Saturday, 18 October 2014

Omnishambles Update 72

A few more bits and pieces to tide us over this agonising waiting period while Napo and others decide on a legal challenge to TR, and the MoJ hunker-down and tighten the screws in case there's any leak of information.    


It feels like we're all in trenches, and yet the propaganda says we've accepted the changes and are working hard on making the whole pile of TR shite function. Well, that's what Michael Spurr says in the latest edition of 'Getting Started' :-
Chief Executive’s message 
I’m very conscious of how hard Probation colleagues have been working over the last few months as we’ve moved to new structures, implemented new case allocation processes and moved to new working arrangements both in the NPS and in CRCs.

The change process has been intense – and whilst I recognise there are real and genuine pressures across the system the fact that the change has been managed so effectively is a tribute to the professionalism and vocational commitment of staff across Probation.

I’ve managed to visit a number of offices and courts over the last few months both in large city areas (such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Croydon) but also in towns (such as Aylesbury, Chelmsford, Bedford, Maidstone, Halifax and York) where the issues and pressures present different challenges. I use these visits to talk to colleagues at all levels to get a better understanding of how things are actually working ‘on the ground’.

As the NOMS CEO, I am responsible for making the whole Offender Management system work effectively – and I will remain responsible for the ‘whole system’ after CRCs have transitioned to new providers later this year. My focus is on how things are actually working – and what more we need to do to develop and improve our systems, processes and professional practice to better support the new structures and to deliver the best service we can for the courts, for our offenders and for the public we serve.

I know that for many colleagues the structural changes have been difficult and painful and that the new processes have been challenging and created additional work and pressure. But I have been encouraged, heartened and impressed by the way colleagues have responded, are adapting to the new arrangements, and are working collaboratively to solve problems and improve our performance.

The Solutions in Partnership Team has been set up specifically to harness this approach and bring practitioners from across the NPS and CRCs together to develop practical solutions to improve processes and to tackle and address common issues and problems.

I recognise that there has been particular pressure on court staff following the introduction of the RSR/CAS process. That’s why additional administration staff have been recruited for courts facing particular pressures and why the Solutions in Partnership Team, working with colleagues from the North West Division, have prioritised the RSR/CAS processes for early review; looking to streamline arrangements wherever we can.

IT issues continue to be a frustration whenever I talk to staff in the field. It’s important to remember that the roll out of Delius as the single national casework system was only completed last October and it then had to be adapted to run the new case allocation processes required for the TR reforms.

The reconfigured system is now generally working as planned but some ‘work-arounds’ remain and it’s slower and less ‘user friendly’ than any of us would want. We know that we need to improve overall performance and ‘user experience’ and have plans in place to do this – but these improvements cannot take place until we have delivered the final reconfiguration of the system to incorporate the changes resulting from the new Offender Management and Rehabilitation Act (OMR). I know this is hugely frustrating but IT colleagues are working hard to ensure that the OMR changes can be incorporated successfully – and we will then concentrate on significantly improving the way the system operates from a ‘user’ standpoint.

Finally, I want to say something about ‘morale’ and the future. I know that the pace of change has created anxiety and concern for many colleagues – but as we develop the new structures I’m increasingly convinced that there will be a positive and exciting future for staff in both the NPS and in CRCs.

The aim of these reforms is to reduce reoffending and to extend service provision to 50,000 offenders who currently receive no statutory support in the community. The NPS and CRCs need to adapt to meet the requirements of the Offender Management Rehabilitation Act – this is challenging but looking forward, the extension of service provision means that there will be lots of opportunities for staff to develop their careers – both within the NPS and in CRCs.

I am committed to maintaining public service values at the heart of the work we do – and providers who are bidding for CRC contracts are required to abide by public service values and demonstrate a strong ethical commitment both in their bids but also in the way they deliver their services.

I am equally committed to promoting staff professionalism and professional development. We are currently looking to refresh and retender the Professional Qualification Framework – and I am passionate about providing opportunities for staff across Probation to develop professional skills.

