Monday, 11 November 2013

Storm Clouds Gathering

The big day has arrived with the second reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill in the House of Commons and key division taking place some time this afternoon, or early evening. We can only wait and see if the penny has finally dropped and more MP's wake up to just how daft and dangerous these plans really are.   

I see that Tolkny, aka Andrew, has been undertaking some sterling work in trying to kick the Napo forum pages back into life and has posted some useful information. It's early days, but there are signs of something happening with this very interesting 'Weather Report' from a new tailgunner:-

Reports of assignment letters raining down on desks during the coming week are thought to be wildly exaggerated. The National Negotiating Council (NNC) meets tomorrow, November 11th, to consider the draft National Agreement on Staff Transfers. If the employers and the unions finalise this agreement, it will be issued, probably on the 12th, under cover of a Joint Secretaries Circular. There will also need to be guidance about how this should be implemented. This guidance should first be consulted upon locally and so actual implementation is unlikley to begin immediately. If it does happen, the first stage would be what is called automatic assignment - where staff are assigned either to the NPS or a CRC because it is obvious from what they do as to where they should go. But even this is unlikley to start straight away. So this particular depression would likely be somewhat delayed in its arrival.

Option 2 is that the NNC cannot reach final agreement tomorrow due to a number of unresolved issues - mainly only soluble by the MoJ rather than the employers - such as guarantees of continuity of service, what to do with secondees and what to do with corporate support staff. Also the length of time that the proposed enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme remains available. A reasonable approach here would be to adjorn for further negotiations. This would mean the depression would be further delayed in its arrival. But will the Secretary of State (SoS) countenance this? Current indications are that he would not -though it is the most sensible course to adopt.

Option 3 is that the Secretary of State loses patience with the negotiations and decides to impose a split, instructing trusts to get on and do it. In this instance the storm might break pretty immediately and chaos would ensue. Why? Because it is firmly believed that all the SoS has to impose is either an earlier staff transfer model which all parties said wouldn't work - apart from a firm of consultants called PA Consulting (nothing to do with the Probation Association) who were doubtless paid thousands of pounds to work up this unworkable model. Or he might try to use the current model being negotiated within the NNC - which is as yet incomplete. The havoc caused by such imposition would take a long time to clear up and so again, the prospect of everything being in place by April would look somewhat shaky. It is also uncertain how stakeholders would react to such imposition. Some trusts might refuse to co-operate on the basis that the SoS doesn't have the authority to impose and/or because it's a half-baked plan. Other trusts, perhaps where chiefs already have posts in the new probation world, might go along with it, in which case local trade disputes might be registered. And UNISON might also go into dispute if this happened.

So each of the above options has it's risks for the SoS in terms of delaying implementation. Nobody really knows which way the wind will blow tomorrow and Tuesday.

Questions? Ask the tailgunner.
Watch this space.

Meanwhile, with perfect timing so as to piss off as many staff as possible, we find to no great great surprise that the utterly uninspiring new head of the National Probation Service, Colin Allars, thinks that 'the public sector should not have a monopoly on probation services.'  Here he is at his inspirational best talking to the Guardian about 'going forward' (arghhhh!):- 

