Sunday, 1 June 2014

Napo - The Future

Today, June 1st, marks a watershed not just for probation, but also for Napo the trade union and professional association who have traditionally represented many in the profession virtually since the beginning. Whatever happens over the coming months, nothing is ever going to be the same again and the next AGM in Scarborough is going to be absolutely critical to Napo's future. The topic is a difficult and painful one and arouses strong emotions, but I feel it's important that I offer my thoughts from what I know and have observed from having run this blog for the last four or so years.

I have been a member right from the beginning of my career, through thick and thin, because I feel it's the right thing to do, simple as, but I could best be described as having been 'non-active' in that I've turned up for branch meetings, but chosen to remain in the background and never held office. Over the years I've been on rallies and marches, worked-to-rule, demonstrated, come out on strike and attended conferences. I've benefited from excellent representation on two occasions for disciplinary and competency matters that concluded satisfactorily I'm happy to say. I've enjoyed the Journal and the camaraderie.    

To say Napo has been through a difficult period over the last couple of years would be putting it mildly. There's still a small herd of elephants in the room and lots of unanswered questions from the he-who-cannot-be-mentioned era. With the departure of National Chair Tom Rendon last week, for reasons that are not entirely clear, there's bound to be a degree of manoeuvring behind the scenes as hopeful candidates position themselves to fill the void.

We know there's a key meeting next week because we all got this email:-
The Officers group will be meeting on June 3rd. At that meeting we will put in place contingency plans to cover the work of the Chair up until the NEC on July 9th. The NEC will then decide the optimum way to cover the vacancy until the newly elected officers take up their posts in October. (This is in line with the Constitution 9g and 9d). 
We will issue regular bulletins to update members.
Thank you for your support.
Megan Elliot, Yvonne Pattison, Chris Winters - National Vice Chairs, Keith Stokeld - National Treasurer
We also know that the officer group were pretty quick to distance themselves from their erstwhile Chair:-
Subject: Resignation of National Chair – Napo Officers response
Date: 23rd May 2014
Members all received a resignation email from Tom Rendon yesterday. The Napo Officers believe it is important to clarify that the views expressed were his personal views and not those of the Officer group.
The timing is regrettable but we promise you that the Officers will do all that they can to carry forward all the ongoing work and to communicate with members. We will continue to have a constructive , mutually respectful and professional relationship with all of Napo's Officials and Napo staff.
We need to all pull together to achieve the best possible outcomes for all our members in Napo at this critical time.
Megan Elliot, Yvonne Pattison, Chris Winters - National Vice Chairs, Keith Stokeld - National Treasurer
And some may feel there was just a hint of unseemly haste and dismissiveness in the General Secretary's response:-
Members will by now be aware that Tom Rendon has decided to step down from his role as National Chair. I have replied to Tom on a personal basis and wished him well for the future. He has many talents and has made a major contribution to the life and fabric of the union.
I believe that the Napo Officer Group have themselves made a statement in response to Tom’s resignation which should be going out to all members later today.
Meanwhile, the Napo staff and I intend to work in the same way as we have always done in partnership with the elected Officers, to progress the campaign strategy that was agreed by the NEC at their last meeting. This will be crucial as we approach the critical period during which Grayling will seek to push through his blatantly corrupt attempts to sell off of your work and your professional careers.
I know Tom's resignation email was written with some care following much agonising thought and gives a very strong hint as to his reasons and helps to explain the subsequent responses. It contained this key passage:-

"For several months I have disagreed with the direction of travel taken by Napo's senior officials on some important matters of employment and on the campaign against Transforming Rehabilitation. Although debate is healthy, the differences here are so fundamental as to make my position untenable."

For some time now this blog has been alluding to what I choose to call a serious dysfunctionality at the top of Napo. I suspect most Napo members will have been blissfully unaware of an almighty internal row going on at Chivalry Road and personalities aside, basically concerning the prosecution - or not - of the fight against TR.

I have it on good authority and from numerous sources that it's been the General Secretary who had to be reluctantly persuaded to proceed with Judicial Review, contrary to any impression he may wish to subsequently convey. In effect there has been a power struggle between the elected Chair and General Secretary for some time, and one in which most significantly the other elected officials failed to support their Chair.

As to the role of the NEC, they appear to be an unwieldy body and pretty ineffective in being able to exercise any effective control or meaningful degree of accountability over the General Secretary. Interestingly, this has been known about for donkey's years and I'm told was a parting observation made by former General Secretary Judy McKnight and subsequently proved beyond doubt by the shenanigans involving the following incumbent.

