Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Distorted Thinking

No prizes for guessing that the blog returns to one of our favourite topics, that of G4S and the astounding news that leaked yesterday that they had offered to repay the government £24.1million in respect of the electronic tagging contracts. Playing hard ball, the government have refused to accept the offer. 

First off, I love the amount. A round figure, say £25 or £24 million would imply you'd just plucked it from thin air, but £24.1million cunningly gives the desired impression that you've really studied the books and totted-up the amount of over-payment. Clever that.

Secondly, lets recall what the reaction of G4S was when Chris Grayling first stood up in Parliament and made those staggering accusations that the dead had supposedly been tagged, along with guys long-returned to prison. G4S responded angrily that they had fulfilled the terms of the contract and I speculated at the time that this robust response was probably based upon their full knowledge of how piss-poor the drafting of the contract was. 

Anyone working in the criminal justice system will be aware of the legendary inadequacies of the computer systems and their inability to communicate with each other. The guys who drafted the contract down at MoJ HQ wrongly assumed that it all worked perfectly and with complete confidence told G4S they would be told who to tag and between what dates. They are a business that makes profits, not a public service, and so any lapses in the information flow were clearly viewed as opportunities to make money - a bit of seriously distorted thinking there guys that would get you on an ETS course, or similar!  

This contribution from yesterday nicely sums things up:-

What really gets me about the reporting on the G4S billing-for-tagging saga is that phrase "wrongly considered itself to be contractually entitled to bill for monitoring services when equipment had not been fitted or after it had been removed". Until the hoo-hah was raised there was no consideration by G4S about whether there was an ethical dimension to that billing, almost a sense of 'the MoJ were stupid enough not to tie the contract wording down so they shouldn't complain if we exploit it'. 

As others have pointed out, if the MoJ can't get it right on something which should have been easy to quantify, what confidence can we have in their ability to negotiate a water-tight contract about outcomes which are so much harder to quantify? On past evidence we certainly cannot rely on a profit-driven entity not to exploit poorly written contracts.

This really gets to the nub of the problem about trying to privatise complex services such as probation. How on earth can it be measured and accounted for in any meaningful way? Can you really legislate or write into a contract a duty of 'candour'  Common sense says not. This article in the New Statesman argues that we've simply got to find a new model if we remain determined to carry on 'reforming' public services.

With G4S, Serco and others due to get a sound thrashing today in Parliament as the whole subject of 'outsourcing' gets examined, and with government now utterly dependent on these companies, Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office is beginning to realise that things are getting a little out of hand, as reported here in the Independent:-

Allegations of fraud against G4S and Serco will not stop the Government from outsourcing lucrative new public sector work to the companies, the minister in charge of contracts says today.
The Cabinet Office is currently reviewing 28 contracts held by G4S and Serco worth around £9bn. The review follows allegations they systematically overcharged the Ministry of Justice millions of pounds for electronic tagging contracts over many years.
But in an article for The Independent, Francis Maude, the minister in charge of the review, indicates that he does not want it to result in either company being prevented from bidding or winning more work.
Instead he says he expects the firms to emerge “renewed and stronger” from the process and confirms that the Government is preparing to outsource more public-sector work before the next election. “People ask if our reviews of contracts are Government ‘getting tough’ on suppliers who had it too easy for too long,” he says.
“It’s not that simple. Question marks about their performance are not good for any of us. Our reviews into G4S and Serco’s contracts are rigorous and extensive. But when they report we will move on quickly.”
Mr Maude’s comments suggest that ministers are trying to draw a line under the damaging row with the companies over tagging contracts.

Privately, senior Government sources admit there is a “danger of attacking these companies too much” and that there are fears in Whitehall that the row could discourage both Serco and G4S from bidding for future work – making future outsourcing less competitive.
Mr Maude makes clear in his article that the Coalition will “not step back” from the “outsourcing marketplace” claiming it will provide “savings for taxpayers” and “drive up productivity”. Today, executives from both Serco and G4S will face a grilling by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.
They are expected to be asked about a National Audit Office report, released today, that found both contractors continued charging the Ministry of Justice for months or years after electronic monitoring activity had stopped.

With privatisation of a public service such as probation, measurement and targets become an essential part of the payment and accountancy system. Yesterday we had two reminders of where targets get us - the Staffordshire hospital scandal and police fiddling the figures in order to 'reduce' crime. When are we going to learn? When are we going to stop this TR nightmare omnishambles? When are we going to stop punishing a well performing public service like probation?  


  1. Off topic slightly, but thought you might enjoy a quick read of government success in other department, given how important it is to collect correct data as you're only paying for results.

  2. They said it would be a game-changer. And in many ways the government has been proved right about Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Jobmatch scheme, his vehicle for turning skivers into strivers. With all those bogus vacancies and technical eccentricities, no one has seen anything quite like it. Predictably, the awards follow, and thus the initiative this week picked up a little something from the National Online Recruitment awards, the biggest in the recruitment industry. "The wooden Nora for the worst job board, and biggest disappointment goes to Universal Jobmatch from the Dept for Work & Pensions," the announcement says. A "mongrel of a recruitment website" that "commits almost every online recruitment crime, and then some," the citation said. Recognition from those who know and a prize: a carved block of cedar wood. IDS will be so pleased. A shame he couldn't have been there in person.

