A double dose for a Saturday, because it strikes me there's a lot going on. First off, the guest blog this morning has generated some lively debate that's helping stop the tumbleweed that's been blowing through here of late. It's something that's been particularly noticeable on the Napo Forum and even Andrew's patience is beginning to wear a bit thin:-
I remain as opposed as ever to the split of probation - which is a bigger evil than even privatisation which I am also strongly opposed to but I feel that I can do no more via this forum and that my efforts are not well received as so few use the forum to pursue ideas and debate and exchange information.But the Save Probation private Facebook page continues to go from strength to strength, as does that of ever-enterprising Greater London's efforts on their Facebook presence. One hopes that the lesson will eventually be learnt by Chivalry Road and they seek some media advice from the likes of David Raho.
So unless I get an urge to share something here in future I think I am probably done here.
I disagree with those that feel writing to MP's, lobbying them in person or knocking out FOI requests is a waste of time because you never know what it might flush out. I hope the person who posted this gem on Facebook doesn't mind me re-publishing it:-
Letter from Andrew Selous to my Conservative MP following contact made with him about prisons on 24th July:
'...I note Xxxxxxxxx's comments about safety. I can assure Xxxxxxxx that ensuring prisons remain safe, decent and secure is at the heart of our reforms and is something to which Ministers are personally committed. Whilst we have had to realise challenging efficiency savings and therefore reduced staffing numbers, the majority have been non prisoner facing roles.
Xxxxxxxxx refers to the "book ban", backlog of parole hearings, IPP cases over tariff and changes of probation officer mid sentence. There has been no ban on books in prisons. I would be happy to expand upon the changes made to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, so please let me know if you would like more detail. I would like to be clear, however, that this government is wholly supportive of prisoners improving their literacy skills and reading, and there is suitable provision to do so.
I cannot comment on a perceived backlog of parole hearings or progression of IPP prisoners as these mechanisms are operated independently by the Parole Board. I appreciate Xxxxxxxx's frustration at changes to probation officer designations mid sentence however our nationwide reform of rehabilitation being launched later this year will mean prisoners receive enhanced support from a combination of probation, prison and third sector staff from their reception into custody to their release into the community and will move away from our previous reliance on a single designated offender supervisor. I am confident with the action taken and continued commitment of staff we will start to see these pressures easing in the next few months...'I tend to agree with the person that published it - did we know 'and will move away from our previous reliance on a single designated offender supervisor' was part of the plan?
It was interesting to note that Mark Leftly's piece in the Independent the other day hinted strongly that Grayling doesn't like being criticised and often resorts to type and bullying:-
Mr Grayling’s aides are furious with us, perhaps sensing bias or sensationalism. A source close to Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat justice minister who might be expected to oppose the reforms, is insistent that these are teething problems and that change in any organisation is met with resistance and complaints.
There are no apologies here for pursuing this issue, because the weight of evidence is overwhelming. But no matter what we report, Mr Grayling is not for turning.But what's even more interesting is that it's not just the usual suspects anymore, as this from yesterday's right-wing London Evening Standard demonstrates:-
Prison is expensive. The annual average cost for each prisoner is estimated at more than £40,000. You could send a child to Eton for less than that — and the networking opportunities might be slightly superior.
But if the number of prisoners is rising, funding should increase too. Instead, prisons have endured sharp budget cuts. The inevitable effect of cuts and crowding is that rehabilitation programmes suffer — Levin said they were almost non-existent at Wormwood Scrubs. Prisons must serve a purpose beyond punishment and protection: they need to develop skills to prevent re-offending. That benefits everybody.
The ranty, “string-em-up”, “it’s not a hotel, FFS” brigade fume at the thought of prisons becoming a touch less prison-y. Its members seem to want inmates starved and in stocks, like the Clink circa 1600.
A civilised country doesn’t treat anyone that way, though. Their attitude also ignores the fact that many of those in jail have themselves been failed. Three-quarters of prisoners cannot write to the standard we would expect of an 11-year-old.As the General Election inexorably draws nearer, the cracks are really beginning to open up in the coalition, as demonstrated by the recent government defeat reported here in the Independent:-
Just as we can judge a society on how it treats its weakest members, we should judge it on how it treats its “worst” members. Grayling has let them all down.
