This is a very hard blog post to write and rather more so than is usually the case. I have no idea what to say or how it's going to end. We are in such a mess, no superlative seems adequate to describe things. Despite all the hurdles and apparent impossibility of the situation, I at least have always felt there was a cunning plan, but comrades it's beginning to look as if fighting on two fronts, the union as well as TR, is just not possible.
I guess it won't come as any great surprise to hear that people who know me well know that since this all started, this blog has become pretty much all-consuming. Amongst other things, I tell people that I simply can't believe the degree of bad luck that has befallen our union. Just by the sheer law of averages you'd think we'd get a bloody break and something would go right, especially when you see what utter chaos Grayling is making of our criminal justice system?
But not a bit of it. Despite the army of committed, loyal, frontline foot soldiers beavering away trying to save our profession and service, they've been continually let down by an inept, unaccountable, unimaginative and ineffective leadership. The NEC has proved itself to be completely incapable of giving any direction and of holding the General Secretary to account. I'm told that since the Jonathan Ledger fiasco they're not even allowed to have a shared email group in case they might be tempted to discuss and plot amongst themselves.
I'm told the General Secretary was particularly subdued at the recent meeting, and so he might be as mutterings about proposing a vote of no confidence are gaining momentum. But no matter how well-deserved, what would that achieve in terms of fighting TR? Nothing!
I've said it before and I say it again - the GS needs managing! But how is that going to happen? At this critically important time, when the very existence of the union is in doubt, it was sheer barking mad to think the answer lay in having union leadership divided into two posts, and both elected on a platform of continuity! The last bloody thing we need is continuity. We need change, and we need it now!
Then there's JR - or more specifically, no JR. As news continues to leak out about the recent NEC meeting, I can confirm that the decision has been made - there is definitely not going to be a Judicial Review, despite some £80,000 having been expended on legal fees. It's completely academic now, but I can also say with a high degree of certainty that there never was any chance because Tom Rendon had no internal support when he tried unsuccessfully to drive the issue forward.
I said at the beginning of this particularly depressing post that I had no idea how it was going to end. Well, somewhat surprisingly, I think it's going to be on a positive note. I sense that the penny is finally beginning to drop with many members and there is a real head of steam to do something at the AGM; to demonstrate the sense of feeling and take some control over their union.
There is much talk on twitter and Facebook about votes of no confidence and seeking motions to mandate JR. May I suggest that any action try and focus on the positive? An urgent change of lawyer and second opinion would seem like a bloody good place to start. And how about ring-fencing a fighting fund?
Lets end on the excellent work by those branches organising the special event in Chris Grayling's constituency on Saturday. Judging by his outburst in the local paper, it's clearly got the guy rattled.
URGENT MEDIA RELEASE – Immediate Use
On Saturday 27th September probation staff will be marching and rallying in Justice Secretary Chris Graylings Constituency to protest at the dangerous dismantling of the probation service.
It is little wonder that probation staff are angry as the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has abolished award winning local Probation Trusts and split the probation service into one highly controlled centralised National Probation Service and created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) with the sole purpose of selling these companies in October this year to enable large multinational corporations such as Capita and Sodexo to increase their profits at the taxpayers expense.
The record of these corporations involved in other privatisations is not good with scandals in the court interpretation system, prisoner transport, detention centres, prisons, electronic monitoring, and IT contracts.
You would have thought that Mr Grayling had learned from the numerous scandals and disasters but now he wants to privatise probation too with potentially disastrous consequences.
Probation staff morale is at its lowest ever and remember these are the professionals who engage directly with offenders in order to tackle their offending and help rehabilitate them.
A poll by unions NAPO and Unison, which between them represent 12,000 workers in the probation service, found 80% have thought about leaving, while 55% are actively looking for alternative employment.
The survey revealed an overwhelming level of dissatisfaction with the government and Ministry of Justice, with 98% of respondents saying they had no confidence in Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
It appears that both the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the National Audit Office (NAO) also have little confidence in Chris Grayling. It appears that his department has been wasting taxpayers money by implementing privatizations despite lacking the skills and resources to do so. On the 04/09/14 the PAC seriously questioned the ability of the Ministry of Justice to manage the contracting out of services given their poor record and the lack of commercial experience of their staff. Admissions were made they had a number of key staff vacancies and even when staff were trained they tended to leave very quickly resulting in a high turnover of staff and little continuity.
The real concern is that there is now little doubt that large corporations, who can afford to hold on to expertise, are running rings around the MoJ. Far from getting value for money and improving services through privatizing them, the government’s plans are actually making key services such as probation less efficient, more costly to run, and increasing risk to the public of something going seriously wrong with potentially fatal consequences.
If an interpreter from a private company does not turn up at court a case can be adjourned with some costs; if the privatized prison escort service take a prisoner to the wrong prison it will cause a temporary problem and additional expense; but if the probation service is in chaos then the public will be put at increased risk. We believe that the MoJ should not play fast and loose and gamble with public safety.
Probation staff are not asking for the earth on behalf of the public they serve. They are only asking that before contracts are handed out, and the public’s probation service is sold off, that the Justice Secretary takes the time to consider the wider implications of proposed change, pilots his plans, and carries out a proper independent evaluation of whether or not his proposals would actually work. This would be far more acceptable to professionals than merely saying something has to be done, convincing his closest friends and supporters, and blundering ahead regardless with what experts have told him are very risky and potentially dangerous changes.
What’s the hurry? Are the Justice Secretary’s plans so lacking in merit that he needs to rush them into place before the next election on the pretext of trying to fix something that was never broken in the first place? Why does he keep saying he has to do something about reoffending rates and then present the answer as an untried, untested system that no other country would seriously consider as a plausible or workable solution?
Why the rush to undermine and split a service and its staff that was actually the highest performing public sector organization in existence? Why does he have little if any support for his proposals from those who have actually worked on the front line tackling offending? All these questions remain unanswered or denied by the Justice Secretary.
We will meet at the Epsom Playhouse at 11am and march through the High Street leafleting and then rally in Mount Hill Gardens where speakers will include NAPO General Secretary Ian Lawrence, Chairs of both NAPO Greater London and Kent Surrey and Sussex branches plus other speakers. Please feel free to join us.