I was involved in establishing the PQF in 2008 and am a committed advocate of providing opportunities for PSOs and other Probation staff to develop skills and progress their careers within the Service. Time constraints mean that we are currently only recruiting graduate learners for the final cohort of the current PQF contract.

This will ensure that we will be able to fill vacancies and manage the anticipated natural turnover of staff over the next 12 months – but I want to reinforce my commitment to providing opportunities for PSOs and administrative staff to become Probation Officers in future and to professional development more generally.

This will be a key priority for the NPS. In addition we have required all prospective CRC providers to set out clearly how they will develop and maintain a professional skilled workforce to deliver the services we require from them in the future.

As I’ve said to colleagues many times on my visits – the work we do is challenging and complex – all prospective providers realise this. Their success will depend on the quality of the staff theyemploy and for that reason I have no doubt that their structures and staffing arrangements will reflect this and that this will provide genuine and exciting opportunities for colleagues in CRCs over the next few years.

Thank you again for everything you are doing and for all your hard work and commitment. Despite the pressures, we are continuing to deliver a crucial service for the public professionally and extraordinarily well and whilst that often goes unrecognised in the media it is very much appreciated.

Michael Spurr
NOMS Chief Executive Officer
I've mentioned the excellent blog 'Prison UK : An Insider's View' before and I hope the author doesn't mind me quoting this revealing excerpt from a recent post:-
When I was still a con, I once had a very lengthy and remarkably honest discussion with a deputy governor about the problems the Prison Service was facing in the Team Grayling era. This governor was, in my opinion, a very decent bloke who truly despaired of the increasing politicisation of the British penal system, as well as the imposition of ideologically-motivated punitive regulations that bore little or no relation to evidence-based prison practices – for example, the forcing of many prisoners back into prison-issue clothing, which was proving costly and causing chaos for many local nicks.
This governor mentioned that when NOMS was consulting senior prison managers on the new National Facilities List in 2012, a number of governors warned that the resulting Prison Service Instruction (PSI 30/2013 on Incentives and Earned Privileges) would prove unworkable, particularly since it removed much local discretion from governors over how they actually managed the establishments in their charge. He told me that most of these warnings were simply swept aside because decisions at a political level had already been made. 
NOMS then informed the dissident governors that no further representations to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) would be made. The die was cast and, predictably, many of the problems that experienced prison governors had foreseen have indeed come to pass. 
Of course this, in itself, raises important questions about how much autonomy Governing Governors now really have. It seems that they are largely being reduced to the role of bureaucrats who are charged with carrying out Whitehall’s diktat, even when all the evidence suggests that our prisons are deep in crisis. Just one more in the ever-lengthening list of disasters being caused by the failure of ‘Crisis’ Chris Grayling – and his sidekicks in the MOJ and NOMS – to listen to those people who actually know what they are talking about.
And here's something to ponder on raised by a recent exchange of comments:-

The Probation market has been shrinking for some years now. Lower crime rates and other types of disposals. The CRC bidders will have spotted this though and made allowances in their calculations. I think the less predictable bit is how sentencing and proposals change. If JPs lose confidence in what CRC are offering in terms of rehabilitative options they will move towards more expensive options like UPW or short custodials for complex cases, or choose fines for the low complexity cases. This is where bidders should worry because if the low risk of reoffending clients get fines instead it will really screw up any calculations they mad eon PbR as they will never be allocated many of the easier cases.

In fact the more I reflect on this, the more unpredictable and volatile I think these contracts will be. It's not like the work programme where you can be confident about the number of referrals. Magistrates could throw the contractors all sorts of curve balls, and if the CRC lose their ability to deliver sentences that satisfy them, then will choose other sentences. And so much depends on police and CPS processes. Conditional Cautioning and Neighbourhood Resolution Panels are outside the scope of TR, and anyone commissioning these services is likely to ignore the big players. Just keep thinking of what problems lie ahead for contractors and go for local agencies. Keep thinking and you will build a long and lengthening list of calculations you can't make..