'Bedroom tax' to be abolished as Coalition is rocked by Lib Dem-Labour alliance
One of the Coalition’s most unpopular and punitive policies is finally on track for abolition, after Labour and the Liberal Democrats united to vote against the bedroom tax. MPs voted by 304 to 267 for a Bill, brought in by a backbench Lib Dem MP Andrew George, to limit the scope of the policy which penalises council tenants who are deemed to have more rooms than they need.
Mr George later admitted that he had not expected the Tories to be so heavily defeated in what he imagined would be a close vote. “It was such a stonking victory that if that coalition can hold together in the coming months we should get this Bill through,” he said. Shadow works and pensions minister, Chris Bryant added jubilantly: “This is the beginning of the end of the bedroom tax. Whether we will manage to get it all the way through by the general election, I don’t know – but we’ll try our damnedest, and we’ll certainly abolish it afterwards.”Now is the time to make mischief, especially for the LibDems, as we know they privately believe they 'got it wrong over probation'. I have no idea who was responsible for drafting their policy paper 118 'Doing what works to cut crime' but probation barely gets a mention and warrants but one paragraph. Utterly insulting to put it mildly and includes the following:-
'Liberal Democrats in Government have already overseen and championed better through the gate planning as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.'We must all make sure they are made to eat those words when the shit eventually hits the fan regarding TR, that they take their fair share of opprobrium and, if appropriate, are punished at the ballot box. How dare Simon Hughes dismiss our well-argued concerns as mere whingeing by people opposed to any change. Via twitter, I notice he's asked for people's opinion:-
The LibDems crime and justice policy paper is now online (to be debated at our conference): let us know what u thinkI think we should tell him.
I notice that Margaret Hodge is due to grill Dame Ursula Brennan and others on Monday when the Public Accounts Committee is due to take evidence on the whole vexed issue of contract management. Should make an entertaining spectacle watching this lot trying to come up with some answers that will satisfy the Inquisitor-General:-
Monday 8 September 2014, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster
3.15pm Rupert Soames, Group Chief Executive, Serco James Thorburn, Managing Director for Home Affairs, Serco Peter Neden, Regional President, UK Government Services, G4S Jean-Pierre Taillon, Managing Director, UK Government Services, G4S
4.00pm Dame Ursula Brennan, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice Ann Beasley, Director General of Finance, Ministry of Justice Mark Sedwill, Permanent Secretary, Home Office Mike Parsons, Chief Operating Officer, Home OfficeMargaret Hodge is really warming to this whole topic as discussed here in the Guardian only yesterday:-
Government open to fraud after failings on outsourced contracts, report says
Poor management of £40bn worth of outsourced public contracts has left the government exposed to the possibility of widespread fraud and overcharging, according to a report from the government's official auditors. A total of five government contracts are being investigated by the police or the Serious Fraud Office, the National Audit Office found in a review of contract management procedures in government, released on Friday. But poor control over lucrative deals with the private sector means it is "probable" that there are more cases of overbilling across other government departments, it has concluded.
The report, which was ordered following revelations last year that G4S and Serco had allegedly overbilled the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice for tagging services and the movement of prisoners, has been welcomed by MPs.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: "More and more of our public services are now being delivered by private companies, who between them received a huge £40bn last year from contracts funded by the British taxpayer. These companies must be held to the same high standards as any government department, so that the public can have confidence that they are delivering the quality of service we are entitled to expect. "Not all senior civil servants have taken these contracts seriously, with data to monitor and understand performance still not good enough because departments think their responsibility ends once a contract is signed." A test sample of 60 government contracts found that more than half – 34 – had "issues in the amount billed".
Auditors also tested 73 contracts against a good practice framework and found many elements of the deals were at "material risk" of overbilling, but the problem could be far wider. Departments rely on the information supplied by the outsourcing companies rather than carrying out their own checks, according to the report. It also found that in some government departments no one could say which civil servant, if anyone, was in charge of making sure that an outsourcing firm was honouring a particular contract.Finally, here's more of Margaret Hodge's sterling work reported in the Guardian about Capita and their disastrous attempts at recruiting Army Reservists. It should be noted that Capita are almost certainly bound to win some probation contracts:-
Capita, the private firm contracted to handle recruitment, was said to have brought in just 2,000 reserves in 2013/14 against a target of 6,000. The goal for recruitment of regulars was also missed by 30%, according to the committee. But despite such glaring failings, the company was still awarded its full bonus for recruiting reservists. At least £70m of the planned £267m savings from the contract have already been lost, the report said.