Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Ray of Light

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.                      


  1. It may be a ray of light but that assumes there will be a sufficient number of 'real' probation officers in the CRCs in the future.

    I'm not in the profession but keep up the fight. You've really been shafted!

  2. ray of light!! don't make me laugh!!18 June 2014 at 07:45

    I'm a bit surprised by this blog Jim, has the probation institute paid you off?

    Sue Hall was silent against TR, and in her position with the PCA and as a CEO, she could have been very vocal. She has continued her silence with the probation institute.

    Personally I do not think she has the right to speak for probation or to tell us what a ray of light may be. Contradictory and hypocritical I say.

    On the matter of the probation institute what is the ray if light? It is led by those who failed probation, chief officers and unions, and it will take input from those that will buy probation, the voluntary register and all. Who in there right mind would pay to be dictated too by a bunch that already enabled the sell off of probation, or sign up to a voluntary register that even the buyers would have input into so it works for them.

    I agree with this at Napo - why I won't be joining the probation institute. I do not see what it offers for probation officers.

    1. No I haven't been paid off, but I have changed my mind. The main reason I journeyed to Cambridge was to hear what Sue's argument for the Institute was. She feels it's a ray of light and in my view made a good case for believing so if the worst case TR scenario comes to fruition.

      I have a great deal of respect for Sue as I do for Paul Senior and they are both supporters of the Institute. I wanted to hear the argument. You say she did not speak out about TR, but bear in mind she was de-designated as CRC CEO the morning after she appeared on BBC 2's Newsnight. She may well say she decided to retire - but I believe she was effectively sacked. No Chief has spoken out and I believe all 13 that have been 'culled' may well have gagging clauses as part of their payoff/retirement packages.

      You will observe that at no point have I encouraged people to join the Institute and I have not joined - I am merely reporting what I think the position is and that the MoJ may in fact rue the day they decided to support the initiative.

      I appreciate this may well go down like a lead balloon in some quarters, but I will continue to plough my own furrow and speak as I find. It's up to everyone to make up their own mind at the end of the day.

    2. Jim, a balanced, reasoned, statement of the position. Well done. Written like a Probation Report-looks at the facts, understands the emotive arguments on both sides and presents the sensible perspective with a view to ongoing constructive dialogue. (And no, Jim hasn't paid me off either!

    3. Jim, Sally Lewis told local BBC radio that Probation wasn't broke and didn't need fixing in an interview just after the split this month and was critical whilst singing the praises of staff.
      I look forward to her addressing agm this year

  3. In 2013, just prior to the launch of the Transforming Rehabilitation 'Consultation', but very much in the light of the likely changes to come, the Probation Chiefs Association published a report examining the potential value of a Professional Register of Probation Staff. In their report it is suggested that if a register is to be 'part of a network of measures taken to assure a *competent sector approach* [my emphasis] then it should become 'part of something like a probation institute or similar organisation'. Just a few weeks later, in the ministerial foreword to 'Transforming Rehabilitation: A strategy for Reform' Grayling announced that 'as part of [their] reforms' the MoJ would be working with the profession to 'take forward the idea of an institute of Probation' . The reality is that the Probation service is now largely to be privatised. In this light it is plain that in being introduced with a view to 'assur[ing] a competent sector approach' the register and the Probation Institute are about no more than providing a sheen of legitimacy and credibility to the operation of a newly privatised service - ethical window dressing, if you will, to obscure the reality of what a private service is in truth likely to entail. To paraphrase the former Chair of NAPO, the Probation institute is a 'fig leaf' for Privatisation

    Simon Garden

    1. Simon,

      Very well put and I have more than a degree of sympathy with your point of view - indeed it was the view I had before getting on the train. I suspect we are at the start of a lively debate.



  4. We should not join the PI, if we do our fight has been in vain, and it gives the green light for TR, no I won't be joining.

  5. I think a lot of CEO's will be advised to say the same thing, Grayling has probably advised them to try and get us all on board. Don't fall for it. I suspect we will hear more of the same. In the end they will make it compulsory and force it upon us just as they did with the shafting process.

  6. I suspect the 70 people who have joined are all from management.

  7. probation officer18 June 2014 at 09:16

    And why should we help the MoJ pull a guise of respectability over the shambles?

    "In response to the increasing promotion of this organisation. In theory the Probation Institute is a good idea and has many supporters, myself included until recently. In practice, it is not a good idea at this time or in its current form. The reasons for not joining the Probation Institute (PI) include...

