Lets start this update with some more bad news for Chris Grayling and his plans for privatising the Probation Service. Regular readers will recall that the risk of industrial action was a code 'black' in the official Risk Register, which we are still not allowed to see by the way.
Code 'black' is the highest level of identified risk that could jeopardise implementation of the whole Grayling omnishambles. Both Napo and Unison have just undertaken indicative ballots of their respective memberships for industrial action, and the results are unequivocal. In the case of Napo, 92% of those who took part voted in favour of taking action that included striking. In the case of Unison, it was 85% in favour of action that included strikes.
This result is pretty unusual for Napo as traditionally they have not had a particularly militant membership willing to strike. This is probably due to the strong professional ethos that probation staff have and sadly a trait that government's have taken advantage of in the past.
Browsing on the Napo forum pages, I came across the following and I hope the author Joe Public does not mind me quoting in full their analysis of the situation we now find ourselves in as a profession:-
It was only ever a matter of time before neoliberalism got to probation. All the various hoops probation has jumped through in recent years were all preliminary to getting it out of the public sector. I think the government would like to get rid of it lock, stock and barrel, but are worried about public reaction and levels of public trust and confidence if 'high risk' cases were also privatised.
It has been ideological all along, starting with Labour with the work to be finished by the Tories. I think many in probation were either in denial or were genuinely ignorant of the ideological grand design. So, we had all the garbage about how good performance would safeguard public probation, how by getting lean and mean with staff, costs would be lowered and jobs secured, how cutting terms and conditions – allowances, mileage, subsistence - would save jobs, how making staff redundant would protect jobs. How credulous we were...
The workforce was led up the garden path. And what a bruising path: a bullying target culture, manipulated statistics, and a demeaning crushing of the professional ethic. How good managers were at waving the big stick and yet like frightened rabbits they dare not now put their heads above the parapet to voice opposition to TR which they claim will put the public at increased risk of harm. So we were bullied by the worst type of bully – the coward. I know you, Duende, like a military metaphor: 'lions led by donkeys'.
I don't think there are any protections out there in TUPE. The results of the indicative ballot will be very interesting as to – given their apathetic track record – how many members bother to express an opinion. Probation needs prolonged industrial action, it needs to show a bit of passion and maybe it may just start to register with public opinion what a daft idea TR is. But it is close to the midnight hour!
What the ballot results demonstrate is that with the stakes being so high, attitudes are changing. I'm fairly sure of my ground in being able to say that it's now a forlorn hope on government's part that probation will just 'roll over' in relation to TR. The proposals essentially destroy the service and profession, making colleagues increasingly militant as the details of what is being proposed fully sink in. Remember even barristers withdrew their labour recently for a short time. Make no mistake Minister - apathy and resignation are rapidly turning to anger and action!
I notice that following my mention yesterday and with exquisite timing, Sir Stephen Bubb, the supremely self-serving cheer-leader for the bosses of the voluntary and charity sector outfits that are bidding for our work, has put in a spirited plea for membership pay rises all round. A former Labour Councillor, but now felt to be close to the Cameron government, he's been variously described as a 'trojan horse' and providing 'charitable astroturfing for government policies'.
It's quite obvious from his utterly self indulgent blog that he has no interest in how charities are cutting employees wages in order to compete for contracts, but classically feels bosses should get more. This guy really does take some believing and I strongly urge readers to keep up with his musings and dining arrangements via his British Library-endorsed blog. Do his members seriously think he portrays an image that appropriately reflects their sector? If they do, then I think it says all we need to know about them and their aspirations.
Talking of image, lets have another pop at Serco and G4S. Why? Because I enjoy it. Firstly, news continues to reach me about the chaos in London and the Unpaid Work contract Serco won last year. This is typical:-
"we do all the breaches for Serco Unpaid Work, complete nightmare as the left arm doesn't know what the right arm is doing, i.e. offenders being turned away from projects because of them being over subscribed and then being told they did not attend."
Here is a wonderful piece about Serco attempting to placate the fears of the voluntary sector from last December on the Third Sector website, complete with a scary picture of boss Gareth Matthews:-
Just saying Serco's name is enough to send some people in the voluntary sector into a rage. For some, the giant services company embodies everything that is wrong in the new age of contracting, in which charities find themselves competing against the financial might of big companies or becoming subcontractors in a supply chain.
Gareth Matthews, business director for Serco's welfare services, believes that, rather than loathing the company, charities should be grateful for its presence in the social welfare market. He points out that it created the "integrator model" of commissioning, where a large organisation works as a prime contractor, then subcontracts work to smaller organisations in a supply chain.
Overall, Matthews believes that the benefits of working with the third sector outweigh the risks. "The third sector is very innovative," he says. "To be honest, I could spend a decade building up that experience in-house. By and large, I just capitalise on it and it delivers fantastic results."
Yes Gareth, it worked really well on the Work Programme! Anyway, finally on to G4S and their corporate theme song. Yes they do have one and it's just as bad as you might imagine it to be. It can be heard here on the New Statesman website, but if you want to sing along, and I admit I have tried it, the lyrics are as follows:-
You love your job and the people too
Making a difference is what you do
But consider all you have at stake
The time is now don't make a mistake
Because the enemy prowls, wanting to attack
But we're on the wall, we've got your back
So get out front and take the lead
And be the winner you were born to be
24/7 every night and day
A warrior stands ready so don't be afraid
We're guarding you with all our might
Keeping watch throughout the night