Saturday, 4 October 2014

Guest Blog 8

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


  1. Pertinent, poignant and inspirational. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Anon SPO2. Similarly 30 years plus having chosen to continue as a PO, more than capable , resilient and easily able to adapt to change...this is now is impossible. ( NPS ). Having awoken to exhaustion and despondancy.. feeling trapped and unsure where to go...but go it has to have helped raise a glimmer of hope. What to do...what is available....who knows...but my time is now to be spent finding out....Thank you.

    2. I am a PO and have spent significant time trying to find another job, I do not have the social work qualification but Dip Probation Studies. I admire people who have voted with their feet but I am unable to find work and need income to support myself and my family. The stress of trying to work within the new system, I am NPS, is intolerable. I am really struggling with the IT and have repeatedly asked for training, none is available. I am a wasted resource, how long before I face capability because I can't work the damned IT? My whole team feel the same we simply do not know what we are supposed to do now the old Trust IT support has been withdrawn. My manager doesn't know how the systems work either.
      I wish Anon ex-SPO 2 all the luck in the world.

    3. That is truly tough Anon at 13.53.

      I have no ready answer but believe if you have been able to work as PO having qualified, there will be work that is at least more agreeable than with the NPS or for many in a CRC.

      One needs to obtain the help that is available. There are a host of employment agencies who need clients such as you so that they can make a living. Let one or two try, maybe - who knows where it might take you.

      My story was different, when in 1988 i reached a point where I had to get out even to think straight, I knew my CQSW could if all else failed, qualify for various Local Authority Jobs along with my then 13 years experience as a PO.

      I simply resigned, then first I registered for unemployment benefit - which after challenge I qualified for but you probably will not nowadays (I never actually drew any unemployment benefit as my causal earnings put me over the income limit to qualify as the rules then applied)

      Next I went to the nearest town and went into every employment agency, said I am available TODAY, what can you offer. I was doing temporary driving jobs for 4 - 6 weeks that covered immediate living costs (I had a wife & two school age children) I also negotiated a payment holiday for my mortgage and had some available credit via a credit card. I next got a locum social work job (CQSW necessary) - there our stories divide, but I needed to be away from probation in order to think clearly.

      I was confident of my ability - I had worked as a bank clerk for 8 years prior to CQSW training - AND was prepared to do anything legal. I was also prepared to take a drop in income and had the support of my wife - who was earning but no where near as much as I had been earning as a PO.

      I wish you and all others in a similar situation well.

      Also, take advice about your current pension and do not just leave it - I had problems later because I caused a break in continuity, though I did later manage to get it all back, but the rules have changed since I joined the LGPS in 1973.

      Finally, ultimately, hopefully some government will realise that what we had with probation is good and will attempt to put at least some of what was back, then the skills of former probation workers may again be needed. I believe the quicker and harder now is the collapse of TR the sooner probation will be rebuilt.

      ALSO since the joint social work/probation qualification was abolished, I have at every point, discouraged folk from getting the probation only version. I gather social work only qualified folk are currently being welcomed into probation qualification required jobs, maybe someone will confirm or otherwise?

    4. Thank you for your good wishes Anon 13.53. Neither of us are going down easy routes but Andrew is right in saying take all the advice you can . It will not be forthcoming from either NAPO or your current employer because both have vested interests in you staying in post.Start with something simple - I started with an OU course on an introduction to counselling and that really got me moving.I realised that my grey matter did still work reasonably well and that started me on the road to putting an exit plan together.

      Good luck in your job hunt - you will have to make some difficult decisions and complex IT and hiccups occur in all types of work. That is not to dismiss the troubles presented by N Delius /E Oasys which have ones all of their own but maybe you need to go in a low or non IT direction for the future. One ex PO I know is now working outdoors and much happier for it.

      I accept the views of other contributors that none of the public sector is safe from the Con-Dems so I am under no illusion about what I may face in the future. Howver it is legitimate to raise the question as to how much taking back activities into public hands is really going on because outsourcing has proved uneconomic/unsafe?Perhaps more than the Tories would want to admit.