    It is MoJ funded and MoJ dependant; a conflict of interest on both sides due to TR. A recent Napo GLB press release claimed the PI was seeking funding from private companies, including TR bidders; another conflict of interest.

    It is led by probation leaders (PA and PCA); a contradiction as these groups aided and abetted TR and the demise of probation (read Joe Kuipers blog). The very few probation leaders still publicly against TR are not involved in the PI.

    It is also led by Union leaders (Napo and Unison); a contradiction and a diversion from the priority of fighting the losing TR battle. We also know that Unison failed to strike on behalf of probation.

    It will have no statutory authority over the National Probation Service and Private probation companies (CRC's). This means no statutory authority to provide guidance, to set codes of practice, to set performance standards or to set expectations for training and professional development. This means it will have no power to 'strike off' private probation companies that fail to any uphold expected standards of practice.

    It will have no authority to require probation staff (NPS and CRC) to sign up to its professional register. This register will not be a mandatory requirement to practice, and it's doubtful CRC's would recognise or sign up. We know from social work that a professional register does not stop bad practice or the erosion of standards.

    It will have no research base to develop its own evidence based guidance and practice for probation staff. It also has a lack of academics and frontline probation staff involved in the PI. It will have no statutory authority over the training of probation officers and staff, more concerning for probation staff based in CRC's.

    It has so far failed to speak against TR or oppose probation privatisation, it was silent during the probation strike, it has been silent against the ongoing government media campaign against probation, it has been silent in speaking on behalf of the probation staff and profession, and it's doubtful it will in the future will be anything but silent against any erosion of probation staff terms, conditions and salaries in both NPS and CRC's.

    It may only be £20 per year (increasing after the first year), but that's £20 too much to pay for nothing, and we shouldn't be expected to pay to retain the PCA and PA (and we already pay subscriptions to Napo and Unison). It's press releases are too focused on recruiting members, but not focused at all on responding to the obvious potential member concerns. To be worthy of any subscription fee the PI would need to go back to the drawing board, gather input and leadership from an even mix of cross-grade probation/rehabilitation professionals and academics, and return the 30 pieces of silver to the MoJ."

    1. We could do with someone from the PI to answer this I think.

    2. They have had plenty of opportunity that excellent statement was published on the Napo Forum on: - Thu Apr 24, 2014 5:42 pm!

      Despite it being on the Napo Forum it has not even been acknowledged by a Napo NEC member, the body that authorised Napo's direct involvement and the provision of a 'Director'

    3. Already PI using Jim Brown's remarks to shore up their dreadful reputation via Twitter: -

      "@ProbInstitute 2h

      Thanks @jimbrownblog who describes us a "ray of light" after hearing director Sue Hall speak yesterday … #probation"

      They are better at jumping on a 'bandwagon' than publicising the danger to the public of the TR split!

    4. They're obviously very aware of the concerns expressed on this blog and the chaos TR is causing if they're tweeting todays post already. Maybe they could tweet about some of those issues aswell?
      To me it's evidence that they read this blog and hence fully aware of all the devestation and destruction TR is causing, but choose to keep quiet about.
      But now we know you're watching, don't ever try to say you didn't know.

  8. If the PI was only concerned with a 'public' service then it would gain my support.
    However, because of the huge amount of probation work thats been handed to the private sector, market forces have to be considered along side ethics, values and standards. To me this represents a considerable conflict of interest within the Institute.
    Standards and codes of practice cannot have a bench mark that is set too high so as to make private sector involvement unprofitable or CRCs can't exist and TR fails. I do not forget either that the MoJ have a considerable stake in the PI, and as a consequence will hold much influence over its development.
    Standards and values will not be upheld by the PI, indeed the opposite is true. They will be dumbed down to a level that allows private opperators to function and make profits.
    I also therefore am of the opinion that the PI is just something that will serve to legitimise TR, and once fully functional the MoJ will use its influence to decide who's on the board, who's the director, and it will then just be the MoJs Institute for probation practices.

  9. When I first read the "Ray of light", I was hoping that it followed with:

    The destruct button has been activated on delius.
    Graying has been sacked.
    We were all merged back.

  10. I think theres more light to be found in this article.

    1. The leader of Britain’s second biggest union Unison today threatened “a wave of action never witnessed before” in the autumn over the Tory-led coalition’s cuts.

      Dave Prentis, general secretary of the 1.3m-strong public sector workers’ union , urged his members to make an ‘anti-austerity’ protest on October 18 the “biggest demo this country has ever seen”.