I understand the future powers of the Magistrates - and for that matter the Judges - differently. If - as I understand it the Offender Rehabilitation Bill 2014 is ever actually implemented it will effectively remove from Magistrates and Judges the Power to impose an Unpaid Work Order or other conditions of a Community Order, such as drug treatment conditions - under section 15. I still find this hard to believe and hope I am wrong - but time will tell.

It just occurs to me I am not sure whether the courts or CRCs and perhaps NPS will also be responsible for imposing conditions of psychiatric treatment? It is probably not worth spending any time on this at least not until we learn that the Act is actually to be introduced.

I'm sure I've read somewhere that the OR Act is to be activated pretty soon. Could someone out there tell us what they've heard and pass comment on the above? I think it's all to do with that Post Sentence Assessment that West Yorkshire dreamt up as a money-making wheeze.

I think we missed this as reported by the Law Society Gazette website:- 
Non-lawyer lord chancellor is a ‘benefit’ – Grayling
Chris Grayling told peers today that it is a ‘positive benefit’ that the lord chancellor is a non-lawyer. Grayling, who is the first non-lawyer to be in the post for 440 years, appeared before the House of Lords constitution committee, which is holding an inquiry into the role.

The Epsom MP was grilled for more than an hour on the constitutional role and whether his position as justice secretary caused a conflict in his commitment to the rule of law. Grayling told committee members that it was an advantage for a non-lawyer to be lord chancellor – particularly at a time when legal aid cuts have to be made.

‘I don’t think that the person holding my job suffers from not being a lawyer,’ he said. ‘We don’t need a health secretary who is a doctor. I don’t believe you need to be a practising lawyer and understand the minutiae of the court to protect the values of our justice system.’
He added that a non-lawyer could take a ‘dispassionate’ approach to reforms and that these may not be well received by the legal profession. He also rejected as ‘misplaced’ the idea that a lawyer would have chosen to retain legal aid as it was before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, pointing to cuts made by his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke QC.
‘Perhaps there’s a belief that a separate lord chancellor would take different decisions on legal aid. That’s simply not the case,’ he added. Grayling, who said it would be a ‘big mistake’ to separate the roles of justice secretary and lord chancellor, revealed he had admonished one fellow minister in his time in office for public criticism of a judge.
He also stated he was ‘not comfortable’ with a senior judiciary dominated by men but insisted it was not right to artificially promote people before they are ready for the role simply because they are women.

Grayling said he was ‘satisfied’ with the legal advice available to him despite three recent defeats in the High Court on judicial reviews. ‘Sometime we are right and sometimes we are wrong – we are only human.’ But he defended his plans for reform of judicial review as ‘necessary, proportionate and dealing with an area that’s not working very well’. He says this is a matter for parliament and it would be a mistake to invite judges to comment.
In response to Grayling’s evidence, Bar Council chair Nicholas Lavender said the lord chancellor should be a ‘champion’ of the justice system as well as guardian of the constitution.‘He is entrusted with lead responsibility in government to maintain the delicate balance between, on the one hand, upholding the rule of law and protecting the independence of the judiciary and, on the other hand, respecting the interests of the executive. ‘Legal expertise is essential to fulfil such a unique role. The lord chancellor should be a very senior lawyer.’
Meanwhile the cuts to legal aid are beginning to have widespread effects amongst criminal lawyers and the service offered to our clients, as reported here in the Guardian:-
Evidence has begun to emerge of the impact of legal aid cuts on criminal law firms, with internal memos from one large business showing that lawyers are being asked to take a 4% pay cut or face losing their jobs. The effect of Ministry of Justice cutbacks and reorganisation of duty contracts covering police stations and magistrates courts could, according to leaders of the profession, lead to two-thirds of criminal solicitors losing their jobs. Poorly paid paralegals are increasingly being hired to carry out criminal defence work, critics of the government’s plans warn, prompting fears of an increase in miscarriages of justice.  
Finally, some sobering analysis of what lies ahead as discussed here in the Guardian Professional section recently:-
Over the next five years, the pain will be concentrated where it has been for the past five: local authorities, the civil service and the police. Budget projections by shire counties, city councils and London boroughs point to large-scale redundancies over the next few years. Civil servants have heard ministers making ominous promises about efficiency savings in public administration, which can only mean cuts in headcount. What justice minister Chris Grayling is doing to probation may be the template for what a reinvigorated Cameron second-term government would do in other service areas – prisons, policing, benefits administration, even parts of HMRC.


