Wednesday, 13 August 2014

No Profit - No Service

Today we have yet more evidence that the 'silly season' is in full swing. Both the Prison Service and Probation Service are in states of crisis brought about by Chris Grayling's mismanagement, meddling and TR omnishambles, but the MoJ continues to insist Canute-style that everything is just fine. 

Meanwhile the same MoJ spin doctors are telling us that everything is also just fine with the bidding process that will see the CRC's providing probation work divvied out to the likes of Sodexo, Interserve and A4E. But I've been led to believe that the majority of the bids are 'crap' and this is why the hopefuls have been sent away and told to 'try again'. 

One of these hopefuls is A4E, but in today's Guardian we have a graphic example of why privatising vital public services like probation is such a stupid and dangerous idea - because the privateers can walk away anytime they like:-    
The welfare-to-work provider A4e has prematurely pulled out of a £17m contract to deliver education and training to prisoners in 12 London prisons on the grounds that it was unable to run the contract at a profit. The decision was criticised by prison charities as likely to cause significant disruption for inmates. 
Announcing that it would be terminating its contract, the company said delivering the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) had become "extremely challenging" in the past two years because of "a number of constraints" which had "a heavy impact on learner attendance, completion and achievements"."We have concluded, in order to not continue to deliver the contract at a loss, to terminate our provision of [the contract] in London," it said. "This has been a very hard decision to make because A4e and its employees are passionate about the delivery of education services to offenders and believe education is critical to an offender's long-term rehabilitation." 
The company, which was due to continue providing training until July 2016, employs 400 teaching and support staff within London prisons. A4e runs another teaching contract in prisons in the east of England which it has decided not to terminate.A4e did not specify the constraints it cited in its statement but prison charities said access to education in a number of prisons had been impeded by staff shortages which had hampered prisoners' ability to get to lessons. The company is paid according to the amount of training it provides. 
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "It's difficult to know precisely why A4e finds itself running this contract at a loss but it is clear that prisoners are spending more and more time locked down in overcrowded cells in understaffed prisons. Wasting time rather than doing time is a far cry from the rehabilitation revolution. Withdrawal of prison education calls into question both this government's capacity to award contracts for delivery of essential services and its commitment to rehabilitation. Our prisons are being reduced to warehouses – nothing more." 
Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners Education Trust, said: "The delivery of education for prisoners across the country is being seriously affected by overcrowding and staff shortages which are leaving people locked up for longer, so they can't get to class and providers struggle to meet their targets. These pressures are having a negative impact on safety and rehabilitation. It may be that this latest decision by A4e to stop working in London's prisons is a result of these problems."
But this is not the first time A4E has thrown in the towel:-
The start of A4e's prison education contract was complicated by a delay of several months as the company underwent an extra level of auditing, amid fraud allegations in its welfare-to-work contracts. 
This is not the first time that A4e has prematurely terminated a prison education contract; the firm ended a similar contract providing education to eight prisons in Kent early in 2008, citing huge losses. 
The decision to terminate service provision then was criticised by teaching unions, as evidence that outsourcing education contracts to private providers was not a reliable way to guarantee a good quality service. 
Sadiq Khan, shadow secretary of state for justice, said: "This is a vote of no confidence by the private sector in the disastrous way the Government have allowed our prisons to descend into crisis. Providing good training and skills to offenders in prison is crucial in rehabilitation to stop them reoffending on release. Leaving prisoners to fester in their cells or on landings as a result of this shambles is no good for anyone."
This comment nicely sums things up:-
This is just another fine mess within the shambles that is the prison system under Team Grayling. Prison education - which has always been seen as a key element in rehabilitation and reducing re-offending - has been severely undermined over the past two years. No courses above Level 2 are now provided by prison education departments (anything higher now has to be funded by the prisoner, either using their own resources or a loan). 
Since payment under these OLASS contracts is by results (eg prisoner attendance in class and completion of course hours) if sessions have to be cancelled because there are insufficient staff to escort prisoners to and from education departments, then of course providers are going to lose money. It all comes down to Mr Grayling's complete and utter inability to manage the prison system. He is totally out of his depth and unqualified for this role. 
Having closed prisons and cut front line staff numbers, he and his team have brought many prisons close to the verge of collapse. The number of people incarcerated is now at an all time high and overcrowding, at a time when there is a lack of experienced staff, is leading to a surge in violence, self-harm and suicide. Healthcare provision in prisons is a national disgrace and the latest crisis in education and training is just one more example of Team Grayling's collective failure. 
It's high time for Mike Spurr, the head of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), to stop parroting Mr Grayling's denials that a complete meltdown is imminent and to start being honest about the current crisis and its causes: mismanagement of resources; ideological grand-standing; political interference in the day-to-day running of prisons and undermining of staff morale.


