Thursday, 31 July 2014

Another Perspective

The following comment came in over night and I think it's probably a good idea to ponder on it:-
I have read your blog for a long time now – certainly since well before TR stood for anything nasty. I have seen your blog change from the musings of a grumpy PO to something of a focal point for trying to turn the tide as a campaigning blog. I admire your dedication in doing a daily blog and the visitor figures speak for themselves, but I wonder if the content of this blog is doing more harm than good. 
I don’t think TR is a good idea, but I come at this from the perspective of an ex probation officer who has also worked in the private sector, and Westminster. I don’t have an ideological problem with the private sector delivering probation services – anymore than I have a problem with my dentist being in private practice (I would prefer it if he wasn’t though). This means that I am in the majority. As many of your contributors are aware we are in a political neo-liberal consensus just now, and however much you may disagree with it, I see no real signs that is going to change anytime soon. Certainly not at the next election.
I don’t say I’m right and you’re wrong but maybe it is healthy to have another perspective, and this might help explain why more of the same is unlikely to turn the tide on TR. If nothing else the following may at least cause some debate. So a few points:
1. Most of the comments on the blog will not be taken as evidence that TR split is not working. They will be dismissed as teething problems, and self-interest of staff who can’t accept change. Talk of lots of staff leaving will be taken as a positive by your opponents (less redundancy to pay). From the outside many of the comments that this blog attracts will be taken as confirmation that probation is indeed stuck in some kind of time warp badly in need of a shake-up.
2. In Westminster NAPO is seen as a bit of joke and certainly very amateurish, the comments here support that view. 
3. Most staff who survive the outsourcing quickly adapt to their new ‘brand’. We all seem to have a need to belong and feelings of disgust for NOMS and MoJ and previous senior management all help secure staff loyalty to the new organisation that emerges. I saw this at HMP Birmingham who shifted their loyalty to G4S very quickly.
4. In my view the best tactic for stopping TR is to help disgruntled unsuccessful bidders appeal the procurement process. Grayling’s weakness is that he has very little contingency in letting the new contracts. Delaying tactics – especially if they can slow down the letting of any contracts until Feb / March 2015, mean that he could run out of time before the next election. 
5. Ironically the more your contributors are successful in making probation look like a risky proposition, the less the unsuccessful bidders are likely to appeal (they might start to think they had a lucky escape). 
Good luck with the fight. But maybe reflect that trying to resist by shouting is unlikely to be successful – unless you think that your colleagues can suddenly become universally militant.
It's already prompted this reply:-
Your dentist has made an informed choice and as a customer so have you. Leaving ideology aside, the illogical bureaucracy introduced by TR and the cumbersome processes involved where they were once fast, streamlined, efficient and effective would leave genuinely 'innovative' entrepreneurs laughing their socks off. With experience in both the private and public sectors, this is the most ineffective and counter productive idea I have experienced. That is not a slur on my colleagues who battle daily with unfit for purpose IT which is not designed with public protection in mind. Commercial interest has its place but this is not it and with respect I don't think you understand what is happening.
My problem in all this is that TR is a very bad idea, ill-thought-out, dangerous, unlikely to work or save any money. The IT systems are shyte, it won't deliver the desired outcomes and when the private sector take over, it will foster fiddling and fraud. 

It's not as if government has a good track record on shit like this. Lets remind ourselves of two recent similar disastrous policy omnishambles, FiReControl and Individual Learning Accounts. This is what wikipedia says about each:-
FiReControl was a project, initiated in the United Kingdom in March 2004, to reduce the number of control rooms used to handle emergency calls for fire services and authorities. The original plan was for 46 current control rooms to be combined into nine regional control centres (RCC), but this plan was thrown into doubt in May 2010 when the government announced that fire services would not be forced to reorganise.

