Friday, 25 October 2013

Courtship's Rocky Path

The piece in the Guardian the other day featuring Sarah Billiald, erstwhile CEO of Kent Probation Trust, and her plans to lead a mutual bid for the prime contract, attracted a lot of attention on here. Long on cuddly stuff about community and offender engagement, for an accountant it was mightily short on money.

This whole daft and dangerous Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles is all about money and how more can be done with less, so I found it strange that the issue wasn't even hinted at. Not even a slight acknowledgement that in order to win this bid as a prime, you have to be cheaper than the opposition. 

Now lets be clear here, with her background and experience outwith the probation service, Sarah is pushing at an open door at the Ministry of Justice, but the figures have got to stack up. No matter how desperate they are to award at least one prime contract to a mutual or other voluntary sector outfit in order to claim TR success, the bid must demonstrate how loads more work can be done for less money.

This article was a pretty unashamed piece of propaganda aimed not just at the staff in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, it's also meant to provide some evidence for the myth that mutuals and charities can be a 'safe haven' for probation staff and a serious alternative to those big nasty outfits like G4S and Serco.

The trouble is the evidence provided by Turning Point demonstrates that in the end every outfit has to be ruthless in order to make the money available fit the contracted work to be done. As all accountants know full well, in such a situation, costs have to be cut. If Sarah isn't going to explain this, then the staff must work it out for themselves.

The other remarkable omission from this piece of propaganda was any mention of a partner and the answer has a lot to do with the money of course. A large charity pulled out and now a commercial suitor is being wooed. This from the latest Co:here bulletin:- 

As you all know the size and complexity of the CRC contracts, together with the
lack of financial track record of the mutual, means that we have always wanted
to bid in a joint venture with another organisation(s) for the Kent Surrey Sussex
CRC. This also fits with our ethos of co production - we need to work with new
organisations to deliver a very different approach to services (centred around
reducing reoffending).  

Over the past few months the mutual team have been doing a lot of work to identify
potential partners and get to a stage where we can sign a collaboration agreement
(which would be a commitment to bid together and set out any rules or caveats to that
commitment). Having spoken to many different organisations of different sizes, from
different sectors and with different skills we thought we had found a preferred partner in
September and were close to signing an agreement (which is why we said in previous
updates that we would be able to let you know who this is in September).

However when the competition started on the 19th September the Ministry of Justice also published the Pre Qualifying Questionnaire (PQQ) which clearly set out what bidders would have to do to even get through the first stage of the competition. One of the key tests is that you can demonstrate you have access to finances equivalent to 50% of the annual contract value - for our CRC this is in the region of £13million.

Our initially preferred partner (a large national charity with significant commercial experience of delivering large Government contracts) unfortunately felt that, in the light of the PQQ criteria, they could no longer bid for the Kent Surrey Sussex CRC (the 6th largest CRC) and so this potential collaboration collapsed (on the 3rd October) and they will not be bidding in our area. 

We had planned for this eventuality and have spent the last couple of weeks seeing if there is another partner who would meet our key requirements which are:

• Strong ethos of co production placing staff and service users at the heart of service design (both for bid and throughout life of contract).
• Understand our mutual model and how it adds value through governance and delivery (ie. not use mutual as bid candy).
• Bring it’s own delivery and commercial expertise plus be able to finance PQQ  requirements.
• Have a partnership approach as equal players: complementary skills sets but with shared core values.

We have identified an alternative (and in many ways stronger) potential partner and are
currently working out the details of whether we could collaborate and what the terms of that collaboration may look like. Given the size of the Kent Surrey Sussex CRC the only organisations that are considering bidding for Kent Surrey Sussex are private sector
organisations (to our knowledge there are no Charities able or willing to bid for a contract
our size). The partner we are in discussion with is a private sector organisation but we are confident that it meets our key requirements. 

However, this is a mutual and we do not feel we should be making these decisions without
understanding staff’s view. Therefore we propose the following:

1. We will continue to work to see if there is a good collaboration offer with the potential  private sector partner.
2. If we feel there is a good offer we will put this to staff for a vote - this will include the name of the partner and the terms of the deal.
3. Staff will be able to vote “Yes - I would like the mutual to continue to work with this partner to develop a bid” “No - I would rather the mutual did not progress” or “I don’t have a strong view either way as to the future of the mutual”. Voting No would mean that the mutual work would cease and we would have no future role in the bid or influence/ownership of the CRC.

Staff at our first three mutual workshops last week gave a strong indication that they would like a vote but that the vote should be held after all the workshops have concluded so that all staff have the chance to find out more about the mutual, understand how it fits with the CRC and make an informed choice as to it's future. This means that the vote would be held (anonymously and electronically) mid November when the workshops have concluded. 

We will progress work with the potential partner in parallel to the mutual workshops happening so that if staff vote ‘Yes’ we have not disadvantaged ourselves compared to other bidders. This would mean that we would plan to set up bid design workshops in the second half of November which would then be cancelled if staff vote No.