      He said the TUC-organised ‘Britain needs a Pay Rise’ demo could be bigger than the poll tax protests, which saw some 200,000 people take to the streets in central London in 1990 over the hated community charge.

      And Unison is conducting strike ballots to join teachers, fire fighters, council workmen and civil servants in a strike on July 10 over a “derisory” below-inflation 1% pay offer for public sector workers.

      Up to 1.5m public sector workers could walkout causing widespread disruption with schools closed and millions of children sent home, driving tests cancelled, tax and Job centre offices shut and dustbins left uncollected.

      But union leaders are already discussing co-ordinated industrial action that could see two days of mass strikes in September, which Mr Prentis said could be the biggest walkouts since the General Strike in 1926.

      In the General Strike, between 1.5m and 1.75m workers walked out and some 162m working days were lost - more than five times the post-war peak of 29m during the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979.

      Mr Prentis said there was growing grassroots anger over pay as the lowest paid workers have suffered a £4,000 drop in their incomes because of pay freezes while the richest in the land have seen their fortunes rise by 18%.

      He said: ”There is a real feeling of anger about what is happening. The pressure is not coming from trade union barons, it is coming from below that something has to be done.”

      In a keynote address to Unison’s annual conference in Brighton he said:”The aim is to make it an autumn for this coalition to remember, a wave of action never witnessed before, an autumn with plans afoot to ballot our health members, our police staff, our food agency staff.”

      He fired a broadside at Labour leader Ed Miliband and said workers were fed up with “flaky” ideas and lack of support.

      He added: “When we fight on pay, we don’t expect Labour to oppose us - opposition means opposing the Government, not us.

      “We want policy, to understand how local authorities will be funded, how we’ll build houses, get our kids back to work. We want a Labour party that is recognisable by its responsibility to Labour.”

      Mr Prentis said it was all very well Labour leader Ed Miliband talking about One Nation, adding: “He just has to explain who is in it. Let’s let Labour know there is no equivocation about our demands this year - a moratorium on job cuts in our public services, a reversal of the bedroom tax, a rise in child benefit, greater freedoms for local councils, a review of social care, a real living wage, and scrapping of the Health and Social Care Act.”

    2. Jane Carolan, a Unison executive member, told delegates:”Low pay is endemic. The Rich List shows that fat cats are not just getting overweight, but are clinically obese.

      “We do more than a fair day’s work, we need more than a fair day’s pay.”

      Earlier, Unison’s president Maureen Le Marinel warned that pay cuts, austerity and privatisation were now a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

      Ms Le Marinel, a civilian worker at Lancashire Police, said the government was inflicting “misery” on all public sector workers.

      She added:”Cameron and his numpties continue to steer their economy bus down the one-way street marked austerity, whistling, cheering and laughing as they go, with no option of changing course and absolutely no sign of applying the brakes.

      “We’ve not even seen the worst of it. The Tories are dancing with glee at the prospect of dragging out austerity for as long as they possibly can tying the country into a circle of decline until at least 2020.

      “This is a government determined to sell off the country’s greatest assets. Look at the roll call of privatisation: the NHS, the Royal Mail, the probation service.”

    3. Pity Unison's probation members passed up the opportunity to support their fellow Trades Unionists in Napo, and also those in the GMB and back token one day strike action and ongoing industrial action rather than crossing picket lines and in some cases (I suspect) signing up for extra overtime.

      Reads like conference talk - there has been talk of contemporaneous union action in the public services for decades but we the members have not insisted it happen and have crossed each others picket lines.

      I acknowledge I crossed a Nalgo picket line in about 1979 to give evidence in child care proceedings that were taken by the NSPCC as the Liverpool City Council social workers were on strike at the time, in fact the case workers were on the picket line outside Liverpool Juvenile Court, one had been on the CQSW course I did. I was able to justify it to myself as that child needed to be in care and I could not be sure the Care Order would have been sustained unless my evidence was given. I thought I was being an Officer of the Court' - these things can be very difficult. Napo did not have a policy of reviewing individual actions before or after and I received no sanction and remained on good terms with my social service dept colleagues.

      But like the PI, that bit of rememberancing now is a distraction!