The Fire Brigades Union, which represents firefighting personnel and control staff at all levels within the fire and rescue service across the UK, launched a campaign against the regionalisation of emergency fire control rooms. The union stated that the project had virtually no acceptance amongst the workforce, which was of major concern to the directors and ministers. Members of the fire brigades union had grave concerns about the diversion of money to the project, and questioned the feasibility of having 30% less control staff available to answer emergency calls across the country during spate conditions. There were fears that the RCC 999 system would become swamped with calls and come to a complete standstill, and the loss of local knowledge amongst call takers was considered a significant risk. Chief Fire Officers feared they would have less control over service delivery in their county, which they felt might be a concern to fire authorities around the country.
All the regional Fire Control Centres were built at vast expense and some still stand empty to this day. The IT system cost a fortune and never delivered. 
The Individual Learning Accounts scheme was announced in the 1997 Labour Party manifesto to support adult education with a system of tax incentives from employers, as well as a cash contribution of £150 to each of a million individuals. The system was biased towards the uptake of information technology skills, following the emergence of the Internet. By the time the scheme was abandoned in October 2001, there were 8,500 accredited providers nationwide. The Department for Education and Skills was investigating 279 providers on the basis of substantial evidence of misselling, and police had arrested 30 people.
TR easily has all and more of the elements required for a classic government cock-up of the first order. These aren't 'teething troubles'. These are concrete examples of fundamental structural failings of a back-of-a-fag-packet idea that is now leading to injury and death. We have a duty as concerned citizens, taxpayers and professionals to draw the folly of all this to the attention of our elected representatives.    


  1. Well said Jim.

  2. The Government's recent U-turn in privatising Child Protection Services, I have no doubt is linked to the backlash of TR (Charities and Social Enterprises still remain under consideration)

    1. Proposals to allow local authorities in England to privatise child protection services have been abandoned.

      The Department for Education said on Friday that profit-making organisations would be barred from carrying out core child safeguarding duties, although councils would still be able to bring in charities and not-for-profit firms if they wished.

      The decision follows criticism from experts – including social work academics, professionals and charities – that opening up child protection to the market would distort decision-making and dilute local accountability over sensitive matters such as taking a child into care.

      The department revealed that of 1,300 responses to its consultation, held in April and May, just 2% agreed with the proposals. Over half said they objected to the introduction of the profit motive. A further 72,000 people signed online petitions objecting to the plans.

      Ministers had argued that allowing the outsourcing of child protection would enable more innovative approaches and improve services for youngsters at risk, but the strength of opposition forced them into a swift climbdown.

      In its response to the consultation, the department said: "The majority of responses raised concerns with the proposals. By far the most common reason given for this was an objection to the possibility of privatisation or profit-making in children's services.

      "The government recognises the scale of concern in relation to the potential inclusion of a profit-making motive in the proposed range of additional delegable functions – in particular child protection."

      The response added: "The government is happy to respond directly to the primary concern raised in the consultation and is making an amendment to the draft regulations which would prevent profit-making bodies from carrying out the additional delegable functions on behalf of local authorities."

  3. As someone who has spent more years working in the private sector than my 15 years in Probation my perspective is the fundamental flaw of TR is the private sector is 'cut throat' in terms of making profit, exploiting vulnerable clients for profit is morally wrong!

  4. Does this 2013 observation still apply?

    "Justice secretary tells staff they risk disciplinary action if they publicly 'undermine' plan to outsource their work with offenders"

    In the meantime, CG is speaking on R4 as I type. He's clearly making his pitch as chief ideologue for the nasty party.

  5. Here comes all that new work for the tagging companies!

    Offenders convicted of alcohol-related crimes will have to wear ankle tags to monitor whether they are still drinking, under a new pilot scheme.

    The tags will record levels of alcohol in their sweat.

    The 12-month trial in four London boroughs - Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton - gives courts the ability to ban people from drinking alcohol.

    Up to 150 people are expected to be made to wear the tags for four months to make sure they comply.

    The aim of the pilot scheme, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, is to reduce the costs and harm caused by excess drinking - a Home Office study has estimated that about one million violent crimes a year in England and Wales are linked to alcohol.

