To infinity and beyond........................
I have been mulling over in my mind the contents of this second guest blog for a week or so now. I mean it to be an account of life post the Probation Service but it might morph into something else as I progress. I left a month ago after 3 decades plus as a Probation Officer and SPO and took up another job, still in the public sector. I left because I have a strong belief that there are some activities the state should not duck out of in terms of responsibility and pass on to someone else not in the public sector. The sentencing and punishment of those who break its laws being one of them. I do not have anything against the profit motive in its' right place and have worked amicably with Probation Service partners from the private and voluntary sectors over the years.
Neither am I afraid of change. Anyone who was in the Probation Service as long as I had been has to have seen more changes in structure and direction than you can shake a stick at - vigorously. It has been a massive wrench personally but the progression of the TR train and its obvious terminus led me to believe that staying on, for me, was becoming increasingly untenable. As a Probation Officer through and through I knew that the best way to predict future behaviour was to look at what has happened in the past. In terms of privitisation it is not a good ponder. Some wag much wittier than me once said that the bringing together of the Prison Service and the Probation Service in the form of NOMS was like the marriage of an elephant with a ballerina. This dancer decided that the toes had been trodden on enough.
I still keep in contact with some of my former colleagues and staying in touch with the Probation Matters blog means I have a pretty good idea as to what is going on in the world of Probation. I may get to the stage when I no longer check-in but I have not got there yet.
I suspect that I started on the journey of getting my mind in the place it needed to be to decide to leave much sooner than many people. As a union rep my life for months and months was dominated by TR. Spare time in the evenings was taken up with reading -drafts of this and that, with chunks missing, only to be re-drafted again. Meetings with
management often meant being surprised by the latest development and feeling, on occasions, wrong-footed and poorly informed by NAPO. The last straw for me, personally, was when I was automatically assigned to the CRC on the basis of a SPO posting I had taken up a few days prior, at the request of the then SMT.
If I had been allowed to stay in my old post then I would, at least, have had the option of being allowed to state a preference - it matters not what the outcome would have been at that point. For me the insult was to be automatically assigned and then not permitted to lodge either a grievance or an appeal. The statement that so few staff lodged appeals regarding their assignment belies the fact that many would have not been given that option in the first place. Actions like this affect people and resonate - it is not a question of just move on and get on.
I know I am not alone in being treated in this manner by the sifting process yet little was done to protect vulnerable staff. My opinion, for what it is worth, was that the way sifting was carried out with some was a breach of the duty of care Trusts were obliged to show to their employees. Sifting put all the risks and responsibilities on the Trusts and at one stage the Probation Association was obliged to remind the Ministry of Justice that they were not the direct employees of Probation Staff. They should not have bothered and let the Ministry commit even more clangers.
Seeing the writing on the wall so far back I did begin to formulate an exit plan – very much in draft form but the action of beginning to make an investment in my own future and taking some control helped enormously. Coping with TR for me was about wresting some of the steering wheel away from the Ministry of Justice. My suggestion, for what it is worth, is get your own exit plan. You all have the skills to help your clients problem solve in a purposeful and meaningful way. Choices are not always good ones and if at the end you decide to either stay or go at least you have made a decision, not had it foisted upon you. Making your own personal decisions will be liberating, I promise. Decide that your future career is something that has a worth and spend time/money on it.
You don't need me to tell you what you need to do. I took the plunge and found another job. If I can after so many years in the Probation Service I am willing to bet that many more of you have more marketable skills than I do. If you are still tempted to stay get hold of Anthony King's book on the blunders made by government and give it a read. History is not always kind to those politicians who feel they want to make their mark and are driven by ideological reasons to implement change.
Well, how is it some of you may want to know? Strange, new colleagues welcoming and curious, de-skilling, want to know everything about everything and knowing that it will take time - it is hard going from knowing lots about one job to a state of ignorance. It is do-able, however, and some of the skills and knowledge I gained in the Probation Service are coming in useful in my new job.
So do not think being a Probation Officer/Probation Service Officer is the only thing you can do - all of you have skills and abilities that other organisations can put to better use than Grayling and his horrible coterie who are relying on you all to stay put and shut up (eventually and if they ignore you for long enough). And, at least, if you decide to stay put - to piss into the tent, see it as a way of paying off the mortgage - you will have made the decision and no one else. Good luck everyone.
Anon ex-SPO no 2