This dysfunctionality and disagreement regarding policy direction has been present for some time and long before Tom took the extraordinarily unwise decision to apply for an ACO post in the London CRC. This one key mistake sadly sealed his fate in the power game at Chivalry Road and he was unable to prevent the summary dismissal of Harry Fletcher from his temporary employment, contrary to the wishes of the NEC. The loss of Harry meant that his well-thought-out 50 point Action Plan was effectively consigned to the bin.  

It's quite likely that one of the officials who so singularly failed to back their Chair will assume the vacant position temporarily and possibly join other candidates in seeking a mandate from the membership at the next AGM. I think the membership will want a number of questions answering before casting their vote and in particular may well want to hear what plans any candidate may have in dealing with a whole raft of issues, such as:-
  • An independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous General Secretary
  • An internal constitutional review of governance arrangements
  • An effective member involvement and communication strategy
  • A financial, staffing and office accommodation Review 
  • An Action Plan for the continued resistance to TR, sale of the CRC's and member retention  

The situation is serious, but don't just take my word for it. A casual glance at comments like the following, which was signed and posted in response to the General Secretary's last blog, demonstrates the depth of feeling in some quarters. Ok admittedly it's rather more forthright than most, but still shares many of the sentiments often expressed by other contributors to this blog:-    

What utter bollocks. 'Led the way in the fight'? What fight?! 'the industrial action... has not caused the collapse of TR – and it was never claimed that it would do so' - yes, because it was never fucking meant to! Why didn't we take action that WAS aimed at toppling TR? and as for 'I appreciate that there are Napo members who have questioned whether we should have done more. In an open and transparent organisation like ours that’s understandable and we should rightly be accountable' well, I guess that's why EVERYTHING I wrote on the NAPO forums was deleted, and why we don't have the faintest fucking idea why Tom Rendon resigned - the same Tom Rendon who was also happy to tell us that his conduct as NAPO chair was none of our business. 

NAPO's leaders have not organised, not agitated, not campaigned in any meaningful fashion. They have colluded in establishing the Probation Institute, funded and launched by Grayling as central to the success of TR, and allowed us all to be 'sifted' with barely a whimper. They have failed us yes, lets all spend tomorrows lunchtime handing out leaflets like it means a fucking thing. And right on Unison for joining some collective action...for fuck's sake!


  1. Very succinct. Simply put, Napo failed probation and if it is allowed to survive it needs a clear change in management, purpose and direction, both locally and nationally. The first points of business, or be it motions, should be to call for the current general secretary to step down and to detach from the probation institute.

    Like many probation officers and a union member I've been a staunch supporter of the campaign to save probation from being split and privatised, and there is no other position I would take. I will point out that probation leaders mostly chose to not oppose the reforms and probation unions failed to defend against the reforms, and so the battle and war truly is over. While I disagree with splitting and privatising the service, if I'm honest, I haven't necessarily believed that nationalising the probation service is a bad thing as our work is still retained and our ability to practice continues, and it can't be worse that being part of a soon-to-be-extinct Probation Trust which had too many despotic chief officers and their ineffective 'jobs for the boys' senior management teams working alongside 'Probation Boards in my pocket'. As with most things in life there is constant change and nothing stays the same forever, and this has always been the case for probation. Not a working day goes by without me encouraging a client to accept or enact change, and I'm ready to follow my own advice.

    1. 'Our work is retained'. You could be right but let's see if you still think that this time next year. I don't know what the bigger picture is but I'm sure we haven't seen it all yet.

    2. As someone who was automatically assigned to the CRC on the basis of a role as team manager I had held for a whole 6 days- and at the request of our then CE-I do not feel so sanguine about the future.Nearly 38 years in.

    3. Thanks Probation Officer at 10:39 - well worth reading in full, here's a taster:-

      Nothing that is can pause or stay;
      The moon will wax, the moon will wane,
      The mist and cloud will turn to rain,
      The rain to mist and cloud again,
      Tomorrow be today.

      ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

      Too often we fail to realise what we have until it's gone. In years to come our society may look back with disdain to this time when our public services were privatised and sold off en masse. Probation is a core service alongside the police, the army, prisons, health, transport, utilities, etc, and many other areas, most of which have faced elements of privatisation in some form. Unfortunately the roulette wheel of privatisation has stopped on purple and it's now the turn of probation. Although media coverage has been abysmal, the plight of probation and the risks of breaking up and privatising such a service have been far reaching. Despite the campaign to save-probation too many battles have been lost and from 1st June 2014 probation will formally split in two, introducing the public National Probation Service (NPS) that will remain in the public sector and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC's) that will be sold to private companies. The truth is that we don't fully know how this will end, but there are signs that the service provided and the status of probation officers could be drastically diminished overall.

