Saturday, 19 October 2013

McNally Loses Plot

For some time there has been a general consensus that Liberal Democrat, Baron McNally of Blackpool, Minister of State for Justice, has put in a confused and lack-lustre performance in defence of the Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambes in the Upper House. In that regard it could be said that his clearly limited talents and grasp of the brief fit perfectly with the project, but this is a serious business and Napo have lost patience by passing a motion at their AGM demanding his resignation.

Their decision was undoubtedly influenced by recent revelations contained in Private Eye concerning the Noble Lord's behind-the-scenes involvement with A4E, a potential bidder for probation contracts and previously found to be fiddling the figures on New Deal contracts. As a result of Freedom of Information requests, Private Eye has been able to discover that McNally chose to ignore the firmest advice from civil servants:- 

DOCUMENTS released to Private Eye under freedom of information show how scandal-hit welfare-to-work contractor A4e used last year’s Lib Dem party conference in Brighton to get around obstructive civil servants and arrange an official meeting to lobby justice minister Lord McNally directly over probation contracts.

Along with other “workfare” providers, last year A4e wrote to all Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ministers asking for a meeting as the department made plans to privatise the probation service and dole out some very big contracts.

Allegations of fraud
Given that at the time A4e was facing allegations of fraud (these led to nine former employees being charged last month) senior MoJ civil servant Jenny Giblett was not keen. “From our perspective there would be no specific need for a meeting,” she wrote. In particular, she highlighted “presentation and media handling” issues since “A4e suffered some reputational damage in connection with the earlier allegations of fraud.” She stressed that meetings with ministers “are declared, and are the subject of repeated parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests”.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling and two of his ministers declined to meet A4e. But an anguished civil servant revealed: “Lord McNally has let me know this morning that he agreed whilst he was at Lib Dem Conference to meet with XXX for A4e.” The firm’s lobbyist had already used the conference, where ministers are free of their civil servants, to extract a promise of a full meeting with the minister in his office. Though Lord McNally was advised of the ministry’s position and the possible pitfalls, he made “very clear that he is going to meet with XXX of A4e, as he promised…”

‘A meeting would be ill-advised’
One civil servant’s email reads: “He is going to need some very robust advice if we think he shouldn’t proceed with a meeting. Lord McNally has been chased directly by A4e twice already.” Another said: “If we’re going to convince him not to do it (which it seems to me we should!), I’m going to need to give him some more robust arguments. Do you think you could outline in an email the reasons you think such a meeting would be ill-advised.”
In the event the official Whitehall meeting went ahead. By nabbing Lord McNally at the party conference, A4e was able to overcome its “fraud” issues and gain official access to the MoJ ahead of other companies.

The record of the Whitehall meeting last November says A4e’s lobbyists expressed “concern that the level of risk organisations are being asked to take, at least initially, should not be too burdensome” for probation contracts, and tried to talk down “the risk of huge penalties for initial failure to meet targets” on such contracts, which Lord McNally said he “understood”.

It's clearly time for McNally to heed Napo's demand and go. The whole fiasco is yet another spanner in the works for the TR omnishambles.        


  1. Excerpts from the Lords Debate 16 Oct 2013 - Lords Marks & Judd:

    Lord marks (Lib Dem) - "We currently have a highly professional, skilled and committed body of probation officers who are an asset of great value, impossible to price but once lost very difficult to replace. My concern is how far the new owners of the CRCs will in the medium and long term retain the staff they take over. Will they be required by their contracts to involve qualified probation officers in the delivery of their services?

    In relation to all these questions so far, one hopeful development is the proposed establishment by the Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs Association, with government approval, of an institute to be known as the “Probation Institute”. Such an institute could offer accreditation of courses and qualifications. It could maintain a register of qualified probation officers, and could ultimately take on the role of monitoring and enforcing professional performance standards.
    Was the Social Market Foundation right or wrong to conclude, as it did in its report this summer, that the extra payments would not make it worth while for providers to pay the extra money to improve the service? Will the payment by results provisions affect the prospect of more partnerships, even if main contractors cannot pass on the risk—as they should not be able to do—to their smaller providers?"

