Thursday, 6 November 2014

Guest Blog 9

The Morality Play

I admit to feeling a bit stressed today as we wait to see what the Judicial Review brings after this long campaign, and my feelings are a bit polarised. So I veer from hoping against hope that justice will prevail, and taking consolation and some pride in the view that we have fought as far as could, and at the very least have not made this privatisation easy. But this makes me think of another polarity that has been evident throughout this privatisation episode and that reveals a fault line in our whole political system. 

Over and again I have been thinking that the Probation Service has become a symbol of the split between two completely different types of public servant: the Tory minister who shamelessly spouts propaganda about serving the community while really representing his shadowy corporate backers, and the Probation worker who is still motivated by the idea of public service. 

Broadly the split corresponds to two visions – orientated to social good or to the market - that used to be easily identified with the two main political parties, but Labour is still struggling to regain a moral vision of community, and in any case appears not to have the conviction or nerve to seize the moment, however much one can sense people’s disgusted readiness for something other than the prevailing market ideology that holds the parties, and the media, and even now the charities and the BBC in thrall… 

For me, without hopefully sounding too pious, probation has always been an example of citizens caring about each other and taking both personal and social responsibility to act on that care. The basic moral values are empathy and responsibility for oneself and others. I connect this to a view that government has moral, as well as civic, duties of protection and empowerment for everyone equally. From this it follows that we must respect and value public services, and there is no sense of a civilised life for all people without things we have provided together.

This government, on the other hand, thinks that citizens should be guaranteed liberty to follow self-interest freely regardless of the well-being or interests of others. The basic moral values (admirable until distorted by an ideology of greed) are discipline and self-reliance. This leads to a view that it is natural to compete when there are scarce resources, and that it takes discipline and enterprise to succeed in a competitive world. On this view, government is mere interference, and a means of disguising people’s responsibility for their own poverty and indiscipline. On this view, public resources should be privatised, since no one should be forced to resource anyone else. 

One notes of course that for all the talk of private enterprise, the market and competition that model for these companies is a guaranteed monopoly income paid for by the taxpayer: public spending is fine so long as it ends up in the pockets of shareholders, CEOs and the politicians who end up with a consultancy, or with campaign funds indirectly funded by the taxpayer, though destructive of their interest.

What is the appropriate response to this divide that confronts us all on a daily basis? Moralistic indignation at the kinds of lies, underhand tactics and bullying involved, and of which our justice minister offers daily proof? I cannot forget the grotesque comedy of the occasion when I met him when with all the gravity of his office, he tried to stare me out like a 70s skinhead. 

Closer to home is the question of what has happened to the moral values of those members of our profession who have reached the dizzying heights of senior management? These are people who must feel enormous daily tension between their moral outlook and the needs for compliance. People’s need to follow orders must not be underestimated, and I remember from my social psychology training how automatically most of us follow orders, with all obvious references to My Lai and Milgram’s experiment. 

But we need to consider how so many senior managers in Probation have done what they are told, knowing full well what the effects would be, in order to hold on to their jobs in the new dispensation (as well, according to reports, receiving up to £250,000 hush money). So I feel so sorry for all those who have stayed on, doing their jobs heroically as well as possible in the current chaos, and forced into silence in another way, by stick rather than carrot… At times I have felt that giving up my job was perhaps the easier option.

So what sense to make of all this? At times I have fallen back on the very plausible idea that people like Grayling are to be thought of as psychopaths with no moral values, while the values and courage that one hoped for in the Lib Dems just came out in the wash, as soon as they sniffed power. After all, it's a well known generalisation that, if you’re poor and a psychopath you end up in prison but, if you’re rich and a psychopath you end up as a CEO, banker or justice minister in this case... However, if it were this simple, of all the people in the whole world who should have been able to outsmart Grayling, it was us: we have always worked with psychopaths, though it is unfortunate that now we work for them. 

