Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Last Word

Joe Kuipers, outgoing Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, has published his swan song and a slightly edited version is reproduced here. Throughout this whole sorry business, he has conspicuously been the only Trust Chair willing to stick his neck out and well above the parapet and for that I think he is assured an honourable mention when the history of this omnishambles is written and the day of reckoning arrives. Read the full version here.

The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

High diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump'd over the Moon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.

This is reportedly the 18th century version of the well known nonsense rhyme, but I thought some of the words might resonate. Has there been 'diddling' and is somebody running away with probation to a questionable destination?

What, no reoffending data?

Yes, proving its worth. That is where I will start. I am proud to be part of ASPT. Some 7 years ago we were, not to put too fine a point on it, bottom of the heap of the then 42 Probation Boards, with a damaged reputation in government. We are now a robust and highly performing commercially astute business, with a different reputation at the centre. No one can argue with our successes, pioneers of IOM and IRIS, winners of more national awards than any other Trust (proportionate to our size). Our success has allowed us to be an 'opinion outlier' - we are known for questioning impositions and we were the only Board to try to resist the transition to Trust status. The writing was on the wall back then. The promised business freedoms and flexibilities were just kites in the sky, but the leadership at that time failed to hold out for the promises to become reality before being seduced into the first stage of where we are now. Enough said.

And, nationally, probation continues to perform. The MoJ published the latest Adult Reoffending Data on 20 May. I won't go into the detail, but probation continues to prove its worth. The measure used has been subject to criticism from probation, but we have been told endlessly that that is the measure, that is, until now. The MoJ publication says:

"Following a consultation, in October 2011 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a new measure of Proven Re-offending which provides consistent measures of re-offending at national and local levels. The local adult re-offending measure remains a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) performance indicator for Probation Trusts for the year 2013/14. However, under changes to the probation service, through the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme in 2014–15, this measure is no longer relevant for future reporting. We have therefore agreed with NOMS that this will be the final bulletin in this series which will be used in their final performance probation trust ratings in July."

So, there we have it. A measure critical to probation performance assessment and ratings, gone. Now, I do not know what the contracts for the CRCs include, nor what the expectations will be for the NPS in relation to reducing reoffending, but it is interesting, isn't it? Makes one think that it is just too hard a measure for those picking up the business? Oh, and case you don't remember, the reoffending indicator was lauded with academic references. As it happens, we in ASPT have argued for several years that probation performance indicators should be more aligned to crime reduction. We will see.

Our last 'proper' Trust Board meeting.

We had out last 'proper' Trust Board meeting this last week. I have been privileged to have been supported by a startling good and thorough group of Board members, and especially Susan Graham (our deputy chair) and Paul Burton, who have both been with me since I started some 7 years ago. In addition, the work of our Board Secretary has been superb (Anne Roberts) as has been the administrative support provided by Elaine Berk. It goes without saying that without Sally and her team and all the staff ASPT would not be in the strong position where we are now. I also want to commend Paul Stopard and his team (the NOMS Community Management Team) with whom we have enjoyed a professional and helpful relationship.

Our last Board meeting was in many ways exactly the same as any other. We did not skimp on business items, and in particular made arrangements for key matters not to get lost in the changes by clear allocation of responsibilities to ensure that improvement issues were progressed. One of the main items we discussed was the audit of risk of harm assessments and the required improvements needed. Professional to the end. We hope that our quality audit work is retained in the future organisations - understanding quality takes time and effort, and it costs. At this stage we are not sure what will be required of the Board over the coming months. No doubt we might hear?

I also joined the last NOMS teleconference on Friday. A lacklustre affair, filled with thanks for all the hard work Trusts had done, self congratulations about how hard all those in NOMS were working, and apologies for the last minute nature of outstanding matters, such as property transfers. It was telling that there was only one question from Trusts, a technical matter on finance. The approach now is to see what happens over the coming 'cut over period' - suck it and see. There will be a 'gold command' type group at the centre, ready and hopefully able to deal with questions as they come in. My question about this is to what extent will the gold command team be equipped to deal with issues that do not come from the internal world of probation, but from courts, police, partners, etc. My advice to those probation staff working in the new system is to escalate all those questions to the centre, just to ensure that there are consistent answers.

A silver lining?

I am not going to spell out what may or may not go wrong over the coming days, weeks and months. It would not be responsible recognising that our staff are about to 'migrate' into either the NPS or CRC, and over the past 2 years I have said enough about the risks and the folly. I have to hope that for their sakes and for the sake of the excellence of our service to our communities (and this applies to all Trusts) all will be well. There is just one silver lining for Trusts - the final days of our responsibility for service delivery coincide with the shut down of n-Delius. We all wonder what will happen when it is switched back on again.

