45 Probation Service privatisation is unsafe
The coalition government’s Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda has caused the fragmentation of the 106-year-old probation service and foisted operational chaos within the National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) that came into effect on 1 June. Despite this, and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that there is a real danger to community safety, the Secretary of State continues with his attempts to sell off the CRC network using a so-called tendering process that Napo believes is not only fundamentally uncompetitive, but morally corrupt.
Congress believes the Secretary of State’s claims that privatising probation will bring about a decrease in re-offending rates and introduce innovation is an abject misrepresentation of the facts. It follows his blatant misleading of parliament, his refusal to comply with FOI requests on his own department’s damning assessment of TR, and his permanent state of self-denial about the disastrous impact of his grandiose project.
Congress expresses its full support for Napo’s alternative plans to assist the under 12-month custodial community by publicly managed, locally accountable partnerships with proven providers. Congress also endorses Napo’s public and political campaign to halt the TR timetable, and to prevent the share sale of the CRCs taking place. It also calls upon an incoming Labour government to revoke any contracts should any of these be awarded this side of the next general election.
Whilst on the subject of the TUC, NPS members might be interested in a bit of internicine warfare going on behind the scenes and brought to my attention by a reader:-
Update on PCS situation. I have spoken to an officer at PCS who has emailed me to confirm that, due to TUC rules, we cannot join PCS. She told me that negotiations are taking place with Napo to try and reach some sort of agreement on this issue as I understand many enquiries have been made from probation staff wanting to join PCS. I have also spoken to the TUC who confirm that their rules mean that if PCS allow us to join, then Napo could register a dispute and it is likely that the TUC arbitrators would find in favour of Napo as they have negotiating rights.
So it seems if you are unhappy with Napo, you can't join another union! I thought closed shops were illegal? I have been given a contact to write to at the TUC, but have been advised that it won't change anything! It seems PCS are keen to have us but can't. My pursuit of this may seem petty but my anger towards Napo drives me.
Just because things seem to have gone quiet on the Legal Aid front, it doesn't mean our legal friends have been sitting on their hands in their fight with Chris Grayling. As this blog post by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association explains, they're seeing him in court today:-
Judicial Review 8th & 9th September
All are welcome to attend – the listing is Court 1 at 10.30am at the RCJ. Although seating in the public gallery is limited to about 40 ( and uncomfortable ) all are welcome and a significant message will be sent to the Court as to how important this is to the profession if the gallery is full or over flowing. We are represented by Jason Coppel QC and Jo Clements of 11 KBW, together with Adam Chapman and Emily Carter of Kingsley Napley.
Committee members have been working extremely hard drafting statements, crunching figures, and considering and responding to the MOJ papers in order to prepare for trial. We would like to thank those individuals from our committees who have been closely involved and spent a great deal of time working on this.
Thank you to so many of our members for the financial contributions you have made (in excess of £100,000) which have enabled us to take this action. This represents an unprecedented and historical financial contribution from this honourable profession which clearly cares so much about the essential function it performs. Without your generosity, we would not have got to this position. Great work from those who contributed.
We are also grateful to the Law Society Council for its decision to contribute £45,000 to the fund if the MOJ refused to mediate with us, which it has. Documents will go online on Monday morning for those who are interested in our pleadings, statements and skeleton arguments plus those of the MOJ. Regular updates will be available on Twitter via #justiceontrial throughout proceedings.
We are sorry we have not been able to keep you informed in the build up to the hearing, but we have followed legal advice not to issue any public statements about it so as not to jeopardise the issues involved.The legal profession really can't abide their non-legal Lord Chancellor and here's the Law Society Gazette alleging he's been misleading Parliament:-
Justice secretary Chris Grayling has been keen to portray himself as a champion of small businesses struggling to fend off the greedy ambulance-chasers. His vehicle for doing so is the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, which essentially protects business-owners from claims if they’ve ticked all the necessary boxes.
When the bill was debated in parliament in July, Grayling told MPs he wanted to ‘provide proper protection’ for small businesses, having talked to ‘countless business groups who tell me how the compensation culture is tying their business in knots’. Indeed, Grayling even assured opponents that ‘small businesses share the concerns’ he had been setting out.
But who are these mysterious businesses Grayling is so keen to protect? Obviously not members of the Forum of Private Business, or the Federation of Small Businesses. Nor indeed were they linked to the Confederation of British Industry or Institute of Directors. All these business groups declined an invitation to appear before the justice committee last week to give their views on the bill.
According to a leaked memo from the House of Commons whips office, one group even ‘politely declined as they do not have anything to say on the issue and have no evidence base’. It’s almost as if Grayling were seeking to justify legislation without approval from the very people he affects to support. Or perhaps the invitees were so busy fighting dodgy personal injury claims they did not have time to appear.But we know Chris Grayling is a serial offender where misleading Parliament is concerned as this piece on the politics.co.uk website from before the summer recess reminds us:-
New evidence has emerged that Chris Grayling misled the Commons when he denied that a lottery system was used to move probation staff to private firms.
Earlier this month the justice secretary told MPs the allegation was "absolute nonsense". Labour MP Toby Perkins later told the justice secretary he would raise the issue as a point of order if he did not correct the record. Grayling wrote back by hand, saying: "You can raise it all you like. Selection was not done by drawing names from a hat."
But new prisons minister Andrew Selous has now admitted the allegations were true and that staff were moved from the probation service into private firms by random lottery. In a parliamentary answer to shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, Selous said allocations were done via an "automatic assignment process" and failing that a "local evidence-based assignment criteria".
