Monday, 16 December 2013

Omnishambles Update 31

Following a bit of a break, the Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust Joe Kuipers has provided us with another fascinating insight into the TR omnishambles and from someone charged with it's enforced introduction. As I read somewhere on twitter, it clearly shows how at least one Trust is not prepared to go down without a decent fight and one wonders just how effective it would have been had more Trusts had similar bottle.

As always the blog post contains much fascinating colour and detail and should be read in its entirety, but I'd like to select a few gems which should serve as tasters for the main course. Before taking us through events during last week, he sets the scene:-

It has been a while since I blogged, not least because there is little new that I can add to previously articulated comments, views, concerns and mainly questions. Those pesky questions still won't go away and the concerns remain, concerns about the effectiveness and costs of future delivery to our communities and the basis on which they are to be delivered. I am not opposed to the private sector, but the issue is about the right sector doing the right things - questions mount about the appropriateness of public service for profit. As Robert Peston rightly pointed out when talking about financial services mis-selling, if you expect bankers to operate first and foremost commercially then you get exactly what happens - cheating in the pursuance of profit and very little recourse for the 'customer' plus a likely bullying culture within which staff are expected to operate and keep stum. This concern is exacerbated by what I understand happened when Parliament discussed the application of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector businesses delivering public services. In the light of recent scandals forgive me for thinking that this would be universally accepted and agreed as 'a good thing', but apparently not.

Monday was spent at a conference:-

The conference was ostensibly about operating in the future landscape, and was opened by my friend and previous close colleague, Frances Flaxington (we worked together in HMI Probation, where we were jointly acting Deputy Chief Inspectors). She introduced Lord Ramsbotham as the keynote speaker. In a nutshell he was not reassuring about the future and expressed deep concerns about TR that can be summed up as follows: no facts to substantiate the changes (unevidenced); no testing of the proposed arrangements; a timescale driven not by achieving safe success but entirely by the next election; and, too little proper scrutiny of the arrangements with regard to the probation changes. So, not an uplifting endorsement. 

The overall tone of the conference was polite, but unable to get to grips with what it actually will mean to work in the new landscape. Why? Because nobody really knew what the new landscape will really look like. In particular VCS colleagues were troubled by lack of detail and the implications of being in supply chains within which subcontracting monies would be scarce, if the primes are to make a profit. A local authority colleague, in one of the workshops I attended, advised participants that following the introduction of the work programme in her area all but 2 (out of over 30) relevant small organisations went to the wall.

Tuesday was a meeting with sentencers and the MoJ:-

Suffice to say I prepared a detailed set of risks (as advised by our ASPT team) and the Magistrates' Association prepared their list.  Suffice to say again, Ian Poree and Colin Allars were very reassuring to the meeting, but I did get a sense that some members retained an underlying unease about the future. I pointed out that sentencers needed to consider not just the immediate transition risks but to think about the services they might get, or not, in the longer term. Fair dos to Ian who acknowledged, in response to my questions, that I was raising important issues which were being worked on or which needed to be addressed. Just how many weeks are left?

Thursday was an ASPT Board meeting:-

Board meeting half day. Although our Board generally meets every 3 months or so, to exercise reasonable scrutiny and governance of the TR arrangements we meet more frequently. I pay credit to my Board colleagues, none of whom are fearful of speaking their minds, who are in a limbo themselves as to their futures. We sense that Boards may continue for a while after the termination of the contract at the end of March, a decision that currently sits with the SoS. Is this a reasonable way to treat honourable public appointees who are assiduous in fulfilling their responsibilities? My Board colleagues would like to know sooner rather than later what the future holds for them.

The Board meeting was updated on TR in general, our local risk register, and then we spent the majority of the time considering the wish of the local TUs to register a trade dispute in the context of previous correspondence from Michael Spurr and our own legal advice.

Below I describe the ASPT Board's position, which will be set out in a letter to NOMS / MoJ to go to Michael Spurr (and others):
The Board was clear in asking a fundamental question, namely, ‘Was it safe to reject the registration of a trade dispute against our Trust Board?’ Our legal advice was equally clear in saying that it would not be safe to do so. In the words of our legal advisor, “In view of the contents of the Recognition Agreement, if the ASPT Board rejects the request to register a dispute then it would not appear to be complying with the terms of the Recognition Agreement.“ The terms of reference (“TOR”) in the Recognition Agreement set out the issues that require negotiation. We are concerned specifically that two of the points made by the unions could give them the right to register a dispute pursuant to the Recognition Agreement.