    Lord Judd (Labour): "I confess to the House that I feel very sad. If I was asked to pick an exemplary area of effective public service in British social history, I would pick the probation service. It has dedicated people of quality; people of education, training and practical experience. They do not just run a system or prove themselves as efficient in economic terms, but they have a mission to relate to the individuals, the young men, women and children —and not only young—who are their responsibility, and to work with them as individuals, trying to enable them to become productive. Rehabilitation is a sort of artificial word—it does not get to the human centre of all this. They enable these people to become constructive members of society, to feel that they belong to society, and to grow in confidence. I see that all that is in jeopardy because of a preoccupation with change—as far as I can see, almost for the sake of change.
    I have another concern which I will share with the House. I have spent a great deal of my life in the voluntary sector. I was a director of Oxfam, which is quite a significant organisation. I am sure that if these proposals go ahead, a lot of voluntary organisations will have a great contribution to make. They will bring a great deal of sensitivity and commitment. However, I am anxious. Why? The real centre of purpose in the voluntary sector should be experimentation. It should be about becoming a catalyst for society as a whole, about vision and new approaches. Increasingly, the voluntary sector is being asked to become an extension of the public sector—subcontracting to get the work done more cheaply than it would be done under existing arrangements is usually a governing factor."

  2. Excerts from Lords debate 16 Oct 2013 - Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

    "Since its origins more than 100 years ago, the probation service has developed into the national provision for people in trouble with the law at the interface between offenders and the courts, prison, community provision and the public. It represents the bedrock of the system by which we manage offenders in this country in conjunction with the myriad agencies—statutory, voluntary and private—which work to keep our society safe. It is a highly professional service with a hinterland of skills, knowledge and experience which is second to none and on which we all depend when dealing with offender management.

    All the performance indicators show that the service is doing well. The MoJ rating system shows that targets have been reached with performance ratings of “good” or “excellent”, and just two years ago the service became the first public sector organisation to be awarded the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal for Excellence in recognition of “outstanding and continued commitment to sustained excellence over a number of years”, an achievement of which they—and we—should be proud.
    In the light of the probation service’s performance and background, it beggars belief that the Minister, Chris Grayling, should be contemplating handing over 80% of the probation service’s work to an almost untried and untested system of payment by results, which is still being assessed, to be administered by 21 crime reduction companies (CRCs) with no earthly idea of what the outcomes are likely to be. Probation officers will still have a guaranteed job for the first year up to 1 April 2015, when the scheme goes live, when their jobs will be “sold to the market”. There is no indication of what the workforce will consist of, except possibly most of those redundant probation officers. Their task will be to manage the 150,000 offenders that probation currently manages in the community each year—excluding the high-risk offenders —and at the same time to provide a year’s support to the 50,000 additional group of low-level offenders that the Minister now wants to be supervised for the first time."

  3. Excerpts from Lords Debate 16 Oct 2013 - Lord Beecham (Labour):

    "Your Lordships’ House passed a crucial amendment to the Bill requiring proposals to reorganise the probation service to be subject to parliamentary approval. The Government have yet to indicate even when the Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Commons. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us as to when that is likely to occur. In the mean time, the Government have displayed their contempt for the views of this House by embarking on yet another bout of pre-emption, or as I have described it in respect of other matters, pre-legislative implementation of the kind roundly criticised by the Constitution Committee, by pressing ahead with arrangements to dismember the service and put 70% of its work out to contract, for which incidentally the existing service will not be allowed to tender. OJEC procedures have been initiated and a strange document entitled, Target Operating Manual—its initials presumably being derived from the noble Lord, Lord McNally—has been published.