So, we’ve actually been fighting a far wider battle for the moral heart and soul of society against an opposition that barely bothers to disguise its distaste for those it feels are not morally disciplined enough to become rich like themselves. After all, Cameron said this week that lowering taxes was a moral duty. We may wonder who is going to pay for schools, health, public infrastructure, all of which are used by millionaires and private corporations and without which they would never have made a fortune. 

But less tax means less money for social programmes and more chance of bribing the electorate, although someone could have told him he needn’t bother as rich people avoid taxes anyway. For these people the end justifies the means, and the end is an Establishment and a socially unequal network that must be maintained at all costs. As the L’Oreal advert says, it’s because they’re worth it. To them our new star couple is a marriage made in heaven.

At this point I confess I got the gag about the advert from Owen Jones, whose book on the establishment I am drawing on here. Another writer whose books I now have time to read while all of you are struggling with the new IT systems, is George Lakoff, and his core idea is that Left parties need to fight back against the ways that the neo-liberal right has hi-jacked political discourse, which is to say (and this is one of his key ideas) that they have moralized political discourse according to a view of right and wrong that strips out social and communal responsibility, and identifies us purely as self-interested agents riding the high seas of the market (or skulking in the lifeboats offered by privatisations). 

So in short, we need to reframe, as he would put it, political language by offering a different moral perspective, perhaps even by reviving the one that we all started out with when we started in this job, before budgets, and management and Tory opportunists got their piratical hands on the whole she-bang.

However, with one union and its legal team, the power of the people, a deeply felt set of moral values by which we live our lives and do our work, and more empathy in one Probation worker than the entire Tory party, we may well win a historic victory. If we do, I for one will feel that it is also a victory for a new moral vision of our society.

Joanna Hughes 

65 comments:

  1. Absolutely brilliant Joanna - my feelings completely - The Establishment is rotten to the core - driven by this neo liberal ideology, greed and panic. I too have read Owen Jones very recently - it offers clarity and exposes the divide at every level. In the meanwhile another day of craziness to face. Thank you Joanna for all you have done and continue to do on our behalf.

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  2. That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Well said, Joanne.

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  3. Yes, thank you Joanna. The point about making a new moral argument is really important - Grayling has shown that he will bluster on about £46 and short term prisoners to the point where all the reasonable, informed points about reality just get lost. The Tories only have to convince about a third of the voting population that they serve their interests in order to get elected, and with most of the media in their pocket the job is made very easy - which makes Cameron's failure to get elected in 2010 even starker.

    After the first TUC march against austerity I joined the Green Party as I felt it was clear that they were the only ones willing to offer an alternative solution to the banker-made financial crisis. Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett are still the only ones willing to make a positive case for the welfare state and communitarian solutions, and opposing mass privatisations. It might seem pie in the sky to many people, but until we start talking about an alternative, no-one will believe in it.

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    1. Just for info, 07:54, after their splendid contribution to the Yes campaign, the Scottish Greens now have more members than Scottish Labour do...

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  4. Northumbria CRC recently re advertised for a PDPO (Practice Development Probation Officer) to cover the North of the area but the advert was the same as pre split, so mentioning oral hearings, PSR's, high risk etc how can you apply for a job that actually doesn't exist anymore? I suspect it was a rush job to come in to line with the other parts of Northumbria who have PDPO's in post, wouldn't want anything to spoil Sodexo's gift wrapped present would we?

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  5. Well said Joanna - worthy of wider publication - maybe The Guardian would use it for its Public Leaders network or Comment is free section

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/05/you-tell-us

    I hope readers here will add comments to the nonsense emanating from Simon Hughes in the Independent

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/prisons-minister-simon-hughes-hits-out-at-tories-sticking-plaster-solutions-for-jail-crisis-9842242.html

    If the Guardian wont use Joanna's piece here it would equally fit in Independent Voices

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/

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    1. Nonsense emanating from Simon Hughes in the Independent? ?

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    2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/prisons-minister-simon-hughes-hits-out-at-tories-sticking-plaster-solutions-for-jail-crisis-9842242.html

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    3. I understand the early evening blog later today will feature an open letter to Mr Hughes from myself.