However, there is just a little story to tell - a snippet. A Trust CEO who I know was being chased for a return not sent back to NOMS. On investigation it had been sent to the composite name of two other CEOs (i.e. the first name of one and the second of another, but to the right Trust). When it was then sent to the right CEO it was sent to the wrong Trust.

A bitter taste?

It is fair to say that this whole journey of TR has left more than a bitter taste. This is also the sub-title of a section of the poetry anthology, from which I draw the following as probation moves into a 'twilight' zone (sorry to say I cannot cope with an analogy that probation is moving from the dark into the sunlight):

Sunsets, by Richard Aldington

The white body of the evening
Is torn into scarlet,
Slashed and gouged and seared into crimson,
And hung ironically
With garlands of mist.

And the wind
Blowing over London from Flanders
Has a bitter taste.

But Sally and I have asked ourselves, 'Has the effort of the past 7 years been a waste?' Our firm answer is, 'No, not at all'. The bitter taste comes from knowing that we were still on an improvement journey and that the changes do not strike us as well founded or evidenced, threatening as they do some core elements of our successful approach in ASPT.

Vandalism derives from the Vandal Tribes. Their history is interesting and they do not fully deserve the attribution, essentially one of barbaric destruction. But it is a good word and so appropriately describes what has been perpetrated on probation, especially when Trusts offered to do what the government asked for? Robert Burns in his poem 'To a Mouse' wrote:

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."
(The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

If only these were 'best laid schemes'; and another rodent comes to mind.

A bitter taste is not the same as feeling embittered. I do not have a sense of bitterness, and I urge colleagues not to allow bitterness to infect their behaviour. It is a pernicious emotion with only one outcome - damage to self. I also ask colleagues not to allow feelings of hurt, envy, injustice and understandable anger to interfere with trying to do a good job. In my view the system created will break in any case without 'bad behaviour' as it is founded on a perverse fault line.

So, what will I do? I will keep myself informed, and be available when, and if, the system needs to be stitched back together again. But something tells me that I would be near the bottom of any list of 'desirables' should such reweaving of the tapestry be sought. And, perhaps it is time to say goodbye to probation after 42 years (I did start very young). However, I am involved with NoOffence and may also become part of another Social Enterprise, rooted in helping offenders lead law abiding lives and thereby protecting the public - I am not dead just yet. We will see and with all sincerity, I do wish you all well.

Joe Kuipers, 26 May 2014


  1. Endgame
    So, there we have it then, deliberate removal of the 'local adult re-offending measure' the consistent means of accurate comparison for post split gone, pre split. So what does that tell us?
    It tells us TR will fail and they know it. No-one will be allowed to compare performance to prove it and that is powerful evidence for all colleagues working their hardest to make it work. IT WON'T WORK, IT CAN'T WORK and the government knows this, so please consider carefully where your efforts should be made.
    We have service users who need us and this is where we should focus our efforts, no-one else has thought of this. Strategic planning by means of "away days" to launch the post split world are not our remit. That is for those being paid the huge salaries to mastermind this. It is not for us to "advise, assist and befriend" the destroyers of our wonderful service and come up with solutions to their immediate and serious problems so that they make a profit.
    It is for us to remember that IOMS has been destroyed and for many this worked, it is for us to continue to promote the values of this with those whose lives are so blighted by addiction. The extra we give must remain for the service users NOT for the business entity.
    It is for us to remember that our service users have been reduced to unwanted case files piling up to be allocated to anyone, because anyone will do. No consideration of individual skills sets that would work well with that particular person, just "I've got to allocate to someone, just get on with it".
    It is for us to care for ourselves and our colleagues because no-one else will. The duty of care our employer legally should exercise appears to have been forgotten so let us help them to remain aware of their obligations to us. It is for us to tell them how this is affecting us and make them culpable.
    Save your energies for picking up the pieces for our service users and colleagues, not for improving the balance sheet of multi national companies. Each and every CRC will move into their ownership eventually, just remember that.

  2. I read Joe's blog last night and I was very touched and he so beautifully summed up the disaster approaching - however, I want to assure him, as so many others will, that 'bad behaviour' is not something I relish, nor wish to extend my energies on. I want to continue to promote positive values and advise, assist and yes, befriend my clients, as I know from my own experience that this is, with a wee bit of empirical research, this is 'what works'. I would prefer to get alongside Anon at 07:09 this morning - do what we can for our clients and each other - amid this mess....and I am warmed by the knowledge that this blog and others are there for all to see, when things go badly wrong - they can't wriggle out of the fact that they have embarked on this crazy and dangerous project against the best efforts and advise of people who know better - so much better than they. Viva le compassion and the Probation Service. ( I was rubbish at French at school, so forgive the spelling - I'm sure you'll get my drift.)

