Saturday, 21 December 2013

Political Jenga

As often happens, I was struck by a comment left by someone this morning:-

Anyone wanting to play political jenga? The way to remove the last few planks currently holding up the TR agenda is possibly as follows (or so I hear):-

"Prime minister, now that the risk register has identified several potential high risk situations whereby members of the public would be put at risk if the changes to the probation service go ahead, will you give your unequivical support to the Justice Secretary's reforms?"

It got me thinking, especially in the light of the surprise appointment last week of Simon Hugues as a replacement minister at the MoJ for Lord McNally, who's been put out to grass at the Youth Justice Board. According to Gary Gibbon at Channel 4, this is all part of 'operation get up Tory noses' and Chris Grayling is not happy apparently:- 
It’s not the first time Simon Hughes has been offered a job in government. But this time he felt he couldn’t refuse.
Operation “get up the Tory noses” (my title not theirs) kicked off with Norman Baker’s appointment to serve under Theresa May. It gains pace with Simon Hughes joining Chris Grayling’s team at Justice.
Justice minister Chris Grayling is said to have been “taken aback” by the appointment, made possible because the veteran peer, Lord McNally, is to take over at the youth justice board.
Lib Dems want to differentiate themselves more from the Tories, focus on core passions like civil liberties and reassure their target voters that their heart still beats where it did. These two reshuffle appointments are all part of that.
The legal profession have already signalled that they're happy with this mini-reshuffle and are taking Grayling's discomfiture at the appointment of a former barrister as a positive sign. The Guardian reported encouragingly as follows:-
Hughes, a libertarian, will have to work with Chris Grayling, the Eurosceptic Conservative justice secretary. They are likely to clash over the Human Rights Act, legal aid, secret courts and prisoner voting rights.
Hughes is a former barrister, and has so far refused to take ministerial office, preferring to act as link-man between ministers and the party during the coalition. He also undertook a brief review for the coalition on how financial support for students could be improved in the light of the decision to increase tuition fees.
The switch of Lib Dem ministers at the MoJ may reflect grassroots pressure within the party over justice issues. Recent party conferences have condemned the coalition government for its policy on secret courts and cuts to legal aid. There has been an exodus of senior lawyers from the party in protest at the moves.
Hughes said: "It is a privilege and a huge responsibility to be appointed to this important job in government. Issues of justice and civil liberties have been my passions since I was a teenager. Justice and civil liberties are also core issues for every Liberal Democrat in the country.
"I hope that my experience, training and work on human rights from my time at university and in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, as a practising barrister for several years before I was elected to the Commons, will stand me in good stead for this job."
Nick Clegg had this to say:-
"I am delighted to welcome Simon to the Liberal Democrat government team. He has been a passionate voice for the party's principles and values throughout the Liberal Democrats' journey from party of opposition to party of government."
Maybe, like the lawyers, we should be taking comfort from these developments as well? After all, Harry Fletcher tells us via twitter that:- 
Seen 5 Liberals this week. Very encouraging.Today Simon Hughes made Justice Minister. Keep lobbying, it makes a difference.
Plans for probation now on agenda of weekly LIBDEM internal party meetings. Real concerns being expressed. Keep lobbying!
The latest edition of Napo news has a very clear and urgent message:-

Napo is urging ALL members whose MP is a Liberal Democrat to contact them urgently and before the start of the New Year if possible. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill ended its Committee Stage in the Commons on Tuesday 3 December. The latest intelligence is that Report and Third Reading, which are the last stages in the Commons, will occur in early January.

The priority now is to lobby ALL 57 Lib Dem MPs between now and the commencement of the tendering process in the spring of 2014. This campaigning action is crucial.
Write to our email your MP  with the following request for a meeting:-

I would be grateful if we could meet as a matter of urgency to discuss the Coalition’s plans for the future of the Probation Service. As you may be aware the government is planning to contract out up to two-thirds of the Probation Service’s work to the private sector. I and my trade union, Napo, have real concerns about the proposals, which we believe are being pushed through with unnecessary haste and in a way that could compromise public protection. We have many other concerns and I would be most grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to explain these. I look forward to hearing from you.
The issue of the Lib Dems cropped up in Napo's Christmas message only yesterday:-

Members have lobbied MPs with an energy and passion which has been constantly commented on in Parliament.  Every Liberal Democrat we spoke to had been lobbied in their constituencies and now TR is being discussed at their parliamentary meetings.  It’s working. Has it made a difference?  The short, but very big answer is YES.
The time has come when the political cycle just might be coinciding with widespread unease about the TR omnishambles and it might only take one more big push to get the Lib Dems to decide that distancing themselves from this slow train wreck might make electoral sense. And we know Nick Clegg cares passionately about the Probation Service, because he said so in print on the occasion of our centenary! 