      I should start by reminding you that I'm a probation officer and have been so for many years. I'm no supporter of government and politics because I've generally found politicians to be dishonest. Amongst other failings, too often they make bad decisions and destroy parts of our society that mean a lot to us. Probation is one of these areas and has faced many changes over the years, with the latest Transforming Rehabilitation reforms being the worst of all. Before the split probation had approximately 18,000 employees and I've not heard of a single one expressing anything positive about the reforms. For the record, I can't express anything positive about the reforms either, and any potential positive point is far outweighed by the impact of the many negatives. More importantly, of all the clients and professionals I've worked with while these changes have been ongoing, not a single person has expressed anything positive about the reforms at all. Unfortunately, if and when it all goes wrong, and this is widely predicted to be the case, I expect those justice ministers responsible will be too stubborn to say: we're sorry, we were wrong, and nor do I expect them to be credible enough to rectify their mistakes now or in the future. I suspect that even in the unlikely case that Labour is lucky enough to come into government the CRC's will still face some level of privatisation and will not be absorbed into the NPS.

  2. I hope they don't axe the term probation officer and permanently replace it with offender manager, designated officer or responsible officer but to mention a few.

    NAPO is now dead in the water so far as I'm concerned. There should have been a clause in the contracts of all union officials which prevents them applying for jobs or doing anything that is in conflict with their elected or otherwise role. If such was the case, Tom Rendon would have been summarily dismissed for having flouted the rule by applying for the CRC position. The irony is that he did not get appointed, but applying for it alone, he sold his soul to the devil.

    Good quality training costs money. We can forget about that in CRCs. Moreover, I remember probation areas joining up at times when it came to delivering training. So personnel from one area could attend the other areas training events... That won't happen in the CRC set up.

    In terms of NAPO, I believe the whole constitution needs to be revisited. I am also a supporter of online voting when it comes to small organisations such as ours. Would be strongly against online polling in relation to national/local/EU elections. We need to have the power to be able to dismiss elected officials if we are unhappy with their performance and the process should not be convoluted.

    I would urge monthly TR Campaign Review meetings with the General Secretary via video conferencing to take place simultaneously covering all probation areas. May be possible once the logistics have been ironed out. This would help build confidence that has been strongly eroded during all the infighting.

    1. If all in my area who say they are leaving NAPO do as they say, there will be no NAPO

    2. Anon 12.34 you have 8,000 members in your area? or do you mean you'll have no Branch? Good luck to you all if anyone needs local representation then and to those in CRC in particular your fate with regard to local policies will rest in hands of the Unison negotiators

  3. To get views discussed raise them as motions at your next Branch meeting so can then be discussed at the next NEC meeting in July. On-line voting has been discussed I believe at NEC-think it was cost that might have been an issue? NEC report backs are sent out to NEC reps and Branch Chairs-there's no reason why these cannot be circulated more widely to members and would be helpful imo if they were. Video conferencing,interesting would that get paid for..would areas,NPS/CRCs allow use of their my area the video room is very small! Dismissing paid Union Officials is not that straight-forward (as is true of dismissing Probation staff;even in situations of alleged bringing service into disrepute there are processes to be followed)

  4. Ii am completely committed to and have been busy campaigning to derail plans to dismantle and privatise Probation.
    I have never been, and will never be, remotely interested in the internal politicking of my Union. Makes me YAWWWWWWWN and sigh. So do it if you must, sort it out, whatever.

    1 Throw everything we've got at stopping the share sale
    2 Ensure the membership is at least held, if not grown

    1 will require some serious political work, BOTH require really great communications between leadership of the Union and its members. Communication that in every sentence and every gesture engenders some confidence and optimism, and says that probation staff are valued, respected and served by their Union and in their collective action. That gives heart to members within and far away from London, and voice to their experience and concerns. That tells the rest of the world how fab fab fab Probation is as a movement, a profession and a service, and builds on all the links we now have with other unions and movements at grass roots as well as top brass.

    One tweet that crossed my path on Saturday commented that looking at #probation tweets was depressing. Sod that. Lets roar not squeak, we are great.

    Medium term vision for me, probation and by extension our Union: Come the Spring of 2015 with share sale past its best before date, there is an energetic and upbeat NAPO recrutiment drive, then we are in place to influence how the split but publicly owned Probation Service configures. Mr Khan is already saying that Probation needed reform, just not the TR type. Lets get this share sale stopped, Mr Khan's party in power and on with the next phase (giving him a hard time!)

