Friday, 20 September 2013

A Sad Day for Probation

Without doubt yesterday,19th September 2013, was a very sad day for probation because the minister responsible, Chris Grayling, advertised most of it for sale. Not just sad, but bizarre with the BBC 5 Live team thinking that Ben Gunn was the most appropriate person to invite to speak in defence of probation. 

Regular readers of his blog and endless tweeting will be fully aware that he is at best ambivalent about the Service and it's practitioners, and only last year was enthusiastically boasting about the likes of G4S courting his company.

I really begin to wonder about the standard of some BBC journalism. The topic was soon knocked off the rolling news agenda and yet again it didn't make it onto BBC Question Time last night. I despair to know what it takes to get the attention of the media and wider public to our plight.  

Anyway, the gun has been fired and the spin has got underway:-

A competition was launched today with more than 700 organisations from across the world looking to turn offenders’ lives around, as part of an annual £450 million package of rehabilitation contracts across England and Wales.
This includes hundreds of British organisations, employing many thousands of people, who are ready to get to work tackling our stubbornly high reoffending rates, that see almost half of all offenders leaving prison going onto reoffend within a year.
Voluntary sector organisations will play a big role in our plans, with 399 having expressed interest. Many Small and Medium Enterprises are also ready to link-up with other organisations to deliver our reforms. They sit alongside around 30 potential larger organisations ready to partner with smaller organisations to help break the cycle of reoffending.

Of course the reality is somewhat different with many organisations, particularly SME's wondering if it's worth the risk getting involved. People have long memories and some are still smarting from that other fiasco Grayling was involved in over at the DWP. Clive Martin CEO of Clinks writing in the Guardian explains:-

One outcome of the Work Programme that we surely all want to avoid is the detrimental effect on the hundreds of voluntary services dedicated to this essential work. Unsung, and perhaps even unknown by the public, the services provided by charities, community groups and social enterprises have been helping offenders desist from crime for decades. This is despite scarce resources which, as my charity Clinks found when we surveyed the sector in May, are growing ever scarcer.
The government says it is a core part of their vision that the prime providers will subcontract with voluntary services – and so we would expect from the architects of the "big society". But, as the fate of some Work Programme providers showed, small, not-for-profit organisations, like small businesses, simply cannot afford to carry the same risk of not being paid as large companies can – or the significant delays that PbR can entail.
Lets not forget that even those who support this whole TR omnishambles have grave doubts about the Payment by Result method of remuneration. Here is a comment from the former managing director of Serco Welfare to Work on the Social Market Foundation website:-  

The contracts, as currently proposed, will not incentivise investment in the extension/transformation of services to reduce reoffending. At best, they will maintain current levels – assuming it can be decided what measure of reoffending to apply, based on what geographies, tracked in what way. 
If a contractor takes over a probation area that is currently very successful, how can they be rewarded for performance improvement, when compared with a contractor taking over an area that is currently failing?
I do not believe contractors will cynically plan for an increase in recidivism, but they will not perceive these contracts as a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ – they are simply about the outsourcing of probation, with an emphasis on price competition. If there is any ‘value for money’ in the contracts, it will be derived from short-term savings at the risk of long-term rises in reoffending (and all the costs associated with that).
Of course this whole omnishambles is driven by ideology rather than evidence, and Chris Grayling confirmed this by choosing the Conservative Home blogsite to explain his reasoning and make the announcement ahead of the official MoJ press release:-
Today marks a major milestone in the development of our plans. There’s been enormous interest from both the private sector and the voluntary sector over the last few months. We’re now inviting them to state a clear interest in being part of our tendering process. And we’re setting out in much more detail how the new system will work. 
The Conservative Party will always take a tough line on crime. If we are not the party of law and order, we are nothing. But in the interests of our society and the victims of crime, we also need to understand the reoffending problem, and take real strides to solve it. That’s what these reforms are all about. 

