Saturday, 23 August 2014

Guest Blog 4

“Fifty ways to leave the Probation Service” - with apologies to Paul Simon 

Arriving at work just after 8 the other morning I greeted and spoke to three members of the team I manage – they are not usually in until 9 on a Friday because of early starts and weekend working being the norm for the rest of the week, so it was a surprise to see them. A quick catch up ensued and then I looked around me. Apart from the four of us the building was eerily empty. It usually holds a lot of people on its multiple floors. Admittedly, it is August; yes, it was also the Friday before a bank holiday but.............................I am willing to bet that a year ago the building would have had staff in at that time in the morning, keen to get ahead of the day they were facing, catching up with each and having that first cup of coffee. So, what has happened?

People are leaving the Probation Service, both physically and emotionally - that is what has happened. Thinking about Sally Lewis' comment about how she felt she had not left the Probation Service, rather it had left her, I began to think about the number of ways staff are departing stage left. There may not be 50 ways, as listed in the Paul Simon song, but all the ways, no matter how many, have a finality in themselves and add to the overall demolishing of the service.

As someone who is actually in the process of leaving the Probation Service to go onto another job I have become an unqualified careers adviser for a number of staff who have been wanting to talk about their exit plans, both actual and potential. It seems many are mulling over, considering and putting into  action a wide variety of notions. Some of those plans will obviously not come into fruition but if a fraction do then the exodus of trained, qualified staff will continue and undermine the stability of both the NPS and CRCs. 

The Probation Service was renowned for its low staff turnover for decades. I am now in the situation where I see people in the office I do not know the names of - new receptionist? New to a partnership agency? Visitor? I then find out they are responsible for 60-70 cases from the office's workload and they are known as a “temp”. How did that happen? Like dementors from the Harry Potter stories TR seems to be sucking the lifeblood and soul out of the Probation Service I knew and worked hard for over many years. Certainly it was not perfect but staff were there to try and do their best with the tools they were given. That sense of togetherness and goodwill is being lost as the people who have that folk memory, if you like, leave either physically or emotionally.

Even if a person does not leave, the existence of an exit plan, however tentative makes a difference to how you view the job you are currently doing. The thought of a possible way out of the situation you are finding difficult changes how you approach everything to do with your work. Those around you may not notice the difference and it just might manifest itself in a number of ways; making sure you work your contracted hours and nothing else; not getting involved in union activity; not volunteering for an activity you might have seen as possibly interesting in the past; not joining the PI even though the CRC you are working for is offering to pay for you; sitting in silence as you listen to yet another “dialogue” with senior management about the TR changes; seeing problems as not something shared but belonging to the CRC or NPS; taking sick leave (my local observation, for what it's worth, is that the number of days taken as sickness absence will rise noticeably). Over time - and it seems to be happening at a rapid pace - it will change the nature of the organisation and it will become unrecognisable to those who know the service as it was.

I am sure that the Ministry of Justice will be cheered to hear the effect their attentions are having to the service. The bidders, however, will not want to inherit a group of staff with a large number of temporary workers. The freedom to just up and go if you do not like what is happening will give some of our temporary colleagues a lot of bargaining power, if the current drought in this direction continues. So becoming a “temp” is another way to leave the Probation Service. I think I am up to about eight ways to leave so far. Perhaps not fifty then.

There is, then, the physical leaving. Mention has been made before of Probation babies. I am sure that HR and the like will say it is inevitable when employing so many young women,but we have employed a lot of young women for decades now. Again, I am sure it will be dismissed as senile musings but I am sure that some colleagues are timing their pregnancies now - because, why not? - see what the landscape looks like in 12 months time. It will be interesting to see how many return and, if they do, for how long.

There is applying for other jobs - I went outside the service to seek another job - but I am aware that a significant proportion of POs in this CRC are starting the process of applying to the NPS - it might be frying pan and fire but CRC PO workloads appear to comprise of scores of domestic abuse cases and little else. Many are missing the writing of court reports and the sheer variety the average caseload presented - that discrete piece of work, in writing reports, involves using and honing assessment skills. It is a real loss to many a PO, along with the challenges a mixed workload presented and it hurts.

My physical leaving has yet to happen - when it does it will hurt. I do not want to go but I can see what is round the corner for the service and it will hurt even more to witness it and stay. I do hope I am so very wrong.

Anon SPO 2  


  1. Enough, we haven't voted coz we don't care who wins. It's all blah blah blah, all bollocks speak with no relevence to our day by day experience. We call our "clients" offenders. We do a bloody good job, and we have no connection with the NAPO hierarchy. But hey ho on we go with our meaningless elections. The union does fuck all for us at a national level (at local level bless you!). Why are you surprised at a low turnout? Jim, bless you for the work you put in, without you we wouldn't have a clue of developments. There's a lot of us joined since 2000 who aren't social work trained ( and frankly think that was for the better). I know that this will upset people, but bollocks, we have no inferiority complex, why should we? NAPO is bimbling along, it has nothing to do with us.......... apart from the monthly fees, obviously. A geordie PO

    1. I appreciate your plain speaking geordie po - it's a commodity Napo HQ are not that familiar with unfortunately. I know they read this blog - if only they bloody took the messages on board and acted on them. Dino was the only candidate that was prepared to.

    2. If only they bloody COMMUNICATED. Just some information and support here and there would be nice. Feels like a one way street, with NAPO HQ sucking up my energy to justify themselves.

  2. Nail on the head. I'm so 'Gate-happy' I'll be pretty devastated if I don't get VR. I'm avoiding courses, meetings and anything work-wise that requires any commitment where humanly possible and my boss cannot have missed the lack of drive that people now currently demonstrate. Who wants to play a part in developing systems and new ways of working when the shifting sands make each day a new miserable landscape?. I'd rather leave and have control of my own mental health back. Over the last 20 years, I can't remember a time when some muppet, probably with 'change is the only constant' pinned on their wall, hasn't been instigating change for it's own sake and sucking the life out of people who thought they were there to nurture POSITIVE change in individuals and society. Enough's enough.

  3. I have gone from working 60+ hours a week to doing my contracted hours and am not alone in this. Have also noticed how empty the office is where I work too. Because we cover such a large geographical area more and more time is being spent travelling and double the meetings now there needs to be an NPS and a CRC rep at the same meeting.
    I didn't go to work the other day because I just couldn't face it. I didn't ring in sick and no one noticed I was missing. Would apply for another job outside of probation but so fed up that I can't be bothered. Chris Grayling does not know what irreversible damage he has done to the probation service.

  4. Oh, Anon SPO, my heart goes out to you. On a daily basis I cannot decide to be angry or just sad. The phrase "staff goodwill" has been bandied about so much, and it just doesnt do justice to the commitment and dedication that has been binned in the TR shambles. The WASTE the bloody WASTE this has generated. If I was a bidder I would right now be writing off £milliions from the asset register. There is a particularly devastating horror of being a (decent) middle manager in all this: your job is to make TR "roll out" and tick the boxes for people you hate, and who have betrayed you, and your instinct is to hang in there and try to minimise the damage on your team. Devil and deep blue sea.

  5. 50 ways to leave your lover... it was a love affair wasnt it. Hell hath no fury

  6. 18:20 i am intrested in what you know about be? Is it back on the table ? If so for who? I am sure other colleagues will be egarley waiting a response from anyone In the know