Every Napo member attending the AGM this year knew it was the most important ever and this was reflected in unprecedented levels of quoracy. Lets be honest, probation officers know how to enjoy themselves and getting up and to the hall on time has proved difficult over many years. But not this year, such is the degree of anger and determination to beat TR within the profession.
Meeting in Wales was particularly appropriate because Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru leader is a former probation officer and made clear in her rebel-rousing speech that she is a staunch supporter of the Welsh Government wresting control of probation in Wales away from Westminster. There is the very real possibility that the demand will gain cross-party support and succeed, in which case it will become yet another spanner in the works of TR.
We all know events like this are not really representative of reality in that the room is full of over-whelmingly like-minded union activists and the danger as always is that it becomes an echo-chamber of the converted preaching to the converted.
Lots of great motions were passed, such as one condemning N-Delius as unfit for purpose, and spirits were raised by barn-storming speeches like that by the feisty Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumberland.
Receiving a rapturous standing ovation for confirming that the 13 Labour PCC's were intent on orchestrating a spanner in the works of TR amongst all Commissioners, it's easy to see how strong emotions can be whipped up in such circumstances. But this is entirely right and appropriate because union activists must have their batteries recharged in order to return to branches and basically 'rally the troops'.
Without a doubt this AGM succeeded in reaffirming that probation has many friends, is a highly professional and effective agent for good and is right to be fighting plans for the TR omnishambles by what ever means. We know from academics like Professor Paul Senior that there is no evidence to support the destruction of an award-winning and world class public service and Michael Spurr's spirited defence of TR sounded more hollow the longer he spoke.
In essence the AGM was pretty much music to the ears of anyone who has regard for this honourable profession. Many delegates will be returning to work places the length and breadth of England and Wales ready to engage with doubting colleagues and encourage them that not only can this omnishambles be stopped, but it is their duty and responsibility to stop it.
In my view the key to convincing colleagues that action is required hinges on discussing what the new National Probation Service will be like. Many PO colleagues appear to believe that it will be some kind of 'safe haven' from the carnage likely to engulf the privatised world of the CRC's. But in reality it it will be a command and control, public protection, law enforcement agency run entirely by ex prison service managers at the top. With Mike Maiden's departure confirmed as due to genuine personal issues, it's the dead hand of prison managers that will be running NPS now.
There is evidence to suggest that some people seem to think that it will be 'business as usual' in the NPS with just a different ID badge and name on the top of the pay slip. But what probation officer is going to feel happy becoming a civil servant with all that implies in terms of bureaucratic central control and inability to speak out about anything? It's completely against our professional ethos. Staff will become just risk assessors but with limited time and scope to work with anyone, as 'interventions' are most likely to be delivered by CRC staff only.
It's time to wake up to the reality that it's no good pretending 'it'll be alright' or say 'lets see what happens' or even 'there's nothing I can do'. If implemented, this omnishambles is going to be very bad news indeed for everyone still in a job, but it can be defeated by many individual and collective spanners in the works and I intend covering more of these in the coming days.