Actually there are considerable risks involved to the public as all the unions, including Napo, explain in this article in the Independent. 

Amazingly, and by sheer coincidence on the same day the contracts were advertised, the MoJ also published a 'summary of evidence on reducing reoffending'. I must be honest and say that I haven't read it but I see Rob Allen has and he noticed it had this to say about Graylings oft-repeated plan for released prisoners to be met at the prison gate by 'old lags':-

It reveals that the effectiveness of mentoring – the apparent cornerstone of Grayling’s rehabilitative philosophy - is “mixed/promising”- not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This latest blog post by Rob Allen not only goes on to highlight the inherent dangers with Grayling trying to implement these fundamental changes without proper Parliamentary scrutiny, it also raises other spectres:- 
But what of the Major Projects Authority set up by the Coalition in the Cabinet office at the behest of the Public Accounts Committee to blow the whistle on such risks? Has it given the plans the green light and in particular had the chance to consider the impact of a policy which could give multi million pound contracts to companies being investigated for alleged fraudulent behaviour and potential overcharging on existing criminal justice programmes? What are the odds on the hapless Permanent Secretary of the MoJ being hauled over the coals by Margaret Hodge long after Grayling has moved on to answer for the wastefulness emerging from this  rushed and grandiose scheme.
Continuing with the theme of possible legal problems, I see that the shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has written to Chris Grayling in extremely forthright terms:-
Avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny could, I believe, have catastrophic consequences. By avoiding scrutiny, you risk risk implementing a set of proposals which have been insulated from the important transparency of the parliamentary process - debated, refined and improved with the support of outside expert advice. However, if you and your officials believe the 2007 Act does provide the necessary powers, then I call upon you to publish as a matter of urgency any legal advice that supports your decision. Any failure to do so will be interpreted as a snub to Parliament, an insult to due process and an abuse of parliamentary power. 
Finally, lets end this with a couple of heartfelt pieces from people on the frontline and their thoughts on the sad sorry saga, The first is an open letter to Chris Grayling from a regular tweeting probation officer, and one rather more charitable than myself. It begins thus:-

Dear Mr Grayling,
This blog is not going to be full of hate, it wont seek to discredit you at every opportunity but I just wanted to say a few things before you dismantle a service which has not only given me a career, it has also saved lives.
I truly hope you understand the gravity of the changes you seek to make and those that you assess as suitable candidate to take over our work, are up for the challenge. Those who work for Probation now do a fine job, in fact the Ministry of Justice say all Probation Trusts are either ranked good or excellent. We are not failing. This service relies on is the goodwill of staff who, on the whole, go above and beyond because this is the type of people that Probation attracts. I have witnessed staff coming into work the day before major surgery to make sure a parole report is finished, I have seen them give up their lunch for a hungry client. I have also seen them get into trouble with their manager for missing deadlines, all because they go above and beyond for the men and women we work with.
The other is a quote from a comment left yesterday on this blog:-
Well done Mr Grayling - the handiwork of your many predecessors (some of whom have since recanted & spoken out in favour of humanitarian intervention for the less fortunate in our society) has finally been brought to its natural conclusion and the last bastion of reasonableness in our society has been breached. Irrespective of the dodginess of the credentials of those bidding, you've finally managed to crush the last gasping breaths of humanity out of criminal justice system.
You've divided the probation staff of England & Wales into those who will work for a publicly funded service & those who will work for a variety of unknown quantities.
You've divided a cohesive & experienced staff group into those who will be at the mercy of whoever holds political power & those who will be at the mercy of unknown shareholders.
You've placed the futures of the vast majority of our most damaged and vulnerable population in the hands of the most ruthless and selfish, i.e. the shareholders of private enterprise.
You've placed the futures of our most dangerous population in the hands of political pawns, i.e the public 'servants' whose sole desire is to please their masters &/or further their own political careers.
You've devastated a profession that has been primarily vulnerable because of its innate honesty and honour; a profession that has never been focused upon meeting artificial targets or political ends; that has never been motivated by financial reward; that has never been desperate to be in the limelight. It was, until politicians got their grubby hands on it, a vocational profession wherein those who chose to join & practice did so for "good" rather than for "profit" or "gain".

