Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Collateral Damage

We know without any shadow of a doubt that there is absolutely no evidence or professional argument that can be advanced to support this TR omnishambles that is being imposed upon us. It is entirely the product of an ideological government policy that dictates the public sector must shrink and the private sector must grow. I think they call it 'rebalancing the economy'  and probation is but the latest unfortunate public service to find itself the target of such philistine policies.

Unfortunately I'm as guilty as anyone of having taken rather too long for the penny to sufficiently drop. I rather naively stayed clinging to the more usual belief that if something is working rather well, you leave it alone, and certainly don't set out to destroy it and replace it with something completely untested. But that is exactly what is happening and no amount of gold medals, excellent reports or fantastic performance figures counts one jot. Just look at this graph on the MoJ's own website in relation to the latest reoffending figures and that demonstrate clearly probation works:-

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Under TR, much of our work will be farmed out to a whole rag bag collection of organisations comprising vast and dubious corporations like G4S and Serco, new players such as Eddie Stobart and Marks & Spencer, through to charities large and small. Whatever is said in the glossy bid documents about 'quality services', in reality each bidder will be driven by the dual need to save money and make profits under a Payment by Results system. 

The best example of what is to come is provided by the government's flagship PbR project, the Work Programme, and it doesn't look at all promising in terms of delivering, judging by the latest statistics published by the DWP. I certainly won't pretend I've read or understood any of the figures, but happily Russell Webster has, and he has distilled the findings into a succinct blog post, the headlines of which are:-
  • Peformance has improved – but still hasn’t hit the DWP’s minimum expectations.
  • Job outcomes have improved month on month for those on Job Seekers Allowance, but is now plateauing.
  • Job outcomes for those on Employment and Support Allowance has improved but is still way below target.
  • JSA claimants who are found work are staying in those jobs longer.
  • ESA claimants are not sustaining jobs at the desired level.
  • Three providers are being penalised for poor performance.

Does it work for offenders released from prison?

Released prisoners on Job Seekers Allowance were first made eligible for the Work Programme immediately on release in February 2012.
A total of 19,800 of these released prisoners were referred to the Work Programme between February and December 2012.
13,560 (68%) of these were “attached” to the Work Programme (that is, providers started working with them).
360 of these (2.7% of the attached figure) have so far (figures up to June 2013) been found sustainable jobs  - jobs that lasted for at least six months.
This figure is obviously very low, although it can be expected to increase as it takes several months to find some individuals work.

Tony Wilson, Policy Director at Inclusion, said:-
Today’s figures show that the Work Programme is starting to perform more or less in line with the department’s minimum expectations for the long-term unemployed. However, it is still a long way below expectations for those who are on benefit because of a health condition or disability. For this latter group, just one in 25 participants is getting into sustained employment within a year. There is no sign of any improvement in performance for these participants, and the nature of the Work Programme means that lower employment is leading to fewer “outcome” payments and in turn less funding being made available. The government needs to look urgently at its targets and funding rules for these groups.
For the long-term unemployed, performance for those joining the programme in 2012 is now broadly in line with the department’s minimum expectations. However this is still some way short of where performance needs to be if we are to address the near-record levels of long-term unemployment.’
In order to achieve these spectacularly unimpressive results, the total amount of taxpayers money paid to the likes of A4E and Interserve comes to a staggering £856 million.
But it gets worse, as highlighted in this LSE blog post about the lack of accountability when all this former public service provision becomes the subject of private contracted services. We really are heading into an extremely unpleasant arena and one completely at odds I would suggest with the very ethos of probation work with clients:-
However, the wholesale out-sourcing of public services strips away the traditional structures that existed before and have not sufficiently replaced them. Instead we have contractual arrangements over which the public have no control and which have little connection to local democratic institutions.
This is clearly evident in the Work Programme. Central government-commissioned providers are delivering local public services, although are accountable exclusively through contract to national government. This means that they escape any form of local democratic control and potential sanctions. Indeed, Work Programme Prime Contractors have no obligation to explain their actions to local democratic structures such as overview and scrutiny committees. Furthermore, corporations that are delivering services locally are prohibited from sharing data with local authorities by primary legislation and concerns of ‘commercial sensitivity.’
Accountability effectively bypasses democratic control, delivered instead through contractual arrangements based on a model of Payment by Results (PBR).There is far from enough space in this article to begin to start with analysis of PBR, criticism of which has been likened to saying that kittens are evil. However much is revealed by the declaration of a Work Programme executive, who revealed that:
‘It’s not about supporting 100 customers. It’s about getting 50 of them into a job. The other 50 are collateral damage. At the end of the day, they [ministers] don’t care about that other 50. It’s an outcome contract, not a service contract.’
This statement raises two important questions:
• What choice exists for those fifty people who are deemed ‘collateral damage’?
• What powers exist for local democratic institutions to be able to represent its residents in order to challenge such a process?
Such issues need addressing before we effectively out-source democratic control over our public services to the vagrancies of the market and bypass local institutions and citizens forever.