  5. I think you are rather too generous in respect of Tom, Jim (how do you know he gave his email "agonising thought"?). I think it was highly irresponsible for him to resign via e-mail.He should have done so at NEC so was accountable for his decision and could have clarified the issues instead of things being left open to interpretation. Anyone prepared to stand as Chair now needs to undertake to communicate better/share information more openly with members to rebuild confidence and develop a clear strategy to fight against sell-off of the CRC staff. The rooting about in the past I'm not so sure about;definitely not an immediate priority for me. Business re JL may now be subject to settlement confidentiality. I think there's more an issue about how information about Union business is shared with members whilst being mindful of appropriate confidentialities..not easy.

    1. "I think you are rather too generous in respect of Tom, Jim (how do you know he gave his email "agonising thought"?)"

      I try to choose my words carefully - you would hardly expect me to name sources would you? I don't know why he chose to resign by email - but I'm told his account was switched off within minutes.

      I don't know, but I suspect that things are so toxic at the top, open discussion of any sort is pretty much impossible.

  6. Jim for Chair!

    1. Unfortunately possibly the best potential candidate - Joanna Hughes -- has resigned.

    2. Hows about proposing a vote of no confidence at the next opportunity... then put Joanna up as candidate for Gen Sec? Better move in every respect. If I read the bones right, that removes a key hurdle to the progress and response most members want from their union. A powerful alliance of GS & Chair committed to redressing the balance.

    3. How about it Joanna? £70k a year, hands-on involvement in edgy politics, no need to stoop to the level of becoming a MP, a wealth of knowledge and experience in the probation field, a practitioner-led union. Rather than lose napo, lets reclaim it.

      To those who are skilled in the dark arts of union business:
      "When, where & how do we register a vote of no confidence in the GS?"

  7. As long as you have a top table of leaders they will be corrupted, being close to power does strange and awful things to good people. In the new NAPO we need to keep power at the branch level and at this level power needs to be rotated, no set of people or individuals should hold positions of power for more than three years. After that new people should be elected to represent the views of the rank and file. What this means is that being a member of a union is a fully participatory experience; there is no signing up and sitting back, no we all need to become active members of our union.

    We should campaign to have a place on the board of the NPS or the various CRCs so that we can shape decision making. We are the professionals we know what works and how to do it. The above is called "New Unionism" and it is a growing movement , its about open democracy in the work place. We have to trust that fellow professionals are capable and able to run this type of organisation without the help of so called experts. It hands on unionism open and democratic, in my view it the future of the Union movement. what do others think?


  8. Not sure I've read your blog right Jim.The new Chair and vice-chairs are not elected at next October's AGM; they get voted in over the summer I think.Always a difficult time for elections as members take AL and Branches don't tend to meet. Your point about members wanting to know what candidates will offer is important though it'll be difficult to see how that gets communicated to members given what I've just said about Branch meetings and summer AL etc.I think candidates have to get applications in by July 4th.

    1. I stand corrected. My point then remains all the candidates for positions including National Chair will need to spell out what their plans are so that members can make informed decisions at the appropriate time.

  9. Sounds like 4 nps posts being recruited via agency. This is the sort of crap napo should have kicked into touch. There will be Northants staff who wanted to do reports and court, but who have been assigned crc. Its criminal.

    "Qualified Probation Officer - Northamptonshire

    Our client has 4 job vacancies for Qualified Probation Officer's to work in Northamptonshire.

    - Writing Pre-Sentence Reports.
    - Preparing reports for court.
    - Updating offender records on the electronic system.
    - Managing and enforcing community orders and monitoring attendance.
    - Completing breach reports.
    - Undertaking Court duty as required.

    You must have a relevant Social Work qualification (BA / MA Social Work / DipSW or equivalent), be professionally registered in the area you wish to work - SSSC for Scotland, CCW for Wales, NISCC for Northern Ireland or HCPC for England; and be eligible to work in the UK. All applicants must have at least 2 years recent post qualifying experience working as a Probation Officer."

    1. If it offers any measure, Sanctuary Recruitment's website says they have 177 'live' jobs when I typed in 'probation' - with 31 ads for various roles, some for a single post, others for "several" vacancies in any one area. Most seem to want court/report writing experience, implying big gaps in nps provision but no commitment to filling the gaps with anything other than temp contracts.

  10. I think Papa makes a very good point. If the Union is able to redesign itself into "New Unionism" that would help to increase membership, become more accountable and spread the experience and knowledge around. More importantly it mean a greater level of participation from members who will feel they are part of a Union as opposed to 'in' it.


    Near the bottom mentions that Mr Grayling maybe for the chop

    1. Paper talk, someone close to someone near the senior members of the Conservative Party speculating to a reporter to advance the claims of those she or he think best suited for advancement and diminsh the reputations of those not personally favoured. Resist joining in the speculation.

  12. Oh I just do not want to go to work today, for the first time ever. I really am dreading what I will find....this just feels so wrong.

  13. I feel the same. Hate this split it's wrong wrong wrong.