Postscript - I nearly forgot, according to Simon Israel of Channel 4 news, both G4S and Serco are indeed being allowed to bid for some of the work, despite all the on-going investigations. This article provides a very helpful list of all the contracts being investigated worth a billion pounds in total. 


  1. Thank you, JB, friends of Probation and colleagues, for keeping the service and our service users in view throughout what has been and will continue to be an absolute living nightmare. Now that the deed is done, an Mr Grayling is now the 'defendant' committing fraud on a titanic scale, I feel an SDR coming on......just as well the weekend looms, so I can put it together. Keep up the good work and it's not over!

  2. G4S and serco need not only to be looked at nationally, but need to be viewed in a global context. There are massive and some very sinister issues with both companies in every country they stain with their presence. They are compliant in no contracts that they have with any government. Indeed some would call them to account for propagating war crimes.
    Allowing them to bid for probation work is a disgrace.
    They wont get a contract until the result of a forensic audit? Well what about waiting until the result of the police enquiry? And if the police inquiry does infact uncover wrong doing will ALL government contracts with the offending companies be terminated? Would the government not have a moral duty to do so?
    A forensic audit will no doubt show serious and devious activity, but will of course exhonerate the big boys on the top floor. It will also show that G4S's debts are three times its assets. Buy a share for £2.62 and its value is a little above £0.60. The potential to cut corners or indeed fraud is huge. Yet Grayling insists they can bid! Grayling should be hauled before the select commity to face serious questions over this.
    "They've had you off for millions already, and you're now about to give them more"?
    Is your relationship with these companies more then it first appears Mr Grayling? Or are you having some kind of break down?
    Wheather you agree with TR or not, under no circumstances what-so-ever should Serco or G4S be allowed to bid for any government contract at least until they have a clean bill of health, not from a forensic audit but from outstanding police investigations! I really do think its shocking.

  3. Yesterday the government sent Chris Grayling to market. I wonder if David and George will be impressed by the fruits of the magic beans he brought home?

  4. Jim,

    Although this shameful milestone has now continue to provide withering critique of this O/ coverage spotty but protest action on the ground appears to have been more widespread & well covered locally....although PA/PCA have presented well argued rebuttals on sell off plans .. predictably queasy corporate silence from portals of Boards/CEO's ( JK excepted)... S Khan's letter to CG calling him to account :

    Avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny could, I believe, have catastrophic consequences. By avoiding

    scrutiny, you risk implementing a set of proposals which have been insulated from the

    important transparency of the parliamentary process – debated, refined and improved with the

    support of outside expert advice.

    Will ( in the absence of any viable legal challenge) no doubt be sidestepped .....

    No doubt he will elucidate at AGM on such attritional moves? No surprise perhaps to see former labour probation minister addressing meeting at nxt wks LP Conference on crime reduction that is sponsored by .....G4S!!

    Maybe media rottweiller D McBride could be co-opted to unseat/unsettle CG! He did see off 2 prior probation gaulieters JR-Not fit for purpose & CG -Dagger at the heart...



  5. Todays daily mail (21st) reports that if prisons introduce a smoking ban, it will cost the tax payer £11m in nicotine patches. A note contained in the same article states that from next year prisoners on ROTL and in outside work placements will have to wear a gps tag.
    Any bets on who gets the contract?

    As an aside, a discussion in the office this week regarding how long someone serving a sentence of HMP and released on life licence would have to report before they could request to have their reporting condictions lifted.
    My personal thought was 5 years. However some suggested 10 years whilst others said 10years applied to the IPP licence!
    Can anyone clarify this with certainty? I'd be grateful.