Under these difficult circumstances the Board resolved neither to accept nor reject the registration of a trade dispute, but to seek further clarification and guidance from NOMS/ MoJ and our own legal advisors. 

In a week when many colleagues have been receiving those dreaded letters, I'm grateful to a reader for sending me the text of their reply:-

This letter constitutes my reasons for the attached expression of interest, as there was insufficient room on the form itself.

I regret that this is not a positive choice. I am strongly opposed to the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation plan, as I believe it will increase the risk to the public, threaten the confidence of sentencers in the ability of both the NPS and CRCs to carry out the will of the courts, and cause irreparable damage the national and international reputation of the probation profession in England and Wales.

Nevertheless I find myself in a position where to fail to exercise the limited control that I have been afforded in this process would be foolhardy, and so I am returning the form with a preference expressed. That said, I am taking separate action under the Trust’s Grievance Policy.

I have strong reservations about working in a CRC, where I could potentially be employed by a private company whose first duty is to its shareholders. Any pound taken in profit by such a company is a pound that could have been spent protecting the public, and there are self-evident concerns about the track records of some of the potential bidders in ‘gaming’ the system. Given that the CRC will be faced with making significant budget reductions, it is very likely that this will be achieved through eroding staff salaries, terms and conditions. This is likely to damage staff morale even further – and I have little doubt that this will reduce the effectiveness of our work.
However, my objections to working in the NPS outweigh this. From the available information I would be concerned that this would be a combination of:  constant work with high risk cases, with a strong likelihood of ‘burning out’ due to stress; a continuing stream of PSRs and risk assessments on people I would only ever meet once, if at all; or enforcing licences and court orders where I had no active input into the case whatsoever. This, in my view, does not represent what probation work is, nor should it ever be.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. In closing, I would like to express sympathy for HR staff who are required to implement this flawed allocation process even whilst they face an uncertain future themselves.

Finally, I notice that Pat Waterman, Chair of Greater London Napo Branch, has been moved to write the following in relation to yesterday's leaked MoJ risk assessment:- 

NAPO has been asking to see Chris Grayling's risk register for ages so I was glad to read in The Observer this morning that they have seen it. The MOJ's own internal assessment spells out "how the government's plan to allow the private sector and voluntary groups to run its offender management programme is in danger of going off the rails."

A probation expert, Harry Fletcher, is quoted as saying that the government's plans will compromise public protection.

NAPO has been saying this since these plans were first mooted.

But still the madness continues.

This weekend some members of staff of London Probation Trust received letters advising them of their assignment to either the National Probation Service (NPS) or the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Others received letters asking them to express a preference for which organisation they wanted to work for in just over three months time. 

Given the lack of information about these organisations and what the future might hold how are any of my members supposed to make a decision?

To paraphrase Professor Harold Laski, my members are being asked to exercise their judgement in a miasma of distortion. As he also said, trying to do so is to ultimately go astray.

I do hope that all members of NAPO will refuse to engage with this nonsense and will ,at the very least, register their concerns with their employers by lodging a grievance. Anybody who chooses to express a preference or accept an assignment without comment is, I am afraid to say, colluding in their own oppression.

The Board and Senior Management of London Probation Trust are waving goodbye to all their staff. I hope that they don't add insult to injury by wishing them all a Happy New Year.


  1. Ian Poree mentioned above is Graylings hatchet man driving through the changes and is responsible for the NCC talks breaking down in the view of many. He is active in the 'Luton Christian Fellowship'. Here is his resume on their web site. Apparently he is responsible for supervising all UK offenders. I wonder if he has a place in heaven now after all the lies spewing forth from the MOJ spin machine! Or perhaps the TR plan is to get us all sacked because Ian is a one man super PO with the ear of God who can do it all himself.

    Ian is our resident rural (South) African and he is a passionate and unashamed follower of Jesus Christ. After Jesus, his most important priority is his family. He has been married to .. for over 20 years and is proud to be dad to ... and ..... Ian is passionate about Justice and his day job is as a director in the Ministry of Justice in Her Majesty's government and he is responsible for the rehabilitation of offenders across England & Wales.

    Ian describes it as a privilege to serve the young people at LCF and walk with them as they get to know Jesus and to serve others.

    1. I have to admit to struggling with the evangelical christian approach to life. I don't hold the same belief but neither do I define myself by my commitment to any deity, son of a deity - or otherwise. I understand many foreign nationals with similar commitment to their (non-christian) belief in the UK are regarded as zealots, fanatics, cults, extremists or even terrorist suspects who may be detained under house arrest for prolonged periods (coincidentally providing a healthy income for privateer tagging companies).