It will be interesting to see who the commercial partner turns out to be and especially what their track record has been like. Meanwhile we have the extraordinary situation of public money being expended as probation staff set about designing their own demise. Better to do this it is said than have it imposed upon you.

I think the result is likely to be the same essentially, but the notion of course has the handy side effect of stifling and discouraging opposition to the whole bloody TR plan, or so MoJ/Noms hopes. There is now to be a debate on the whole omnishambles next Wednesday in the House of Commons and I would urge people to contact their MP's by any means and let them know the strength of feeling on this matter.


  1. Although this is a mere democratic fig leaf - are they really going to stop work in the event of a 'no' vote? - at least there's some sign of one of these 'mutuals' trying to engage with staff - you know, the people who are supposed to be joint owners? I haven't heard about this from anywhere else - it's just been senior management proceeding merrily along and not releasing any information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and the old ethical walls.

    Management need to realise that they are nowhere without the staff who actually do the work. You can have all the fancy names you like, but that fact won't change.

    1. Is that true? Any news of other bids by mutuals?

    2. INNOVO Merseyside with Manchester College

    3. Wiltshire PT and Gloucestershire PT going in with Prospects. Not sure about A&S PT though.All seems a bit odd to me that Wilts and Gloucs think they can make plans without A&S PT. No recent news though.
      By the way - absolutely admire the stance taking by A&S PT and others that have not just rolled over.

    4. Ethical Walls - utter bo**ox! Serco,A4E,G4S etc etc - Do you think they will bother with all that sh**e. This is a win at any price fight - if your going to go down the mutual route (and good luck with your starry eyed optimism) hire someone with business acumen and plenty of contacts 'cos that's the only way you will win anything , a second place mutual is no use to anyone ( unless you pick up the sub contract from the winning primes!!).

    5. Wait a minute . .West Yorks PT are already in bed with 'Prospects' !. Just how much room is there under one duvet.

  2. "We had planned for this eventuality and have spent the last couple of weeks seeing if there is another partner who would meet our key requirements which are:"

    *But the planning did not go as far as having had preliminary talks with other likely willing partners who are so keen to come on board they stepped up as soon as the first lot decided they either did not have enough money to risk - or were not prepared to risk what they had*

    The first paragraph is pure spin - In my opinion and not worthy of anyone with integrity.

    Andrew Hatton

    1. 'Staff will be able to vote.........' Which staff is this then? All staff/those already assigned to the CRC (when the process hasn't even been signed off yet)? How do I justify commiting time to this when I'm currently employed by someone else? And what if I want to part of the mutual, but my current role is clearly destined for the NPS? Will I be favoured over a colleague in any selection process? And what of individual personal liability to any decision taken? If I am an equal partner and it goes belly up am I liable financially? So many unanswered question, so much fluff and spin. I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot bargepole (as my dad would have said).

  3. Introducing “Payment by Results” in Offender Rehabilitation and other reforms - Commons Library Standard Note

    I do not recognize names of the authors but I haven't read the full document yet.

    They are : -

    " Authors: John Bardens, Gabrielle Garton Grimwood

    Topic: Crime, Prisons"

    "Controversially, the Ministry of Justice is also proposing to invite a range of new providers from the voluntary and private sectors to bid for contracts to provide rehabilitation services to all but the most high risk offenders. Providers would be paid according to a system of “payment by results”. A new public sector probation service would be created to directly manage high risk offenders.

    Other proposals include the introduction of a network of “resettlement prisons”, which would allow offenders to be relocated to a prison near to their home and begin resettlement work for at least three months prior to release.

    This note provides a summary of the paper’s main proposals and reaction to them."

    Andrew Hatton

  4. I'll bet you a copy of 'Jarvis' Probation Officer's Manual' that the next blog post here will refer to the heads of Serco and G4s both jumping ship in the last 24 hours..., (from one disgruntled old cqsw holder to another!)

    1. ROFPMSL!!! You win Sir or Madam!! Send an SAE to claim prize.

    2. It's Sir (well it was last time I checked but this government will cut anything they can sell... ) I am an ex P O, did 17 years at the coal face. Cannot believe that the service I still respect so highly is being done away with in this way. I am posting anonymously because I don't want to drag highly respected colleagues I correspond with who are still in the job into any trouble via the 'guilt by association' idea.
      I am just waiting for the SFO's to start racking up with public enquiries etc to see who will be scapegoated. I see two senior execs have today made sure it won't be them... ;)

  5. Just for info:
    and as an encore:

  6. Sad day for the town of Northallerton, and those employed by HMP there - the time is fast approaching - when all prisoners will be transferred out - by the end of next week. I spoke with a prison officer colleague today and wished him well, but he's in for a bit of a shock - he's been redeployed to HMP Wealstun, only a 75 mile round trip every day on the A1(M). The town itself has taken a real hit, with other companies closing down, the once quaint market town, will become like so many high streets - empty. Oh never mind....Serco are renewing their executives/board in response to their falling popularity with the Government - that's okay then - fraud and treachery and dishonesty swept under the carpet!!! Roll on Wednesday!!!!!