But he then admitted that the allocations had been done by lottery where other methods had not worked. "In those few situations where neither process led to allocation, and only in the case of administrative support staff, then the guidance allowed for agreement on transfer to be reached on the basis of a random assignment process," he wrote. "This was designed to ensure that staff in similar circumstances had an equal opportunity to be assigned to either of the new organisations."
Despite insisting that the method had only been used in a "few situations", Selous was unable to provide information about how many probation trusts had been forced to use the method. "We do not hold figures relating to the number of trusts which made use of a random assignment method or how many staff were affected," he said.
But according to Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the parole officers' union Napo, even this admission was misleading. "All grades of staff were subject to the random assignment process, not just administrators," he told Politics.co.uk. "While we welcome that the secretary of state now acknowledges that a random assignment process was used on staff it is disappointing that he is, in our opinion, still misleading the House."
The admission raises the prospect that Grayling knowingly lied to the Commons, but even if he was unaware of the lottery system it suggests he is categorically denying allegations before he has the information necessary to do so.
The Observer view on the desperate need for prison reform
In a prison completed in the 1890s, men eat supper in their cells at 4.30pm next to unscreened, unclean lavatories. Areas are dirty with broken windows and cockroaches. Inspectors discovered one prisoner at risk of suicide held alone for 23 hours a day in a "filthy cell covered in graffiti" with no TV, radio or other activities. Even worse, very few of the recommendations from an inspection three years earlier had been implemented. The inspectorate's reports on Wormwood Scrubs, as with too many other prisons, detail the absence of real investment in education, employment and rehabilitation. Almost half of inmates have no qualifications. The most recent annual report by Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, found that both "the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged [have] plummeted", the worst outcome in six years. To add to these profound deficiencies, prison staffing has been reduced by almost a third, as the prison population (85,385 last week) continues to spiral upwards, sentence lengths increase and budgets are decimated.
Overcrowding is rife, and particularly so for the 16% of prisoners in private prisons, guarded by officers who earn 23% less than their state-employed counterparts. Too few staff results in inmates spending more hours locked in cells. A recent petty change to the rules means prisoners can no longer receive books and parcels. The National Tactical Response Squad, the special prison riot squad, has been called out 203 times in the last year, a 57% increase on the previous year.
This is a septic brew in danger of boiling over yet justice secretary Chris Grayling repeatedly insists: "There is not a crisis in our prisons." Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Prison Reform, says the minister is correct. "There isn't a crisis. It's an emergency."Postscript
As mentioned yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee are taking evidence today from MoJ officials including Dame Ursula and here is a press release from Napo Greater London Branch:-
There can be no doubt that, following the publication of the National Audit Office’s (NAO) report ‘Transforming governments contract management’ and other evidence pointing to serious failures and weaknesses in respect of both the MoJ and Home Office’s and other government departments contract management procedures, that the governments plans to contract out the probation service should be halted forthwith.
Failures and weaknesses have led to:
- Five contracts being referred to the police and Serious Fraud Office
- £179.4m being paid back by G4S and Serco after overbilling the government for electronic monitoring services
- 343 out of 584 areas of contract management assessed as weak by the NAO (of this, 73 were considered to present a material risk of overbilling)
The MoJ is in the process of contracting out 70% of the probation service to companies a lot like G4S and Serco such as Capita and Sodexo by the end of the year and the public can have little confidence that the MoJ is competent to manage the contracting out of such a vital public service based on their previous performance and record.
Award winning Probation Trusts were abolished in June this year and replaced by a centrally controlled National Probation Service and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies. The Justice Secretary’s plan is contract these out to bidders by the end of the year so that this is done before the General Election. Arrangements are being put into place to hurriedly and mistakes are being made. The probation service together with other key parts of the criminal justice system is in meltdown.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling together with Ministry of Justice officials and National Offender Management officials deny that the probation service is in a state of crisis and that the largest upheaval it has ever experienced has gone without a hitch – this is simply not the case.
Today (8/9/14) Dame Ursula Brennan could call a halt to plans to privatise the probation service until these plans have been properly piloted and a full assessment regarding their risk to public safety carried out Pat Waterman, Chair of Napo Greater London Branch said:
‘Ursula Brennan has it within her gift to stop the train crash that is the Justice Secretary’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ agenda in its tracks and if she fails to do so then she will be failing in her duty to ensure the MoJ act in the public interest and do not put the public at risk. The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is causing chaos throughout the criminal justice system with his ill- thought through plans to privatise probation by abolishing local Probation Trusts, splitting the service and selling off a large part of it, the criminal justice system is already stretched to breaking point and what is needed is more rehabilitation so that less offenders return to prison. The Justice Secretary has created a revolving door system where the cycle of criminality cannot be broken because he has dismantled the system that was working to tackle offending behaviour and bring crime down.’
Pat Waterman also said:
‘Everyone in the Criminal Justice System has held the dedicated and motivated probation workforce in high regard whether they are working in the community or in prison. Despite the abolition of award winning Probation Trusts, centralized bureaucratization, split in the service into different organisations, and cutbacks, imposed on us by the Ministry of Justice, my members have sought to maintain high professional standards and to do all that has been required of them. All their achievements, and the safety of the public, is now being put at risk by the Justice Secretary’s plans and his refusal to acknowledge that problems exist and they are of his making.’
Pat Waterman Chair Napo Greater London Branch together with other branch officers will be attending the Public Accounts Committee today (8/9/14)