Sunday, 6 October 2013

Why is This Happening?

It seems reasonable to me that delegates arriving for the Probation World Congress this   weekend might well be seriously bemused and bewildered as to why the UK government are intent upon destroying a world-class probation service, and especially in the absence of any evidence to support such a move? 

The answer can be found cogently expressed in a blog post I recently revisited by Richard Garside on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website. Published on the day that the great probation sell-off was announced, the explanation goes like this:-

To understand the government's thinking on the great probation sell-off, it is important to keep in mind at least two related issues:
  • the government's priorities in relation to public sector reform in general; and
  • the perceived failings of the existing National Offender Management Service structures, including the Probation Service, in particular.
On the first of these, the government is committed to a dual priority of public sector reform and the creation of more business opportunities for the private sector. As the prime minister and deputy prime minister explained in their joint Foreword to the coalition's mid-term review:
'Dealing with the deficit may have been our first task, but our most important task is to build a stronger, more balanced economy capable of delivering lasting growth and widely shared prosperity. In essence, this involves two things: growing the private sector, and reforming the public sector so that what the Government does – and the money it spends – boosts, rather than undermines, Britain’s competitiveness'.
From this standpoint, the great probation sell-off ticks both boxes: an offender management marketplace in which the private sector can bid for business and a reformed public sector probation service.
On the second of these, an emerging consensus on the perceived failings of the National Offender Management Service structure in general and the Probation Service in particular has been been apparent for some time.
These perceived failings, it should be added, relate to the ability of the existing structures to service the new offender management marketplace, rather than in any necessary failings in day-to-day operations. As the Probation Association and Probation Chiefs Association pointed out in their joint response to the Transforming Rehabilitation consultation, the Probation Service is the first and only public service to receive the British Quality Foundation’s gold medal for excellence, and has been judged as consistently high-performing by the Ministry of Justice’s own measures.
In short, the way the Ministry of Justice is going about the great probation sell off is about preparing the public sector to support the creation of an offender management marketplace, delivering both on the government's high level priorities and addressing perceived weaknesses in current structures.

Having sought in the first two years of coalition government to adapt the marketplace to the existing prison and probation structures, the Ministry of Justice is now embarked on doing the opposite: adapting prison and probation structures to the offender management marketplace. 

The answer couldn't be clearer could it? We are a brilliantly performing service, it's just that our structure doesn't fit the ideological need for a marketplace. This whole omnishambles is based entirely on ideology and not evidence. All wishful thinking that a competitive market will be able to deliver savings, improved reoffending rates, increases in numbers supervised, and all without putting the public at risk. 

Mike Guilfoyle neatly summed up the situation yesterday in a comment:-

Probation Service is being fragmented, lied to, taken advantage of, abused & no doubt in light of almost universal craven corporate silence, now being used to leverage 'new careers' in NPS/CRC for top table.. my heart goes out to front line colleagues who daily have to work in this toxic atmosphere...

Chris Grayling and the government are not being honest in explaining the true doctrinal reasons for imposing the TR omnishambles. As Professor Paul Senior has often stated, what we have is the exact opposite of evidence-based policy, namely policy-based evidence. It doesn't stack up. The policy-based evidence simply isn't there and hence the whole thing will unravel in an unholy mess. We really do have a duty to carry on trying to defeat these plans.  


  1. This is happening because the Coalition Government wants it to, it is as simple as that ! In reality there is general ignorance of the role of Probation and the failure to reach 100K signatures on the e-petition says it all. In my opinion when Probation Leaders allowed themselves to be so easily subsumed beneath Prison Managers in NOMS the rot was set, there was no longer an independent voice for our profession. I do blame our senior managers for the looming death of our profession. We are lions led by donkeys and have been abandoned to work in an increasingly toxic environment whilst trying so hard to serve our communities and work to the highest standards with service users.

  2. I suppose it is irrelevant that public sector probation is performing well and winning awards. The problem is that it is doing it in PUBLIC. It may not win awards doing it in PRIVATE, but it will be cheaper in cut price Probationland. This will do more reputational damage to probation than sex in a box ever could, but then priorities often get twisted.