  1. Thanks. I was hoping you would have some definite information about Labour's Prisons Crisis Conference, possibly happening in London today. Maybe I was dreaming?

    1. Yes - it is on the end of a Press Assocoation report, that is used by The Guardian about an Inspection at Doncaster. The headline is about Serco keeping prisoners in a cell for 2 days without electricity or water - but it has no details about what they call "Labour's prison crisis summit"

  2. A couple of other points are worth making in relation to this story. Firstly, although A4E clearly found it too much, delivering education in prisons is a relatively easy prospect. You don't have to develop the courses; the outcomes are very easy to define; and there are relatively few other factors to complicate delivery (although a Nasty Party-designed prison regime that prevents your clients from actually getting to your service is one of those). In addition, there's a huge wealth of alternative providers of education who could fill the gap.

    Contrast this with 'offender management', where the only 'simple' measure of success is massively dependent on other factors (not least of which being whether one of your key partners, the police, decide to change how they work and make decisions on whether or not to arrest someone), and where research shows that 'what works' with any one client is often very individualised. The Government's way around this is to get the people who actually know how to run this service to set the companies up, ready for the turkey Christmas sale - but of course this completely makes a mockery of the idea that the private sector is able to 'innovate' in this arena.

    Secondly, the ongoing debacle that is A4E shows that the bigger a company is, the more concerned it will be about the reputational damage it may suffer, and the more it would be able to absorb the short-term financial cost of breaking its contract. This WILL happen with CRCs - the hassle won't be worth the money, and one or more of the big boys will walk away. If the Government were concerned about service delivery (as opposed to cost), they would be looking at smaller, more specialist providers who will be determined to deliver on the service because that's all they do. Such as mutuals made up of former Probation staff, for example. The very groups that are now picking their hats up out of the ring because the financial risk is too great to bear - plus they know how poisoned the TR chalice is.

    Still, it's nice to know that Andy Coulson is in "good spirits" in Belmarsh, and that someone associated with the tabloids is now willing to say that prison isn't really a "holiday camp" - Also nice to see that prison hasn't knocked the sense of entitlement out of them, with claims that Belmarsh is "too harsh" for Coulson (when I'd thought that he was being held there because he's still a remand prisoner awaiting other charges, so not eligible for the luxuries of Cat D?)

    1. Andy Coulson is sleeping on a rubber bunk bed in a category A prison, but is in “good spirits” and coping well with the bleak reality of life inside Belmarsh, his former cellmate and News of the World colleague Neville Thurlbeck said on Tuesday.

      Thurlbeck, the paper’s former chief reporter, made the comments after being released from the prison, giving the first account of life inside for Coulson, the former News of the World editor and ex-communications chief for David Cameron who was jailed for 18 months in July for conspiracy to hack phones.

      After completing 37 days of the six-month sentence he was ordered to serve in prison for his part in phone hacking at the paper, Thurlbeck said he was thrilled to be “liberated” after the “end of a long three year saga” that he hopes now to put behind him.

      He called on the authorities to move Coulson from a “harsh” category A prison, holding inmates including murderers, to an open prison.

      Thurlbeck told the Guardian that they were forced to wear the prison uniform involving a “cornbeef pink T-shirt and matching tracksuit bottoms” for the first two weeks, reported that their exercise consisted of walking in circles in the prison yard, and the “Belmarsh diet” had helped him lose a stone.

      Separately in a blogpost, the paper’s former chief reporter said he had spent 22 to 24 hours a day locked up with Coulson. It is understood the cell measured 8ft by 10ft and contained a bunk bed and a single bed which was “bagged” by Thurlbeck. A third former News of the World executive Greg Miskiw was also sent to Belmarsh at the end of the hacking trial last month but was in a separate cell. He was released along with Thurlbeck on Monday.

      Thurlbeck said: “I don’t wish to complain in the slightest, because it’s what I expected a British prison to look like. I can disabuse anybody of the notion that it’s a holiday camp. There are interminable hours of boredom and pain. The beds are made of what I can only describe as giant pencil rubbers and over time your hips and shoulders and elbows start to ache. It is pretty grim. It’s what I expected but I am glad it’s all behind me now.”