Colin Allars, chosen to take up the role of director of the new National Probation Service, is tasked with paving the way for a series of controversial changes to UK prisons and probation services with the aim of reducing the country's stubbornly high reoffending rates.
Allars is the current director of probation within the National Offender Management Service. He will work alongside Sarah Payne, appointed director of the service in Wales, to get the new system ready to launch in April 2014.
Allars accepted the position after Mike Maiden, who was initially appointed in August, withdrew due to personal family reasons.
Allars will also oversee changes to the way prisons hold offenders, and the creation of a network of resettlement prisons which will be closer to offenders' communities. Under new plans, most people serving short sentences will spend their entire sentence in a resettlement prison, while many prisoners with longer sentences will be moved to a resettlement prison three months before their release date. "This will ease the transition from custody back into the community," added Allars.
However, critics have raised concerns about the locations of resettlement prisons, some of which are situated a long way from prisoners' homes.
The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, also outlined plans to outsource the majority of probation services to private companies and voluntary sector organisations at the beginning of this year. 21 community rehabilitation companies, run by private and voluntary organisations, will be set up across the country to manage medium and low risk offenders. Despite fierce criticism and strikes against privatisation organised throughout this year by the probation officers' union, Napo, Allars claims it is a positive move. "The new system allows us to introduce a range of new providers into the delivery of services, he said.
"I don't think the public sector needs be the monopoly service provider - there are others that can provide services very effectively and there's plenty of evidence of that from elsewhere. I think many probation leaders would accept that themselves. We've just got to work through a period of change. There are great opportunities here for staff and the delivery of services going forward and we collectively need to grasp those and make the most of them."
Allars accepts he has a lot of work to do convincing staff and the public to accept the changes.
"Creating any large operational service carries with it the challenge of bringing the staff on board, bringing the new arrangement into play and leading the delivery of that new organisation," he said. "Clearly there has been some anxiety caused by the changes, and I have a role to reassure staff and make sure that processes are in place to get to where we want to be.
"I seek to be inclusive, I'm always honest and straight with people, whether news is good or bad, and I seek to lead an organisation with integrity. I think that's really important in this particular field given the nature of the work that we as the National Probation Service will be doing."
Allars trained and qualified as a mechanical engineer and joined the prison service in 1984. He has experience of probation both as a former director of offender management in the South West and as an agency board member responsible for probation for the last two and a half years. He is currently the board director responsible for probation trusts and contracted services.
"I have always thoroughly enjoyed and been excited by working with offenders in various guises," says Allars. "I get tremendous personal satisfaction seeing the difference that we can make to offenders' lives and I admire enormously the work probation staff do - the professionalism probation officers bring to their work day in day out and the huge impact they have in their work.
"I think there's more that can be done and I'm really excited by the prospect of being able to lead some of that work going forwards."
I'm sure these words will only really serve to confirm to many colleagues the extent to which we really are up shit creek in a barbed wire canoe and desperately searching for a paddle. We must have been extraordinarily bad in a previous life to justify all this being done to us. Even the new HM Chief Inspector of Probation is not a probation officer, but a former prison governor straight out of running Nacro, and of course as keen as mustard on the whole bloody TR omnishambles. 

Finally, whilst tucked up in bed with my cocoa last night, I found myself listening to the venerable psephologist Professor Anthony King talking about his new book 'The Blunders of our Governments' on the BBC Radio 4 'Week in Politics.' It was a real trip down memory lane as all the really monster past cock-ups like the Poll Tax, Child Support Agency and Individual Learning Accounts were recalled. 

Interestingly, King was prepared to say that Universal Credit was looking increasingly like a new candidate for monster blunder status, but the other obvious one called TR didn't even get a mention, as per usual.   



  2. I have to say that my intention is to walk away if this omnishbles goes ahead. I will not work for either a CRC or the new NPS. I think they are a disaster waiting to happen and frankly I would rather be unemployed.

    1. I'm thinking along similar lines. I think the new NPS looks appalling - constant work with high risk leading to burn out, conveyor belt of PSRs and risk assessments on people you'll see once if you're lucky, and enforcement on cases you've never worked with.

      I've been a PO nearly 10 years, and for over half that time was in a PPU. I changed to do programmes, and so in the 'qualifying period' for the NPS I've had little MAPPA 2 experience. So I can see myself sifted into a CRC. In a way I think that might be a lucky escape. But as soon as it becomes financially viable I'll be jumping ship into something else.

    2. With 30% of whats there now spread accross England and Wales, carrying out ALL offender risk assessments (which will always be wrong when a private sector punter messes up),
      "I only work with him, and his risk must have been a lot higher then the NPS led me to believe", supervising the most high risk offenders etc etc......
      The NPS (or rather those who work within it), are going to become the real whipping boys in this tragic fiasco.