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    4. As pointed out previously by someone, it's a good time to hammer the libdems with our concerns.
      They're looking for anything that will demonstrate a seperate politic from the tories.
      Look forward to reading your letter.

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    5. Jim Brown 6 November 2014 08:35 said -"I understand the early evening blog later today will feature an open letter to Mr Hughes from myself."

      GOOD - I hope like Joanna's piece it gets very wide exposure - I have suggested Joanna's piece to Guardian - Comment is Free - http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/05/you-tell-us#comment-43265473

      Maybe a letter to them or The Independent from some current probation practitioners would attract publicity as well.

      It is impressive the way Pat Waterman is now regularly taken up by London Evening Standard.

      The Media attention at long last seems to be increasing: -

      Maybe Probation will even make it on to BBC TV question Time tonight or R4 Any Questions on Friday evening.

      Then there are Radio phone ins - Ken Livingstone and David Mellor on LBC on Saturday Mornings have touched on Probation before.

      These things always come best from current or recently retired practitioners or people with some sort of recognised status - like a Blogger with 1614682 hits - most broadcasters and publishers will allow anonymity.

      So Probation Folk - please hit the media - just give it a go - it is easier after you have done it once - sometimes it just takes a single short statement of a sentence to make a point - it is no worse than giving supporting evidence in court - broadcasters love people who have never been broadcast before!

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    6. PS. Mike Quinn is doing brilliantly with regular contributions in the Newcastle press and Local radio in the NW - I am sure there are others - p'raps Jim will do a roll call of honour for those who actually get into the Main Stream Media, on even a one off basis?

      He might welcome advice from watchers and listeners about who to include - maybe one will write a guest blog - to encourage others particularly tackling the how to be anonymous business?

      I continue to be amazed at the range of media JB seems to monitor - which is why this blog is essential reading for ALL involved with PR in and about Probation as it is here you may find stuff you have missed elsewhere in some highly specialist publication that nonetheless has a unique bit of relevant information.

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    7. "I continue to be amazed at the range of media JB seems to monitor"

      I rely on the vast army of newshounds on this blog to point me in the right direction!

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    8. I think you'll find Mr Quinn is in the NE, Andrew.

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    9. Yes I know he is thanks for the correction!

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  6. Excellent Blog from 5th Nov from Sheffield University, to read:

    "Is Neo Liberalism At Last Unravelling in Britain?" by Tony Payne.

    speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2014/11/05/neoliberalism-unravelling

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  7. The demise of clause 4 part 4 of the Labour Party constitution was the beginning of the end of any compassion for ordinary workers within the higher echelons of the Party.

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  8. Thanks Andrew for trying to spread the word. Interestingly, Owen Jones was writing on 'comment is free' yesterday and quotes George Lakoff himself regarding immigration and the wider moral basis.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/05/statistics-immigration-debate-european-migrants-uk-20bn

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  9. That was an excellent observation Joanna! Good on yer! re. getting into the media - I have tried and tried to get info into the Mirror- to hit the 'average person on the street' , but being studiously ignored by newsdesk and the editor. Among the other numerous papers I contacted, only the Nle Journal responded, with big article, also quoting Mike Quinn and Jeremy Beecham, as supporting my comments. I have also been in contact with Adrian Goldberg, R4, following the Sunday radio programme, with my own comments and examples of colleagues experiences, which had been sent to me with permission to pass on. He told me on Tue that his producer was going to phone me that day, but hasn't - so frustrating. But I won't give up, I will continue to gnaw at their ankles. One day the tabloids are gonna have to say something, but at the moment they are as limp as those heading up the Labour Party!

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  10. I am sure it is an asset to have discipline and be enterprising to succeed in a market economy. This can foster the view that we live in a meritocracy. However, we know that many are born into privilege and many enjoy the riches of inherited wealth.