      Coulson is expected to spend half of his 18-month sentence in custody. It is understood the men typically got half an hour of exercise a day and twice during their days in prison together, they went as long as 41 hours without any break.

      Thurlbeck revealed that contrary to reports, Coulson had not been attacked by a fellow inmate. Last month it was reported that Coulson had been injured after being pushed down a flight of stairs by a fellow convict.

      “Despite being left in a ‘Category A’ prison, Andy Coulson is in good spirits and is getting on well with his fellow inmates. Reports that he has been attacked are totally untrue,” said Thurlbeck. “We would like to put the record straight on this.”

      Thurlbeck said that nothing but kindness had been shown to them by fellow prisoners. “I have witnessed nothing other than the hand of friendship to both of us,” he said in his blog.

      The NoW trio were expected to be moved to an open prison within days of being dispatched to Belmarsh on 4 July.

      However Thurlbeck revealed this did not happen because the authorities did not categorise them, leaving Coulson in limbo and possibly in Belmarsh, the home of high security prisoners, for the remainder of his sentence. “Andy Coulson is facing many months in a harsh category A prison because the prison has failed so far to categorise him as a category D prison, the lowest category for white-collar non-violent offenders.

      “Without categorisation he cannot be moved to an open prison where he belongs and where the remainder of his sentence should be served.

      “I feel very strongly about that as did many of his inmates at Belmarsh who felt that Andy was being treated extremely harshly and unfairly.”

      It is understood that Thurlbeck refused any visitors during his incarceration because of the high-security searches which include mouth explorations and rectal scans for weapons or contraband items.

    2. “He is in a prison with people serving life for murder, when … on humanitarian grounds and under rules of the prison service he should be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in an open prison where his wife and young children can visit their father and see him existing in a dignified way,” said Thurlbeck.

      He refused to comment any further on Coulson save to say that after two weeks they were given permission to wear civilian clothes. Thurlbeck revealed that his former boss opted for his “splendid designer polo shirt and jeans while I remained in the prison uniform as I believe in dressing for the occasion.”

      Thurlbeck and Miskiw got six months in prison for their part in the phone hacking conspiracy and were released early for good behaviour.

    3. Category D prisons also hold 'inmates such as murderers'. Only with lower security and staffing levels it will be much harder for prison authorities to manage any potential threats to high profile prisoners. But hey, it is all about his entitlement, right?

  3. Khan is politicking mischieviously and dangerously, a speech from him os previewed in politics home website.

    Probation - not mentioned.

    Youth Justice system up to 20 years from 18.

    Properly independent inspectorate

  4. perhaps Mr Coulson will have plenty of time to reflect on his victim's sufferings whilst he enjoys his celebrity status in prison. Lets face it, in the whole TR shambles, the protection and prevention of victims has been wholly misrepresented to force through an ideological agenda that simply put...puts the public at increased risk.

  5. A little insight for potential bidders: if someone is low ROSH but high risk of re offending, the chances are that they will re offend. Change is a long process for many and not always measurable as an 'hard outcome'. it doesn't happen overnight, probation staff understand this and have kept going, motivating, pushing and instilling hope. We understand that despite doing excellent work, people are complex and applying all the desistance theory in the world doesn't guarantee success. So bidders, buyer beware! If you thought ETE was an easy ride for profit (clearly not because all MOJ work is constrained by their lack of understanding) then think again....offender management is a minefield, offenders are not quantifiable units on which you can predict profit and given that staff are so demoralised, the main resource available has already diminished...Elvis has left the building. Good luck bidders!

    1. This is why PBR is going out of the window and the contracts will be on a fee per client basis.

  6. In 2010 Manchester College pulled out of providing education in prisons, citing the "contracts were financially challenging". You can see how the big players for TR will be driving down the services offered to ensure they have profit for their shareholders.


    College prison teaching staff face redundancy months into new contracts
    Article published: Tuesday, April 20th 2010

    Prison teaching staff at Manchester College have been threatened with redundancies just months into their new contracts. The threats come less than a year after the College made a successful bid to become the largest provider of prison education in the country, teaching in 60 per cent of penal institutions.

    Soon after the finalisation of the deal the College revealed it lacked the money to operate the contracts. In a letter to staff Principal Peter Tavernor claimed that the contracts were “financially challenging…due to unforeseen hidden costs that could not have been reasonably anticipated.”

