Monday, 21 October 2013

Daddy or Chips?

Over the coming weeks Probation Officers will have to make an invidious decision whether to choose to opt for NPS or CRC. If you don't make a decision, one will be made for you. I'm tempted to describe such a proposition as a Hobson's choice, but wikipedia urges caution:-

Hobson's choice is often misused to mean a false illusion of choice, but it is not a choice between two equivalent options, which is a Morton's fork, nor is it a choice between two undesirable options, which is a dilemma. Hobson's choice is one between something or nothing.

Whatever, most people would say it's a shit choice, but I notice that tweeter and blogger PoOfficer has had a stab at a sort of cost/benefit analysis of both options on offer and I hope they don't mind me quoting from their handiwork:-

National Probation Service (NPS)
  • This will be a tiny organisation with little scope for progression. 
  • Big focus will be in the Courts and more PO's working from Court and allocating work to the teams directly from Court.  I don't want to work in a Court.  
  • What will be left will be Public Protection work.  Whilst this is fascinating and vital, I don't want a whole caseload of high risk clients where I am unable to be as flexible as I currently am.  I do not want to be confined by MAPPA restrictions.
  • I wont be delivering any interventions.  Apart from sex offender work all other interventions, including Specified Activities will be implemented by the CRC. 
  • From what I have read, if I am NPS my main duties will be to risk assess, mainly from a computer and have little scope to deliver an intervention or work with clients on a one to one basis. 
  • We are merging with another area so will I be sent there to work?  Miles away from home. 
  • Will this become an 'elite' service? Do I really want to be part of this? 
  • I know the documents state that CRC and NPS will office share initially but I am sure this will change in the future.  I can see my trust having tiny NPS offices around the county as a base and then they will 'rent' rooms from children's centres, Police Stations, Courts etc.  Do I want to be co-located and not in my Probation team? Will I lose the camaraderie of my colleagues? 
  • I will be doing what I trained to do - risk assess, write reports and manage high risk clients.  Will I have time to complete bespoke interventions with clients or will I just send them to the CRC for this?
  • Will we be a civil servant? If so, It feels as if we will lose our voice and will have to roll over every time the Government says so. 
Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC)
  • We don't know who this will be, so we could end up working for an organisation we don't want to.  
  • Likelihood is that our terms and conditions will change.
  • A positive that I can think of is that it will cut all the red tape that Probation currently insist on.  Hopefully it will move us into the 21st century and I will be able to email a Social Worker without being told it breaches data protection.   We may have better use of technology, thinking outside the box, more resources etc etc.  This does sound appealing.  
  • I wont be writing parole reports, pre-sentence reports or advising the Court about sentencing.  I trained for two years to be able to do this, I don't want to lose it.  
  • If I do go to the CRC and manage medium and low risk clients - will the new provider eventually realise that they will be paying me a PO wage to do the same work that a PSO can do?  Will I take a pay cut or just be let go?
  • Working for a CRC may provide more of an opportunity for progression.  Some of the companies bidding are multi-national and other roles may frequently come up.
  • Do I really want to work for a company who's number one priority is profit?

How can we be asked to make a decision between the NPS and CRC when we don't know the full details.  We don't know who the CRC's are yet.  We don't know what the new NPS will look like and what 'team' we may be allocated into.  We really don't know anything.  It will not be an informed decision, yet I will get my letter in November asking me to make a decision.  What if I refuse? Will it then be made for me?

I've become aware that many PO's are thinking that the NPS will be a 'safe haven' from the carnage that will ensue within privatised CRC's. This is a big mistake and here is what Professor Paul Senior thinks on the subject in his latest and excellent blog post reflecting on Llandudno:-

It is instructive and worrying to note that in the last few weeks the role of the National Probation Service in this future world has been used as a prop to argue that the continuation of Probation and the worth of probation is thus guaranteed. Firstly it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that the last attempt to impose a National Probation Service in 2001 was an abysmal failure. Even Michael Spurr seemed to acknowledge that the success of the probation trusts in the last five or six years shows that a locally accountable, partnership driven service is more likely to reduce reoffending than a remote and bureaucratically driven national service. The recent replacement of a senior probation figure as the new director of NPS, whatever the reason, is symptomatic of the drive to create a command and control structure driven by norms where Probation staff become civil servants and subject to the suffocating and unquestioning delivery requirements imposed upon them. The NPS will, I am afraid, be an uncomfortable home to work in. If you look at any of the process maps provided recently on twitter by Joe Kuipers you will see just how complex structures have become. They assume a rational and linear process of engagement which does not fit with the chaotic and difficult world in which our service users inhabit and which a fragmented and competitive environment will further engender. There is talk of national standards returning to drive the NPS. I discussed in June ( Bill McWilliams lecture) the difficulty of maintaining the essence of probation. It strikes me it is now abundantly clear that that essence will not rest with the NPS. Indeed when you look at the MoJ’s own evidence-based publication, coincidently (or maybe not so coincidentally) published on the same day as the announcement of the competition, you will see a firm statement of what they consider to be the organisational framework within which successful rehabilitation services can be delivered. They include four key elements:
The role of skilled, trained practitioners
Well sequenced, holistic approaches
Delivery of services and interventions in a joined up, integrated manner
Delivery of high-quality services
Put simply, these elements describe a probation trust and is a ringing endorsement of the work that trusts have done over the past few years. Somewhat ironic therefore that the world of probation with its locally accountable 35 Trusts, is being dissected in such a complex and fragmentary way that the possibilities of achieving any of these above evidence-based qualities has been severely compromised.
The message contained in these two blog posts couldn't be more clear. Under the TR omnishambles proposals, probation as we know and love it is going to disappear. If colleagues wish to stay in this line of work, retain their sanity and bound out of bed each day happy at the prospect of another fulfilling day's work fairly rewarded, then put simply, they must join colleagues and take action to stop it all happening.