  3. Also, reading the text from the justice select committee recently that chipper chap Max Chambers stated the there are no safeguards in place to prevent fraud with TR. No, but everyone hopes it wont happen again. Oh.... Ok then.

    1. A courtroom scene:
      Judge: "So you admit to robbing your victim, who you conned into signing an agreement to give away all his money without anyone suggesting he should perhaps read it?"
      Defendant: "Well, yes, but no criminality was involved"
      Judge: "Oh that's OK then. Well, I'd love to bail you, which has nothing to do with me having shares in the firm that makes tags, but there's a problem. You see, you admit taking the money but deny wrongdoing.... hmmm.... will you do it again?"
      Defendant: "No, scouts honour"
      Judge: "Were you in the scouts?"
      Defendant: "No, does that matter? I just thought it's what you should say".
      Judge: "Promise you won't do it again? And you will join the scouts retrospectively so I can act as though you were teling the truth?"
      Defendant: "Oh yes, Scouts hon..."
      Judge (interrupting in relief): "OK then. Bail granted. Let me come down to the well of the Court and shake your hand for being such a dependable chap".
      Defendant leaves. Cut to scene in Judge's chambers:
      Judge: "Hang on, I had a Rolex on my wrist where can that have got to...?"

  4. Here is a link to the transcript

    Sorry if you have it already. Its very 'interesting'.

  5. From yesterday's Napo info:

    Satff advised to say: “We decline to engage in this process until the NNC negotiations are concluded on Wednesday 20th November 2013 and the outcome is known.”
    Staff also advised to "Please make it clear that you are refusing to engage on the basis of national advice and await further guidance which will be issued on Wednesday."

    It's Wednesday.... radio silence still prevailing?

    1. This silence is quite unnerving. Is there ANYBODY out there who knows what is going on? Even a tweet to say that 'discussions are ongoing' or 'news release shortly' would be helpful...If we're pulling an all nighter with the MoJ in an attempt to reach a resolution at least let us know ffs......... my fingernails cant take much more chewing......

    2. I'm afraid so - all channels being monitored for the slightest signs of life......

    3. Ian Lawrence on Twitter about 7:40:

      TR & NNC interference by MoJ = biggest shambles ever. Unions register Failure to Agree. Trusts should back off from imposing. News to follow


    The public accounts committee today asking questions regarding the undervalued sale of the royal mail asked those in the hot seat
    "Were your customers happy with the £3.30 per share you advised shares should be sold at?".
    "yes" was the reply.
    "This committee would very much like to see the documents relating to that agreement, will you provide them?".
    "There subject to confidentiality", was the reply.
    "Who was the cutomer?".
    "The government sir", was the reply.

  7. "G4S Chief Executive Ashley Almanza, who has shaken-up the firm's management since taking over in June, told the committee it was investing in improving controls with the business.
    "Historically we have not had all the controls that we've needed in place, there are too many examples... where we haven't controlled the situation adequately." he said."

    Did he go on to agree that a new co-ordinator could be appointed to the G4S 'arse-elbow department'?

  8. TR & NNC interference by MoJ Says #Napo General Secretary

    Andrew Hatton

  9. Slightly off message but my perception of mutuals as being a bit dull and worthy has been radically challenged by Paul (the Crystal Methodist) Flowers' antics. Sorted!

    1. Was an 'n' missed?


      Joking aside, it annoys me no end when folk make jokes about drug taking - like I have done and Cameron did in PM questions today.

      I have seen so many folk without the influence of a banker or politician or entertainer who get caught up as the go to guys, fetching and carrying and taking the risks.

      I still remember one bloke who seemed to have been a runner for one big recording artist (who even at one time played with an SPO I knew) He was doing two years for running a drugs event for others whilst some of those others were just rejuvenating a 20 year old touring career.

      Of course, I am not naive enough to be completely taken in by such stuff, but I was about 95% convinced of that bloke's genuineness.

      I'll leave it to Jim Brown, whether my 'joke' is inappropriate, on balance I've decided to leave my opening SNORT!

      Andrew Hatton

    2. and i thought tim vine was the king of the 'one-liners'

  10. So, of the 17 PO/PSO staff in our team there are 7 off in various stages of collapse & exhaustion; that's not quite 300 cases to be fitted in on top of existing workloads. Our fallen colleagues are reassured wherever possible that they are not dumping on anyone by taking sick leave & that they need to be out of the office until they are deemed strong enough to return. Some of the strongest hearts and minds are being damaged by Grayling's pet project. Its sad. And unnecessary.

    Most of those fallen colleagues have been open about being significantly affected by the uncertain future; the indecent haste of, paucity of information about, TR (and that includes NAPO); the unhelpful rumours being shared; the obvious lack of any understanding of what we do by the political clowns who created this unmitigated disaster; the promises of a cuck:oo-land mu:tual; the unrelenting travails of nDelusion, OMYgod-R and escalating caseloads.