  7. What a day Jim , as they say " pull the bones out that then!"


    ONE DAY!!! ONE BLOODY DAY!!!!!!!

    Fat lot of good that is going to do. FFS sake NAPO grow a pair.

    *reminds self to cancel NAPO subs*

    1. I know - but many Napo members are notorious for not being willing to strike at all - I think the union has no option but to test the water and see if members are up for a fight at all. I think this time is different - the stakes couldn't be higher.

    2. anon above highlight a key issue - follow the link to the BBC story. read it as if you know nowt about probation. What's the story? There aint one - there's the rub. Its a few whiney lefties worried about who's gonna tag their clients - it does not give any sense of the wanton destruction of a profession, the loss of terms & conditions (which even the rollover Unite union could manage) and the risks to all associated with this bollox. What was the press briefing actually like? What did it say? Even Wright's facts & figures in the "balanced" report are more persuasive than the "oo, its not fair" presentation of our case.

      NAPO - shake a frigging leg and get something out there that hits the public's imagination and makes them see what's actually happening. Even colleagues in the CJ systems of Scotland & Northern Ireland have no idea what's happening to us - that's even more frightening in that there's clearly no press coverage.

      I'm now half an hour late for a very important appointment because of wanting to say this - I'm very angry with NAPO, and very angry at the whole omnishambles.

      NAPO - GET THE MESSAGE OUT THERE - GRAYLING & CO AREN'T GOING TO BACK DOWN BECAUSE ITS NOT FAIR IN SOMEONE'S OPINION - THE PUBLIC WON'T SUPPORT US OR GIVE A SHIT IF THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING. THE CAREERS OF MANY EXCELLENT PROFESSIONALS ARE ON THE LINE (regardless of their qualification) - the futures of many clients are on the line - and the risks to the public are terrifying, in my humble opinion. (sorry about the capitals, no time to change it now).


    3. Totally agree with you.
      I think NAPO have really lost the plot when getting any message out there to the public. They initially seemed to stick with the 'public not private' argument - which meant absolutely nothing to most of the public and was far to easy for the Govt to argue down.
      As part of the TUC, can't NAPO have access to campaign/PR specialists?? If not, they need one, and fast.

    4. I certainly share your concern and dismay at Napo's handling of much of this and in particular their seeming inability to understand the power and utility of new media.

      At a time of crisis like this, I would expect a daily bulletin from HQ in order to help set the news agenda, keep the troops motivated and the public informed.

      To be perfectly honest the main reason for the success of this blog is because of the vacuum Napo have allowed to form. They would appear to be seriously missing Harry Fletcher's media handling abilities, but he would be the first to say he doesn't know how new media works.

      Napo - please try and get up to speed on new media - give Russell Webster a call for goodness sake!!

      Thanks for getting that off your chest. I hope the appointment goes well and the use of capitals is forgiven in the circumstances.



  9. I am a hard-working PO who qualified 12 years ago and am SICK TO DEATH of the CQSW brigade inferring I am a lesser being because of my qualification. PLEASE give it a rest and respect your colleagues. Oh and whilst I am on my rant, please CQSW colleagues STOP going on about how you will be ok because you can work as a social worker.Any colleague losing a job is a disaster whatever their qualification route.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that some colleagues are being so insensitive and wondered for a moment what thread on here had triggered the rant,

      When all this started I was fearful it would turn nasty and the attitude you allude to in your workplace doesn't sound at all helpful or caring, both qualities I would expect from colleagues whether CQSW, DiPSW or DipPS.

      Lets all be considerate and understanding in these difficult times.

  10. I certainly do not think DipPS folk are lesser than CQSW or DIPSW - obviously to be a probation officer one needs all the social work skills available to those who work in Child Protection or Mental Health Health Social Work etc. The only difference is the agency specialist knowledge. There are specialist aspects within probation - and nobody can be up to date with everything - prison law - foreign offenders - young offenders - mental health - groupwork and specialisms within each of those specialisms - but they all rely on basic social work understanding and skills of practice.

    At the last when eventually the Labour Party offered the DipPS I was asking negotiators - such as Helen Schofield who was probably the lead person for Napo over several years (I did not know her personally - but did know how dedicated she was as I worked at the London Probation Office where I think she started out - she was highly respected and revered by the admin staff - long after she left - high praise) anyway - VERY reluctantly I was persuaded that for us to campaign further and reject the DipPS we may well end up with less.

    The Governments 'top down' control of probation was well under way by 1997 having started in the mid 80s under Leon Brittan (Google his name simultaneously with Geoffrey Dickens MP to see the controversy still surrounding our former Home Secretary - (I think) the first to issue directions to Probation Authorities about their priorities)

    It does not matter what qualifications current probation service employees have - in one sense - just about all seem vulnerable to have their employment severely disrupted - there is strength in unity - now it seems vital

    Joe Kuipers has posted another blog with an update of information - inconclusive - Probation Trusts have received from MOJ - possibly others will have already or will soon receive it via their employers or trades unions.