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  11. (Northumberland) Prison is a ‘powder keg just waiting to explode’

    http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/prison-is-a-powder-keg-just-waiting-to-explode-1-6937086

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    1. Having visited before and after the split I would agree. That is if the poor staff don't crack before the inmates. Not the only one either. Just heard a prison officer saying the staff all got letters asking them if they would take a five grand pay cut. Said no thanks but knows jobs are at risk. This was not in a privately run jail either. HMP Leeds. Police absent on the streets, no rehab coming soon. The whole chuffing thing is gonna explode soon never mind just the prisons!

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    2. That's big old prison too!

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  12. Just had email that GEO withdrawing from our area. WWM

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    1. Can you give any more details - they've only just been awarded preferred bidder status. More to likely to follow suit when they realise what a mess Probation (on both sides) are in.

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    2. No more details but now being reported by Ian Lawrence - Warwickshire & West Midlands - staff have apparently been emailed and told to expect more news later!

      https://twitter.com/IlawrenceL/status/530333296333713408

      I am in a state of near ecstasy!

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  13. Well said Joanna and thanks. An excellent summing up of the whole disgusting and sorry mess which has been foisted upon us. Your guest blog also completely reflects my feelings in a much more cogent way than I could have done.

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  14. What reason did GEO give for withdrawing?

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    1. CELEBRATION MAYBE PREMATURE

      http://www.napo2.org.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=856&p=3513#p3513

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    2. EOS - like putting a LOFC player in the champions league - sorry Andrew couldn't resist!

      A very poor provider of Work Programme provision , suspect even poorer at probation stuff .....A real sign of desperation when Capita and Sentinel in the same pot!
      Presumably all are poor and MoJ scraping the barrel ....
      What must that do for the poor staff in CRC knowing they are auctioned off like E Bay stock

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    3. This makes even more nonsense of the specious title "preferred" bidder as if quality or standards had anything to do with it. Looking more like "anyone we can pressgang into it"

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    4. MoJ say EOS now prefferred bidder in WM area with Mercia and Willowdene still in play , clearly the issue here and elsewhere is that the big boys are providing the CASH and the poor mutuals are merely sub contractors - another lie by Grayling , if the bid was good they should have let Mercia and Willowdene continue as a mutual , but they can't because they need the money from the prime.
      EOS - out of the Staffline stable , can get you staff for the warehouse at a moments notice , know f**k all about probation.

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    5. "As the leading provider of the Work Programme across the West Midlands, EOS is committed to delivering first-class services to return the longer term unemployed back into sustainable employment.

      Alongside our partner organisations we draw on both our experience of working with the Department for Work and Pensions, and acquired expertise from Staffline, to provide a ground-breaking and highly effective approach to reducing worklessness. EOS operates six established Employment Centres which sit at the heart of this approach by offering jobseekers practical, sector-specific experience of working in various professional directions."

      blah blah blah ..........

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    6. Transforming Rehabilitation programme - preferred bidders update
      Geo Mercia Willowdene (GMW) was selected as the preferred bidder to run offender rehabilitation in Warwickshire and West Mercia as part of the Government’s reforms to probation. This consortium includes Geo Group UK, Willowdene Rehabilitation (a social enterprise) and Mercia Community Action (probation staff mutual). We have not been able to reach an acceptable agreement with Geo Group UK.
      The Ministry of Justice is determined to secure the highest quality outcomes in reducing reoffending.
      There was strong competition in this contract area and we have now begun discussions with EOS, who also submitted a highly credible bid, and they have now been designated as the preferred bidder for this region. EOS is currently in discussion with both Willowdene Rehabilitation and Mercia Community Action about the opportunity of working in partnership with them.
      Discussions are now taking place with EOS in preparation for contract award. The overall programme for awarding contracts in 2014 remains firmly on track and we expect providers to be in place and delivering services by early 2015.

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    7. It's bullshit. They know it. We know it and they know we know it. EOS cannot deliver on the 2 dimensional Work Programme contract. Probation is infinitely more complex. They are being set up to fail by a failing Ministry.