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  1. I was with a group of Probation staff who lobbied Jeremy Wright outside his Saturday morning constituency meeting a couple of weeks ago; he was like a rabbit in the headlights when he finally got the courage to come out. Can't say too much on here but if we think laterally we could come up with a "cunning plan". One big push and "Failin Gralin" really will be eating rats anus in the jungle next December

  2. Love the Jenga analogy - wikipedia describes it as "During the game, players take turns to remove a block from a tower and balance it on top, creating a taller and increasingly unstable structure as the game progresses." We can perhaps refine the analogy into a new definition:

    TR, aka Grayling's Evolution - a pointless and costly process of undermining existing, sound foundations whilst attempting to create an unnecessarily larger and more unstable structure, regardless of the risks.

    Some guidance published by NOMS/MoJ (18/12/13 - "All documents can be shared with staff") illustrate the key principles of Grayling's Evolution:

    *** "The overarching aim of the TR Programme for April 2014 is to replicate, wherever possible, existing Trust partnership commitments in either or both the NPS or CRC"

    *** "With the reduction in the level of management resources available overall in NPS and the CRC it is necessary to give priority to statutory responsibilities, in particular those relating to public protection"

    *** "Some partnerships have been forged on the basis of shared values which may not be consistent with more commercial values"

    Or for the setting up of CRCs (also 18/12/13):

    *** "Each CRC will need to establish a corporate structure for their CRC in order that there is a functioning CRC organisation in place... [to] fully utilise the proven corporate people, processes and systems from the originating trusts(s)...Initially, however, CRCs will have the same SMT in corporate services that exists currently."

  3. Simon Hughes is seriously against Graylings legal aid cuts. He abstained in the commons vote- which, whilst not voting against lets everyone know where he stands on the issue.
    The lib dems have to establish themselves as a party in their own right again before the election and Graylings gung-ho attitude with justice issues is a perfect place to start. Graylings not a laywer, Hughes is, so unlike the tories the lib dems have someone qualified in office!
    But cameron needs to be asked bluntly and publically, given the identified risks do you give your unequivical support to TR?

  4. How can we place any hope in Nick Clegg, he is a liar and not to be trusted, remember his "pledge" not to impose tuition fees for students? I will never forgive him for that and do not want to rely on him now.

    1. Come, come now - surely we all believe that everyone has the capacity to change..........?

  5. Regarding the agreement now reached at the NNC I am being asked whether the 7 year protection now being offered is employment or employment at current terms and conditions ie including salary, leave etc? Can anyone help with this....because it seems a great victory for the unions?

    1. The 7 years relates to continuity of service if you move from Nps to crc or Crc to crc. It doesn't guarantee anything about pay but does guarantee national negotiating.

    2. Continuity of service protection for seven years is better than for fewer years and this will probably facilitate transfers between the public and private parts of probation. Of course, from 2015 compulsory redundancies will be permitted. There will be enhanced redundancy payments, but I don't know how enhanced. As regards terms and conditions, they are 'current' today. You only have to consider how much terms and conditions have changed over the past ten years in the unified probation service. Consider those at the top of their pay scale bands – that group have been denied increments for several years – a cap on salary. The final salary pension scheme has gone, there are draconian sickness, disciplinary and capability policies, leave has been cut, subsistence payments are as rare as hen's teeth. And the service has been shedding/cutting jobs in the past few years, mostly through voluntary redundancies. It has been a story of unremitting erosion. It stands to reason that terms and conditions will continue to be squeezed across the spectrum, irrespective of the status quo and a framework agreement. This agreement may help to preserve Napo's membership numbers and may even aid recruitment but even so the unions will not have the strength or the support to draw a line in the sand that will deter the employers from crossing with new proposals on terms and conditions well within the next seven years.

    3. I was wondering how to answer the question, but succinctly put as ever Netnipper!

      For completeness in relation to erosion of terms and conditions I think we ought to mention the Essential Car User Allowance, but a fond memory for most, if not everyone I feel.

    4. Thanks for that exposition, I hope it is all clearly spelled out in an easily accessible well publicised Napo 'write up' soon.