    4. A union chief and Lancashire Police worker has claimed pay cuts, austerity and privatisation are now a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

      Maureen Le Marinel, president of Unison, told the union’s national conference in Brighton that the Government was inflicting “misery” on all sections of the public sector.Ms Le Marinel said: “My service group has lost thousands of jobs, we have faced the crass attempts at police privatisation, and plans to privatise the probation service is right up there with the very worst of this Government’s crazy ideas.“(The Government) continue to steer their economy bus down the one-way street marked austerity, whistling, cheering and laughing as they go, with no option of changing course and absolutely no sign of applying the brakes.”She added Government policies held out no hope for workers, who need something to “ease the pain” of the spiralling cost of living, adding: “We’ve not even seen the worst of it.“The Tories are dancing with glee at the prospect of dragging out austerity for as long as they possibly can, tying the country into a circle of decline until at least 2020.”Ms Le Marinel added many council and health workers had seen their pay devalued by a fifth since the coalition came to power.

    5. A union chief and Lancashire Police worker has claimed pay cuts, austerity and privatisation are now a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

      Maureen Le Marinel, president of Unison, told the union’s national conference in Brighton that the Government was inflicting “misery” on all sections of the public sector.Ms Le Marinel said: “My service group has lost thousands of jobs, we have faced the crass attempts at police privatisation, and plans to privatise the probation service is right up there with the very worst of this Government’s crazy ideas.“(The Government) continue to steer their economy bus down the one-way street marked austerity, whistling, cheering and laughing as they go, with no option of changing course and absolutely no sign of applying the brakes.”She added Government policies held out no hope for workers, who need something to “ease the pain” of the spiralling cost of living, adding: “We’ve not even seen the worst of it.“The Tories are dancing with glee at the prospect of dragging out austerity for as long as they possibly can, tying the country into a circle of decline until at least 2020.”Ms Le Marinel added many council and health workers had seen their pay devalued by a fifth since the coalition came to power.

    6. I have just been told that the BBC asks job applicants "what are your minimum salary expectations?" or "how low are you prepared to go to accept this position?" - A dutch auction for jobs!!
      This government is driving down the salary costs of British workers and I am afraid that the UKIP styled arguments of foreign workers taking the lower paid jobs, through their readiness to work here and send their salaries home, gains significant traction...Despite his lack of policy the bon ami of Farage et al gives many semi professional and professional workers the reason to VOTE for them.
      We have the potential for a Scandanavia type cost economy whilst paid the salary of an Eastern Bloc country - and that is why Labour bangs on about the cost of living crisis.
      When this happens as is inevitable will, how will Joe Public afford a mortgage, pay University fees and plan for Old Age??? When the call for a revolution comes there will be plenty of disenfranchised people young and old , ready to man the barracades.

  11. Perhaps the PI needs a board of governors, like schools, to whom all involved are answerable?
    You could have restrict numbers to 24
    2 from MOJ,
    3 from Corporate investors (1 representing private enterprise, 1 the mutual and 1 the vol sector )
    2 from Academia
    1 from Napo
    1 from Unison -
    1 - independant unions, and
    4 - Service Users
    4 - members of the public
    2 - VSU reps
    4 - independent members - all practitioners - all grades from NPS/CRC's.

    Just a thought!

  12. The Institute is a side-issue. Those that have wanted it for years will promote it. However I think it's the wrong thing at the wrong time and provides a fig leaf for the omnishambles. If we didn't have TR, I would probably support it, but we do have TR and the PI can be misused to keep that alive.

    I think having a pay increase to £75k would be nice. But if it was tied to working for a private "justice" I would decline.

  13. Having attended a couple of Probation Institute events and spoken at length to a number of those who are both directors and on the steering committee I would agree with Sue that the PI is a 'Ray of Light' in the gloom. I think it has a lot of potential to keep what many of us regard as probation values at the heart of our profession. The PI will not keep TR alive but it may well attract those interested in funding research and events that may well provide the opportunity to stimulate authoritative critical debate. Many academics welcome it and there are good reasons for that. Assumptions about the direction it is taking or who has vested interests in it are largely inaccurate. If it becomes a non-entity and fails then it may well be another opportunity missed and an own goal for the critics of TR.

    1. Having read your post, I'm not entirely sure that you are impartial or indeed NOT part of the PI.

      Apologies if this is not the case but my 'women's instinct' suggests the contrary.

    2. Anon 15:38 I'm not sure if you are referring to me or the previous commentator? I've made my position clear and it's up to you whether you believe it or not.