  4. I love being a probation officer and am really proud to tell people that's what I do. Now? I too just want to get out before, God forbid, the SFO's start reigning down.
    I am watching BBC Parliament and can not believe the drivel "centre piece rehabilitation" yup that's what David Burrowes just described PbR as......

  5. I know it really is unbelievable and once again chris grinch grayling ram away before the debate for properly going. Shame on him.

  6. Loving Mike Wood! Hoping Grayling is enjoying his banquet...

  7. Mike Wood and Kate Green excellent great points right on the nail !
    David Burrowes as above complete drivel
    Such a disappointment of so few MPs no chance of winning the vote.

  8. let the nightmare begin

  9. Well done Elfyn Llwyd

  10. I've been a PO for around 12 years, and I really have gave it 100% the majority of the time, always trying to do what is best, not just for my clients, but also for the wider community and victims. Like many others I neither wish to work for the NPS nor CRC's, both having major drawbacks and very little (if any) positives. Having just watched the debate, the defeat and understanding of what is most likely going to happen to our profession, of which many of us have gave so much, I've come to the conclusion that the best way to approach any future work I by simply following this mantra; fuck it, that will do.

    Who cares when no one cares?

    1. I am so saddened that probation will now be all about profit. It can't be happening, except it now really is. It's just time now. Big corporations have won the day and the public, of which we ourselves are members, have lost. As a mum, I am terrified of the future. As a PSO I now have to leave my job which I care deeply about or work for a CRC. Very sad day.

    2. Take the CRC job, everytime that Joe or Jane Bloggs has a change of circumstances, refer it to the NPS for 're-assessment'.

      Far better safe than sorry!

      You just know that Serco/g4s etc will have this as a standard procedure. And why not, they still get paid if their caseload ends up with the NPS.

      Win/win for them, the contrary our punters and the NPS.

  11. democracy is truly dead, long live the corporations

  12. I don't want to make anyone unwell but its important that we scrutinise a selection of phrases & claims from Grayling on 11 Nov 2013 before he slunk off to party at the Lord Mayor's Banquet:

    "The Bill will not make any changes to the probation service.

    ...the Bill will do nothing to reorganise or restructure our probation services. It is not about probation. The changes that we debated two weeks ago are not part of the Bill. They are about our decision to put into action the reforms set out by the Labour Government in their Offender Management Act 2007, which provides us with the legal basis for our probation reforms. This Bill is not about those reforms.

    The proposals contained in this Bill will be delivered within the existing budget for our probation services.

    Secondly, the precautionary provision would prevent any change whatever to the entire probation service from being made. The clause is completely flawed. It would prevent any kind of restructuring or reorganisation within an individual trust, let alone any other part of what is proposed. I am afraid that we will therefore seek to overturn that amendment in Committee because, as I say, it would make it impossible to run the probation service, even in its current form.

    I refer to what Labour said in 2010—that it could not do that. The hon. Lady and her colleagues said very clearly that they could not afford to proceed with custody plus—the scheme that they brought forward that would enable the probation service to provide supervision for these offenders. We have come up with a way of doing that.

    We are seeking to create a simpler system in which we give much more professional freedom to those on the front line.

    The probation trusts are currently hitting many targets, but there is one simple reality at the heart of all this: reoffending is currently increasing, and I do not think that that is good enough.

    We are focusing particularly on drug use, which is common among offenders who are serving custodial sentences.

    As the right hon. Gentleman will know, something like 3,000 serious, violent, sexual and similar crimes were committed by people who received sentences of less than 12 months and were released unsupervised last year.

    The right hon. Gentleman’s policy appears to be to ask the probation trusts whether they would consider supervising people sentenced to less than 12 months."

    I suspect there are lies and misdirections throughout.

