Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Emperor's Clothing

Two posts on a Sunday can only mean one thing - the situation is dire. The coming week is probably destined to be the most important and significant in probation's entire history, and there are signs everywhere of confusion, anger, dismay and despair. So thank goodness Joe Kuipers has produced another barn-storming blog post that helps shed much-needed light and insight on the whole bloody mess we find ourselves in.    

As Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, Joe Kuipers is in an unrivalled position to know what is really going on with the Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles, but most importantly, he is the only person in authority willing to break rank and share the information with us. 

Following on from my blog post on Saturday 'Probation in Crisis', and highlighting the feelings of staff on the front line collated by tweeter and blogger PoOfficer, Joe Kuipers in essence confirms what is being said and that in his view all Trusts are going to have the greatest difficulty in maintaining 'business as usual' (BAU) over the next six months:- 

But, concerns about the future of probation are starting to take their toll and whilst I am not a worrier and I am starting to feel more than a little uncomfortable about how on earth we are going to get through the next 6 months, delivering 'business as usual'. I am picking up personal stories reflecting anxiety, not least around what people are seeing as their own potential failures to do their work up to their own and my expectations.

Whilst critical damage to service delivery and wider responsibilities have not happened yet I find it hard to envisage our primary functions being met 'well enough' as the months pass, staff leave, sickness increases, and going the extra mile becomes just a jog too far. We will consult with our NOMS Community leads so we develop a sensible approach to coping with the increasing demands created by TR as well as doing the day job. TR demands are escalating, and will rise further - I might have to restrict the TR work of some key corporate services staff to one day a week so it does not swamp all their thinking and potentially damage 'business as usual'.

It is interesting to reflect on the increasing separation between those in NOMS responsible for overseeing probation performance (Michael Spurr as CEO of NOMS -  and this responsibility will continue as part of the future arrangements), and those in NOMS / MoJ responsible for implementing the TR programme. Who within NOMS will be the 'child in the crowd'  to say the risk to BAU is unacceptable? If all goes according to plan our Trust Board will relinquish all responsibility from next April, yes, 6 months away.

Lets be clear about this. Despite the earnest wishes, exhortations and warm words of Michael Spurr, the Chief Executive Officer of NOMS, the responsibility for any shit that happens in the coming months rests firmly at the feet of the minister Chris Grayling. It is he after all that is insisting on destroying a well-performing public service and on Thursday this week, 19th September, the vast majority of it will be put up for sale to anyone interested. 

Joe Kuipers quotes from the CEO's recent briefing to all staff:-  

"I know staff will understandably have questions and concerns as we enter a period of significant change – but I also know they share a common goal to reduce reoffending. If we implement these reforms well (and I am determined that we will do so) we will continue to deliver our responsibility to protect the public and drive a long term change in levels of reoffending. That is a prize we all want – and one that working together we can achieve.
We need to take staff with us and there are some key messages which they need to hear to help them through the uncertainty of what is undoubtedly a complex change process. I have attempted to set some of these out in the attached briefing pack but in essence I think it’s really important for colleagues that:

  • The driving force and objective of the reform programme is to reduce reoffending. It is not about short term financial savings but about achieving a step-change in reoffending.
  • The Probation Budget is being protected, relative to other areas, broadly maintained at around £800m. This is necessary in order to extend services to the under 12 month group.
  • Restructuring how Probation delivers its work is necessary in order to deliver the extension to the under 12 month group and achieve the payment by results outcome focus to drive innovation and change.
  • These reforms will open up delivery of probation services to a wide range of potential providers. We are clear that we are keen to see partnerships between VCS and private organisations coming forward and drawing upon the expertise that exists amongst current probation staff.
  • New structures will be introduced by April 2014. The process to move staff to the new structures is covered by the Cabinet Office Statement of Practice (COSOP) arrangements. This provides protections for staff on transfer.
  • NOMS will take direct responsibility for the new National Probation Service and for the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies from April 2014, and we have been working hard with Programme colleagues and with Trades Unions to ensure that processes for transfer are fair and that staff are properly protected and looked after.

We are committed to working closely and positively with Trades Unions and with staff to ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery arrangements when the 21 CRCs move to new providers in the autumn 2014.

As you know Trusts will be wound up by April and for that reason the work to begin the transition must begin now. The progress we have made with Trades Unions to develop a national framework for transfers has been positive, and I am confident that the package on which you will consult with staff for 19th September will be the best deal we can offer – with proper protection in place for pensions, voluntary exit packages etc. NOMS is a good, responsible employer and, as CEO, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that staff are treated properly, fairly and consistently throughout the process.

Although there is uncertainty at present there will be plenty of new opportunities for staff once we move to the new arrangements in April, both in terms of professional/career development and in terms of developing innovative new ways of working. Both the NPS and the CRCs are vital if we are to deliver our objectives and there will be genuinely new and exciting opportunities for colleagues in both sectors going forward."