    Its never been like this in the 20 or so years I've been employed by my local service. Please note the deliberate use of the term 'local service'.

    'Area' was cold & clinical; 'Trust' was a cruel irony. Nothing comes close to a LOCAL SERVICE.

  11. Jim wrote yesterday about the "Lull before the Storm". I was hoping that he was going to be wrong, but given that the unions have failed to agree and todays meeting was the biggest shambles ever. It looks like the storm is now well and truly upon us! Anyway, I'm off to bed with a worried mind and a heavy heart. Thanks for your latest omnishambles issue.

  12. How Cameron can attack Labor over Paul Flowers and the Co- Op bank at PMQ's today whilst the fraudsters thats swindled who knows how many millions under his watch sit before the public accounts committee is beyond me. Especially as he's fully intent on handing them millions more regardless, and even in the face of possible criminal charges! But we the public are seen as to stupid or disinterested to realise or understand whats going on.
    Oh! According to G4S the Olympics was a success!

    1. Britain's four biggest outsourcing companies have agreed to respond to demands for greater transparency by allowing the government's auditors access to their books and giving greater leeway to freedom of information requests.

      Executives from G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita, whose firms operate £4bn worth of government contracts, agreed that they should come under further scrutiny from auditors and members of the public.

      The concessions, at a session before the public accounts committee, follow months of discussions between committee members and the government over how to increase scrutiny of outsourcing companies to ensure proper spending of the public pound.

      At the meeting, the G4S chief executive, Ashley Almanza, also admitted the company had failed to "tell the difference between right and wrong" when dealing with its electronic monitoring contracts. The Serco chairman, Alistair Lyons, said it was "ethically wrong" that his company had also overcharged the Ministry of Justice.

  13. Whilst we're all going off on tangents...check this out. Today there was nearly a revolt as you may know, over the 'reorganisation' of the army. Is anyone else surprised that prior to this plan to recruit tens of thousands of people the recruitment apparatus were 'outsourced' to Crapita. Since then its all gone the way of the pear. Yet another example of the systematic dismantling of state apparatus by this clique of extreme Rand inspired zealots. See the link below

    Of course if they will do this to the army they will do it to anyone. Even some of their own party were stunned by the plans to fire thousands of soldiers who have recently risked their lives for the same government who now seek to sell them down the river. 'Shame' is the word that should ring through the House of Commons and on Downing Street.

    1. The Government’s 10-year, £440 million deal to privatise recruitment was supposed to save £300 million, but has resulted in a sharp drop in the number of recruits going through the system.
      Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph show that the number of people attending Army interviews and selection tests to be regular soldiers has fallen by 35 per cent since Capita, the services company, took charge of hiring.
      The situation is more severe for would-be officers, with the numbers down by almost half.
      Defence cuts have added to the problem by giving the impression that the Army is no longer looking to sign people up, senior officers complain.
      The Ministry of Defence’s latest manning figures show the Army is already 3,660 soldiers short.

    2. Good I'm glad less people are signing up. Armies and wars solve nothing. Maybe people are seeing sense and not risking their lives for politicians' childish disputes.

    3. Well i did 6 years in the army and managed not to become a swivel eyed baby killer. Your comment is myopic and silly. For many the forces are a route to technical training and out of post industrial towns with few prospects. Still i am glad you found a reason to congratulate capita.

  14. So G4S as an organisation can't tell right from wrong... fantastic example that will be when it comes to supervising clients where one of the main objectives is to, err, encourage people to differentiate between right and wrong!

  15. I am overwhelmed by all of this, I am a local union officer and give many hours of my own time ( facility time covers attending formal meetings only, there are so many at this time). I also have a full workload for the day job. I am not sleeping well worried about how to get through this, still do my job, represent members and fight this TR crap. Don't criticise NAPO for standing up for us all, a stand has to be taken, is anyone really suggesting that the unions AGREE to a complete erosion of our rights ?

    1. Just want some information about whats happening, keept in the loop so to speak. Good news or bad.

  16. Ideology is whats important.

  17. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, was accused by the former justice minister Crispin Blunt of "setting up a crisis" over human rights in Europe when the two clashed in a Westminster committee over prisoners being allowed to vote.

    The public clash between two prominent Conservatives over enforcing the controversial ruling by Strasbourg judges that prisoners should be allowed to vote highlights mounting political tension within the party over the UK's fraught relationship with Europe.

    In response to the European court of human rights (ECHR) decision, first announced in 2005, that a blanket ban on prisoners being allowed to participate in elections was illegal, the government has published a multiple-choice bill with three options – one of which proposes retaining the ban and defying Strasbourg.

    Earlier this month, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR, warned that if the UK, a founder member of the human rights system, refused to enforce the judgment it would weaken and deprive it of any meaning.

    Appearing on Wednesday before a Westminster hearing of the joint committee of MPs and peers considering the draft prisoner voting bill, the justice secretary conceded that the rights of prisoners to vote was not a fundamental political question and that there were even reasonable arguments in its favour as a means of enhancing rehabilitation of offenders.

    But, he continued: "Sometimes issues of principle are not large in scale … I think this issue has been of totemic importance to this country in a debate about who governs Britain."