      I still fear 7 years is to the ultimate detriment of probation workers and therefore the public because for many probation is a lifelong - if second career - and the public benefits from those who stay for life by the incremental use of knowledge and experience gained over the whole career.

      For many reasons, folk change location and therefore employer, or just employer - as I did 4 times in 30 years but ultimately continuity gave me the protection my family needed as I needed to have early retirement because my health failed, partly consequential on the job.

      Andrew Hatton

  6. "Some partnerships have been forged on the basis of shared values (eg integrity, respect for people) which may not be consistent with more commercial values " (eg greed, screwing the workforce for every penny)

    1. Yes it's a cracker that one isn't it?!!

    2. Shared values? I think its more about share value.

  7. Happy Christmas everyone, and as it is that time of year and there is a mention of a 'game' analogy for TR - I was thinking Ker' Plunk, random and wholly unsustainable! Oh, and apologies to weasels!

  8. Not sleeping last night I got to wondering if Grayling still had the ciggie packet he first drew up his plans for TR on. It must have seemed a great idea for him then. Cut the public service by 70%, pay the private only on positive results, get charities involved- and you wont even have to pay them! The savings! Brother George at no 11 would surely be more then pleased with him, and its such a revolutionary idea what can go wrong?
    Well the two companies you were looking to shift most of the 70% got discovered robbing you blind for nobody knows how long and now cant have TR contracts.
    The charities you've discovered aren't going to work for free. But even if they would they've been upset so much by the lobbying bill and reputational damage through involvement with the work programme that many now probably wouldn't touch TR with any sort of pole.
    Indeed IDS shot another arrow at charities yesterday by claiming they're scaremongering for political motive with regard to food poverty. Quite clearly the lobbying bill will be discussed in the charity world this week.
    But there's always others to help. Maybe A4e? Theres Capita too. But theres more then a whiff of something gone off with these aswell. Theres been fraud and employees charged at A4e. Will they say in court it was for personal gain? Or will they point the finger at deeper corporate wrong doing? Guess only time will tell. And Capita may now have a tagging contract but have failed badly with their linguistic skills and are about to loose a major contract in Birmingham. Why? Because local council have realised its a sight cheeper to do the work themselves.
    Oh! And then some rotten devil leaks information about the risk register! Now everyone and their dog knows TR is set to fail.
    Then in a puff of smoke someone makes one of them LIBDEMS a justice minister! And just at a time when they have to reinvent themselves as a party in their own right to fight the next election. Politics is a hard old life.
    But if Grayling has anymore great ideas, heres a tip. Don't use a ciggie packet, try toilet paper. Theres much more room, you can write in straight lines, and if you need to rethink it, you can just flush it away before George or David sees it.

  9. Off topic but indicates that Simon Hughes appointment as minister of justice could have been a bit more then him being a nice bloke.

    1. British charities and organisations risk losing millions in funding for victim support, child protection, research and human rights because of the Government's planned withdrawal from European Union justice and home affairs programmes, it emerged last night.

      Plans to withdraw from an EU regulation which oversees the grants to charities will have a major impact on their work, ministers have been warned.

      One of the organisations, Fair Trials International, has told the Government that it may have to relocate to another country because of the threatened impact on funding. The organisation, which has received £1.09m in EU funding under the justice programme since 2010, said its work offering assistance to people facing criminal charges abroad would be severely limited, because the money amounts to a third of its total funding.

      A new EU regulation covering 2014 to 2020 will combine three streams of Brussels funding for organisations, charities and universities whose work covers justice and home affairs – including Victim Support, Fair Trials International, Beatbullying, the Fatherhood Institute, the British Refugee Council, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa). The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has received money for cross-EU cooperation into fingerprint research.

      If the UK does not opt into this regulation by next year, all British-based charities and organisations will become ineligible for the grants. Last year, UK organisations eligible for the justice funding received 19 per cent of their total income this way.

      Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, announced last year that, as part of the UK's much-heralded opt-out from EU justice and home affairs – which delighted many Conservative MPs – the Government would not opt back into the regulation on justice funding. When the justice programme was agreed in Brussels earlier this month, Britain's position did not change, and it is understood that, despite intensive lobbying of Mr Grayling, there will be no U-turn.

      Simon Hughes, who became the new Justice Minister under Mr Grayling last week, will be under pressure from the Lib Dem side to persuade the Government to change its position.

    2. Imagine what would be said by the Tory party if a bank or other big multinational company threatened to move out of the UK.