The deeply worrying 'collateral damage' story seems to have come from this article 'Why the work programme is a bad business' in the Guardian way back last February, but it bears revisiting as a stark warning as to where we are heading:-

That's shocking, if you thought the main purpose of the programme was to get long-term jobless people into sustainable work – to "turn their lives around". For smaller charities and social enterprises, finding work for people is just one (hugely important) element in a wider social mission to restore the health and self-confidence of individuals and families, and restore spirit and resilience to communities. What ministers want, on the other hand, is enough people off benefits quickly and at the cheapest possible price.

In the work programme they have created a low margin, high risk, race-to-the-bottom monster that drives down service breadth and quality, and staff pay and conditions, incentivises corner-cutting and box-ticking, and creates the conditions – perhaps – for fraud. Outsourcing giant Capita says it didn't bid for work programme contracts because it couldn't see how the business case stacked up. Ask Serco executives privately why it won so few of the contracts, and they will say because – unlike some of its rivals which offered wildly discounted "lowball" bids – it refused to do the work programme on the cheap.

There is a brutal accountancy to the work programme that is antithetical to the way social mission-led businesses operate. Its payment-by-results financial structure demands huge sums in capital investment, largely inaccessible to smaller social business. But more corrosive still is the way it fetishises cutting the benefits bill as the only outcome that matters.


  1. The contractor 'primes' that will get the TR contracts, are also responsible for the work programme and disabillity assessements. This should be of grave concern.
    Reducing the number of sick on benifits to claim outcomes can (and is in my opinion) being manipulated at the assessment stage. If a claiment is passed fit for work at assessment stage its an outcome. But in reality its a multible outcome, as it takes about six months for the claiment to appeal, (the work programme has nothing to do with them during this period). If the claiments appeal is successful it costs the primes nothing, the government are liable for the cost. If unsuccessful and the claiment has to sign on then the work programme gets paid to 'feed' the extra mouth so to speak.
    So very soon, along with the poor, disabled and unemployed the same master will be given the countrys offenders! What oppertunities lay there for primes such as serco? It beggers belief really. And as Jim rightly points out all these contracts are covered by corperate confdentiality.
    Need to get more offenders off benifits? Then we'll breach more on our TR contract, or manipulate risk and give them back to the NPS.
    I know this post is rather crude, but I'm trying to say that all these government contracts that Serco or G4S and the likes can interchange and interact in some fashon. It's like a jigsaw puzzle where you can shave the edges of a piece to make it fit any part of the overall puzzle. Who benifits? Only the contractor. And there can be no doubt what-so-ever that any offender caught in the private sector of TR, will find themselves in a world of manipulation, passed from pillar to post until their financial worth has been exhausted and then?

  2. I see there is a damning inspector's report out on HMP Oakwood, managed by G4S, who even try and defend themselves by saying that it's a big prison (1600). Titanic prisons titanic problems. It is a devastating report, saying, amongst other equally damning things, that it's easier to get hold of drugs than soap, that staff were passive and compliant to the point of collusion, levels of self-harm high, violence high, disabilities not supported, staff inexperienced...http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-24432417

  3. G4S have no excuses to fall back on. They have run prisons for many years, and long enough to be aware of what they need to be able to get it right.
    The real reason Oakwood is in such a shambolic state is that the contractor G4S is cutting to many corners to achieve profit margins for its shareholders. Too few staff, untrained, under paid, and overworked. The staff won't be overly concerned as they will be fully aware that ALDI pay better and provide better working conditions too. It's just a job, not a career!
    The real reason that drugs are more available then soap is probably that to keep profit margins as high as possible, soap is something that G4S buy very little of making it a scarce commodity.
    I don't suppose it's worth mentioning, just in case Mr. Grayling is reading, but if G4S can't mannage 1600 offenders in a secure and confined space, then they have no hope of managing thousands with all of society to to 'duck and dive' in.
    They're failing in all the contracts they have already.
    Fraud investigations and forensic audits aside. Is it not time to question their abillity to deliver on these lucrative contracts too?

      It appears Chris Grayling is being accused of 'not thinking things through'.
      Omnishambles? Trimnishambles?

    2. Thanks - interestingly we don't know who is suing or why.

  4. Excellent Blog Post from Jim who seems to realise that as inevitably more about probation is at last getting into the media there are ever new readers - considering the issues relating to probation for the first time today.

    They are very welcome as was the news that Napo in one branch alone have signed up 40+ new members since the Ministry of Justice's muddled consultation began. It is also possible to become an Associate member of Napo whose Annual Meeting starts in Llandudno on Thursday and hopefully will get lots of Media Attention.

    Also starting today is the first world-wide conference about probation at The Queen Elizabeth II conference centre opposite the Houses of Parliament in London.

    I realised that some of the collaterally damaged are students currently undergoing training - I saw last evening on Twitter reports of folk who having been accepted for training and therefore as potential probation officers, and then passed the academic part of the course and so qualified - the qualification including satisfactorily completing work as a probation officer - now find they are not being recruited - no doubt Probation Trusts are weary of taking on any folk, who they anticipate they may need to make redundant in just a few months time - I am not sure exactly what the situation is - maybe some with better knowledge will post. I hope those folk join Napo whilst they remain as students - there used to be (and probably still is) a membership category for folk qualified but unemployed.