As Paul Senior puts it:- "it is now abundantly clear that that essence (of Probation) will not rest with the NPS" and as PoOfficer says:-  I don't think I want to work for either NPS or CRC. Sad times ahead.

Doing nothing is not an option in my view. Exceptional circumstances require exceptional responses. If not a member, join a union. If already a member and didn't vote in the recent ballot or feel industrial action is wrong, read and listen to what people are saying and reconsider. I'll finish by quoting a bit more from Paul Senior and urge people to read what he says in full:-

I saw a steely determination in Llandudno that probation staff, reluctant always to take militant action, but people who care deeply for the service users they work with, will not simply roll over and let such changes happen. Apart from seeking to avoid the unnecessary personal tragedies that will inevitably unfold, with job losses, job redirection and reductions to codes and conditions of service, probation staff will fight for something that they believe in. This is a vocational service not driven by monetary reward or competitive advantage. Michael Sandel, a political philosopher, has pointed out that the neoliberal marketisation of services raises crucial questions about the moral limits of markets. Surely the mark of any civilised society is that it would not treat its miscreant members as simply commodities to be sold to the lowest bidder. I urge everyone to join the growing ‘cacophony of noise’ against these changes. There is time to draw breath, to re-consider the folly and dangers of this process and to construct an evidence informed basis for change.  


  1. Presumably NPS civil servants will benefit from the three extra Civil Service leave days - Maundy Thursday, Queen's Birthday & Christmas Shopping (that's why you sometimes can't get NOMS to pick up the phone). Always look on the bright side of life, te-dum-te-dum.

    1. A good question - anyone out there know if court staff got extra holiday's when they became HMCS?

  2. Sadly for every militant NAPO member there is a colleague joking about how they will covering our work on strike and boasting how they have afforded several pretty nice holidays with the money they have saved on union subscriptions in the last five years etc. Call me idealistic but it saddened me to think that even now, over half of NAPO members couldn't be bothered to get off their backsides to post a ballot form. I'll carry on doing my bit but I am starting to tire of persuading others at my office who can't even seem to take TR seriously.

    1. Good points. Surely all of us can at least manage a letter to our MP re the debate pending in HoC? I for one will be striking.

  3. Jim, POofficer is correct when stating that we will not be able to make an informed choice, but when s/he asks what will happen if refuse to sign, they are wrong to assume a decision will be made for them. Well, not quite wrong, it will be Hobson's choice in the definition you've provided.

    Basically, anyone who hasn't signed the new contract for either the new NPS or Govt CRC will be making themselves jobless by 1 April 2014 - with no redundancy.

    Never mind that terms and conditions for the new private CRCs' terms and conditions may be totally different just 6 months later, you will be expected to sign for one or the other.

    That's why voluntary redundancy should be open to all front line staff as well as support staff. But we all know why it isn't - to stop a mass exit whilst the Govt are in charge. No doubt they'll be happy enough for people to leave the CRCs without anywhere near the same redundancy figures (due to some dubious re-evaluation and restructuring) later in 2015.

    1. Would any Unison/Napo members know if this is illegal as it appears to me that we are being asked to sign a contract that does not (appear) to specify who our employers are, our hours, wage, terms/conditions etc.

    2. I would hope that it is illegal, and if it is not I reckon it should be. It is appalling that TR is tramping over people's conditions of service. Seems to me that people have in one hand a contract which unions have negotiated over many years (which is valid until the point of transfer), and then a blank sheet of the paper in the other. Then they are then to be asked to make a decision between a blank sheet of paper, or a P45! It's just appalling the way frontline staff are being treated.

  4. Re the couple of posts above, Joe Kuipers blog from Saturday mentions a lot of good points about the legal aspect of the transfer of staff, but also includes the following.... Trusts have a duty of care to their employees and have to be assured that their actions are compatible with legislation. In this respect it has proved problematic that NOMS MoJ has not released the legal advice from TSol, especially in respect of the fundamental nature of the staff transfers. Questions remain about the appropriateness of the transfers by way of COSOP rather than TUPE, and the implications both for transfer in April 2014 and subsequent 'transfer' for CRC staff once a share sale is completed to new CRC owners. In this respect we have advice that suggests that the nature of the CRC share sale / transfer and how the owners of the CRCs receive their payments have potentially significant impacts of transferring staff and their future 'rights'. A question remains as to whether the complex transfer processes and re-transfers enable a degree of TUPE avoidance to permit future owners with what will be necessary cost savings and to enable a less impactful and more regulated consultation process?"