    1. Off topic but I like to read what Frances Crook has to say about the state of our CJS.


  3. A year ago on Tues 28 May 2013 Jim Brown wrote:

    "Now I'd never heard of the Major Projects Authority before. It's a rare beast being a new QUANGO set up by the coalition government, as opposed to one of the many that got the chop. Anyway, a whole range of projects are going seriously awry and I notice that the MoJ shared services project is one of the 8 in the top red category and the MoJ PbR pilot programme is regarded as amber/red."

    And only very recently I seem to recall reference to the fact that the TR project has now been REMOVED from the scope of the MPA. Add to that today's news about the "deliberate removal of the 'local adult re-offending measure' the consistent means of accurate comparison for post split gone, pre split" (thanks, anon 07:09) and, faster than Rolf Harris's hands, any means of providing evidence about the utter failure of TR has disappeared.

    All we'll be left with are smug areseholes at Petty France and in the MoJ.

  4. Staff are starting to speak out - see today's Northern Echo about Darlington Probation Office......

  5. So if this reoffending rate tool has been removed, we have to somehow think of other ways. There must be something, we can't give up.
    Glad that people are speaking up. I'm in the middle of writing a piece for my local council . I know some labour councillors and two are putting forward a motion to formally oppose privatisation. Maybe I can link the local paper in too

  6. I think more needs to be said too. If we go through the union we can say anything, can't we?

    I have seen on a crowd-funding web site ( StartJoin) that some enterprising individuals are trying to get money to make a film to stop the total privatisation of the NHS. Couldn't we do something similar? I'd chip in a few quid and perhaps NAPO could bung a grand or two. I'm full of questions today with no answers.


    1. I think more needs to be said too. If we go through the union we can say anything, can't we?

      Papa I think we all know the answer to this is defiantly NO !
      I am no censor but any NAPO official or recognised union activist elected in branches retain limited protections that relate directly to the duties of the position.

      I think we will all enjoy some limited protection in the immediate period post the awful (and ill feted I hope) 1 June split. whilst we are in the limited public holding period I think we can still push the envelope. However lets be clear there is a broad range of attacks on facility time already. Napo weakened as we are by managements indications that NAPO Reps negotiate for less members in the CRC and this is because the NPS is to be centrally bargained for. Branch activists in the NPS weakened as the local bargaining framework is in decline in the NPS and still new arrangements are to be produced and released as agreed by the NAPO HQ.

      I would as we all do try and get the message out and seek support. Whatever media members\ activists use if it is traceable and inappropriate about the employer they may well regard matters as issues of trust.

      My real point is that under any privatised CRC the employers views may well harden and in anticipation of that we need to prepare and support our members to be prudent or just a little more carful when we really want to tell it as it really is. !


  7. I would too. There is another post on Facebook re another newspaper article from two POs
    On twitter I note that sadiq khan has posted his email and asked staff to email with all concerns etc re TR that have arisen

  8. Risk escalation process - has any other CRC staff member had to do a risk escalation on one of their cases, what a job - med risk DV case was discovered breaching his restraining order sgainst his victim, also breaching his residency requirement, and also found to have developed an intimate relationship with another female, but good case management by probation pulled all the bits of the deceit together. That was the easy bit, now the mad TR bit, having spoke with police , housing, children services and come to the decision that this mans behaviour was of concern, given that he stabbed his last victim, a discuss was had very quickly with team manager, after a professional discussion when information and decision process was tested it was agreed that this case met risk escalation criteria, discussion took 20 mins. Then started to complete OASys review and RE form. This took 4 hours, then needed to scan all into system all the supporting evidence and new info ( lots of duplication as all info in delius and OASys ). Then OASys sent to CRC TM manager to counter sign, then rang NPS to inform of RE DECISION, told they were too busy and short staffed so would need to ring back tomorrow, after 12noon . It was stated this needed to be dealt with ASAP, but no one available to speak to so still needed to wait for duty PO tomorrow. After a night worrying, called NPs again and was told again speak to duty officer after 12noon. At 12.02 CRC staff called and spoke to the duty PO who is 6 years her professional junior. Told that she would speak with her TM about accepting case and her TM would speak to my TM. What an absolute farce, a decision to up risk would normally take a quick clear and concise professional discussion with TM, new risk management plan would be devised, case manager would contact appropriate agencies mappa etc and have the best knowledge of the case to manage this risky period. But no the case was transferred to NPs, to an officer who didn't know the case, doesn't know the victim, doesn't know the area, and who only recently started to supervise HR cases due to being previously working in court, started in field team sept last year, when I've been in field team for over 12 years supervising every possible type of cases from murders, rapists, child sex offenders, DV, mental health etc etc. The end result by the way was that case was arrested and charged with breach of restraining order and possession of knife, the case at time of writing has still not been subject of any professional hand over between CRC and Nps staff as no one from NPS has contacted CRC. Margaret Hodge needs to know about this bureaucracy that is slow time consuming, resource intensive, duplicative, ineffective and a system so stupid that it beggars belief that supposedly intelligent people even considered that this was a good idea.