What is becoming ever more clear is that Avon and Somerset PT and their Chairperson is becoming a significant thorn in the side of those down in London at MoJ/Noms HQ. He keeps asking really good questions, continually highlights problems and won't stop sharing information. This is what he says on the subject of those pesky contract variations:-

In my last post I alerted colleagues to our Board discussions about the mandatory Contract variations. We had our meeting on the 11th as planned and were excellently briefed by relevant senior staff about some of the contract variations that were more material than just 'administrative tidying up'. There were no conflicts of interest to report - my position is clear, I have no ambitions to be part of future governance arrangements of the CRCs (I doubt I will be invited to have much to do with the NPS). Now, also I don't expect my ambitions to change in the future, but who knows what the future will actually turn out to be and one phrase that always comes to mind is 'never say never'. This is what I told our Area Management Group.

In relation to the actual Board discussions, assisted by a contracts lawyer, the Board indicated that I should not sign the variations, and we have written to our NOMS Community lead asking for clarifications on a number of matters. As well as having a great executive leadership team we are fortunate to have such a focused and assiduous group of Board colleagues.

The anticipated variation concerning terminating the contract remains awaited. In other correspondence I have alerted senior NOMS colleagues about the difficulty of proposals to enable a very quick termination. And, credit where credit is due, I commended the CEO of PA for his excellent letter to NOMS / MoJ addressing the PA's concerns about the termination proposals. Amongst all the other things happening next week a final version of the contract termination variation is expected, and again I expect this will be a mandatory variation. The very first part of our contract says:

"The Authority (NOMS) and the Trust shall act as stated in this Contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation."

I regret to say that too often we are not trusted with important information (such as the legal advice underpinning TR requirements, and the TR Risk register) and in general the experience is one of one-way traffic - just do it. On the TR Risk Register, the deadline for NOMS response to our request is also next week - the 18th.

In this latest and extremely important blog post, Joe Kuipers goes on to discuss possible legal consequences that might flow from the advertising of senior positions in the CRC's, the numerous issues that concern transfers of staff, some thorny questions that mutuals will have to consider, together with an idea:-

Now, I do offer a solution. We in ASPT are very solution focused. If NOMS / MoJ want to ensure that this unevidenced TR programme can be implemented with reduced risks then let staff remain employed by Trusts until a safe share transfer can be achieved. It is starting to look as if a primary driver is the ending of Trusts by April 2014? This solves the problem of contract terminations - just stick with the normal 12 months and tell Trusts that notice of termination is given on October 1st. It solves the second transfer issue for the majority of staff as there will then just be one transfer? It allows for a much more orderly set of transitions? It allows the estates strategy to catch up, as a key bit of the jigsaw, like where will staff be based, appears to be heading into the 'too difficult pile'. It allows me as an employer to help plan for staff futures for longer than a 6 month period - I have to consider the longer term. 

What is wrong with this proposal? Simple. New owners of the CRCs will not be able to make the staff savings that the second transfer enables? As an aside, do those mutuals in joint ventures with private sector providers recognise that one of their first tasks might be making the savings required to operate?

All in all, this week is going to be crunch week. And, as a reminder, our Board's concerns are about sustainable and safe service delivery in the first instance.  That is our first priority, and it is as part of that that staff can be offered some security. We are not being protectionist, or dinosaurs, just pragmatic realists with genuine concerns and real questions - perhaps a bit like the child in the crowd?

This post is a must read for all probation staff!  


  1. Thanks for the extensive posting of JK's blog this morning,Jim-this is going to be a momentous week for the history of the Probation Service. My view remains that the Govt are determined to enact the whole of TR ,whatever the cost and are looking for the period April 2014-Oct 2014 to shed "back office staff" and give generous packages to unwanted SMT personnel. Nevermind, that the likes of SERCO appear to be in the frame again with allegations emerging from Yarl's Wood-they will become our employers ---just as the same kind of organisation will run Royal Mail in the very near future. We are all up for sale and it is very sad.

  2. I do wonder if there is any mileage in our continuing to try and put spanners in the works - it looks as if NOMs and the MOJ are in such a state, further irritation could, if nothing else, affect the timescale. I know there has been some criticism of NAPO, but each of us have a responsibility to do what we can to derail this nonsense. It has been referred to previously, but perhaps a regular reminder of what each of us can do, will motivate action and keep professional integrity on the table? I have taken recent advice to heart, and I have withdrawn good will, so working to rule effectively, but we all need to join forces.

    1. How to save Probation...

    2. I would say sharing information is essential to being able to derail things!

    3. Thanks for the extensive posting Joe Kuipers. If only all those in your position felt able to communicate with their staff in such an informative and honest manner. I cant be the only one who thinks others silence is to protect their own position and future. Avon and Somerset PT appears to be one of the few trusts who are able to uphold the values we all thought underpinned what we do. I hope other chiefs read his comments and feel ashamed at their lack of integrity.


    have you seen this?

    1. Yes, Guardian article saying Grayling will allow Serco and G4S to bid for probation work despite them both being investigated - basically he has no alternative because the government is short of contractors in order to make TR work.