  13. Some interest must remain in the words of Sir Alan Beith, Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed:
    "I heard a reference from the Labour Benches to G4S and Serco, and the contracts of both those companies, which were brought about under the previous Government, are now the subject of serious fraud inquiries. One implication of that is that a number of companies may effectively be excluded from the bidding process. We must await the outcome of the inquiries as we cannot reach conclusions at this stage, but even were the process still going on, it would exclude at least two major companies working in that field.
    There are complex legal reasons that I will not try and go into now, but I cannot imagine that this House would want a company that is currently the subject of a serious criminal investigation to be awarded a criminal justice contract.
    My point about the market was generally much wider because we must take proper account of whether the Department has the capacity to manage that market. Indeed, it has been said on at least one occasion that the Department wants to draw new entrants into the market and cultivate new capacity, but has it got the capacity to do that? We must consider that important question.
    On finance and timing, the Government have not made publicly available any assessment of the financial risk of not delivering the programme to the agreed time scale, quality or cost. The risk register apparently suggests there is a 51% to 80% risk that the reforms will fail to deliver the promised scale of savings.
    The Ministry of Justice has not provided an indication of how much it would additionally need to save to afford the cost of implementing the proposals, or said how quickly those savings would be realised. That puts my Committee in a difficult position when assessing the viability of the proposals.
    There are also difficulties of risk management. The public probation service will have to assure itself about the risk management of up to 200,000 offenders for whom it has no direct responsibility, and we will need to ask many questions about how information will be passed between the public probation service, the police, and private sector providers. At the moment, transfer of information is relatively easy, but under the proposed arrangements it will become more complex and difficult. I hope the Minister will say something about that. That also affects other areas. I had a discussion with a victim liaison officer who is concerned about how far information of the kind she is able to get now will flow when reassuring victims about restrictions being placed on an offender, and whether that information will come so readily through the system the Government propose.
    There are key confidence issues about how the proposals can be made to work. There is a confidence issue for the police on sharing intelligence. If police officers feel inhibited about sharing intelligence with the provider of these vital services, the effectiveness of the whole process will be impaired. There is a confidence issue for magistrates when considering how they can rely on a community sentence—a significant part of the Bill is on community sentences. We want magistrates to be able to pass community sentences confident in the knowledge that they will be carried out effectively. There is a confidence issue for those who deal with victims and, currently, for probation office staff, who are uncertain as to where they will end up. If they take no definite action to locate themselves in the new system, will they finish up in the public probation service or the private sector? Which way should they go if they want the opportunity to exercise their skills?”
    Sir Alan also offered a hearty “Hear, hear” to this commnt from an otherwise uninspiring Lorly Burt:
    “Let me say that now I would be dismayed if my Government contemplated considering a bid from any organisation that was under investigation for defrauding the taxpayer on other outsourced services.”

  14. Some gems:

    Lorely Burt - "It is above my pay grade to comment on the Minister’s thoughts about the complex circumstances with regard to a specific contractor... I am not aware of the exact way in which the unions are feeding into Government, but I know that the Government value the unions very much and will take into account their points and their wisdom.
    The probation officers who elect to stay will find that not all their work will involve high-risk prisoners. Forty per cent. of their work is based in the courts and in inspecting approved premises. In some models, the work of probation officers is divided, so some of them already do the vast majority of their work in supervising high-risk offenders. As long as they are not forced into such work, that seems fair enough."
    Gareth Johnson - "It is above my pay grade to give information on why a probation trust has been refused a contract... It is highly unlikely that the Ministry of Justice would give any kind of contract to an organisation that it did not regard as fit and proper to provide those services... The probation service is good at what it does, but it does not have a monopoly on wisdom in tackling reoffending. We have heard some rash statements today to the effect that the changes will jeopardise the safety of the public and put them at risk, but it is the current system that puts the public at risk, not our reforms."
    David Burrowes - "I declare an interest as a criminal defence solicitor. In some ways, I have a perverse interest in not voting for the Bill’s Second Reading tonight. In many ways, my trade has an interest in this reoffending cycle continuing, my filing cabinet being full, with lots of new clients coming through the system"
    Richard Drax - "So why do we not have a third force in this country? Why do we not put the Border Force and Customs and Excise all under one cap badge, run it on a militaristic basis and into that organisation put young men and women who, on a third warning in the magistrates court—call it what you will—rather than being sent to the young offenders institution in Portland, are given a chance? They can spend two years in the third force or go to jail. If they go to the third force and make a mistake, they end up in jail. Those who are coming to the end of a sentence of, say, six or seven years, are told in year five that they have a choice: two more years in jail or two more years with the third force."

