Some four months on from the split, we know in some detail the extent of the chaos reigning everywhere in both NPS and the CRCs and now we know the identity of those in the frame who are likely to be owning and running 70% of this increasingly dysfunctional Service.
Not only do most have little or no knowledge of our work, many have murky backgrounds, and to top it all off, information is already emerging of interesting and cosy relationships and connections that are worryingly going to give rise to thoughts of possible conflicts of interest.
But, as if that wasn't enough, mindful of the expression that truth is usually the first casualty of war, the junior justice minister Simon Hughes managed to tell three lies in two sentences yesterday morning on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme. Here's Ian Dunt on the politics.co.uk website:-
Did minister mislead public over probation sell-off?
Questions were raised about ministerial comments related to the sell-off of privatisation today, following Simon Hughes' appearance on the Today programme. The justice minister said that:
But critics of the scheme cast doubt on all of those statements, as the war of words over the sell-off turned into a full blown legal battle.
- a pilot had been carried out
- there had been no criticisms from the independent inspector
- serious cases would still fall to the national service
Lawyers are currently preparing to issue papers after the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) decided to pursue a judicial review over the plans. The announcement came a day after the Ministry of Justice published the winners of the sell-off, with private firms Sodexo and Interserve winning the lion's share of contracts. Probation workers have warned that officers, offenders and members of the public are being put at risk by an atomised system, with staff overworked and unable to access all the information about the people they are responsible for. This morning, Hughes said:
"When you change the system there is naturally nervousness amongst the people who work in the old system but we have taken our time, we have done this deliberatively, it's not done in a rush, there’s been piloting of the new sorts of system in parts of the country.
"The independent inspector of probation has alerted us to no concerns that the system isn't moving across and there will be a new national public probation service for serious offenders, in every part of the country, in England and Wales."Critics say the comments contain several inaccuracies. Firstly, they say there has been no pilot of the scheme.
"It is a fact that there has been no piloting of these plans," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told Politics.co.uk. "What's more, Chris Grayling cancelled the pilots of the scheme in his first week in the job, instead boasting to the House of Commons he prefers to 'trust his instinct' over hard, statistical evidence."
Hughes' insistence that the independent inspector has not warned of risks in the plans is also open to doubt, given he is not due to give his report until December.
The comment that serious offenders will be kept in the public probation service was also dismissed by critics.
While it is true that high-risk offenders will be kept in the national service, many of the low-to-medium risk offenders who will now be handled by private companies have committed violent crimes, including robbery, violence against the person and sexual offences.
"On the day a legal challenge is launched against the government's reckless probation privatisation, Simon Hughes is out on the airwaves doing the Tory party's dirty work," Khan added. "The Lib Dems have fallen hook, line and sinker for the propaganda that this massive gamble with public safety has been tried and tested to make sure there are no problems or risks."
Lawyers for Napo will pursue the absence of published evidence on the new system's safety as the basis for a public duty legal challenge through judicial review. They will also pursue a private law duty based on the secretary of state's duty of care to probation staff.
The Ministry of Justice refuses to publish details of the safety tests it says it has conducted into the break-up of the national service and will not respond to freedom of information requests.
Grayling originally received the letter threatening legal action on Monday last week but Treasury solicitors did not respond until the deadline, on Friday afternoon, when they issued a holding letter asking for another two days. Before the two days had passed the Ministry of Justice quietly published the list of preferred bidders. They then issued a response insisting there had been sufficient consultation on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme – a claim probation staff deny.Academic Rob Allen is more measured on his Unlocking Potential website, but raises other worrying issues and a whole new aspect of the ever-growing TR omnishambles created by Chris Grayling:-
Is Inspectorate up to the task of alerting Ministers to risks of Probation reforms?
This morning, Justice Minister Simon Hughes defended the government’s probation reforms. He used three main arguments, all highly questionable. First he claimed that Transforming Rehabilitation has been undertaken “deliberatively” and over an appropriate time scale.
