Saturday, 7 September 2013

Omnishambles Update 19

Judging by comments to this blog and tweets I've seen, quite a few people have been making contact with Trust Chairs as a result of the revelations concerning contract variations demanded by the MoJ. Readers will recall that this issue only saw the light of day due to one Trust breaking ranks and their Chair Joe Kuipers of Avon and Somerset taking the novel and unique decision to keep people as informed as possible during this whole charade called Transforming Rehabilitation.

Joe has consistently posted as much information as he has felt able to impart, I guess to the great annoyance of both the remaining 34 Trust members of the Probation Association and the Ministry of Justice in London. Who knows in this surreal developing omnishambles that we all find ourselves thrust into by a barely-competent Minister of Justice, the real reason for that teleconference of Trust Chairs the other day might be because Chris Grayling is seriously rattled and ordered that the Riot Act be read.

It's fascinating to ponder on what the atmosphere down at MoJ/Noms HQ might be like right now because civil servants will be only too well aware of the recent findings by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee as reported here:- 

The MPs found a "blame culture" had developed in Whitehall over recent years, with ministers and civil servants unwilling to take responsibility for failures, such as the West Coast Mainline franchise debacle or in defence procurement and immigration.
"Failing organisations demonstrate common characteristics, such as a lack of openness and trust, which are very evident in some departments and agencies."
It added: "We remain unconvinced that the government has developed the analysis, policies and leadership to address these problems. We have found that both ministers and senior civil servants are still somewhat in denial about their respective accountabilities.
"There is a failure to learn from mistakes and instead a tendency to look for individuals to blame."
They will also have heard Iain Duncan Smith blaming his civil servants in the Commons this week for his travails at the DWP in implementing Universal Credit and wasting £34 million. It must all bode exceptionally well for a harmonious working relationship at MoJ/Noms HQ as a bad workman always has a temptation to blame his tools!
Anyway, since that hastily-arranged teleconference, according to comments left on this blog we learn that:- 

"The board of Gloucestershire trust apparently have told noms they will accept the proposed deadline."

"West Yorks PT released a response to questions about the contract termination question. It stated categorically that there is no choice in the matter and trusts have been TOLD the contract termination clause will be added."

Now as I commented in response:-

I'm no lawyer, but as far as I know variations of a contract can only be made by mutual consent, they cannot be imposed. We do not yet live in a totalitarian state and each Board cannot be ordered to do anything. 

Saying you have no choice and there being no choice are two entirely different matters. I think the Trust would do well to take legal advice.

I think it's worth reminding ourselves what Joe Kuipers feels are relevant points for each Trust Board to consider before agreeing to anything that the MoJ might be requesting, or ordering:-

  • Will the Board have a formal minuted Board meeting to consider the contract variations?
  • Will this meeting be an open or closed session?
  • Will the CEO (a Board member) and the Board Chair (or other Board members) sign a declaration that their considerations are unfettered by any potential conflicts of interest (that, for example, the CEO has an interest in applying for posts in either the NPS or CRC or a Board Chair aspires to become part of a future governance structure)?
  • Will the Board have specialist contract legal advice available to assist the discussions?
  • Will the Board have specialist HR advice available to understand if any of the contract variations have implications for the Board as the employer?
Meanwhile the government's plans to try and sweeten the TR pill by encouraging the formation of cuddly-sounding 'mutuals' appears to have suffered a few setbacks with Derbyshire deciding not to proceed and Mitie pulling out of plans in Leicestershire. Do people have further information about what is happening in their area?  

It now transpires that the negotiations between the unions, including Napo, and MoJ have stalled. Apparently the essential and promised appendices B and C giving final details of staff transfer arrangements and pensions have not been forthcoming from the MoJ, and therefore it now seems most unlikely that the Napo NEC scheduled for 17th September will be able to consider the matter. I wonder if they will be ready for the Llandudno AGM in October? Every bit of delay in this whole charade makes it much more difficult for the MoJ to keep to the TR timetable. 

Finally, all Napo members recently received the following e-mail which sadly many might feel merely serves to confirm the difficulty Napo faces as being both a trade Union and Professional Association:- 

To all members of Napo
It is expected that, on the 19th September Secretary of State Chis Grayling is set to formally advertise the Probation Service for sale in the Official European Union Journal. To highlight our disgust and opposition to this outrageous selling off of the Probation Service,  Napo, in conjunction with Unison and GMB will be holding localised lunchtime protests either outside Probation offices or within town centres.
This is not Industrial action, and members must note that they will have to use their own time. We will send out further details of the day of protest next week along with suggestions of how this might be organised and materials that can be used.
Ian Lawrence
General Secretary


  1. No surprise the MPs found a 'blame culture'. It's not new in organisations. Stalin dealt with it through show trials, whereas we have evolved to compromise agreements and so forth when walls of silence get breached. See how the BBC bigwigs are now fighting like rats in a sack. Massive pay-offs, mostly agreed orally, no written record. And when there is a document we get the BBC's head of human resources telling MPs she had never seen the document before. Now she has been forced to 'correct her evidence' as it transpires she helped to write the document. This is corrupt governance. Not just the BBC – it's endemic and it's rampant in the probation service – which is no stranger to compromise agreements.

    Joe Kuipers should not be a lone voice. You would hope that individuals in positions of leadership and in possession of corporate power, would seek to show some independence of mind, to discharge their duties honourably. But it's rare to see this behaviour displayed. Maybe it is because the current crop of leaders are epigones, second-raters. Maybe they don't give a toss about what occurs outside their cliques. Or is it the general rule that power corrupts where the explanation lies? It all becomes – whether corporate of trade union – about protecting your position and prospects. At least with Stalin it was all done out in the open!

    1. One of my favourite Uncle Joe quotes is "I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how."

      As you say - you knew where you stood with Stalin!

    2. Are any of the trust chairs or chief exec's or anyone else in SMT's going to show some backbone and call TR for what it is?...the Emperor's new clothes?

  2. Interesting article in Civil Society on line.
    "NVCO cautiously praise governments TUPE..."

  3. "Whos misleading who?", is a good article found in inside times. Relating to the legal aid reforms, you get the message that apart from Grayling not being very honest, if you want to save money then do things right. Get rid of the likes of G4S, Capita and the rest. Its teir failures to deliver thats the real cost to us all.

  4. Derbyshire probation trust have refused to agree to a shorter winding up period.

  5. any word on leicestershire windup period?