    The document states this will follow the deployment of an “actuarial tool” combined with a “clinical judgment of risk”. Can the Minister explain what those terms actually mean? It goes on to establish a hierarchy of officers—a responsible officer, a supervising officer and a supervisor, all with different roles, piling complexity upon confusion and fragmentation. The model refers to the involvement of police and crime commissioners in the new arrangements, but not local authorities, clinical commissioning groups or NHS England, which has responsibility for commissioning primary care and mental health services, both highly relevant to the issue.
    There will be £450 million worth of contracts offered to, among others, the likes of Group 4 and Serco, who gave us the Olympics fiasco, the tagging scandal, Oakwood prison and, as we have heard in the past few days, the transport to prison of male and female prisoners in the same van—but then this is the Secretary of State responsible for the lamentable failure of the Work Programme. No doubt he would be happy to see such organisations take over the entire system from policing to the court service, and from probation to prisons. As Caliban might have said: “Oh brave new world that has such providers in it”.

    Does the Minister stand by the airy dismissal of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, of the leaked risk assessment which estimates a 51% to 80% risk that predicted cost savings will not be met? Finally, what is the Minister’s estimate of the number of probation officers who will lose their jobs as 70% of their work is transferred? Does he agree that the figure of 18,000 which has been mentioned is about right? If staff do transfer to contractors, will TUPE provisions apply?"

  4. Excerpts from Lords Debate 16 Oct 2013 - Lord Ahmad (Con):

    "On 19 September, we published details of how the new model for supervision of offenders will work, alongside the launch of the competition to find future providers of rehabilitation services.

    Legislating to provide that virtually all offenders released from custody will be subject to supervision is just one important aspect and benefit of our overall package of Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked why we need to change when probation trusts are performing so well. Under the current system, the most prolific group of reoffenders are those released form short custodial sentences. They receive no statutory rehabilitation support. Trusts currently do not have the opportunity to work with them, and we believe that our reforms will go towards addressing that particular issue. We need to stop offenders passing through the system again and again, creating more victims and damaging communities, and we need to have a system that is sustainable given our current financial constraints. That is, in essence, what is behind our reforms.

    The Government’s position remains that we cannot deliver these improvements unless we retain the skills and expertise of probation professionals as we move into the new system. Their excellence is not something to be ignored. I have the very greatest respect and admiration for the work that our probation officers do and am sure that the sentiment echoes across the Chamber. They play a fundamental role in protecting the public and helping offenders reintegrate into society. We do not want to lose their expertise. That is why the national framework for the transfer of staff to the new system gives an absolute commitment to fair processes and protection for staff within the system, including: a guarantee of employment for all probation staff employed by a probation trust on 31 March 2014, in either the appropriate community rehabilitation company or the National Probation Service; protection of current terms and conditions at the point of transfer; and no compulsory redundancies.

    The Bill also makes sure that offenders subject to community orders do not move residence where such a move will hinder the offender’s rehabilitation. That is a very important point.

    My noble friend Lady Linklater talked about transfer from the National Probation Service back to the CRC if the risk decreases. This will not happen: if an offender is transferred to the NPS they will remain with the NPS for the duration of their supervision.

    Public protection is absolutely at the heart of these reforms, and the National Probation Service will have a crucial role to play in this. It will risk assess every offender at the outset and retain the management of offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public and who have committed more serious offences. Community rehabilitation companies will be contractually obliged to work with the National Probation Service to manage those offenders at risk of causing serious harm. Any offender whose risk level escalates to “high” during their sentence will be transferred back to the National Probation Service."
    NB: none of the above responses are credible, consistent or offer any resemblance to an intelligent reply to any of the questions asked.

    I am grateful to our noble friends for pursuing our case in the upper house.

  5. I do apologise - I forgot the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Conservative) during Baroness LInklater's speech:

    "My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for pointing out that there is a time limit of 10 minutes for each speaker, and that we have a speaker in the gap."

  6. Even more unforgiveable is the failure to cut_&_paste Lord Ponsonby's key comments:

    "When we were dealing with the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, I visited a number of very senior professionals in the probation service. From a management point of view, they made one central point to me... You will be moving from the National Probation Service, which will make the initial assessment, to a private provider that will then run the supervision for whatever the period is. Then, if there is a breach or a change in circumstances—for example, if the offender starts taking drugs again—they will go back to the National Probation Service for a reassessment. Perhaps there will be a reassignment or perhaps they will go back to court. The point that the managers made to me was that with every transfer you get dropout, which builds inefficiency into the system. Therefore, my first question to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is: has this point been addressed in the contracts that are being bid for? It is the central point that was made to me by senior probation trust managers."

