Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Some Observations 19

It seems incredible, but there hasn't been space for a general selection of bits and pieces since September. As I can't think of anything new to say about the TR omnishambles, here's a few other things that caught my eye.

First off, it's great to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury looks like he's pulled off quite a political coup in getting George Osborne to change his mind and join the clerics 'war on Wonga'. This piece from the Independent neatly sums up the political reality that 'having God on your side' still counts for something and that the Lib Dems are willing to flex their muscle on some matters as the 2015 election gets ever closer:-

George Osborne caved in to demands to impose a cap on payday lending costs to avert a parliamentary rebellion backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Independent has learnt.
Senior Conservatives were understood to have been fearful of losing a vote on a hostile amendment in the House of Lords on Tuesday which would have set a charge cap of 10 per cent on all short-term loans and placed other restrictions on their sale.
The amendment to the Banking Reform Bill was being backed by Archbishop Justin Welby, who was considering speaking out in its favour in the Lords debate. His support was expected to garner the backing of a significant number of cross-bench peers and inflict an embarrassing defeat of the Government.
“As you know, a large proportion of cross-benchers tend to be swayed by the idea of having God on their side,” said one Lords source in favour of the amendment.
“George Osborne’s change of heart had more to do with politics than conviction.”
Archbishop Welby has previously spoken out against payday lenders such as Wonga. Liberal Democrat ministers, who have been lobbying the Treasury for a cap on payday loans for more than a year, were furious that Mr Osborne sought to grab the political credit by announcing a move he had strongly opposed until the weekend.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, and Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat minister responsible for consumer affairs, have both argued for a cap in private but had been forced to toe the Treasury line that such a ceiling would not tackle the problem. 
A Liberal Democrat  source said: “The Liberal Democrats have been pushing for tougher action on payday lenders for over a year. At every step of the way this has been met with strong resistance from Conservatives in the Treasury.
“It seems the Tories read the runes on this one and realised that increasingly the evidence and political tide were against them. Their change of heart is welcome but none of this would have happened without the Liberal Democrats in government.” Liberal Democrats believe the Chancellor was swayed by the prospect of a government defeat in the Lords at the hands of a powerful coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat, cross-bench peers and bishops.

But as always in life, it seems to be one foot forward and two back as this piece in the Guardian from Saturday about Iain Duncan Smith's plans for the sick makes clear:-

The fate of nearly 550,000 benefit claimants currently deemed unfit for work due to serious illnesses such as cancer is in the balance as it emerged that Iain Duncan Smith is planning a radical change to the welfare system.
The work and pensions secretary is pushing to scrap a part of the benefits system that helps sufferers of recent illnesses get back into employment. These individuals are covered by the term "work-related activity group" (WRAG) and are regarded as being capable of work in the future. They are paid benefits if they carry out training or practice interviews.
However, the Observer understands that Duncan Smith wants to disband the group, currently made up of 546,770 people. Such a move would require an overhaul of the whole benefits system, say experts.
The cabinet minister is said to be concerned that only half of claimants in WRAG are coming off benefit within three years, and that hundreds of millions of pounds are being tied up in administration of the benefit, including the work capability assessments and appeals process.
Anne Begg MP, the Labour chairwoman of the cross-party work and pensions select committee, said her fear was that the vulnerable people in that group would be forced to join the dole queue and be at the mercy of the sanction system, under which claimants lose benefits if they do not attend enough interviews or make efforts to find a job.
This brilliant comment piece, also from the Guardian, draws uncomfortable parallels with the old and despised poor law:-
The singular achievement of the present government has been to appoint new "overseers of the poor", although it forbears from using this term, which dates from the 16th century, when it designated the administrators and distributors of poor relief. These new overseers are far from the flinty and ignorant officials of the Old Poor Law, as they are – and not for the first time – commercial entities. The poor have often been eyed covetously by enterprise, as they represent an apparently enduring group in society, out of whom it must surely be possible, in one way or another, to make a profit, the word David Cameron has cleansed of any association with dirt – perhaps prematurely, as G4S and Serco demonstrated, when they charged the government for tagging prisoners who did not exist. Atos, tasked with the judgment of whether individuals are fit for employment, finds itself the inheritor of an ancient debate about the "deserving" and "undeserving".

The fate of the most vulnerable people – in children's homes, prisons, care homes, rehabilitation centres, adult care homes and probation services – is increasingly in the hands of private providers, just as they were when known as orphans, felons, the lame and the halt, and the aged, who have "borne the heat and burthen of the day". This government's use of private companies – a policy re-affirmed last week by Francis Maude – in the improvement of pauper management has its antecedents in the 18th century, when the task was widely outsourced to willing providers. Far from being an "innovative" approach to poverty, the present government looks deep into a punitive past for inspiration.
I thought this blog post on the Custody Record was interesting and gives yet more evidence concerning the realities of so-called 'outsourcing', in this case in relation to the prisoner escort service:-
The contracts are squeezed to their limit to be as lean as possible and maximise profits to shareholders. As a consequence it regularly falls over. Why? You can’t manage an unpredictable service with a predictable and rigid contract that has no resilience built into it.
Early morning arrests on warrant that need national movements don’t get picked up. We are told they have no capacity and the arrested person stays in custody over 24hrs longer than they need to. Some national movements are so slow to happen that by the time they arrive at the destination the court has closed. Local police cells then have to lodge people overnight.
A fast case processed in custody in the morning and remanded by 10am falls to the contractor to collect. They advise they have no capacity and cannot move the person. Who moves the prisoner? We do.
The contract holder gets the overnight notification and hasn’t read it properly. One of the detainees is female. They have organised their fleet and sent a van based on men only. They cannot move males and females together and there is no capacity for another van. Who moves the prisoner? We do.
They are our partners. They share the risk. Well maybe on paper they do but when push come to shove the police pick up the pieces of their failings. Worse is that our one way partners seem to actually RELY on this. A ‘don’t worry the police will sort it out’ attitude pervades. Any commitment to fulfil contractual obligations is dismissed in favour of the problem being ours. Whilst partners help one another with the unexpected, this happens almost every single day. We are a bolt on to ensure their contract works. Partners?
The contract is inefficient and not fit for purpose yet the Government is committed to this partnership with private sectors and wants to save money.
Finally, it's been some time since I mentioned that good value blog by the champion of the voluntary sector, self-effacing Sir Stephen Bubb:-
And let me leave you with a charming photo of me, William Shawcross and my Chair Lesley-Anne. Caption competition anyone?

Go on - you know you want to.


  1. Best I don't.....

  2. Its good to see a bits and pieces post Jim. Whilst the main focus of the blog is probation issues, and TR information is of paramount importance at the moment, I think it very helpful to sometimes step back for a few minutes, and look past the 'nuts and bolts', and look at the whole ideological machine. After all we are just cogs in that machine, and sometimes viewing the whole can combat feelings of issolation, and even allow for creative stratagies to be developed for the campaign ahead.
    Sometimes (I do anyway), focus on my personal situation to such an extent that I perhaps miss important and useful developments in other areas.
    To that respect I think a bits and pieces post is rather quite timely.

  3. Just spotted a certain Mr CG leaving on a plane for Australia muttering "I am just a Politition....get me out of here!!