19 September 2014
Dear Ben, David and Ian,
Thank you for your letter of 8 September, requesting that the Ministry defers transfer of ownership of the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).
I recognise that this has been a time of change for probation staff and I am grateful for their hard work in implementing these reforms. As you are aware, we are taking a staged, measured approach to implementation and are using all the period up to the point at that contracts are let to stabilise and embed the new structures. I can see absolutely no grounds for deferring contract signature at this point. We continue to engage with probation staff, who have been closely involved with the development, testing and delivery of these reforms at every stage. While some are still adjusting to the new structures and working practices, many probation officers have been engaging constructively with our reforms and are beginning to see the genuine opportunities these changes can bring for offenders and for society as a whole. It is therefore disappointing that some social and other media activity has been deeply offensive to members of staff, their loved ones and victims of crime.
The following sections respond to the specific concerns you raise in your letter.
Transition to new structures
It is inaccurate to state that the transition has not been a success and that the NPS and CRCs are struggling with the new system. Thorough, externally assured business and system readiness was conducted to review key activities that had to be completed before transition to the new structures on 1 June. On the basis of evidence from the testing we remain satisfied that the business was ready for transition. Further more, the cutover period itself progressed well and we successfully completed the migration of staff, property and ICT to schedule.
There are always challenges in a significant change programme such as this, which are in addition to normal operating pressures. However we rigorously managed the changeover period and continue to support staff as they work to embed new structures. As you would expect, we continue to refine the new processes; indeed we have recently set up a 'Solutions in Partnership' Team to both support the resolution of issues as they arise and to spread the numerous examples of best practice emerging since June. We would welcome your involvement in that Team's work.
CRCs ICT/Corporate Services support to NPS
The period between June 1 and service transition was specifically designed to provide for a gradual separation between CRCs and NPS in a number of areas. It is therefore entirely expected that there are some areas where separation has yet to be completed prior to service transition. There is no evidence that this will not be done in time, and we are confident that we can establish a level of separation between the organisations so that they are able to function independently, or with support from the Ministry, by the time the contracts are let.
Parliamentary scrutiny of the procurement process
While it is not for Parliament to scrutinise the procurement process itself, it is worth noting that the principles behind the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have been subject to considerable parliamentary debate and scrutiny during the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill and and an Opposition day debate in the Commons. Let us not forget that the reforms were made possible by the Offender Management Act, which passed through Parliament under the previous Labour government. In addition, the reforms have been subject to a Justice Select Committee Review and ongoing scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. In terms of the Major Projects Authority's (MPA) analysis of the Transforming Rehabilitation procurement process, the MPA as part of the Cabinet Office, is in no way restricted in its analysis of Programme delivery. The appropriate timing and nature of MPA assurance activities are agreed with the Programme Team. Assessments are focused on assuring delivery and are provided in confidence to the Programme leadership in order not to prejudice commercial interests.
Letting of contracts prior to the election
You also raised concerns that the letting of the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts would be out of bounds of acceptable practice in relation to elections. We are adhering to the standard convention set out in the Cabinet Manual and followed by previous administrations.
Public safety post contract signature
In response to your concerns about public safety post contract signature, I would like to reiterate that public protection remains our top priority and the transition to the new arrangements will happen in a sensible way, which ensures public safety at every stage. I am clear that we will continue our robust assurance processes throughout the change programme, only proceeding to the next stage when it is safe to do so. However, as practitioners, you will know that there are operational challenges inherent in the day to day work of the Probation service, and these should not be confused with, or attributed to, TR.
Staff health and safety
In terms of pressures on staff, we recognise that this has been a time of change and, although the Ministry is not the employer of staff in the CRCs, we of course accept that we all have a responsibility to work together to ensure the new system is implemented in a way that minimises the additional pressures such change brings. However, we do not accept that a change in the ownership of CRCs is significant in this regard, given that the new operating system is already live, and will have been running for several months before service transition. We recognise the continuing pressures on staff, however many of these will not be removed in full until we complete the change programme. Therefore, it is to the benefit of the staff teams that we move to complete these reforms as quickly and sensibly as possible and achieve the system improvements we all want. As you know, we already have work under way to ensure that the new processes are easy to use and, as a key part of the system, we would welcome your involvement in this, to help your members.
