Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bidding extra

Following on from this mornings post about the MoJ fiddling with the bidding process and the recent news that A4E had pulled out of the London prison education contract, these comments seem extremely relevant:-

Now we have a lot of discussions with the Home Office regarding suitable addresses for bail for detainees. Many of the places proposed by the Home Office/UKBA are multi-occupancy hostels run by the usual suspect big companies ...and they have decided to pull out as they can't make enough money from this 'client group' doubt because there are no staff anywhere so there will be a significant amount of damage and loss.

Who would have thought it eh? I think the 'bidders' and those in Govt so closely linked to the bidders need to wake up to the reality that this chronically underfunded sector, criminal justice, is NEVER going to earn them an easy buck. As someone said above, it takes time, skill, patience, resilience to work in this area because there are so few happy endings, emotionally or financially. Fool's gold.

On the flip side it could be that he MoJ, being aware of the potential fallout should a bidder just walk away (as we have seen with A4E) are simply tightening their own belts so to speak. Unlike contracts to deliver services to those in Prison, if a bidder walks away mid contract then there will likely be major problems. Additionally, there are many Daily Mail readers who are somewhat caustic with their comments when offenders kill themselves; the same readers will be less so when, and I mean when, an offender in the community kills someone else!

It's not the savings that are an issue here, as this will go to the MoJ, it's the cost(s). Now ABC Company must put in a bid to run the CPA which should be lower than the MoJ currently do. From this bid they must then make a profit. Both are which are going to impact on their finances. Now I know there is much talk about redundancies etc, however, if they make you redundant I think I am right in saying that they cannot then offer your job (supervising offenders) to another, for less money. This leaves them open to civil action (which is expensive if done en-mass. Also, I very much doubt they can get rid of staff, at least not yet, as they will be taking on the U12 month cohort which is going to be a massive ball ache for all involved!!

Also, they will need qualified staff to train the new TPO's (yeah, good luck with that one) as cases in the NPS are highly unsuitable for them. They will probably charge the MoJ for this and will need to show that they are able to do it; laying off staff is not going to cut the mustard.

Factor into this whole sorry mess the fact, and it is a fact, that they have taken on hundreds of pissed off staff, who will blow the whistle on poor practice at the first opportunity. The same staff (if my area is anything to go by) which will do all it can to undermine whoever tales over the CPA.

In their ivory towers there will be lots of flow charts prepared by people who do not have the first idea of how to manage offenders, and will quickly learn that flow charts are useless, and what they need are capable OM's/OS's who can identify and react to the fluid nature of our offenders BEFORE they commit a crime. If we only have a 'process' to follow then this is not going to work!

As I have said before, there will be a lot of money lost, massive reputational damage and a heck of a lot of tears before the whole things reverts back to normal. In a strange way I'm looking forward to it, if only so it serves as a reminder to other Ministers who may have the same shitty idea as Grayling!

The subject of what happens when a contractor decides to pull out is covered extensively in this blog post on the LSE website, and although principally concerned with the health and social care sector, it's just as relevant to us. Interestingly, the author concludes by reference to a growing view that some things can't be privatised:-
But perhaps the most vital health and care debate is about what the popular philosopher Michael Sandel has termed the ‘moral limits’ of markets. In this context public services like health and social care are viewed as the manifestation of communal solidarity, expressing a sense of moral obligation that citizens feel for each other. They are something more than a contract put out to the market to secure ‘value for money’. The state is the vehicle for negotiating these obligations with citizens, for developing strategic thinking, coordinating inputs and serving as the ultimate source of legitimacy. This is the debate we need to be having, rising above dry and technical consultations on ‘service continuity’ and ‘commissioner requested services’ to think about what sort of society we want to live in.
This is a subject I talked about last May in a post entitled 'What Money Can't Buy'. Here's a clip:-
I think he could have had probation in mind when writing this book. He cites many more quite shocking examples of how market philosophy has been applied in all sorts of inappropriate and repugnant ways, such as trading life insurance policies on people with terminal illnesses, and companies like Walmart insuring for the possibility of customers dying on their premises. Every death provides a useful windfall apparently.
If you add to this examples of the perverse operation of markets, and apocryphal stories of buses not picking up passengers in order to keep to schedules, and trains cancelled instead of running late to avoid penalties, I think most people can see plenty of potential pitfalls in privatising probation. 
and an excellent review of Sandel's book can be found here. 