    Lots of questions and no answers from MoJ.

    Anyone who is just thinking that 'it's going to be OK', and to' keep their head down and not to strike', should, in my opinion, really ask themselves some serious questions. For me, the answer is simple, I can't afford NOT to strike. Even if it doesn't change TR, it may help the unions to negotiate better redundancy terms for me (after all, I currently note the VR is fine for ACOs, HR, computer/IT staff - who are just the people they need to steer this through) and as Joe Kuipers states, the transfer for other staff when in the new CRCs in October 214, is still far from clear.

    Ask yourself, do you trust Grayling?

  5. It is good to see how Rob Allen has exposed Nick Clegg's duplicity

    Andrew Hatton

  6. I put off viewing the #G4S take on Russell Webster's video show but have done so after watching Clive Martin's effort - he at least seems to realise just how risky it all is where as the G4S version is naivety on stilts!

    Clive Martin: -

    G4S Spokesperson: -

    Andrew Hatton

  7. Comment from Essex Napo's new Facebook page:-

    "In my Trust and as I would assume many others staff have been taken on using ever shorter contracts, particularly those who have commenced their employment with a probation trust in the last two years. I personally have a contract which ceases within the next 6 months having been assured that its renewal was a foregone conclusion. It seems that when my contract ends, having worked hard in other organisations and voluntary positions as well as studying for a degree (which yes I would have done anyway but maybe not on this subject) in criminology, all to secure employment in Probation as an offender manager. I am to lose the job I love. How are trusts helping staff in this position? I am sure that my position is not unique. I have no protection under employment law due to the Tories moving the goalposts as I will have been employed by my Trust for 18 months when my contract ends. If you could point me in the right direction as I am at my wits end now and potentially unemployed within the next 6 months. Regards"

    I was not able to add a comment - it would have been post it here and see what response you get.

    they are also on Twitter: -

    Andrew Hatton

    1. Not relating to probation, but this article may be of interest to those who are either concerned about their existing contracts, or indeed are feeling secure with their existing contract.

  8. I nearly missed this new Napo Blogger - Dean Rogers - new Assistant General Secretary -

    the AGM seems to have had a good impact on him

  9. I'm certain that what I'm about to write has appeared on this blog before, but lest we forget:

    Probation staff have not exactly been spoilt rotten in recent years. Guided by our national union (a noble bunch on the whole but with some recent, allegedly dodgy incumbents) many have voted for (or accepted) so-called "best we can get" pay deals and given up annual leave entitlements that were hard fought for in the past; many have given up allowances for use of their own vehicles with varying degrees of compensation (from zero to relatively quite generous); many have been fixed on a salary point for some considerable time; many have not seen any increase in wages; and allowing for inflation and the greedy utilities, bankers, et al, ALL staff have effectively taken a significant pay cut since ~2007. I'm not sure how its affected Chief Officer grades with their PRP treats - any takers with this one?

    I am of the opinion that we've been shunted from behind time after time, and whilst we've whimpered and whined, we've not really been taken seriously by our employers or central government. We've been divvied up & weakened & taken advantage of. Its a pattern of abusive behaviour we would recognise instantly in a DV or sexual offending perpetrator.

    So lets make TR as good a reason as any to unite, to fight and bite back. We've been a trusty, obedient and biddable creature, and we've tolerated our 'masters' increasingly bizarre behaviour - but he's recently moved into the realms of cruelty - Four Legs Good!!! Two Legs Bad!!! (or some good old Bolshevik battle cry from yesteryear - oops).

    But seriously folks, its time to get together and get this TR shite binned, time to let people know what we actually do, the value of our profession to our society - not just to those who commit offences but their families and neighbours and victims. We need to expose the deceit and hypocrisy of this faux-alliance of a so-called government.

    We need to also ensure that any future government recognises our true public worth; and we need to get Spurr & Allars and the Civil Servants on our side, to tell them to let the scales fall from their starstruck eyes and realise the dangers inherent to all from the TR project. To stop counting beans or massaging each others' egos and start helping us knock TR into a cocked hat, then rebuild the probation service in its only true format - publicly owned, publicly funded and publicly accountable.

    That will get you a public service gong you'd be proud to wear, Lord Spurr; Sir Colin, etc. Not one that you knew had been bought for you by G4S - slightly misshapen, a bit tinny with a faded, uneven ribbon that you kept in a box under the bed.

    1. A very good summary - thanks!


    2. This doesn't, of course, include the fact that staff on previously "timeless" contracts with probation services had those contracts torn up and they were forced to to sign what was effectively a three year rolling contract when the Trusts were established. I never understood how that was legal, let alone acceptable. Ok, if a business was failing then everyone gets laid off or made redundant because there aint no cash - but for a government to simply 'disappear' terms & conditions in contracts of employment for a whole raft of public service employees... ???