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    8. What utter bollocks, the government cannot even get this right, looks like names are again being picked out of a hat. The staff there must be thinking oh "f..." what's going on. THIS IS NOT A GAME GRAYLING. We are already demoralised and bewildered with the changes don't add to our worries and make a mockery of it. The shafting just does not stop. All those allocated to the CRC should be compensated we have been treated unfairly and its a disgrace that the unions have allowed this to go on.

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    9. Those MoJ bods must be squirming. They know it's an almighty f*** up but have front it out. Excruciating!!

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  15. Joanna, well done it is good enough to make the Observer on Sunday. I understand why so few people see the wider political issue, they are trying to survive in a culture of fear. However like you I think the only way to win the battle we are in is to see the wider politics and join forces with all others involved in the same fight. Our economy has been finacialised, the banks and big companies play the markets because it's easier to make money that way. We lurch from bubble to bubble with the tax payer bailing out the cut off elite whilst foisting austerity on the people.This indeed is essence of neoliberalism, gone is the stability of making and selling products, we are now a banking and service bubble economy. The problem with our economy being finacialised is that it is inherently usable; this is not a problem for the elite because they are bailed out by us each time. No the problem is ours and we must take it on board, we need to expose neoliberalism and we need to come up with a political and economic alternative. This is the fight in which we are engaged and like Joanna we need to get serious about fighting it.

    papa

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  16. I'm happy to resign my ACO position if someone pays my mortgage and feeds my children. No sign here of any hush money just the dismantling of a job I love and being disrespected by people who don't know me. At the end of the day we all just comply with the requirements of our job. If I could make it all go away I would. I can't. I wish you well in your fight. I hope you win.

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    1. Ah the old i was just following orders line.

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    2. It is a fact we are all wage slaves !
      I am doing a job that I am not happy about but cannot get out of it without leaving .... I would rather fight from within than lose my livelihood . Sorry if that is offensive.

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    3. No one is offering the Nuremberg defence. It's true people need jobs and livelihoods and it's unfair to suggest otherwise. Being part of the struggle against TR is more important that pay grades. The senior managers we should save our contempt for are those who achieved high position in public probation and then prostituted themselves to the private sector.

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    4. As a probation Officer in 1988 I believed I was unfairly treated by Managers who told me I was a liability to SPOs and refused a transfer request to another team, so I simply left - I had a mortgage & school age children & a p/t working wife dependent on my salary. I got casual driving work most days, until I secured a locum contract as a senior social worker, which I chose not to seek to make permanent after 6 months and returned to my vocation of probation for another service, I job I sustained - reasonably successfully - I presume (commendation from Parole Board Chair and later DCPO [after she was called in by Probation Minister when a previous high profile client of mine absconded from supervision]) so I presumably retained capability & worked for another 15 years before retirement.

      Presumably our ACO commenter was previously a po with no certain expectation of being promoted even to SPO - so at least, give up the management job, if you have not got the bottle to trust your abilities and go on the open market for integrity's sake, like some other contributors here have done!

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    5. I would say Mr or Ms ACO you have insider knowledge that we don't. Pass it on via someone you trust and be part of the fight from within. You won't have to make it up, it's all there. The service is unsafe and we need evidence for the Judicial Review. Be part of that evidence.

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    6. Hey there ACO! You cannot, must not, follow orders. It is in the end that simple, for all of us. You are a highly skilled manager and leader. Go for it. Sleep at night.

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  17. I left Probation in 2002 after I fell out of love with it, but it took some time to find that new job and move on. I wouldn't condemn anyone for staying. We all have our own pathways to follow and if the Primes get their way there will be very few current staff in the CRCs including ACOs

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  18. You say this, Andrew, with no knowledge whatsoever of the individual's circumstances or financial commitments. The option taken by Joanna was her decision alone. It is rather unpleasant to judge others for a lack of integrity for not leaving their job, when the knock on for families could be horrendous. And the cheap shot made by Anon 15.12, and others like it, have made the comments on this blog unpleasant for some time.

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    1. I was not thinking of anyone in particular and certainly not the person named by ML.