Finally, I notice that Mark Leftly in the Independent yesterday picks up on a theme he's written about previously, namely that the big boys are so big, we're effectively stuck with them, what ever happens:-
From running the Defence Academy in Wiltshire to housing asylum seekers in Liverpool, from training thousands of headteachers to cleaning our streets, Serco is as powerful as the government departments that are its major clients.
The company is one of the biggest players in the hidden state: the outsourcing industry that has received £87.7bn of government contracts since the Coalition came to power four years ago, according to the research firm IGS.
Postscript - Just noticed this about Serco pulling out of the UK Clinical Services market. Well done Andrew for spotting it on the Health Service Journal website and posting on the Napo Forum:-
Outsourcing giant Serco has announced plans to withdraw from the clinical health services market in the UK after making a multimillion pound loss on its NHS contracts. The move follows a review of the cost of delivering “improved service levels” and meeting the performance requirements of several existing contracts, the company said in a stock market statement.
“During the period, the group continued to monitor performance in the UK clinical health operations against which an onerous contract provision was made in the prior year and where the group’s intention is to withdraw from the UK clinical health market,” it said. “The group has revised upwards the estimate of the costs of running the contracts to term, resulting in an additional non-cash exceptional charge of £3.9m in the period (year ended 31 December 2013: £17.6m).”
Serco’s planned withdrawal could influence significantly how other private firms view the prospect of bidding for contracts involving patient facing services. It also follows months of speculation about the outsourcing giant’s clinical operation.


  1. Hmmm, we used to have "bog boys" (aka 'fags') at school. Presumably this Etonian government can't cope without?

    However, I suspect a typo crept in...?

  2. I am noticing a peevish note in recent contractor statements... "onerous" being an example. Poor loves, they didnt make the easy money they hoped. This is incredibly challenging work, whose success rests on the dedication and motivation of the people doing it, commissioned ineptly (to put it mildly) by government. Shame on all of you, and lets just hope we can rescue crucial public service before it is wrecked beyond retrieval. Hintlet to any ministers contemplating this task: TALK TO PRACTITIONERS. And leave your ego in the cupboard

  3. Just found this from Guardian earlier in the week. Thought-provoking:

    "As they were led to the gallows there was little fuss. No public outcry, no headlines indicated that the executions of Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen would be remembered as anything other than run-of-the-mill.

    The deaths of the two convicted murderers, hanged with little ceremony at separate prisons at 8am on 13 August 1964, made only a couple of lines in the national press.

    Exactly 50 years later, however, the names Evans and Allen – two criminals who bludgeoned a man to death to steal £10 – are a significant footnote in the annals of abolitionist history.

    As the last two people executed in Britain, the macabre anniversary of their deaths at Strangeways prison in Manchester and Walton prison in Liverpool is generating more publicity than their crime and punishment ever did at the time.

    Evans, 24, and Allen, 21, were unlucky with their timing. Two months after they were executed Labour came to power, bringing a Commons vote to suspend capital punishment for five years in the 1965 Murder Act, a move made permanent in 1969.

    The criminologist Steve Fielding, author of more than 20 books on British hangings, believes the lack of publicity was due to the fact that, by sensationalist standards, the Evans and Allen murder was "quite low key".

    The two jobless Preston men travelled to the Cumbria home of John "Jack" West, a 53-year-old laundry van driver known to Evans, in a stolen car with Allen's wife and two children, on 7 April 1964. The two planned to rob the bachelor, but then killed him.

    A neighbour in the village of Seaton, awoken by a suspicious noise, saw the car disappearing down the street. West's semi-naked body was later found in a pool of blood.

    Within 48 hours both men had been arrested and charged, police having been greatly aided by Evans leaving his raincoat at the scene. They were convicted in June, and had their appeals against the death sentences rejected on 21 July. A date for execution was set for 13 August.

    At Walton prison, Robert "Jock" Stewart, was Allen's hangman. Fielding said: "He [Stewart] mentioned that on the day before the execution, when Allen was visited by his wife for the last time, they were separated by a piece of what was supposed to be bullet-proofed glass. And, as the interview came to a close, [Allen] hurled himself at it.

    "He cracked the glass and broke his thumb. So, on the morning of the execution when Stewart went to pin his hands behind his back, he had a big bandage on where he broke his thumb.

    "As he was led from the condemned cell to the gallows, he shouted 'Jesus.'"

    Some 20 years ago, as part of his research, Fielding travelled to Liverpool to meet the assistant hangman, who has since died. "He said it was a run-of-the mill execution, just like all the others he had carried out. There was nothing sensational about it.

    "Of course, they didn't know at the time it was going to be the last execution.