  7. For completeness (and before I'm physically thrown out of the library):

    Michael Spurr - A Biography (not to be confused with Morrissey's Autobiography)

    Michael Spur became the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service Agency in June 2010.

    He started his civil service career as a prison officer at HMP Leeds in 1983 and worked in the prison service for 25 years at various establishments and at its headquarters. He was a governing governor at HMYOI Aylesbury, HMP Wayland and HMP/YOI Norwich.

    Since then his career highlights have included:

    Director of Operations, HMPS Agency Board, 2003
    Deputy Director General, HMPS Agency Board, 2007
    Chief Operating Officer, NOMS Agency, April 2008

    NB - he looks very much like Colin Allarse - separated at birth, perhaps?

  8. I watched it live and surprisingly I felt sorry for Ahmed who simply did not have a clue and obviously was inadequately briefed by Moj bods who - it must be worse - also do not have a clue - yet it is such folk who are designing the contracts and structure for the new Probation Service organisations.

    Whether McNally was unavailable or avoided the job - which presumably was his - I don't know - Ahmed fielded badly for him at House of Lords questions at least once before.

    It shames the whole of the British democratic and governmental system - never mind is just bad for criminal justice - all we can hope is that enough folk in the House of Commons have enough sense to stop it or it collapses in on itself BEFORE implementation - for it not to collapse till after implementation is just too dangerous to even consider!

    Here is the whole debate from the other evening, I am not quite sure whether it has all been posted above - it is very helpful to see it set out as it has been there

    However never mind ( for a moment it is bad for the country) - as I have been saying - I believe it can be the undoing of Cameron and Clegg like the poll tax was for Thatcher - here is a reminder of that final scene in 1990

    Andrew Hatton

  9. Attention les Ros'Boef - this is a site to visit:

    How can you not be interested when something opens with:

    "The Intensification of Punishment from Thatcher to Blair: From conservative authoritarianism to punitive interventionism" Emma Bell,
    Université de Savoie

    Emma Bell is a Senior Lecturer in British Studies at Savoie University (Chambéry). Her research focuses on contemporary British penal policy. She will be publishing a book on the subject entitled Criminal Justice and Neoliberalism at the end of 2010 with Palgrave Macmillan."

    I haven't been able to find a link to the book as yet...

  10. The problem with NOMS is that it's not National, covering England & Wales only, it doesn't seem to know much about Offenders, it apparently knows only slightly more about Management and it certainly knows nothing about Service. Apart from that, job's s a gud'un.

  11. Can we introduce an informal "Who Said That & When" slot?

    I nominate this as the first teaser:

    "Courts will also continue to impose Community Service Orders which compel offenders to make amends by doing useful work for the local community. We shall set up more compulsory attendance centres to which the courts can send young hooligans. The invaluable work of the Probation Service will continue to be supported."

  12. 1983 Conservative Party Election Manifesto.

    I thought it was a good while ago because of the linkage between CS & Day Centres which were introduced side by side I think initially as pilots - in the 1973 Powers Of Criminal Courts Act.

    That paragraph succeeded: -

    "Last year's Criminal Justice Act has given the courts tougher and more flexible sentencing powers. This Act makes parents more responsible for crimes committed by their children, and improves compensation for the victims of crime. "

    I suspect Whitelaw was still Home Secretary - the one who winked at a Napo AGM as he talked about the short sharp shock of the DC experiments at Send and some other DC I cannot remember.

    We were just about OK but the next Home Sec Leon Brittan began to really politicize it and centralize it - he announced tougher parole whilst he let prisoners out early because they could not house them all and also he introduced SNOP which led to National Standards

    Andrew Hatton