      Of course we all have unique situations but it seems that some think because they started working for probation they have some sort of right to remain for ever.

      I also walked out of Barclays Bank as a 19 yo in 1968, so I had done it before but my domestic situation was not as significant as it was in 1988.

      As a 13yo, I was withdrawn from an after school delivery job by my father because of how I was treated by the store owner - maybe I had good teaching in childhood that inculcated a sense of independence & self reliance

      I have been very fortunate - I know some have far more challenging financial situations than me including some who work in probation as I was very clear about when I was an Edridge Rep for 3 or 4 years in 1980s.

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    2. Afraid Ruth is right you can blame your management colleagues if you like, seems displaced to me

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    3. I don't blame our ACO/CEO whatever for the split but this particular chief has fiddled whilst our Rome burns and you gotta take the rough with the smooth.Any attempt to stop staff sickness levels rising and expecting the penny with the bun from her workforce by threatening middle managers with their jobs does not command respect. Luckily in our area we are taking a collective stance and have passed a vote of no confidence on our chief in the hope she will pass this up mainly and get something done. Chiefs could have been a lot cleverer about reducing stress levels in the first place. They are paying a fortune out to staff on long term sickness and had they acted with compassion and understanding those staff would be still at their desks. The idiocy and inadequacy of our seniors has been frankly staggering so let's not dress it up and pretend it's acceptable eh? I urge all frontline staff to collectively apply the pressure upwards as they have been applying downwards. They can't sack us as they need us!! Viva la revolution.

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  19. our SPO has put a bright and breezy spin on TR and lulled many of the team into a false sense of security. We don't think she's been as open about things as she could have been. There have been lots of meetings but we never get to hear about any of what has/is going on. Many of us feel left in the dark. Much of our information is gained from reading Twitter and this blog.

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    1. I know the 'bright and breezy' SPOs. In my experience they are breezy but not bright in the commonly understood sense of the word. But then the probation service dumbed down in what it sought from middle managers - and managers in general. Some clever ones made it through, but on the whole those who would do anything for a bit of status were the trusted ones. At one time managers were a diverse bunch - independent and quirky - just like real people. And then we ended up with Red Guards, amongst the management and the rank and file. A sad cultural shift. And then clients got the corporate response mostly. And real probation work had to go underground. I don't like TR but I did not like the lean and mean probation trusts either, because they put targets before people and did not give a damn about individuals. Some probation officers are courageous, but the probation service is so often spineless and so damn defensive.

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    2. Wow glad to see your diversity training worked

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  20. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/cannibal-killer-found-chewing-womans-4582221

    More gruesome details of the Blackwood incident. Man was released from prison two weeks ago. Hotel operated as a bail hostel.

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    1. Clients moved after "major disturbance" at HMP Haverigg-on-Sea this weekend. Not a word in the media, but my man says "at least 20 were shipped out."

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  21. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/19/chris-grayling-criminal-justice-system-justice-prisons-probation?CMP=share_btn_tw

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  22. Am in WWM area & as i understand it from emails the staff mutual & willowdene are out completely. Only one preferred bidder now

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    1. What a farce. This is nauseating.

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  23. if it was a mutual bid then no surprise as they were a non starter and a diversion.

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  24. https://twitter.com/IlawrenceL/status/530443233441357824

    "Napo members mail out to follow tomorrow with news of JR situation."

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    1. I truly hope its good news, I can't take anymore of this bollocks, I am already bruised and battered from last years shafting any more and I will be off the edge. Please let it be good news.

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  25. Glad to see Seetec have a really good understanding of Diversity and reasonable adjustments. The case at the end of this article says it all!

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/05/work-programme-adviser-box-ticking-sanctioning-sick-people

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  26. Anyone know if the Blackwood incident referred to above is related in any way to probation? Was he on licence do we know?

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  27. Is it very very very good news Joanna?

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  28. Thank you Joanna, I did sleep well last night and now I am going to run into work and relieve the stress on my comrades.

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