  3. so its just just about transferring money to the likes of G4S, CAPITA, SERCO. Fraudsters, Great

    1. So, 12 months left before the Probation Service does a Monica Lewinsky and becomes another name that's gone down in history. An opportunity though for Trusts to get fire in their collective bellies and iron in their collective souls to bin targets that no-one cares about, accept that OASys rarely tells you anything you didn't know already and switch the freed up resources to doing some actual work with offenders. A last, self-defining, hurrah, but don't expect it any day soon unless you do it yourselves. Think last stand at Gandamak.

    2. The Sunday Times describes the sale of probation as "a minority stake" which "should prove to be straightforward." I can't believe this is happening to us.

    3. Didn't get the Times today - what was the context? Or could you give us a bit more from the article?



    4. PART 1:

      Roll up for the next sell-offs
      After the Royal Mail float, a range of state services will be outsourced to cut costs and improve efficiency

      A red post lorry waits for the barrier to lift and then chugs into the huge sorting depot at Mount Pleasant in London. The 12-acre site is home to one of Royal Mail’s biggest centres. Some of this land, wedged between King’s Cross and
      the more fashionable areas of Clerkenwell and Islington, could soon be sold off and used to build flats.

      Royal Mail is set to close its share offer this week ahead of a £3.3bn stock market debut on October 15. Its float prospectus named Mount Pleasant as one of three
      “surplus” London sites. A sale to developers could provide the Treasury and City investors with a bumper windfall.

      “There is nothing to stop the privatised company making a quick buck by flogging off these assets for development,” said Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary.

      With the biggest privatisation since John Major sold off the railways in the 1990s coming to a close, ministers are now revving up other money-spinning plans. But apart from the sale of Britain’s £3bn stake in Urenco, the uranium-enrichment company, the state’s cupboard is bare.

      So the coalition is preparing to cut the nation’s ballooning debts by attacking costs. A range of controversial part-privatisations is well advanced.

      The most high-profile deals include:
      ■ Appointing a company to run the agency that buys fighter jets and tanks;
      ■ Outsourcing NHS care of the elderly in Cambridgeshire;
      ■ Offloading management of the Ministry of Defence’s land and buildings;
      ■ Hiving off parts of the probation service to private contractors.

    5. PART 2

      Outsourcing large state-run agencies that operate in some of the most sensitive areas of government will shake up large parts of the public sector.

      George Osborne’s austerity drive has opened the door to outsourcing giants from Britain and America. Some are on the verge of landing lucrative contracts. Ministers insist that the public sector is expensive and inefficient and needs an injection of private sector rigour.

      This is a tough sell for the coalition. It has been made even tougher by the recent alleged antics of outsourcing giants such as G4S and Serco, which have been hit by claims that they overcharged taxpayers for tagging offenders.

      Serco has also been accused of altering prisoner transfer records. The allegations against Serco don’t bode well for its chances of winning more government work in the short term, but it is still in the running for two large deals that are nearing a conclusion.

      A consortium led by Serco is one of three bidders left in the race to grab control of
      the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which manages and maintains the MoD’s sprawling estate of 166,000 buildings and 230,000 hectares of land. A preferred bidder for the £400m contract is expected to be announced next month.

      While this looks set to proceed, another MoD deal has a question mark over it. Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, last month ordered an urgent review of the part-privatisation of the country’s weapons-buying agency, fuelling fears that the process could be scrapped.

      Hammond has called in the Cabinet Office, which monitors government spending, to review the business case for outsourcing Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) to a private contractor. The Cabinet Office is due to report in a few weeks.

      At present, there are just two bidders left, including one consortium that includes Serco. A third contender pulled out. Sources now believe the deal to run Britain’s £15bn annual weapons budget is “on life support”.

      It is thought Bernard Gray, who is responsible for overseeing DE&S, has been locked in negotiations for the past few weeks with the remaining bidders. They are led by rival American contractors Bechtel and CH2M Hill.

