9th? Should we be worried? What happens if a Trust doesn't comply? What if a Trust says 'no f**K off'? Do they send in the army? Is it the end of the world?


  1. focus group seeking people on probabion!!
    i'm not from the company involved.

    People on Probation

    Please pass on to anyone who fits the criteria and may be interested in taking part - we can offer a finders fee of £10 - if the person introduced fits the criteria and attends

    People aged 18 to 22 or 30 to 40 years who at present are on probation - must be a UK National

    The research is being carried out by a Company who may be involved in helping people on probation in the future and they wish to speak with people who are at present on probation as to how they search for assistance on line for support

    Dates etc: Focus Group - London SW1 on Tuesday 23rd July for 2 hours from 6pm - incentive £50

    If interested please click on appropriate link - must be aged 18 to 22 or 30 to 40 and at present on probation

    Focus Group London Tuesday at 6pm

    Talking Point Research Ltd

    Tel: 0208 224 1518

    1. Well, what do we think about this guys?

    2. My feeling about this is not a very good one. As with the work programme, thousands of shite little companies sprang up offering various types of assistance tailored to specific requirements identified in the client base. Almost without exception they were all shite, and most are now gone through the bankruptcy route, owing signifigant sums of money, and the clients are no better off then when they first engaged.
      If PbR for probation goes ahead exactly the same thing will happen and the above post suggests that attempts are already afoot to secure market possitions for what ever inadaquate shite product they're trying to sell.
      It's of ultimate importance that the MoJ provide information on approved service providers not just on the big bidders, but on any agency they might think of subcontracting to.
      This is a very serious issue, and mark my words, watch how many little limited companies begin to spring up over the next few months. And they''ll all be shite just looking to make a few quick bucks.

    3. Yes I agree entirely - but of course Grayling would say that these 'shite little companies' represent innovation! It's a very strange world we live in where less means more, reductions are efficiencies and closures are improvements.

  2. In general I think asking clients for feedback is an excellent idea. However, the key phrase above seems to be "as to how they search for assistance on line for support"

    Looks like someone somewhere has seen Richard Johnson's article (that you linked to on 19th June) and thought "Call centres? They seem a bit like hard work, and probably need lots of staff with pesky things like wages. I know, we can do rehabilitation by email!"

    1. Tim,

      You know, you're probably right! No overheads - can do it from home - India possibly?



  3. The CEO writes we can't '...sabotage it, delay it, or de-rail it.' It's all in the way the issue is framed, isn't it? CEO's are functionaries who follow orders, it is not really in their nature or make-up to 'organise', 'challenge' and 'oppose'. The language of sabotage and de-rail is emotive and violent.

    This government has to date made numerous U-turns on policy – from the pasty tax to the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board the government changed its mind.

    But here we have a CEO who I am sure is representative. We get defeatism, passivity and impotence and cowardice dressed up as realism. A true public servant, genuinely believing that these proposals will be to the detriment of the public good and will in fact actually put the public at increased risk of harm, would have the cojones to do the right thing. It is not just the froth and cream, alas, that rises to the top.

    1. My feeling exactly and that's why the PA and PCA should speak as one united voice - whatever is required by the deadline on 9th August, the answer could be No!

      The public are going to be put at risk by this omnishambles and these public servants have a duty to do a bit more than just voice 'concerns'.

    2. Totally agree CEO's are executive functionaries that are gutless when it comes to opposing something. However this TR agenda is so obviously a bad idea and will escalate risk issues that the way I see it it is their responsibility to point these failings out. They would be failing to do their jobs properly if they don't oppose it in the strongest possible way!

  4. I really do not wish to deviate from the serious stuff above and I concur with all the comments about "defeatism, passivity and impotence and cowardice dressed up as realism" it is everywhere you look...and so demoralizing. Then there is the other U turns - on fag packets and No - tot he minimum price on alcohol, unless you live in Scotland, poor Scots - they must feel like the proverbial guinea pigs. Anyway - that Talking Point Research Ltd - sounds a bit like a 'research thing' I took part in a couple of months ago - eat a load of cold meats for A**a and basically reported back - with 9 others, that it looked and tasted like shit... Nevertheless a lesson learned, don't buy cooked meats and spend the 'incentive fee' of £40 on something much more tasty. Just like what is proposed by Talking Point Research Ltd - This kind of 'product research' gets what is deserves, nothing!

  5. I think all the confusion is symptomatic of the 'reality' of the situation which is that our 'leaders', at a local level do not have any real idea of where they are leading us to because our leaders at a national level are confused by the mismatch between their rhetoric and their reality ( e.g. 10,000 old lag mentors, IT, even basic stuff like Grayling's lack of insight into risk). They are making it up as they go along and expect us to go along with it on trust. It is folly.

    1. Yes Rob I think that sums things up nicely. The thoroughly confused being led by ideologically-driven, but clueless politicians.