  7. I saw this on What do they Know - FOI request about EVR. Basically request refused due to commercial interests and also not in the public interest. Personally, I struggle to see how a Govt company can't be asked to provide the information, but hey, why would you now start being transparent about the whole TR process!

    Thank you for your email of 14 July in which you asked for the following information

    from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):

    “Can you please provide the following information on Probation staff who submitted applications under the Transforming Rehabilitation enhanced Voluntary Redundancy scheme:

    a. How many staff submitted initial “Expressions of Interest" – broken down by Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and Grade/Banding within each CRC.

    b. How many staff applications were immediately rejected and not taken to the next stage of obtaining a financial breakdown/offer – broken down by CRC and Grade/Banding within each CRC.”

    Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). I can confirm that the Department holds some of the information that you have asked for, but in this case we will not be providing it to you as it is exempt from disclosure.

    We are not obliged to provide information relating to commercial interests. In this case, we believe that the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person including the Department who holds it (section 43(2) of the Act).

    In line with the terms of this exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, we have also considered whether it would be in the public interest for us to provide you with the information, despite the exemption being applicable. In this case, we have concluded that the public interest favours withholding the information.

  8. I find the timing of the news of A4e's prison education contract very puzzling indeed. News breaks on the eve of Labours prison crisis conference?
    A4e must still be hoping for a TR contract surely, so why would you shoot yourself in the foot by adding to Graylings woes?
    Maybe its because the private sector have Grayling so far over a barrel with TR that they're showing what they can do if they don't get everything they want from future government contracts?
    I really don't know, but I do think it very strange indeed.

    1. I think you have it right there....the private companies know that Grayling is I deep trouble and he now needs them more than they need him. Nonetheless, a bad omen for Probation and Clients.

    2. A4e are no longer bidding.they have enough problems without adding TR to the list!

    3. .how do you know this?

    4. A bloke down the pub told me!

    5. Most companies will be sh*tting bricks before the contract(s) ends once they see the reputational damage supervising offenders will have.

      It would be interesting to see if A4E are still in the running given this, however, nothing would surprise me at all!!!

  9. Did anyone else catch the Probation interview on BBC Radio Newcastle this morning - it's about 7-8 minutes in.

    1. Heard it on the radio this AM, excellent piece from Mike Quinn, good to see/hear the NE NAPO folks keeping the flag flying , Well Done!

    2. Yes just listened to it - well done Mike!

  10. The CEO showed herself up rotten when the fraud allegations against A4E were aired on Channel 4 a few months back. For some reason, she allowed herself to be interviewed live by Kristian Guru-Murthy then gave replies that were the intellectual equivalent of 'you're picking on me' or 'you smell', whilst sitting there sulking. It was shocking that the govt still thinks A4E is worth investing in on that performance. She modelled the behaviour of a person who is surrounded by sycophants in her day job and completely bewildered when someone, who isn't employed by her, challenges her. A4E have a terrible reputation. Their figures for helping people back into work were worse than for people who had no help to find work at all, according to Channel 4. They also would buy someone a pair of work boots or tools for their trade and hijack that as a successful job appointment, even if the jobseeker did it all themselves. We may find ourselves working for them - in which case, they'll probably add us to their successful appointment stats!.

  11. "Most resettlement work was undertaken by a partner organisation called Catch 22 and was linked very closely to a through-the-gate payment by results (PBR) pilot. Work was predicated on a good and up-to-date needs analysis but focused on prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months.
    Resettlement workers provided a very good service to this group. Outcomes across most of the resettlement pathways were delivered reasonably well but there were significant short-comings in
    respect of offender management amongst the longer term or higher risk prisoners. While offender assessment systems were up-to-date, risk management was weak. Offender supervision was minimal and reactive. The poor quality and lack of thoroughness of public protection work was a significant concern. "

    An interesting statement from Nick Hardwick HMIP about HMP Doncaster.

    Whilst the main effort is certainly to address the conditions the inspector found, there is some evidence in there of our predictions for the future - the focus on those offenders (less than 12 month sentences) at the expense of all others to gain payment from the PbR.
    So the "success" described last week by MoJ of the pilot was at the expense of good offender management and public protection .
    With Catch 22 bidding in South Yorkshire CPA do we see a successful provider or an organisation focused on commercial gain at the expense of safety and the wider resettlement approach? You decide....