      A source claimed that the bidders are increasingly unsure about how they would make a return from running the “GoCo” — government-owned, contractor-operated — business. Concerns about the viability of the part-privatisation appear to indicate that a back-up option, known as DE&S plus, is now the favourite. This would overhaul the civil service pay structure and allow the procurement organisation to attract and retain better project managers and contract negotiators.

    6. PART 3

      Perhaps the most controversial deal in the pipeline is a £1.2bn, or £160m-a-year, contract to provide health services, including end-of-life care for the elderly, in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It is the biggest single outsourcing of NHS services so far.

      Ten bidders have registered their interest in the huge contract. They include a mixture of NHS trusts and private companies such as Capita, Serco, Mitie, Interserve and Virgin.

      Faced with a £30bn shortfall in the NHS budget over the next seven years, many trusts are turning to the private sector for help. These players are expected to invest in new technology, overhaul staff productivity and cut costs. In return, they are being offered a first-class ticket for the taxpayer-funded gravy train.

      However, the promised land of a fat margin and steady, long-term earnings is not reached easily.

      Protest groups, such as the Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity, have sprung up to oppose the move. Martin Booth, an operating department practitioner at Addenbrooke’s hospital and member of the group, said: “The government said they wouldn’t privatise the NHS, and they blatantly are. The main ethos of the private sector is to make money, that’s what they do.”

      He fears that the giant outsourcing deal will lead to deeper cost cuts and a poorer service for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

      According to figures from Bain & Company, the management consultancy, there is £5bn of NHS work being put out for tender, including the Cambridge deal. Farming out healthcare work on this scale has led to claims that the coalition is covertly pushing an NHS privatisation agenda. The Department of Health denied that it was privatising the NHS.

      Controversy is also growing about the government’s £800m privatisation of the bulk of the probation service, which traces its roots to 1907.

      Last week, the National Association of Probation Officers said that it would ballot members for strike action. It also served notice of a trade dispute on Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, over the government’s agenda to transform rehabilitation. Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the union, said the 28-day consultation process was a “meaningless shambles”.

      Private companies and charities are currently bidding for contracts worth £450m a year to supervise 225,000 low and medium-risk offenders. The country’s 31,000 high-risk criminals will be overseen by a new public sector body, the National Probation Service.

      Lawrence said retaining a state body to look after the worst offenders “speaks volumes” about the privatisation.

      Jeremy Wright, the justice minister, noted that the government spends £4bn a year on prisons and probation. Despite this, more than 600,000 offences were committed last year by those who had previously broken the law.

      “The public deserves better and we are committed to introducing our important reforms,” he said.

      Compared with the thorny issues posed by outsourcing management of sensitive healthcare and defence assets to the private sector, the sale of a minority stake should prove to be straightforward.

      The next state-owned trinket to be put up for grabs is Urenco, the uranium-enrichment company. Britain owns a 33% stake, with the rest split between the Dutch government and two German utilities, RWE and Eon. A sale of the nuclear business could result in a windfall of about £3bn for the Treasury.

      The Urenco board last week appointed Rothschild, the investment bank, to handle the auction.

      Sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other nuclear companies are viewed as the most likely buyers. Any suitor would have to satisfy “non-proliferation” obligations to ensure that sensitive nuclear technology does not end up in the wrong hands.

      Opponents of the coaliton’s reform agenda also hope that key public services won’t end up in the wrong hands.

    7. Thanks very much Andrew!


  4. Stafordshire 'grot spots' targeted by smart phone app:-BBC NEWS

    Maybe supervison will be replaced with a smart phone app soon? Is this the first step?

    1. nice post anonymous - classy

    2. I would like to clarify that the app in the BBC report is for the public to use to suggest Community Payback projects.

      They can do this already by phone or on the Trust websites, so this is nothing more than a smarter way to do an old thing.

      We are certainly NOT suggesting that supervision should be done on a smart phone app. You should know that.