Yes there has been consultation but it is hard to see much evidence of how debate has influenced the shape of the programme. And the timescale has been widely criticised as too rushed, dictated by the need to sign the contracts ahead of the election. Even new providers are concerned about the pace. Only half-jokingly, a senior representative of one told me recently that there was only one thing more worrying than losing out in the bidding process and that was winning the contracts.
Hughes’s second contention was that the reforms had been piloted. This is a half- truth at best. Yes there has been piloting of post release supervision of short term prisoners which seems to have shown positive results. Payment by Results has been tested in a number of contexts. But just as trying out new computer programmes is of limited relevance if you are planning to change the whole operating system, so there is a good deal of uncertainty about how the moving parts in the new probation machinery will actually mesh together. Yes that new system has been running for a few months; not before time, it looks as if a court of law will judge on the reasonableness of such a wholesale reorganisation given the risks that have been widely identified.
But perhaps Hughes most interesting point was that the independent inspector has alerted us to “no concerns that the system isn't moving across”. In fact the Chief Inspector of Probation wrote in his most recent annual report that “like all significant change programmes the transitional phase of Transforming Rehabilitation carries inevitable heightened risk.” But to be fair to Paul McDowell’s position, he recognises “the opportunity to innovate, to think afresh, and to make a significant impact on reoffending outcomes”.
If Ministers are to look to the Chief Inspector to alert them to problems, it is obviously important that the office is structured to do that effectively, impartially and independently. In the case of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Chief Inspector is always appointed from outside the prison service to give that assurance. Moreover, the Prison Inspectorate website contains a register of interests for the Chief Inspector. On it, Nick Hardwick reports that he has a close relative who works for the Metropolitan Police service.Here's Mr McDowell explaining Nacro's plans on YouTube in 2011 and here's a couple of contributions from yesterday:-
In the case of the Chief Inspector of Probation, there is no requirement that the post holder is drawn from outside the service which he or she inspects. Most have been former senior probation staff. Paul is a former Chief Executive of NACRO, the charity which will henceforth play a major role in the probation landscape which he will inspect. NACRO (for whom incidentally I worked from 1989 to 2000) has been named as the preferred bidder in six Community Rehabilitation Company areas.
NACRO’s partner is Sodexo, whose deputy managing director is Janine McDowell, who is a close relative of Paul. I have no reason at all to question the integrity of either Paul or Janine, whom I have met, like and respect as professionals. But I do think there is a potential for a perceived if not actual conflict of interest. It needs addressing at the very least by greater transparency and in future by recruiting Chief Inspectors from outside the world of probation and community rehabilitation companies.
To be clear - Mr McDowell, former Nacro Chief exec, is now HM Inspector Of Probation, a person who SoS Grayling quotes as having no issue or concern with the probation split or TR. Ms McDowell (wife? Sister? Mother? Of...) is Deputy Managing Director of Sodexo Justice Services, who have just been awarded six preferred bidder spots in the probation sell-off. Ms McDowell moved into Sodexo Justice Services in 2007 - the point at which New Labour Govt passed the Act Grayling has just used to expedite TR. What did she do up to 2007?
I wonder who Sodexo's partner is in the six bids? A charity called NACRO perhaps? What's that we can smell?
Seems Ms McDowell made her name within the prison service, then moved to UKDS to run Bronzefield. At some point she was at HMYOI Feltham.
Bronzefield was a purpose-built establishment which opened in 2004. Originally run by UKDS (private company UK Detention Services), then Kalyx, then Sodexo. I suspect (to be confirmed) that UKDS became Kalyx which then became Sodexo.
Over the coming days we're all going to be kept very busy digging up more details of these fascinating relationships and the murky past of the privateers. I notice Harry Fletcher has posed some questions via twitter:-
Who is behind Purple Futures, and who is their Chair? Did all Primes know that contracts would be packaged?
These new provider Purple Futures, MTC Nova! Must be under complete scrutiny. Who are they? Whats their track record?
Which preferred bidders are backed financially by Gem Capital and by how much and will this be made public?
Will providers of probation services who also have contracts for work programmes for offenders be paid twice for same work?