    For the next year, courts in the four boroughs will be able to impose "alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements" on people who commit crimes while drunk.

    Offenders who are subject to the orders will have to wear an anklet known as a transdermal tag. If the alcohol level in their sweat shows they have been drinking, they may face further penalties.

    Up to 150 offenders are expected to be fitted with the tags, including motorists repeatedly convicted of drink-driving and people who cause trouble after drinking too much in pubs and clubs.

    1. I would be very surprised if there were not some very simple workarounds for this sort of technology. It works by skin contact? So slip something in between the leg and the tag? Greaseproof paper? Clingfilm? Rizla paper...? My clients were always so creative at this sort of thing. One pro burglar showed me his ultra technical kit to defeat commercial burglar alarms costing many £1000's... a can of shaving foam spared inside the works. (Or, for the old fashioned bell types, a wad of deftly placed chewing gum....) Where there's a will, there's a client...

      Done a bit or research and there is some interesting dispute in the USA about this, at
      "Several courts have found the SCRAM not reliable enough to have the potential to deprive someone’s liberty and therefore should not be utilized. Most notably, Judge Dennis Powers of the 52-1 Judicial District Court in the City of Novi has written and published an article about the ineffectiveness of the SCRAM called The SCRAM tether as Seen Through the Eyes of Davis-Frye and Daubert. Judge Powers conducted a hearing in which Jeff Hawthorn, and other experts, provided testimony. Judge Powers ruled that the SCRAM did not meet the requisite standards of reliability in the relevant scientific community necessary for court admissibility."

      Interesting information.

    2. Client workarounds! Yes my clients have taught much over the years like how to read magnetic data off a credit card using a video recorder, how to create a 'new' phone card (yes remember them) using a scalpel and sellotape and how to make tea and toast in cell devoid of electricity! They will soon find a simple way to defeat the technology - sort of makes you feel proud and reminiscent of that British 'Great Escape' cunning doesn't it?

    3. I have a cunning plan, Mr Blackadder... as cunning as a fox who has just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University...

  6. Poignant tweet and blog from Joe Kuipers today

    1. Thanks. Will probably republish later today.

  7. I am not sure I fully understand 'Another Perspective', quite what our observer is seeing or thinks. The writer has no ideological problem with the private sector delivering probation services. Does this put the writer in a majority? The analogy with dentistry is rather oblique when considering a service such as probation that is concerned with the administration and delivery of justice.

    The mention of a time-warp is a canard. Probation has adapted to numerous organisational changes over the past decade and shown itself adept at delivering good performance.

    As for adapting to oursouring and new brands, the writer mentions Birmingham Prison. Have staff shifted their 'loyalty' to G4S. I would like to see this assertion supported with some evidence.

    We are not all Neo-Liberals now. A majority wants to see the railways brought back into public ownership. The East Coast Line - which was brought back into public ownership after the private company defaulted - turns a profit for the Exchequer, whilst the other franchises take their cuts from an annual subsidy of 5 billion. There is no public support for privatising the NHS and child protection services. In recent years many hospitals actually brought their outsourced cleaning services back in-house.

    Unfortunately, the political consensus and mania is still very much neo-liberal in complexion and though the Labour Party is beginning to express some doubts about privitisation, a change in fortunes in the next few years seems unlikely. And, as the TR mess can be traced to Labour's legacy, I would not at the present time believe much of what they say – and while an election may delay TR , the split, in my view, will not be reversed by any party or coaltion of parties.

    1. If its not going to be reversed I suggest they shut us down, as we are not effective as we are.

  8. Off topic but of interest, just read an article, could not copy it all with regards 17 year olds in the criminal justice system its related to now 3 deaths of 17 year olds who had been arrested and kept in police cells with adults--

    "By continuing to defend legislation which treats arrested 17-year-olds as adults, Theresa May is out of step with her counterpart at the Ministry of Justice, who seems clear that they should be treated as children. Justice secretary Chris Grayling recently announced that 15-17 year olds in Young Offender Institutions (YOI) now have to be tucked up in bed with the lights out by 10.30pm.