      We are trying to provide a modern service that gives the public a way of engaging with probation directly, having a say about what gets cleaned up in their neighbourhood and what kind of projects people on Community Payback do.

      We will respond to people as they suggest projects, let them know when projects are completed and direct them to a website where they will see a map, hopefully covered in pins showing the locations of all the Community Payback that goes on - highlighting the positive benefits to those doing the work and the people who live in their communities.

      We have had an enormous amount of positive feedback for the project and my team have worked tirelessly to promote the app, CP and Probation, explaining our plight to dozens, if not hundreds of people who otherwise may never have known.

      We are determined to show that the public sector can be innovative, that the Government is talking crap when it says it wants the private sector to bring all its shiny new ways of doing things.

      We have the support of our Trust and our Community Payback units, who we are asking to help us design the process.

      We have the support of the vast majority of other Trusts (32 at the last count) who have agreed to have CP project suggestions sent to them from the app.

      We are hoping for loads of national support and press coverage because it will help raise the profile of an organisation that has never been able to promote itself well, and is now about to pay a heavy price for that.

      What depresses me is when we face criticism and cynicism, particularly from our own colleagues and co-workers in probation.

      We are all facing the same challenge and once we start fighting between ourselves, we might as well give up the fight.

  5. the future will be phone calls, 24 tag monitoring, skype conferencing and tick box scripts.

    1. It's a probation invention! More paperwork created.

  6. Despite trawling t'internett I can't find any compelling arguement for this act of vandalism. Research into the impact of privatisation of public services is vast but with little support for the process. For example, in 2013 Jane Lethbridge wrote about post-privatisation healthcare issues in Latin America: "In Chile, changes in the systems of financing had an impact on the choices of care received by pregnant women because private health insurance stipulated that an obstetrician had to provide primary maternity care. Obstetricians saw private practice as a good source of income but they had to attend the births in person. The demands of a range of private patients meant that an obstetrician tried to schedule births at prearranged times. It was easier to plan for caesarian sections than for either natural or induced births." This led to the private sector recording up to 5 times the number of caesarians than in the public sector - just because it suited the insurance companies - and ultimately the profiteers.
    How safe are staff that are squeezed via tupe into private enterprise? Not very, despite the research into the impact of PFI in 2008; David Hall wrote: "“the Government uses PFI only where it can be shown to deliver value for money and where this is not at the expense of employees’ terms and conditions. …... The Government continues to pursue a strategy for enhancing worker protections and ensuring fair and reasonable treatment in PFI projects, based on: being open with staff; protecting terms and conditions for both transferees and new joiners; protecting staff pensions; and retaining flexibility in public service delivery, including through PFI.”

    And in 2011 I missed a crucial giveaway article by Cameron (must read the Telegraph &/or Independent more often) - here are some extracts:
    "A new presumption that private companies, voluntary groups and charities should be allowed to bid to provide services would allow the Government to transform public services without having to legislate repeatedly to allow different providers to get involved… Outside providers would be offered payment-by-results contracts, increasing their earnings as the quality of services improves… David Cameron wrote: "Of course, there are some areas - like national security services or the judiciary - where this wouldn't make sense. But everywhere else should be open to real diversity."

    Mr Cameron said that the changes would release the public sector from "the grip of state control", ending the era of "old-fashioned, top-down, take-what you're-given" services… Professionals will see their discretion restored…"

    And then I found Salvation - Snake Oil Dave's Blue Magic Restorer... "This product restores clarity and eliminates haze, improves visibility, removes and prevents yellowing, stops the top half becoming opaque" (with apologies to the real Blue Magic Headlight Lens Restorer).

    1. That is a very interesting quote from Cameron, though some might argue (not me) probation is not the same as 'the judiciary'

      I think carrying out judicial orders that compel subjects to be supervised by the state is very much part of the judicial process.

  7. Apologies if this has already been highlighted. G4S website is currently advertising for 'Head of Operations - Rehabilitation' . . .salary 85K . . .Job Role . . .To identify, develop and advise on the development of Rehabilitation solutions and Probation reform . . closing date 1.11.13 !