I’m really grateful for all the hard work colleagues have been doing since we moved to new structures last month. I know that the transition has not been easy and that implementing the changes has placed additional pressures on everyone.
In particular, I recognise IT glitches and the need to operate with temporary ‘work-arounds’ for some processes have added to the pressure and created understandable frustrations.
Overall, work continues to be delivered to high standards across the country and that is a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of Probation staff in CRCs and across the NPS. But I know we need to improve the IT service you are receiving and colleagues are working hard to do that.
There will be a major IT upgrade later this month which will resolve most of the current technical issues and remove the majority of ‘work arounds’. This upgrade will also restore the link between N-Delius and IAPS and will therefore provide significant service improvements.
NPS Deputy Directors and CRC Chief Executives are working together to ensure that the new systems operate cohesively. Adapting to the new working arrangements was always going to be a challenge and create some inevitable tensions and teething problems.
Any change of this scale is bound to do that – but during my visits and discussions with Probation staff, I’ve been impressed by the determination to work through the issues and to get the ‘job done’. We must continue to do that – to work together to deal with issues as they arise and to develop and refine new ways of working to meet our responsibilities to offenders, to our partners and to the public.
Looking forward the new structures will provide real opportunities to improve practice and consistency in the NPS and to develop new approaches and innovation in the CRCs.
We have received a good range of bids for each of the Contract Package Areas and these are now being evaluated. Share sale will take place by the end of the year – and new arrangements for ‘Through the Gate’ services and supervision of offenders serving under 12 month prison sentences will be introduced across the country.
The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms are now a reality; they are fundamentally changing the way we work. But we all retain a common goal – to ‘prevent victims by changing lives’, and effective partnership working both between the NPS and CRCs, with prisons and with local partner agencies will remain critical to the work we do for the public.
As CEO of NOMS, I have accountability for ensuring that the whole offender management system works effectively, and maintaining a culture of collaboration and positive engagement across all parts of the Agency and with local partners is a key responsibility.
Thank you for all you are doing to deliver the changes required – and for your dedication to the vital work we do for the public.
Michael Spurr, NOMS Chief Executive OfficerWith chaos everywhere, here's Mark Leftly in the Independent:-
What crisis? Ploughing on with probation service reform
If you thought that teachers hated their erstwhile Education Secretary, you should talk to probation officers. Their anger at the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, makes even the most left-wing teachers look like apologists for Michael Gove.
Probation has been in chaos since the start of June, when the service was split ahead of 70 per cent of it being handed to private sector managers later this year. Bidders for what are called Community Rehabilitation Companies include France’s Sodexo and the FTSE 250 group Interserve.
Napo, the probation union, has sent a bulletin to MPs with examples of how the changes to the service’s structure have left it at “crisis point”. These include a temporary officer leaving due to the working conditions, meaning that 21 people at high risk of harm, including sex offenders, are currently unallocated.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), said it was “inaccurate to paint a picture of ‘upheaval’” and “inaccurate to suggest that the transition has resulted in excessive workloads”.
“Inaccurate” is the MoJ’s buzzword for this issue. It was the reply I received from the press office when I asked for comment on the Napo parliamentary bulletins. The ministry’s position is, then, that probation officers have simply got it wrong when they say case files have been lost, offenders not met, and that the stress of the changes has been unbearable.
An MoJ source told me this week that when Mr Grayling is “cornered, he comes back fighting” – only the language was a little more earthy. As a result, deny, deny, deny has become the mantra.
It reminds me of the 1984 Christmas special of Yes Minister, when wannabe PM Jim Hacker echoed Otto von Bismarck: “First rule of politics: never believe anything until it’s been officially denied.”
In delivering the final insult to us as a profession, we don't even have a proper minister any more. Here's Ian Dunt writing on the politics.co,uk website:-
Chaos in prisons – but the minister goes part time
For a little while yesterday, Andrew Selous' biography on the Ministry of Justice's website mentioned the fact he was unpaid. And then, as a handful of home correspondents on Twitter noticed, it disappeared.
Since then, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed to the Howard League that he is in fact unpaid. Selous will only be paid for his role as assistant whip. So the role of managing Britain's prison estate is not just a part time one – one which was only filled as something of an afterthought. It is also the lesser of the part time roles. It's not much more substantial than a hobby.