    Andrew Hatton

  5. Interesting and worth a look article

    ThirdSector:-Not-for-profits account for half of interests expressed for Transforming Rehabilitation.

    1. http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/news/1215260/not-for-profits-account-half-expressions-interest-transforming-rehabilitation/

  6. Jim,

    Having just watched current Nacro CEO Paul McDowell before v tame JSC as preferred candidate for HMIP Supremo.. was v dispiriting experience.. dull insipid performance .. appears to know v little about probation & trotted out the usual blandishments about outcomes & staff stuck in offices , engaging with communities etc....would like to know who else was in the frame.. JSC may opt to not to recommend to CG?.. recall last years shambles. noticed that Nacro was slated earlier this yr for ' insufficient progress by Ofsted....

    Maybe Harry F was on the ball when he accused Nacro of having ' gone soft' in offering any criticism of govs penal policy as it was being spoon fed public money....

    At least Nick H- is gutsy enough to kick MoJ on failings -G4S above.. not convinced that PM will be anything other than MoJ patsy!



    1. Thanks Mike will look it up on Parliament tv.

  7. I don't want to change the direction of debate today but I've found an article I feel I must share. It may interest anyone who has ever wondered "Where will probation be in 30 years time".


    As it says you couldn't make it up!

    1. A very good piece of investigative journalism from the Mirror - 30% of former council housing sold under Margaret Thatchers 'right to buy' now owned by private landlords. Ian Gow's son - who's father was a strong proponent of the Tory plan - now owns 40 flats in London.

      Shocking and thanks for sharing.

  8. The Independent, The privatisation of prison probation means the end of rehabilitation.

  9. A new blog from Rob Allen to welcome the world congress and put matters in context.

    "The Costs of Failure"


    Andrew Hatton

  10. its like some sick joke that chris grayling speaking at probation conference tomorrow when he is privatizing it and tells those who have valid arguements against to fuck off.

  11. Collateral damage ? Offenders, staff and communities .....

    1. All of them + victims of crimes committed out of resentment at poor supervision and possibly worse if goodwill cannot be maintained in the prisons

      Andrew Hatton

      PS I hate the short-hand use of the word Offenders for supervisees, clients, parolees prisoners etc., etc.

      Whilst working in a prison I never used the faux friendship term of 'inmates' and also always avoided use of term HMP - as if she is really involved. Such&such Prison avoids euphemism. I guess some consider me an unrealistic pedant - but it really does matter to me and I believe makes a difference to those we speak with and especially those we supervise.

      Andrew Hatton

  12. CG, you got a 2:1 in history at Oxbridge. Remember Justinian & Leo?

    EVERYTHING was done the wrong way, and of the old customs none remained; a few instances will illustrate, and the rest must be silence, that this book may have an end. In the first place, Justinian, having no natural aptitude toward the imperial dignity, neither assumed the royal manner nor thought it necessary to his prestige. In his accent, in his dress, and in his ideas he was a barbarian. When he wished to issue a decree, he did not give it out through the Quaestor's office, as is usual, but most frequently preferred to announce it himself, in spite of his barbarous accent; or sometimes he had a whole group of his intimates publish it together, so that those who were wronged by the edict did not know which one to complain against.
    The secretaries who had performed this duty for centuries were no longer trusted with writing the Emperor's secret dispatches: he wrote them himself and practically everything else, too; so that in the few cases where he neglected to give instructions to city magistrates, they did not know where to go for advice concerning their duties. For he let no one in the Roman Empire decide anything independently, but taking everything upon himself with senseless arrogance, gave the verdict in cases before they came to trial, accepting the story of one of the litigants without listening to the other, and then pronounced the argument concluded; swayed not by any law or justice, but openly yielding to base greed. In accepting bribes the Emperor felt no shame, since hunger for wealth had devoured his decency.
    Under this reign of violence nothing was stable, but the balance of justice revolved in a circle, inclining to whichever side was able to weight it with the heavier amount of gold. Publicly in the Forum, and under the management of palace officials, the selling of court decisions and legislative actions was carried on.
    I must, however, mention the man who first taught the Emperor to sell his decisions. This was Leo, a native of Cilicia, and devilish eager to enrich himself. This Leo was the prince of flatterers, and apt at insinuating himself into the good will of the ignorant. Gaining the confidence of the Emperor, he turned the tyrant's folly toward the ruin of the people. This man was the first to show Justinian how to exchange justice for money.
    There was no security in contracts, no law, no oath, no written pledge, no penalty, no nothing: unless money had first been given to Leo and the Emperor. And even buying Leo's support gave no certainty, for Justinian was quite willing to take money from both sides: he felt no guilt at robbing either party, and then, when both trusted him, he would betray one and keep his promise to the other, at random. He saw nothing disgraceful in such double dealing, if only it brought him gain. That is the sort of person Justinian was.
    from The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, [1927],

    Procopius was a Byzantine official and historian best known for his unofficial, gossipy, secret history of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. Born in Palestine, in Caesarea, Procopius lived from c. A.D. 500 probably to some time after 562.

    1. Nothing new under the sun as they say.

      Thanks for sharing!