    1. I am grateful to Anonymous at 27 May 2014 16:54 - telling us exactly that it is as bad as ever we feared.

      I hope it gets massive publicity.

      I have given it a little: -


  9. why don't u email sadiq khan as he has requested on twitter


    1. Would this count as 'official' whistleblowing or could it be seen as a disciplinary offence?

      If the former then I have no problem at all in letting him know just WTF is going on.

  10. Imagine how newsworthy it would be if Sadiq Khan's email account was overloaded just because he asked a sensible question... come on guys.... I'm not a PO any more but what an open goal! Email Sadiq Khan now!!!!!!

  11. Where can I find the official post re the local reoffending rates thing being removed . I will email that to sadiq khan

    1. Send him joe kuipers blog

    2. "Local Adult Re-offending
      Following a consultation, in October 2011 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a new measure of Proven Re-offending which provides consistent measures of re-offending at national and local levels1.
      The local adult re-offending measure remains a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) performance indicator for Probation Trusts for the year 2013/14. However, under changes to the probation service, through the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme in 2014–15, this measure is no longer relevant for future reporting. We have therefore agreed with NOMS that this will be the final bulletin in this series which will be used in their final performance probation trust ratings in July."

      From: - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/312417/local-adult-reoffending-trusts-jan13-dec13.pdf

  12. Read Northern Echo, the brave staff who spoke out, thanks to Jenny Chapman who needs to take this to Parliament and then we hear from the outgoing, double golden handshake Chief telling a blatant lie in the press 'whenever staff shortages are identified we take steps to employ additional staff as required' I don't think temporary receptionists can assist with the chaos. Why is he lying now, staff across the Trust are disgusted, I hope Jenny Chapman asks for a FOI request. We have provided his performance related pay, he had his chance to simply say that staff are struggling. Thank god the tyrant is going, but he is leaving his management style behind, god help us and the offenders. Please send info to Sadiq Khan and Ursula Brennan - this isn't safe.

  13. Jenny Chapman, the shadow prisons minister, said she had received complaints from probation officers throughout the country.

    She spoke out after an insider told The Northern Echo that sickness levels among frontline workers at Darlington probation service have increased ahead of the changes, leaving other staff with unmanageable workloads.

    The source claimed that the remaining probation officers are having to rush appointments to ensure all offenders are seen, and have no time to hold in- depth discussions with the criminals they are monitoring.

    It is understood that to free up officers' time, workers based at the service's Corporation Road base are now meeting some offenders once a month rather than every week.

    The source said: "The bottom line is that offenders are not being supervised - they are just being seen. We are talking about sexual offenders, people convicted of domestic violence and violence against the public.

    "What's happening is completely deplorable.”

    The work of the Probation Service is due to be part-privatised next month. From June 1, responsibility for the supervision of about 160,000 medium and low risk offenders a year will be passed to 21 privately-run community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).

    Responsibility for 31,000 high-risk offenders each year will remain in the public sector with the formation of a new National Probation Service.

    Trusts including Durham Tees Valley, which runs the service in Darlington, will be abolished.

    Russell Bruce, chief executive of the trust, conceded it was a challenging time, but said that he is confident “the new organisations will continue to deliver high-quality services as we move forward”.

    However Jenny Chapman, Darlington MP and Labour's probation spokeswoman, described the insider’s claims as "deeply troubling" and said: "The Government needs to get a grip. This isn't just Darlington - up and down the country we're getting these reports.

    "The problems have been predicted from the outset.”

    Last week (May 20), the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that the part-privatisation had “significant risks”.

    Key questions remain unanswered about the overhaul, their report found.