Filling the role of prisons minister in the reshuffle was a shambles from the start. It was clear everyone felt it was a hot potato. The estate is full, cash is being haemorrhaged stuffing extra prisoners into private prisons against contract, and the total number of prison officers has fallen by 30% over the past three years. A draconian new 'right-wing' regime is imposing ever-harsher penalties on inmates, including a humiliating programme of de-personalisation and solitary confinement. Many experts privately warn they are expecting riots over the summer, especially if there are prolonged heatwaves.
Since November last year, when the draconian new rules were introduced, the number of suicides in jail has doubled compared to the same period a year ago. There were 42 suicides in the first half of this year, compared to 30 the year before. "Deaths have risen sharply in recent months," Nigel Newcomen, the prisons and probation ombudsman, said recently. "It is too early to be sure why this rise is occurring, but the personal crisis and utter despair of those involved is readily apparent, as is the state's evident inability to deliver its duty of care to some of the most vulnerable in custody."
There's significant increase in male self-harm, which has risen annually by 3,000 since the coalition came to power in 2010. Last year, there were 23,183 self-harm incidents in prison. Murder rates are also increasing, with four alleged homicides in 2013 – the highest number since 1998.
As the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, told Newsnight: "If you look since the beginning of the year, our inspection findings have dropped significantly. We are seeing a lot more prisons that are not meeting acceptable standards across a range of things we look at. And I go to most of these inspections and I see with my own eyes a deterioration.
He went on to describe "people being held in deplorable conditions who are suicidal, they don't have anything to do and they don't have anyone to talk to". He added: "We need to look at what's under our noses and sort that."
We are witnessing a self-inflicted prison crisis, the result of an overuse of incarceration, cuts to funding, free-market experiments, macho-posturing and a refusal to look at the evidence of what actually reduces reoffending. But far from doing anything about it, the government appears to be losing interest. The prison minister job was an afterthought. Now it is filled - part time and unpaid - by a man with no track record on prison issues.
This is not the way you'd treat a matter of priority. There's only one logical conclusion: the prison system is in crisis and the coalition doesn't care.Finally, to round this depressing blog post off and as the radio silence from Napo continues, I'm genuinely mystified. Why would the General Secretary waste 10 minutes of an important Chairs meeting berating both myself and this blog? Perhaps even more significantly, why didn't anyone present at least attempt to counter his bluster?
It brings to mind an NEC meeting earlier in the year when Joanna Hughes dared to ask the General Secretary some questions and was treated to an astonishing verbal haranguing for her pains. Not a peep out of the assembled throng I'm told, although the collective embarrassment was palpable apparently.
Only after the meeting were complaints passed to the monitors and both a verbal and written apology were forthcoming. My point is to illustrate the dysfunctionality of leadership and accountability that exists at the top of Napo. I've heard the NEC referred to as 'wimps' and I continue to maintain that they are completely incapable of exercising line management of the General Secretary.
Why does this matter? Because we're supposed to be fighting a battle against TR, that's why. It's what I'm doing. It's what this blog is doing. It's what I think the vast majority of readers and contributors are doing. I just wish we could be assured that Napo at the top was as committed and capable. Oh, and just for the record, I'm not interested in talking to the General Secretary either. His line manager would be a different kettle of fish on the other hand.
I really don't care how unpopular I am down at Chivalry Road or Petty France. I will continue to speak as I find and challenge bullshit and bluster from wherever it comes and especially when it interfere's with the current fight to save an honourable profession.
Let me spell it out. In terms of fighting TR, what we are witnessing at Napo HQ is nothing more than some 'going through the motions'. The absolute minimum necessary that tries to give the impression that 'something' is going on. I'm outraged by it and I think many others are too. Things are getting desperate and we don't want to hear bleating about the evils of social media - we want to see some bloody action! So, just to reassure readers, this blog will not be taking a holiday and will carry on the fight against TR throughout the summer.
As ballot papers go out to Napo members, stay tuned if you share my concerns and worries for the future, not just of the probation service, but our union as well. We have the opportunity to debate the issues as openly as possible and send a clear message to all the candidates that the membership are in no mood to tolerate the status quo. Chivalry Road has got to be shaken up!