  1. Across BeNCH CRC average sickness levels have increased from 17 days in August to 23 days in September. Apparently this is 'of concern' to the CEO and Directors.

  2. What is this "Offender Management Rehabilitation Act" of which Spurr writes - is there to be yet more new legislation before even the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 has even been implemented?

    Or is Spurr, despite all his advisers, just confused about the legislation he is using to wreck our system of Probation that has developed incrementally since 1907?

    1. Andrew you are bang on here , yet again the disrespect shown to professional people is appalling.
      The mandarins in Petty France have no idea what they are churning out and the management either don't understand or don't read the submissions.
      If this is so wrong on such a small point imagine what the details in the TR programme are like!
      Someone should be responsible for this minor detail but will they be ?

      If this guy does not understand , what chance have the rest of us got?

      Spurr can see the writing on the wall ;

      "I know that for many colleagues the structural changes have been difficult and painful and that the new processes have been challenging and created additional work and pressure"

      " I know that the pace of change has created anxiety and concern for many colleagues"

      This is the CEO admitting that his duty of care has failed!

      We all have grounds to take this statement back to our managers and say "hey, the chief recognises the stress levels, what are you doing about it?"
      Perhaps NAPO wish to add this statement to their JR submission - it's on a plate......

    2. Yes - I thought the 'tone' of that write up was indicative of what Spurr believes but lacks the courage to say, as those in power strive and hope to deceive themselves about the ultimate consequences of hoodwinking the populace.

      It reminds me of Whitelaw's wink about the 'short, sharp, shock' nonsense at a Napo Conference just after the Tories were elected - I think it was at Llandudno in 1979.

      PS - I feel a bit like Harold Wilson may have felt "As I said at the Brighton Conference" was one of his catch phrases!

  3. this makes for gloomy and depressing reading. This is the fight of your lives, for your life. Courts being unable to impose conditions such as unpaid work or drug treatment? So are we moving to generic sentences - every sentence fits...? That process of appropriate individualised recommendations defines the Probation Service's expertise in assessment of every individual. So what will happen to the excellent programmes if this is to be another nail in the coffin? GET ON THE PHONE OR WHATEVER AND SPEAK TO THE MEDIA- IT'S YOUR ONE AND ONLY CHANCE! - ML

    1. Sentences will soon be 'Joe/Jane Bloggs must attend for x amount of sessions'.

      We've already been told that if we 'discover' early on that they do not need as many sessions (read support) then to take them straight back to Court for early revocation......although I'm not sure that the grounds of 'good progress' after 5 sessions is going to cut much mustard with the Courts!!!

      I've already spoke to Simon about this.

  4. Mr Michael Dick Spurt, spurting out crap. Staff in NPS and CRC have an exciting future. Yeah right, with what's left of staff in the crappy rehabilitation companies. What a wanker!!

  5. TR in Crisis already BUT there is more to come ! Please remember the consequence of the Osborne decision (Osborn (Appellant) v The Parole Board (Respondent) and recent comments that the Parole Board are not releasing enough prisoners ( ref this Blog two days ago)
    Sir David Calvert-Smith ( Chair) "In July, the board had 780 cases against the usual 400-500. "In due course, if the delays get any longer or a delay in a particular case gets longer we will have to pay damages," he says. "Even though it's not our fault, we owe them a hearing and we haven't given them one."
    The consequence of this is additional work for Probation (and Prison) staff at a time when we have no capacity at all.So undoubtedly our workloads are set to increase again. This will have a massive impact on probation, more pre release assessments, referrals and reports and of course cases to supervise in the community given the presumption is for release.
    Now read Spurr's communication again - I agree with the above commentator, he clearly admits to failing in his duty of care to staff. Now we are going to have to cope with so much more work, as a result of the Osborn decision WHERE IS THE STRATEGIC PLANNING? Just what do these people get paid for?
    Stressed PO

    1. AND - lets not us FORGET - the media ignored - thousands of IPP's well over tariff, literally trapped in gaols, with no way of fulfilling the requirements expected of them before they can demonstrate they are 'safe' to be released.

