Well, just when you thought this slow train crash TR omnishambles couldn't throw up any more surprises, it turns to tragicomedy. Thanks to David Hurst over on his blogsite, we have a transcript of Chris Grayling's New Year video message to all probation staff. It's absolutely brilliant and if not a spoof, I wonder which bright spark in the MoJ Communications Team thought this wheeze up, and more importantly, who wrote the script?! It's hilarious!
I'm just guessing here, but surely these DVD's are destined to become prized TR souvenirs? Bags I get one!
Can I start by thanking all of you for carrying on doing the jobs you're doing and looking after and supervising offenders, in what I know are difficult and uncertain times in Probation. What I wanted to do was give you a chance to hear from me, a bit more about why we’re doing this and what we’re trying to achieve.
First of all you have to understand the financial background against which we’re working. The Department is facing huge cuts to its budgets over the next few years and we’re having to take really tough decisions in the level of staffing in prisons, in the level of Legal Aid we pay, in what we do within the courts and big cuts to the Department’s head office as well.
But we’re treating Probation a little differently, and we’ve won a battle with the Treasury to treat Probation a little differently and the reason for that is that if we’re going to carry on bringing down the cost of the Criminal Justice system in future, we have got to improve our performance on tackling reoffending.
If you look at crime in Britain today, the number of people entering the Criminal Justice System for the first time is coming down, fewer crimes overall being committed but more and more of our crime problem is about people who are committing crimes again and again, going round and round the system and what we’re doing, rather than having a situation where, as we would be other wise in Probation, closing trusts, merging operations, making people redundant to meet a tough budget settlement, what we’re actually doing is spending more money on supervising those people who go to jail for 12 months and less, who at the moment walk onto the streets with £46 in their pocket, get no supervision and more likely to reoffend than anyone else.
Now you know and I know that the rate of reoffending for those people who are not supervised post prison is much higher than for those people who are, and that is something we have got to change. So the obvious question is why not just do it within the current system?
Well there’s a number of answers to that. To start off we have a system that is much too bureaucratic. I mean you all went into the Probation Service to spend time working with offenders, and all of the evidence I see is that the processes that we have in place means that much too little time is spent working with offenders, much too much time is just dealing with the systems. So what I want to do is to create a Probation system where the professionals working in the front line have got much greater freedom, don’t have the interference of central bureaucracy and have got much greater freedom to innovate and do things completely differently.
We looked at whether that could be done across the current system of 35 trusts and actually the last government looked at whether we would provide supervision for the under 12 month group, using the current system. They came to the conclusion it wasn’t affordable and that we would need to do things differently. I don’t think we can afford to carry on with a situation where we’re not supervising those under 12 month people. And the other thing I don’t think we can carry on with is a situation where we don’t have a proper, through the gate service.
So let me explain to you briefly about the 2 new organisations. The Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service. The CRCs are going to have much greater freedom than has ever been the case before for front line professionals to do things completely differently and they give a real opportunity to all of you to think about new ways of providing support to offenders.
So for example, if I was running a CRC one of the first things I would do is set up a housing operation. I’d probably negotiate deals with landlords, so that you knew when somebody comes out of prison that you’ve got somewhere to place them. Now the truth is Treasury rules just don’t allow us to do that kind of thing in the public sector, but the CRC's will have that sort of freedom in the future and I think that can make a real difference and I think there’ll be real opportunities to build on some of the things that the trusts do at the moment, for example in tying in with Welfare To Work Services, in working with rehab services, so a real opportunity to do things differently.
And there is a really important point to make as well. I know there’s been a lot of chatter around the system - G4S and Serco are not going to be involved in the bidding process to take over CRC's. Instead we’ve got a list of partnerships very often between private sector organisations and voluntary sector organisations. Some of the biggest charities that work with offenders, coming together to take up the partnership role with the public sector that will exist in the new system. And I think there’s a really exciting opportunity for people to build their careers, working with different organizations that offer not only the opportunity to do more within the CRC's, but also the opportunity to do more, more broadly in future.
The world we’re trying to create is where we have a partnership between public sector, voluntary sector and private sector: Private sector to help us run our systems and our processes and our organisation more efficiently, voluntary sector to add mentoring skills to the work our probation professionals already do and of course continuing to use the risk management skills and expertise that exist within the public sector.
And the other point to make, which I think is also very important, is the process of bringing in new partners is not going to be about price were not about selling the operation to the lowest bid. That is not what this is about. This is about improving quality, it’s about innovation. So what we’re going to be asking the people who bid to take on the CRC's to do, is to demonstrate to us that they're giving us the best value in terms of improved reoffending outcomes, for the work that we’re doing with them and for the money that we’re paying.
And then there’s the National Probation Service, which is going to have a very different focus to the CRC's. Looking after the most challenging offenders, working in a multi-agency basis to supervise people who are a real risk to our society and having responsibility for risk assessment, for allocation of offenders to different risk categories, for decisions about recalling people to court and I think increasingly operating in new areas as well.
I’m for example very keen to see the National Probation Service much more involved in decisions about release on Temporary Licence, so that we’ve got real expertise in taking decisions in an area where we’ve had problems in the last few months.
So let met tell you a bit about the process going forward. We’ve already got the new leadership teams of the two organisations in place, and we’re moving quickly to allocate people into their new teams. I don’t want there to be a long period of uncertainty. But then after that there is going to be a long period of bedding in, in the public sector, making sure all the new systems are working. Were not rushing to move problematic cases from one part of the future (?) to another. We’re not going to take risks with public safety. We’ll take most of this year bedding in the new systems, long before we ever actually involve any of the new partners who are going to be coming in and working with us.
Now I know that all of this is disruptive and unsettling, and there are of course going to be changes. We are inevitably going to be merging back office operations, we’ll be simplifying systems and there’s no doubt there’ll be some changes in the organisation as a whole and I’m pleased to say we’ve now reached agreement with the unions on the transition arrangements, on the voluntary redundancy package, on issues around continuity of service, and I think there’s now a really good package for everyone that I hope will give you greater confidence going forward.
So what does the future look like? Well my vision is of a network or CRC's working in the resettlement prisons, preparing people for release, meeting them at the gate, mentoring and supporting them for 12 months after they leave prison, with a particular focus on that new group of people who will be supervising the under 12 month group, really bringing down reoffending rates and doing it in new ways, finding innovative ideas to help them get their lives back together.
And then alongside that a highly professional team of specialists in the National Probation Service, dealing with some of the most challenging offenders, providing real protection to the public against serious risk of harm.
So I think there’s a strong future for the people who work in the Probation Service, for our Probation system. It’s going to be different but this all about quality, innovation, bringing down reoffending rates and easing the pressures on our Criminal Justice System, and I am absolutely confident that together and with the skills that we’re going to be bringing in to this area to work alongside you, then actually everyone can make a real difference for the future.