    Abolitionists believe the UK should be proud of the stand it took back then to abandon capital punishment.

    "In reflecting on [these] 50 years I think what we would hope people would take from it is, first of all, a sense of pride that the UK is an abolitionist country and has been for such a long time," said Amnesty International's director of global issues, Audrey Gaughran.

    Globally, there was a continuous downward trend in the number of executions, she said. Those calling for the reinstatement of capital punishment often saw it as "a quick fix, particularly around elections times", rather than addressing perceptions of crime.

    "Among the things we have learned [in the last 50 years] is that convictions are not always safe," she said. That was one of the biggest arguments against it in the UK when it was abolished, "the issue of the irreversibility of the death penalty"."

  4. And this extract from 'Inside Times' (from 2012) by a prisoner is also useful. Potentially uncomfortable reading, but nevertheless a valid point if view. I've been guilty of losing focus and "processing" cases - and I fear the TR agenda is becoming more about the System than those we work with. Hope its okay to post here?

    "The justice system, the prison system and probation are meant to be there to help people, whether they are young or old. But when it comes to the youth they are doing more damage than good. If you end up making a mistake when you are young and end up going to prison then you are in a bad position. Once released the system will make you go to countless meetings, which are only there for you to do a urine test and a 5 minute chat with probation. I can understand their obsession with keeping tags on you but when they start throwing in courses you have to attend once or twice a week, on top of probation meetings it becomes less of your life and more theirs. If you are unlucky enough to be on MAPPA then you sometimes have to sign on at a bail hostel 3 times a day, even if you are living there, also you will be on a curfew and surrounded by crack and heroin abusers.
    Add to all this the fact that a discharged prisoner only receives a discharge grant of £46 which has to last anything up to 14 days, as this is how long the job centre can take to sort out your application for job seekers allowance. Of course probation will say that all the stuff they do is designed to help you slowly reintegrate back into society, and you need to do it all very slowly so that you don’t go ‘freedom mad’. To be honest, I have been in prisons where I’ve had more freedom and trust than what is given by the Probation Service. Even if you manage to juggle all the restrictions on you, have a little bit of time with your loved ones and attend a job interview or two and you end up getting a job, you will still be screwed. The Probation Service will acknowledge and congratulate you for finding work, but will still expect you to take time off your new job to complete all their meetings. This is a brilliant idea that can only serve to make your boss happy that he has hired you. Not. I believe the Probation Service really doesn’t have a clue how the real world works and what you need to rehabilitate offenders. Nine times out of ten all probation do is make any employer wish he hadn’t given you the chance in the first place and make him wary of hiring ex offenders in the future.
    The Prison Service doesn’t help offenders either. Yes, it looks good when a prison claims to have ‘programmes’ dedicated to help tackle offenders personal problems with drugs and alcohol, whether their problem is with abuse or supplying drugs. The only problem is that their courses are absolute rubbish! Most of these courses are a healthcare worker and 6-10 offenders sitting in a room whilst the healthcare worker reads information from a slideshow about drugs and/or alcohol. Most of the information given is common knowledge anyway. As for offending behaviour courses, most prisoners attend these because it is part of their sentence plan – they’re not really interested in the trite crap that comes from it. And often the instructors on the course don’t give a toss and just want to get it done so they can move onto the next group and tick all their boxes. Even the vocational courses on offer do not offer any real prospect of a job on release, because they simply teach you the basics and no more.
    Unless the Prison and Probation Services are ready to change and accept that they are failing to work properly with offenders – and surely the astronomical reoffending rates are the proof of this – then things are going to get a lot worse. Prisons and probation waste huge amounts of public funding with very little return for the money."

    1. Looks like you've found the source of Grayling's policy. Maybe the prisoner could sue Grayling for plagiarism?

    2. It quotes "astronomical reoffending rates" and "£46" - are we sure it isn't Grayling writing this one? All the hallmarks are there!

      Good job the private sector cavalry with all their innovation and 1 to 1 mentoring are just over the brow of the hill...

    3. Shame the author did not let us in on what works, from his point of view - sadly, this is how justice and rehabilitation is experienced by so many of our customers, those who have yet to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

  5. I'm interested in knowing how many of the under 12 month custodial cases will actually end up in the CRC. So far, since TR in our area, the RSR tool is sending all our most prolific (and therefore most likely to get a short prison sentence), to NPS. Unfortunately the Integrated Offender Management Teams with the best resources and skills to deal with these people are in the CRC. They've started twiddling their thumbs while their cases are hemorrhaging across to already hard pressed NPS officers.