  15. As for has a clue:

    Jeremy Wright - "A probation trust, as a wholly public body, cannot compete under a payment-by-results system, because that would put public money at risk...

    When those people are released, they will be subject to a risk assessment by the national probation service, and the NPS will make a judgment as to whether they are high, medium or low-risk offenders—and they will be allocated accordingly...

    (answering a question from Kate Green about risk and resources): “On the first of the two points that she raised, in relation to what happens to the income for the provider if someone moves out of the medium and low-risk category and into the high-risk category, the answer is that that individual will stay within the cohort for payment-by-results purposes, so there is no financial incentive—that is the purpose of this—for the provider to move someone on to the public sector. On the second issue that she raised—how the public sector attracts the money to do the extra work with the extra people—the money should follow the individual."

    Kate Green - Concerns have been expressed about the way in which prisoner risk categorisation will be undertaken. We have quite a long established system—OASys—for determining levels of risk. It is being suggested that one of the things that the Ministry of Justice may wish to do is to revisit that risk assessment system to try to change the profile of the offender base so that more offenders can be deemed to be low or medium risk and supervised in the private or non-profit sector rather than, as would be suggested on current risk assessment tools, within the public probation service."

    Jenny Chapman - My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this issue. As I understand it, a new risk assessment tool will be introduced at the same time as these reforms take place. Is she concerned, as I am, that this would be the worst possible time to introduce that change?"

    So, still no clarity on risk issues; and now a new risk assessment system? It only took 6 years for oasys to be fully implemented. And at what cost? We haven't had time to recover from the financial, emotional & practical crises generated by the C-Nomis, crams, delius, & oasys debacles.

    1. Thanks for your work in picking out these key bits of the debate - much appreciated!

  16. Perhaps the Justice Committee - apparently expected to scrutinise this Bill in less than 2 weeks - might ultimately find an undeniable flaw, buy some time and allow sanity back into the room? I hope Sir Alan is a strong Chair as some of the Con members' views expressed on 11 Nov were less than balanced - Brine & Johnson were particularly partisan.

    Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith (Chair) Liberal Democrat
    Steve Brine Conservative
    Jeremy Corbyn Labour
    Rehman Chishti Conservative
    Mr Christopher Chope Conservative
    Nick de Bois Conservative
    Gareth Johnson Conservative
    Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd Plaid Cymru
    Seema Malhotra Labour
    Andy McDonald Labour
    Yasmin Qureshi Labour
    Graham Stringer Labour

    I'll be discussing my career with our ETE advisor tomorrow & signing up for a plumbing course. Or bricklaying. Or shelf-stacking. Or forklift truck operating. Or dumper truck driving.

    1. Risk assessment - now a paper exercise only. No opportunity to review an nearly assessment following meeting with an actual individual - body language, attitudes, info disclosed etc. I can understand CG and his mates not getting it. But being let down by those who DO know better by being led willingly into the dark by this 'government' - that I do not understand at all. After 15 years enough is enough. I will leave a job I have believed in rather than witness things descend into farce first hand.

  17. I watched and listened last night too - it beggars belief that all the hard work, all the insightful comments/speeches made from the opposition benches, were duly ignored, misconstrued and packaged up by the Government spokes people and that insipid Lorely Burt, for party political dogma and childish point scoring. It is truly a sad time for the country being led by such a blinkered, and uninformed Government.

    I too feel like the contributor before me, but I am also keen to stick around to do what I can to limit the damage.