    1. This is taken from the 2006 Lifer Manual - don't know if it's been changed since:

      13.9.2 Cancellation

      Consideration may be given to cancelling the supervision element of the life licence after a minimum of four years of trouble-free existence in the community. These arrangements also apply to offenders released on licence after serving a sentence of IPP.

      For sex offenders released on life/IPP licence, cancellation will not generally be considered before 10 years have elapsed. In IPP cases this may coincide with an application for termination of the release licence.

      In the case of those released after serving a sentence of IPP the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Schedule 18) provides for the release licence to be terminated by the Parole Board after 10 years in the community (and if not terminated, may be considered again at yearly intervals thereafter). If the licensee is still under supervision at the 10 year stage a full risk assessment from the supervising officer will be required and must be sent to LRRS with the licensee’s representations.

  6. A few crumbs of comfort I've managed to collect in the aftermath of 9/19:

    * Probation staff in Bristol protest over... Bristol Evening Post 17:16 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Probation workers protest over government sell-off Barnsley Chronicle 15:09 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Warning public at risk if private firms run probation service warning This is Wiltshire 13:13 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Privatisation plans put public ‘at risk’ Blackpool Gazette 10:37 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Tyne and Wear Probation service workers launch protest The Journal, North East 09:45 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Huddersfield probation service protests over privatisation plans The Huddersfield Daily Examiner 09:32 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Storm over government's probation privatisation plans for England and Wales Wales Online 09:12 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Probation service privatisation: Chris Grayling accused of gambling with public safety by... 04:17 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Huge slice of probation service put up for sale Yorkshire Post 00:24 Fri, 20 Sep 2013
    * Probation staff protest in Warrington Warrington Guardian 16:41 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * CHESTERFIELD: Protests over plans to sell-off probation service Derbyshire Times 15:33 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Probation workers take to streets across region today EveningNews24, Norfolk 15:22 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Probation service workers stage lunchtime... South Wales Evening Post 15:07 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Protests Against Sell Off of Probation Service The Breeze 14:59 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Probation protest Oxford Mail 10:06 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Privatisation of probation service will ‘put public at risk’ The Independent 00:09 Thu, 19 Sep 2013
    * Chris Grayling defends probation reforms after campaigners descend on Epsom This Is Local London 08:38 Wed, 18 Sep 2013
    * Police commissioner criticises Government plan Darlington and Stockton Times 18:12 Mon, 16 Sep 2013
    * Hartlepool MP to hand in petition against probation service privatisation Hartlepool Mail 11:49 Mon, 16 Sep 2013

    I'm sure there are more...

  7. Merseyside have been given 28 days staff consultations notice as of 19th Sept. The mutual Innovo has gone quite too .Rumors are the private company has pulled out.

  8. 14'02 should read MPT have started the 28 days consultation period. Sticking with the tradition here for movies stories ,Mad Hatters Tea Party says it all ! How can we participate when we don't support TR we don't have all the facts and were some of us will surcome to the, your one of the chosen few talk. You know the colleagues who are on the power trip and stab you in the back as soon as wink at you. Divide and rule ! Face fits and all the corruption you fear will take place. Side note Innovo MPT. Mutual has gone quiet too Rumors are the two have separated.

  9. The Magical World of Spin - as we wander, shellshocked, through the wastelands post-9/19, perhaps we can find something to sustain us during the next 28 days?