    3. I was referring to 15:03 and not your good self Mr Brown whom I respect immensly :)

    4. I am impartial and not even a member of PI as yet so instinct does not translate to fact in this instance. I would encourage people to consider that the PI is gaining support amongst many of those who are opposed to TR. It is not as simple to say that those who are against TR oppose the PI as clearly those who are opposed to TR are also PI directors and members of the steering group.

  14. My issue with the PI is that it is outside of service delivery and, in the long run, may become more and more disconnected from practice in the real world. We all applaud 'Probation values' but there is no consensus on what they are. I fear it will go the same way as standards in Community Care, aspirational rather than properly funded.

  15. I'm straying off topic but I can't help highlighting difficulties for Grayling.
    Today, his appeal, lodged in conjunction with Terresa May, regarding disclosure of spent and minor convictions on job applications was dismissed. It's another loss in the courts for him.
    And just as that news broke, this article appeared.

    The reshuffle may now not be taking place until July, but Grayling cannot remain as Justice Secetary.


    2. The President of the Family Division has called on Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to address legal aid issues in a recent case.
      In Q v Q, which involved a convicted sex offender who wanted access to his seven year old son, Sir James Munby adjourned the hearing as the man had no legal representation.
      The father was facing a barring order under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, which would legally prevent him from seeking any further applications with regard to his son without the leave of the court.
      Sir James was seeking an explanation from the justice secretary why legal aid had not been made available in these circumstances.
      He said denying the father legal aid could be seen as a breach of two Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
      The President said:
      “[I]n the circumstances I am faced with, unless there is some resolution of the present financial impasse, there would be a breach of either Article 6 or Article 8.”
      Article 8 gives everyone the right to respect for their private and family life, and states that no public authority shall interfere unless it is deemed legal and necessary “for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

      Case law is clear that anyone facing a s91(14) barring order should be represented, as it falls under the remit of Article 8.
      There would also be a breach of Article 6, which gives everyone the right to a fair trial.
      The article states that if someone on trial “has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require”.
      Sir James said that without financial assistance to secure a lawyer, the process would not be fair on the father, noting:
      “[T]he domestic obligation on the court is to act justly and fairly and, to the extent that it is practicable, ensure that the parties are on an equal footing.”
      Since the legal aid cuts in 2013, there has been a significant increase in the number of people in court who are unrepresented.
      The chair of family law organisation Resolute, who has previously condemned the cuts, supported the President’s call for government intervention.
      She said:
      “It is absolutely right for Sir James to ask ministers to intervene – and I hope they will look very seriously at this. Otherwise, if matters continue on their current trajectory, legal representation, advice and support will be the preserve of those who can afford it, not those who are in most need.”

  16. Three months after serious concerns were first raised in the Epsom Guardian about conditions in High Down prison a fresh wave of complaints have come in about prisoners being locked in their cells round the clock and solicitors even finding it difficult to visit their clients.

    Earlier this year the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and the prison's governor, Ian Bickers, assured the public there was no crisis at the prison, and that problems highlighted by a damning inspection report last year were just teething problems caused by cuts to staffing levels and a tightening-up of the prison regime.

    But now fresh concerns have been raised by relatives of men in the prison - which now has 28 staff vacancies compared to 25 in April.

    Their complaints include inmates being locked in their cells for 23-and-a-half hours a day, not being able to attend classes or outdoor exercise, a 10-day backlog of post, solicitors not being able to book legal visits, an ineffective raffle ticket visits system and severe staff shortages.

    Last month, Crispin Blunt, MP for Banstead, visited the prison.

    He said that while he believes the challenges faced by High Down are "systemic and not particular" to the prison, he found it "rather odd" that the Prison Officers’ Association's (POA) members at High Down would not agree to meet him to discuss what was happening.

    He said: "There have been substantial regime changes in the course of the last year imposed on the prison service, which have led to reports made about prisoners having difficulties getting to their activities.

    "But the prison is in the process of settling down to the new regime and making the new system work, with the establishment of a new, tighter regime.

    "Hopefully things are going to improve.

  17. In HMP Northumbria recently there were 5 prison officers on duty throughout the night- two separate medical incidents needed escort duty to hospital ....which left 1 officer on duty !!!!!!!

    Is this what privatised companies call "protecting the public"?

    They, and other private prisons have been asked to house an additional 600 prison places (over and above their contract arrangements, and thus at additional cost).
    So the PRIVATE companies win at both ends , cut costs and impose additional payments.
    This is business and private companies are so much better at it than bureaucratic government departments - hence why we will get SHAFTED when the share sale goes through.