      Anon ex-SPO No 2

  2. The stress of "sharing people's misery" and the dangers of inexperienced staff are leading many social workers to want to quit the profession, a study says.

    Nearly one in 10 UK social workers (8%) are considering leaving the job, with over a fifth of these blaming stress or unmanageable caseloads, it adds.

    Many blame poor management and too little time with clients.

    Community Care magazine and recruitment firm TMP surveyed 2,100 social workers and carried out 20 in-depth interviews.

    The research suggests social work has become more demanding, with 94% of those surveyed saying there is more day-to-day pressure on social workers than ever before.

    One interviewee said: "My stress levels are perpetually too high and my mental and physical health suffers as a result.

    "Most nights I wake up in the night worrying about work I have not had time to do. I struggle to enjoy life outside work as I'm so exhausted."

    Another said: "I love social work but sharing people's misery is becoming too much."

    The survey also suggested there was a sense that such high stress levels were ignored by bosses.

    One social worker said: "With high caseloads and a lack of support, I feel unable to do a good job."

    Another added: "There is a consistent disbelief of workers' stress levels, and difficulties in managing such high caseloads."

    'Culture of blame'
    Another highlighted problems with the culture of her workplace: "I am sick to death of tokenism, political correctness, and a risk averse, process-led and incompetent management driven only by the need to appease Ofsted."

    This was reflected by another, who said: "The management structure is top-heavy and the blame culture is still prevalent."

    Manager of the British Association of Social Workers England Maris Stratulis said: "Members continue to contact us about poor management and poor support including irregular supervision, limited career development opportunities, and an organisational culture of blame.

    "It is critical that employers engage in open dialogue with social workers on a regular basis.

    "Employers need to walk the floor, talk face to face with social workers, and dig deep about the key issues that social workers are citing as to why their current organisation is not a good place to work."

    1. ALL of this applies to NPS

    2. And to CRC. From having a diverse caseload with a mixture of lifers, IPP's, MAPPA cases and Domestic Violence, I'm now a DV specialist. The knock on effect of this is that I know have 13 families with active Child Protection Plans. That's 13 core groups every 6 weeks, 13 Child Protection Reports to write and 13 Child Protection Conferences to attend. None of this is measured in my workload weighting. We all know that poor communication between agencies is the most frequently cited area for improvement when things o tragically wrong. I can't remember the names of all the Social Workers let alone the children. I've lost count, I think I've got around 35 individual children subject to plans ranging in age from unborn to 15. This is even before I start my normal Probation work. It's impossible and it's risky.

    3. And to CRC who managers are going on leadership courses and saying buzz words in the hope that they will be taken seriously by the private sector. Ha they will be eaten alive.

  3. Jim the whole of the public sector has been under direct attack from the men at Westminster and their managerialist ideology and not until we mount a collective fight back will anything change. There is nowhere to run, I'm talking to the press but I think other aren't. It's time for a public sector general strike.

  4. I have dealt with TV, radio, press, MPs and Local Councils and now feel despondent. Somehow Grayling is able to re-frame truth into lies and until there is something headline worthy, sadly likely to be a serious crime, there is no momentum to defeat this disgraceful state of affairs.
    I have always thought this would be defeated on "the numbers" and wonder why the unions did not engage with a good accountant to challenge things? We hear the figures don't add up but saying so is not as good as having proof.
    There is an absolute scandal in the outsourcing of this country's affairs to large multi national companies and the process costing so much more than can possibly be saved, yet where is the investigative journalist able to blow this apart?
    My view is that only a public sector general strike, as mooted by Anon 10:53 can highlight the serious situation this country faces. I am the least militant person you can imagine, but enough is enough and our country is being ruined. Human rights negated, the disadvantaged being held up to ridicule and all dignity and support removed, all aspects of social justice trampled upon.
    This is shameful and anyone who supports the vicious Tories should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I used to and I am.

    1. Constructive dismissal on a grand scale - because this govt (ha!) know full well that it's mainly the long-serving, experienced officers in whichever profession who will give up in disgust and despair and move on in order to take control of their futures. The future will consist of a wealthy and powerful elite with the rest of the population trapped in low paid, de-professionalised roles and eroded terms and conditions. They aren't too concerned about the consequences - all easy enough to lie about and cover up.