Napo/Unison member survey
Thank you for enclosing a copy of your recent member survey. I note that the survey was only responded to by 10% of Napo and UNISON's membership, therefore it cannot be said to be a truly representative picture. Throughout the TR programme, we have been mindful of staff morale and have sought to engage probation staff in the reforms at every stage. Trusts, as the employers of probation staff until 31st May this year, and subsequently the NPS and CRCs, have worked hard to ensure their workforce provided with as much information and reassurance as possible throughout. The MoJ also worked closely with probation staff to support them through the transition and is continuing to provide support to staff in both the NPS and CRCs as they work to embed the new structures.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to probation staff for their hard work to implement these reforms. I very much hope that as Trade Union leaders you will together work with us as we head towards contract signature, to provide the best support for your members.
Minister rattled by Napo’s campaign
An introductory meeting took place today between representatives of Napo (Ian Lawrence and Yvonne Pattison), UNISON (Ben Priestley and Neil Richardson) and GMB/SCOOP (David Walton) and the Minister.
Minister ducks out of AGM
As we had half anticipated, the Minister opened the meeting on a sour note, by making a clumsy pre-written statement denigrating Napo’s involvement in social and media coverage relating to the deaths of two serving staff and a previous Serious Further Offence. In view of this the Minister said that he felt it would now be inappropriate for him to accept the invitation to speak at the Napo AGM.
I responded to this clear attempt to deflect attention from the key operational and staffing issues by indicating that we had already explained to Colin Allars that we are comfortable with our position and that I would respond formally outside of the meeting. I also took the opportunity to inform the Minister that we had been informed of two further SFOs that had subsequently occurred and which had not yet been picked up on by the media.
These early exchanges and the Minister’s attempts to rubbish the recent Napo/UNISON staff survey results created a tense atmosphere for the remainder of the meeting which sought to explore the areas covered in the attached letter. Bizarrely, we were told that this had been sent to the unions in advance by Chris Grayling but in fact none of us had actually received it prior to the meeting.
As can be seen from the correspondence from the Secretary of State, which we will be responding to jointly with UNISON and GMB in light of today’s exchanges, the reception by Mr Selous to our concerns on: court reports, staffing, operational readiness, continuing IT failures, massive workloads and the lack of transparency around Testgate 4, were at times stunningly complacent.
At one point Mr Selous astonishingly claimed that it was clear that the staff he had spoken to up and down the NPS and CRC had “got over the grieving process” (following the split) and were now looking forward to the many opportunities open to them in the new environment! He later sought to clarify his comments by acknowledging that a major change programme such as TR was uncomfortable for many, but that problems were being ironed out “day by day”. On the question of resourcing, the Minister revealed that the MoJ were looking to recruit a further 1,000 probation officers across both arms of the service. Napo and our colleagues estimate that this will require additional funding of around £30 million which we will seek to question as part of our ongoing dialogue with senior NOMS/MoJ Officials.
The unions attempted to raise a number of additional issues that were clearly of concern to our members, especially around report writing, same day transfers and sessional staff crossing the divide, and the interface between efficient IT and the need to ensure public safety. Yvonne seemed to capture the Ministers attention on the latter point as she exposed his obvious lack of basic knowledge about the probation system.
Sadly, the Minister was determined to limit the meeting to half an hour, so a more comprehensive dialogue on matters which he ought to have devoted more time to if he was serious about listening, was just not possible.
As you would expect, we pressed the Minister vigorously about our dissatisfaction around the parameters supposedly being examined in Testgate 4 and whether they compare to HMI Probation standards. He said that, ‘it was his intention to have robust, properly functioning processes up and running at the point of share sale,’ but he failed to reassure us about how this was to be achieved. We also pressed him on the refusal to publish the results of Testgates 1-3, the continuing rejection of Freedom of Information requests, and the role of the Major Projects Authority who, we have recently learned, have refused to engage with the unions or release information. The Minister merely claimed that he was only following the practice of previous administrations.
The Officers and I will issue more news to members about the ongoing written exchanges. Yvonne and I compared notes afterwards and have come to the somewhat obvious conclusion that the unions were not really being taken seriously.
All in all, not the most productive of exchanges that Napo has had with a Government Minister.
IAN LAWRENCE YVONNE PATTISON
GENERAL SECRETARY NATIONAL VICE-CHAIR