    28 Days Later - what a great title for a post-apocalyptic movie. DANNY!!!!

    Who Innovo? Banking? Marketing? Software? Made-up word? More fantasising by wannabe entrepreneurs who only want to get their hands on free public money?
    G4S profits tumble on Olympics failings – Mar 13 2013
    G4S revives fortunes – Mar 14 2013
    G4S abandons tagging contract bid – July 2013
    GCHQ guards consider strike action over pay dispute with G4S – Aug 2013
    G4S to offload businesses and issue new shares to bolster balance sheet – Aug '13
    “… in what some analysts privately called a "kitchen sink job", Mr Almanza took massive writedowns on the value of businesses and contracts totalling £180m, which pushed the group into a first-half loss of £87m… Last year G4S was hit by £80m of losses stemming from its inability to fulfil its Olympics security contract, and this year it was accused of overcharging for electronic tagging…”
    Jim Armitage, Independent Newspaper Aug 2013: “… Incidentally, if misdemeanours by private contractors are to be punished in the Ministry of Justice as Mr Grayling suggests, one wonders at what depth of poor standards the whip should be applied.
    Sodexo was recently found to have held a woman in solitary confinement at HMP Bronzefield for five years, which the chief inspector of prisons described yesterday as "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment". Should Sodexo do a spot of "corporate renewal" before winning future MoJ contracts?
    Capita, which has just picked up one of the G4S/Serco tagging contracts, has been accused by some in the legal profession of "endemic screw-ups" in the way it provides translators for non-English speakers in court cases. Time for some gentle "purging" at Capita, perhaps?
    More likely, given the Government's overiding animus towards state provision of services, such alleged misdemeanours will be quietly overlooked.”
    And as we now know, courtesy of Simon Israel amongst others, “The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said that both G4S and its rival Serco will be allowed to bid for these contracts, even though both companies are under investigation for alleged fraud.”

  10. mitie pulled out of the leicestershire one

  11. I have seen no substantive evidence of any Probation bssed mutuals moving forward. To be blunt, if you know ANYTHING about this field, and given the lack of detail and associated chaos, you wouldn't buy into it as a business proposition, would you?

  12. I'm a PO in MPT. Shame I find out on this blog that Innovo has fell through. No communication from management. Breakfast meetings wuth the CPO have dried up too. As an aside, there has been no WMT in Merseyside since nDelius was introduced. I just hand work back saying I'm too busy. They can't prove otherwise. I used to care I'm not arsed anymore.

    1. This really is a serious state of affairs! It feels like a bad dream and surely can't be happening, can it?

      Thanks for all the contributions everyone - I need to have a long think.



  13. Interesting article in todays Independent regarding privatisation and outsourcing (not probation) .
    Companies will hold government to ransom...
    To my mind its already happening with probation contracts, thats why G4S and Serco are in the mix for bidding. Far too much is being outsourced and its all to the same companies.

  14. THANK YOU for your blog ! It is my way of keeping informed. A fellow PO has complained about the unions dragging her down so I am unable to discuss in the office any more. In my trust we now have staff in "retained" roles being accused of gloating over those in other roles despite the uncertainty ( in terms of future redundancies)for everyone. Managers are in despair saying they will lose their jobs and senior managers just delivering whatever Grayling asks whilst waiting for redundancy terms, too afraid to speak out. The working environment is awful. And the OFFENDERS, who is considering the impact upon them ? Worn out demoralised staff delivering pro social modelling and motivational work - how the hell is that supposed to work ?

  15. Does anybody know when redundancies will commence? I guess they will be voluntary and only offered to Seniors like ACE and ACO'S whilst middle managers take all the flack from everyone, taking the blame for staff not singing and dancing to the Probation funeral march and the NDelius 20 steps to send a flipping letter coffin! What do they expect from us miracles! I feel like I'm loosing my mind the pressure is immense with staff sickness high having to cover other peoples jobs as well as your own, and taking a slapping from Grayling with 28 days consultations.Senior managers still cracking the whip on performance targets I'm trying to keep my head ,I don't want mind to blow in work and get the sack. Is that what there hoping for? One less to pay out?

  16. Rexundancies won't start until at least Oct 2014 and will relate to people who are no longer required. Obviously, managers are first in line but there are issues re: support services that mean the job losses will not be exclusively management by any stretch of the imagination.HR, IT etc, business development - all sorts of non-management posts.