  5. Off topic but has anyone seen this blog post from Ian Lawrence about the Tory conference when he says after talking to Grayling, 'His response, whilst restrained, was still clearly very angry, as in: "Napo has behaved very immaturely, histrionically and reactively which has upset staff and is wholly unacceptable". I said that we had simply responded to press enquiries. He replied: "I'm happy to talk to other unions but I won't engage with Napo until it can behave like a mature union"

    While Ian is obviously right to be angry with Grayling, as we all are, isn't a GS supposed to be diplomatic and not give Grayling and Selous an excuse to get out of coming to the AGM and cut off communication with Napo? I can't remember Bob Crow getting his way by accusing ministers of having blood on their hands or similar.

    1. Feigned outrage is also a way of shutting someone down when you are unable to provide a legitimate response to their position. Grayling offends every time he opens his mouth; he lies, he minimises, he is self serving. There are many ways to offend; IL is not to blame for the events that have occured and to which he draws attention. Remember: Francis Crook has also offended him and she is hardly Russel Brand!!

    2. Everyone who speaks out against his policies are 'leftwing activists'.
      Wasn't it Gen McAuther with 'Reds under the bed'?

    3. I think you make a good point. I recoiled when I first heard the 'blood on your hands' comment and I thought it was histrionic and baseless and I wondered not what Grayling thought, but whether relatives had been consulted on the phraseology.

    4. I think there is an argument that the persons inclusion of TR in their explanation for their actions meant that those of us who are fighting TR have a duty to draw attention to the fact. This is not an interpretation of their motive, it is a given. I think they call it an 'inconvenient truth'.

  6. I would see this as Grayling being aware that NAPO are the only likely source of difficulty in respect of probation, hence he's enacting the classic bully's ploy of ignoring a problem and belittling it in the hope it will go away because he has no credible answer. My previous line manager did the same to me for years. NAPO cannot afford to roll over or let Grayling off the hook. He's concerned, so ramp it up, put him under pressure, call his hand. His lies will be found out. JR would be just the job.

    1. I agree it's an inconvenient truth and that management in probation have used this tactic with local branches. I wonder where Unison is in all this? This apparent lack of solidarity between the unions makes it easier for Graying to pick on the smallest.

  7. Simon Hughes has accused the Conservatives of seeking to abandon the “single greatest advance” in the protection of human rights simply to counter the threat posed by Ukip.Speaking the the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow on Saturday, the justice minister said he had never expected to be “climbing into bed” with a Tory government and much less to be waking up with Chris Grayling, the justice secretary and his ministerial boss.Advertisement"" style="border-top-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-color: initial; vertical-align: bottom; ">The Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP said the defence of human rights was a key reason for the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, and that it also made it vital for the party to stay in government after the next election. “When I see the international agreements and the domestic laws which protect the human rights of the most vulnerable being threatened by the Tories … That is a fight I cannot sit out,” he said.Hughes said that David Cameron and Grayling aimed to scrap the Human Rights Act and undermine the European convention on human rights, which he called the “greatest single advance in the legal protection of human rights anywhere in the world”.Advertisement"" style="border-top-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-color: initial; vertical-align: bottom; ">“The Tories would ditch the Human Rights Act because they care more about losing votes to Ukip than the rights of British citizens,” he told the conference. “It is a British convention through and through … Just think of the message we would be sending around the world, to Russia, Syria and China, if we ripped up our own commitment to international human rights.”The former deputy party leader urged activists to remember why it was important for them to be in government, even as the Lib Dems continued to slide in opinion polls.Hughes also announced plans for better treatment of female prisoners if the party stayed in power next year, and said he wanted fewer women in custody.“Liberal Democrats will continue to put forward a better, fairer vision of how we reduce crime in our country,” he said. “And if we want not just to win the argument, but then also to deliver this radical agenda we must remember it is only possible by being in government.”

    1. Hughes is quite happy to share a bed on TR.