With impeccable timing and perfect choice of speaker, the 17th annual Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture was delivered yesterday by Sue Hall, the outgoing CEO of West Yorkshire Probation Trust. Readers may recall that Professor Paul Senior spoke passionately last year at this increasingly important event hosted by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology and that continues to help keep alive the true spirit of probation.
Although Sue's speaking style is somewhat less flamboyant than some, she nevertheless effectively confirmed what many already know, namely that she is a probation 'lifer' having nothing but quiet disdain for TR and all it represents. Just two weeks in to the omnishambles, she described the whole effect on staff as being 'raw' and the mood currently 'flat', thus pretty much echoing things on here.
It's quite obvious that for anyone such as Sue who feels passionately about the profession, the last year or so has been dreadful, especially seen from her position as Chair of the Probation Chiefs Association and Vice Chair of the Confederation of European Probation. But her message is essentially one of hope in reminding us that governments come and go, as do people and policies.
As transitional director of the newly launched Probation Institute, she makes a strong case for saying it should be regarded as a 'ray of light' in what is otherwise a pretty gloomy landscape. Now enshrined in TOM and embedded in the specification that any purchaser of a CRC will have to take account of, Sue feels that the Institute will be absolutely fundamental in ensuring that whatever eventually transpires under TR2, probation ethics and practice will remain centre stage for any and all providers of probation services in the future.
The idea for an independent Institute has been around for some time, but Sue made plain that before TR the MoJ had no desire to 'buy in' to the concept. It could be that many of us will have to rethink our attitude to the newcomer, especially as it's quite clear that despite initial cynicism regarding the timing and support from the MoJ, the Institute is most definitely in safe probation hands at the moment. There are plans to adopt a Code of Ethics, establish a registration process for practitioners and provide courses for professional development, all good ideas in themselves.
To sum up, I'm left feeling that the fight against TR can continue. We carry on highlighting the utter dangerous and unworkable folly of the whole thing, but maybe also quietly give thanks that for insurance purposes the Probation Institute gains strength and continues to develop as the long-term custodian of our shared professional beliefs and values. Probation is important and must continue; it's governments, people and policies that come and go.