      Delayed so long their releases will be far more problematical than if they had been given a standard certain length sentence in the first place.

      This is wholly the responsibility of the Labour Party which has been effectively ignored by the Conservatives, in the same way as Labour ignored some of the damaging legislation [they actually originally opposed] when they were in office.

      Just one example - not paying adult related state benefits to those aged under 26 years of age, first introduced by Conservatives and having significant impact on some of my clients from about 1988 onwards (effectively until TODAY)!

  6. Andrew, the crisis for STAFF now must not be lost in all this discussion. I do not know a single member of staff who is not adversely impacted ranging from dissatisfaction through anguish to full blown stress ( which has serious health implications). In my (many years) of probation work I have never seen such fractured working conditions. If staff deluged by processes ( and trying to even figure them out, yes it is that chaotic) and have no time to even consider the needs of our service users all really is lost. Yes the points you make are valid about who is to blame over time but the crisis now needs to be dealt with in its immediacy.

    1. I absolutely believe that - hence I am surprised Napo members did not withdraw active engagement with the Probation Institute at least a year ago at the 2013 AGM and subsequently.

      I am astounded at the number of probation people who are reportedly doing extra work or taking temporary work to keep TR on track and NOW seem so timid in approaching media .

      I am retired & I went to see my MP at Westminster in February yet there was only about 200 at the last lobby and not many more at the previous lobby.

      It seems to me either some current probation workers are infected with short termism or simply do not understand the principles and history of probation in England & Wales in the first place!

  7. I have been led to believe that the PI has only 34 members. I think the staff have never supported it in any meaningful way.

    1. All the more reason for Napo to suspend current active institutional engagement - having in my opinion - wrongly - got involved in the first place.

      Grayling and I think Wright also - but not as far as I am aware Selous yet, have used the existence of the PI as justification for the TR disaster, by being actively involved - AT THE BEHEST OF MEMBERS - who have not stopped it - so, to all intents and purpose, Napo is organisationally colluding with it and giving a mixed message to the wider public about absolute rejection of TR in the way it has been designed and implemented.

    2. In response to the suggestion that TR had no satisfactory framework (and requirement on CRCs) for good training and continuous professional development, Grayling responded that "there was NAPO and the PI".

  8. I've not joined it and even if I was offered free membership as some areas have, I would politely say thanks but no thanks!!

    1. We were offered free membership at Teesside. To my knowledge not one person took it up. Pretty much sums it up!

    2. It's recently been offered in Dorset, Devon & Cornwall too. I've not heard about many people jumping at the chance...

      The next step will surely be people being auto-enrolled to get the membership figures up. Otherwise there may end up being more corporate members than staff!

    3. Oh I'd not heard that .. Nothing was said in nps .

  9. The most ridiculous part of the whole debacle is that the one group of staff that are unaffected are the serco CP staff who aren't stressed, are well staffed and are happy. Ho figure.

  10. I really do not understand this Anon 16:25 as I have heard the contrary - largely because of several posts on here - my information is that the business is anti union and staff dare not speak out! Go figure indeed!

    1. Well I'm speaking out. The business isn't keen on napo buy unison have been far better at negotiating with Serco. Also staff working conditions have improved and unlike the crc and now debacles the management of serco CP are lovely. Plus they were managers back in lpt as was so they know the score and get it.

    2. It is interesting that you say SERCO mgt are lovely. Did the 90 odd people made redundant find that out before or after they got the boot?

    3. Most of them chose to go and yes our managers are lovely. They actually care and take time to listen to us. In like the rest of you stuck in crc or nps. If we can't do something our managers make that argument to noms.

  11. Dear Mr Spurr
    this is the day job, without the TR crap you have forced on us and for you NOMS bods remember probation officers face this in the community not the secure prison estate

    1. A man who threatened to “butcher” probation officers in a veiled reference to infamous cop killer Raoul Moat has been sectioned.