    Mrs Chapman said: "There were pilots of this program that were cancelled by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling when he first took office and there has been no learning about what can go wrong."

    The MP added that the risk status of offenders frequently changed and a criminal deemed a low or medium risk could quickly become high risk, yet still be supervised by a relatively inexperienced probation officer from the voluntary or private sector.

    According to figures released by Labour in October, more than 16,000 criminals on probation in the region will be handed over to the private firms.

    They are classed as low and medium-risk offenders, despite having being jailed for serious and violent offences.

    Mr Bruce said: “Our trust has been one of the highest performing probation areas in the country for several years.

    “This is, of course, a challenging time and everyone is working hard to ensure that transition to the new probation structures is implemented as smoothly as possible and I am confident that the new organisations will continue to deliver high-quality services as we move forward.

    “Whenever staff shortages are identified we take steps to employ additional staff as required.

    “Initially offenders are seen weekly but obviously the timing of longer-term arrangements is dependent on an assessment of the requirements for each case. If offenders to do not comply with the terms of their supervision requirements staff ensure that they are returned to court.”

    Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, formerly the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "I believe Chris Grayling is conducting a reckless social experiment which has not been subject to real scrutiny by Parliament or the public.

    "I believe the changes being imposed are a real and present danger to community safety."

    1. This is absolutely shocking!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Shocking. It's tragic. Whilst I have every sympathy for the staff who have to put up with it, I genuinely feel greater sorrow for all clients who needs are not being met and the public who are being put at risk.

      Whomever sanctioned this idea needs sacking.

    3. I know who it was as there is as much chance of her being sacked as there is of her resigning. NONE.

    4. Staff ensure that they are returned to Court. Given how complex the breach situation has now become, exascerbated by the fact we have NO spare time to do breaches it would have been more accurate to say that 'when offenders do not comply, we sometimes, but mainly never, get round to breaching them'. If the Courts knew what was going on I think they would go absolutely mental.

    5. 'when offenders do not comply, we sometimes, but mainly never, get round to breaching them'

      That's certainly not the position in the Trust I work for, until 1st June at least.

  14. Why is Russell Bruce LYING, what has to gain by telling lies, has he no integrity or pride in the Probation Service. Does he not realise that any high quality work will no longer be delivered due to all the crap surrounding the cumbersome systems, also there is only half of a half service left on both sides with how many thousands of more offenders to manage, there will be no time for quality work, please Mr Bruce stop your bull shyte and tell the truth. Its hard to believe that most of these chiefs started their careers as Probation Officers with integrity, what happened.

    1. Money?

      Apparently he was doing the rounds today with Sebert. Given that he is leaving soon, I'm not sure if it was a 'lap of honour' or 'Last Post'!!!

      Whilst I do have some respect for him, I'm not overly impressed with "I am confident that the new organisations will continue to deliver high-quality services as we move forward". He knows the wheels have fell off, as does EVERY Director, SPO and frontline staff.

      If he wishes to retain ANY credibility as outgoing Chief, he needs to stand up and tell EVERYONE of the problems that are inherent in this whole sorry mess. I would really like to think that he retains the morality to do this...time will tell and he will be ultimately judged on his final act!!

    2. As highlighted earlier, Russell the Bruce has TWO Fiefdoms (Trusts) paying him off; Cumbria also enjoyed him pulling their chain on an occasional basis. He announced his retirement early doors, so we can only speculate that Le Bruce has a plan - and he wouldn't want to jeopardise TWO pots of gold with a few ill chosen truths at the 11th hour, now would he? Anyone for Sodexo?

  15. Can someone help me out here:

    "Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, formerly the National Association of Probation Officers..."

    "Formerly" ?

    In all of the TRagedy, did I miss something?

  16. It's just that the Union name was actually changed from 'National Association of Probation Officers' to 'NAPO' (No kidding)

  17. No - there was a name change about 10 to 15 years ago to "Napo, The Trade Union, Professional Association and campaigning organisation for Probation and Family Court staff." - presumably around the time CAFCASS was split off from Probation, though I thought "National Association of Probation Officers" was actually dropped earlier than that, and tied up with PSOs being full members and some workers from a London hostels charity (I think) who became members

    1. Pretty much. It was decided that the National Association of Probation Officers marginalised PSOs, SPOs and ACOs so, when CAFCASS split away, the decision was taken to retain NAPO as the brand as it was widely known and highly regarded but to change the strapline to reflect the emerging world of FCW etc.

  18. Joe Kuipers "I will keep myself informed, and be available when, and if, the system needs to be stitched back together again" v Russell Bruce "JFDI"

    respect versus disdain