    Grayling's comments highlight just how inconsistent and contradictory the current system is, and why urgent reform is needed. Whereas a 17-year-old in a YOI is too much of a child to decide his or her own bedtime; Kesia was deemed adult enough to be kept in a police cell for two nights and three days.

    Lord Faulks, justice minister, recently told fellow peers that the treatment of arrested 17-year-olds is an issue which the government takes "extremely seriously". But as of last week, the government's review - announced nine months ago - seems to have made little progress. New policing minister Michael Penning admitted that it doesn't keep centralised figures of the number of children this age held in custody each year.

    The government's lack of urgency is perhaps not surprising, given there are few votes in protecting the rights of teenagers, particularly ones who have been arrested. Seventeen-year-olds rarely attract much media sympathy, from publications of any political hue. A columnist on Socialist Worker found the terrible death of schoolboy Horatio Chapple an occasion for mirth and an opportunity to make bad puns ('Eton by bear? The inquest begins'). I suspect it was the fact he was 17 which made Horatio seem fair game for this kind of juvenile bile, in a way that an equally posh 16-year-old wouldn't have been".

    The rest of the article is on Yahoo.

  9. Amateurish? Gold award winning, meets all its performance targets, Investors in People awards, EFQM? I guess you can fool some of the people all of the time.

  10. Neoliberalism ? Is that a byword for riches for a few, poverty wages for the many, foodbanks, homelessness, demonising of the poor/disabled.
    Murdoch, Rebecca, Coulson, Cameron, Tories, Corruption.
    Does anyone know of a successful privatised public service. One that hasn't trashed service standards, slashed wages for the many in order to enrich shareholders and senior staff ?

    1. That's not a fair question. It would be easier to find a quadrilateral triangle.

  11. I wonder how many Probation workers are off on "sick" pay waiting for redundancy pay outs?

    Are they helping to protect the public? Are they assisting clients?

    1. If a medic signs somebody off ,it is not for a lay person to say they are not sick. An overworked colleague cannot protect the public or assist clients either. Probation workers who are off on "sick" pay will not be fast tracked for redundancy pay outs anyway ?!

    2. In my CRC/NPS area? That will be none.

  12. In our office they are dropping off like flies and I don't blame them, this whole thing has been an utter mess which is beginning to impact on peoples health. To be honest I would welcome the redundancy rather than work for this service where staff are now being abused. No work load management tool means that they can allocate as many cases as they want, its a monumental shambles created by yours truly Grayling. I hope everyone goes off sick.

  13. BBC News website:
    'Concern' over more than fifth of prisons
    Worst sentence (no pun intended):
    "Speaking about the number of deaths, justice minister Andrew Selous said the government was "working hard to understand the reasons for the recent increase".
    How hard is it to add up slashing staff levels, banning books and personal items, throwing probation teams into crisis inside and out and ignoring the POA?
    Send you answers on a postcard...

    1. You cannot be selous!

  14. I'm too "amateurish" to say anything remotely intelligent enough in response to our neo-liberal expert on all things private, public and political #notafuckingneoliberalthanks

  15. I recently went to my private dentist who assessed the tooth as needing to be removed. I was then referred to an.NHS hospital as my dentist felt the process was too risky and not cost effective. I had the tooth removed was treated with respect not seen as a pound sign.and have had excellent aftercare. The moral of the story fuck off with your lies.

  16. And there is talk (The Spectator) that the current bubble in the stock market, with debt levels higher than those of September 2007 that another crash is about to happen. To be followed buy another bailout which ordinary people will pay for again. Neoliberalism for you; its good if you are in the club.


  17. I heard someone, Spurr I think, say on R4 today that the increase in violence in prison was down to prisoners being more violent than they used to be. FFS.

    1. It's the intellect that gets you. That and the penetrating insights. Every time.