      Christopher Williams, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order after admitting making threats to kill.

      The 36-year-old believes he is possessed by a demon, the court heard.

      In April 2013, he had threatened to kill a Cumbrian probation officer with a claw hammer, and was handed a suspended prison sentence and extended community order.

      But on January 30 this year, when examined by psychiatrist Professor Douglas Turkington at his Wallsend practice, he threatened to kill his new supervising probation officer, who is based in Teesdale.

      Jonathan Devlin, prosecuting, said: “He said if he ended up back in prison he would kill probation officers and target their families. He would butcher people.

      “He said, ‘You thought only police officers get shot in the face. I can understand why people in the justice system get killed.’”

      His words were understood to refer to Newcastle gunman Raoul Moat who, in 2010, made national headlines when he shot traffic police officer David Rathband at close range and triggered a massive manhunt across Northumberland.

      Williams, who lived in Mardale Close, Penrith, before moving to Wolsey Drive, Newton, Cleveland, and now Roseberry Park hospital in Middlesbrough, pleaded guilty to the latest offence in August.

      Judge Brian Forster QC, sentencing, said: “Unfortunately you are troubled by the mental illness paranoid schizophrenia and your presentation is such that you have symptoms of a delusional belief in a tripartite existence of the mind and a belief you are being possessed by a demon.

      “Whilst you have made good progress in hospital since your diagnosis, your insight is limited and I do have to keep in mind that this is a recurring illness and while I accept this behaviour was arising at a time when you were very ill, it is quite possible you will be very ill again in the future.

      “The threats in this case were very serious. It is necessary in this case to make a restriction order without limit of time for the protection of the public from serious harm.”The hospital order means Williams can be treated without his permission, and he can only leave once his clinician has agreed the release with the Secretary of State for Justice.

    2. Time was "he can only leave once his clinician has agreed the release with the Secretary of Justice" would leave the reader reassured that Justice was in charge of the process.Or that The Minister of Justice had an inkling of insight into the issues. Or gave a shit about either victims or perpetrator. Or human rights

    3. This is our reality. Raoul Moat would have been a CRC case, reflect bidders.

    4. and remember, this offender would have been seen in a mass reporting centre such as a church hall ( already in use as such) without panic alarms - with multiple other offenders and with only one or two probation staff present. WAKE UP TO THE RISKS BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

  12. In person, Michael Spurr comes across as charming, thoughtful and reasonable. However, he is a career Civil Servant who inherited his role by default when the original incumbent had to resign for genuine personal reasons.
    The above quoted post is a perfect example of dissembling a la Sir Humphrey. He thanks staff for their commitment and professionalism in the implementation of this ideologically driven omnishambles. However, the reality is that I and my colleagues are doing our best to manage this for a number of reasons. Firstly, our commitment to the communities we serve. Secondly, the needs of our clients. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly in the context, we are employees and we work in fear of not complying with the 'reasonable' instructions of our lickspittle senior management or we will be disciplined or sacked and on the dole and the breadline.
    As an SPO, I am now being asked to provide explanations for performance 'failures' in the past 5 months in relation to 'missed' OASys terminations. The first of these was a 'miss' in mid-June at a time when, you may recall, the split was in full flow, case records and assessments were disappearing into the ether, staff were anxious and angry, colleagues who had sat next to you for years had disappeared to 'the other side' and the whole service was in chaos.
    Mr Spurr is a mere highly paid functionary paid to serve his masters and does this exceptionally well with exemplary mastery of spin and outstanding aplomb.
    And don't get me started on the Dark Master Grayling and his sniveling acolyte Selous.

  13. Dear Jim and colleagues
    please can we start to get information out here about the specifics of what each area is actually doing eg reporting centres, what types of buildings are being used, I know of a church halls without panic alarms ( yet obligatory in former public sector probation offices)? Staff travelling long distances to serve several offices, lone working of necessity when there are not enough staff of your own "brand" available to ensure your goes on and on......