      More importantly, the source of the notion that probation work is a "day job" is finally revealed. Methinks Poree wrote Grayling's letter for him; a bit like I wrote my grandson's letter to Santa, the god of consumerism?

    2. So he lives in Luton, does he........????

  2. I agree with Jim Brown's previous assessment that we need to look at Plan B. Jeremy Wright has been persuading the Lib Dems that they may as well vote for the bill so that the under 12 months problem can be addressed and he can privatise Probation anyway under the 2008 legislation. We need a costed alternative to present to the Lib Dems and call for a pilot and for Probation to be given the opportunity to supervise them. In Gloucestershire we have a costed resettlement project already under way with voluntary offenders for the under 12 months and it's costed at £75,000 a year and funded by the PCC. The project will engage with the offenders prior to release, through engagement within the prison, with the purpose of connecting the offender to the relevant support services in order to enable them to engage with those services at the point of release in an effort to work towards reducing the chances of re-offending.
    The project will provide a service specific to those offenders who fall within this cohort and the Staff will work with those offenders to address their offending behaviour, they will link into a number of other provisions for the purpose of addressing areas such as Drug and Alcohol, Education/Training/Employment and Accommodation. The services to be linked into will include Turning Point, Independence Trust, Community Based Housing Support, Homeless Provision (P3), Nelson Trust etc.
    Each offender will be assessed as to their needs by the project staff and then linked into the appropriate services. Once the assessment is complete the project staff will identify a volunteer/mentor who will work with the offender on release to support them to engage with the identified services. It involves one band 4 for 30 hours, one band 3 full time and an admin officer one day a week and it is envisaged that there will be around 240 offenders a year.

    I know Napo are commissioning a costed study so I have sent this in to them. We need to work out an alternative to keep the under 12 months in Probation - I know Wiltshire have also a project working out of HMP Bristol, has any other area a similar one?

  3. HMP Leeds has had a similar programme.

    1. Do we know how much the Leeds programme costs and who funds it? I bet we have these projects all over the country and nobody has joined them together to say, 'look, we're doing this already on much less than Custody Plus or selling off the Probation Service".

    2. Called Positive Future but no costs- partnership with Trust and other non stat agencies.

  4. The 12mth and under group Grayling keeps shouting are the problem group that makes TR necessary. But its not the reason really is it? Its just ideology and farming out responsibillity to the cheapest shyster in town. A smaller state and someone to blame when it goes wrong.
    But my personal belief is that Grayling doesn't really understand how much of a problem the 12mth and under group are going to become for him.
    They are in my experience the most prolific offenders with deep rooted causes to their offending paterns. Most, regardless of state or private intervention will continue to offend. Drug or alcohol dependency, mental health problems, entrenched social behaviours, poor employment prospects, or even the loss of fear of custody are all just some of the factors that will keep this group highly criminally active and as a consequence will retain pretty constant reconviction rates.
    I'm not trying to say that this group are beyond help, I'm just trying to be realistic.
    So the private sector take responsibillity for this very difficult group on a payment by result method, and if they don't reduce the reoffending rates, they don't get paid.
    I for one don't fancy their chances of success much at all. And over a period of a ten year contract reducing those reoffending rates year upon year is going to become ever more difficult and problematic. But not enough reduction, not enough pay.
    Graylings concern for the 12mth and under group and his idea of handing them over to private industry as a solution is only going to bite him where it hurts. Not only with a statistical measurement of (non) crime reduction, but constant conflict and desent from private organisations who wont get paid because they are unable to fix the problem.
    Grayling may by this time next year wish he'd left this group alone.

    This group does need help, and as much as can be extended to them. But...... Would you take a job if your annual salary was calculated on the number of 12mth and under offenders you managed to stop reoffending over a 12mth period of supervision? I wouldn't.


  6. COMMUNITY groups with ideas on how to tackle crime in Sedgemoor are being invited to apply for funding for projects.

    The Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner will issue a sum of money in 2014 to the Safer Somerset Partnership to support local projects.

    The Safer Somerset Partnership is a group of organisations that work together to help reduce crime. It is made up of local councils including Sedgemoor, emergency services and health and probation organisations.

    Projects could be about improving road safety, preventing burglary, tacking abuse, reducing re-offending and more.

  7. Prisons: Efforts to cut reoffending 'not working'
    I know ! Why don't we appoint prison managers to manage the probation service bring it all down to a level playing field. Dullards.