Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Omnishambles Update 73

First off, here's Anthony Hilton moaning in the London Evening Standard about the charities having been shafted by Chris Grayling during the bidding process, and he doesn't understand why? The answer is quite simple, seeing as TR is the most monumental omnishambles ever to see the light of day and nothing about it makes any sense whatsoever. And yes you are quite right. Those naive charities who have signed up as bid candy will indeed get shafted, just like the entire probation workforce:-
Hypocrisy of probation outsourcing
When the Government announced its plans to outsource the probation services some months back, it made positive noises about the part to be played by charities and social enterprises in delivering the new services. It was not going to be just another privatisation with contracts allocated on the basis of buggins’ turn. This time, we were led to believe, it would not be the same old outsourcing faces getting the work, no matter how embarrassing or cynical their failures in earlier attempts to take on services which had previously been run by the public sector.
The third sector was enthusiastic in its turn because since the launch of Big Society Capital a few years ago it has made a big effort to become more professional and commercially savvy. However, although it has delivered with notable success on several small-scale projects, it has never been given a chance nor had the resources to try out its ideas on a broader stage. 
These probation contracts which are worth around £450 million a year and involve dealing with around 200,000 medium and low-risk offenders presented just such an opportunity. Being taken seriously for delivering this kind of work would show that the Government was willing to give real support to charities and social enterprises, and was genuinely interested in developing new suppliers.
On the other side, winning these contracts would allow the charities to operate at scale, giving them a platform to develop into significant businesses which could bid for more contracts in the future. So, the excitement felt in the run-up to the Ministry of Justice’s contracts announcement last Friday morning was about as keen as the disappointment felt after. The Government’s Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, did say the winning bidders represented “a significant diversification of the supply base”, adding that all but one of the private sector winners had formed partnerships with charities and social enterprise groups. But true to form this turns out to be just another example of PR spin where Government’s words do not match what it has actually done.

The reality is that the third sector has been shut out. It is — at best — a bit player, and at worst simply a fig leaf to disguise the fact that these contracts are basically just the same old stuff given to the same old players. In theory, there are 20 contracts where the third sector is involved. Five of these are billed as joint ventures, and the rest are partnerships. The details of how these joint ventures are structured has not been published by Government, but Big Society Capital believes none of the charities has a stake of any significance, and they are certainly nowhere near a level where they could exert significant influence on the direction of the business.

The partnerships might well add up to even less. The charity partners have no economic stake and the role they eventually fulfil is dependent on the supplier honouring commitments to use some of their expertise. Time will tell if their influence will be significant, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Given that more than half the contracts went to only two of the bidders, it is hard to disagree with Big Society Capital when it says that the private sector is in the driving seat and the charities are simply being taken along for the ride.
If Government challenges this view then it needs also to explain why it allocated no contracts to any of the three leading charities dealing with ex-offenders — including CRI and Catch 22 — who were bidding in their own right without private sector partners. It needs also to explain why the entire bidding process was tilted against the third sector by the requirement that there should be a parent company guarantee supporting all bids.

Surely the Ministry of Justice must have known that, whereas parent company guarantees are easy and almost routine for a private sector company, they are profoundly difficult to arrange for charities and social sector organisations since they do not have parents. This means they would have to get the guarantee from a third party which is almost impossible: it is one thing to guarantee the behaviour of one’s own children, quite another to vouch for the children of a complete stranger.
The demand was then made even more extreme by the Ministry of Justice refusing to specify what conditions would make it necessary have a guarantee, and further insisted on the right to change the contracts at a later date without even informing, let alone consulting, the guarantors. Even Big Society Capital — which tried to plug the gap with third party guarantees for some of the charities — could not deliver exactly to the Ministry of Justice’s specification. No one outside the private sector could, nor would any want to take on such open-ended risk. The ministry set the bar impossibly high, then shed crocodile tears when charities failed to clear it.
This is not how Chris Grayling tells it. But no amount of spin can conceal that this was a huge opportunity missed to broaden the pool of outsourcing suppliers, lock in improved performance and deliver a boost to the third sector. It is hard to understand why it was spurned.
Someone else writing in the Guardian and not happy about the bidding:-
Probation contracts show the government does not value diversity
Last week, the Ministry of Justice announced the preferred bidders for delivering probation services. Much was made of the charities and social enterprises named in these bids. But what matters is the volume of work they get and the positive impact they can have. And here the picture may not be so rosy.
Only one out of 21 contract areas has been won by a socially-led consortium – ARCC in Durham and Tees Valley, one of the smallest contract areas. Nearly two-thirds of the total value of contracts has gone to bids led by Interserve, US-based MTC and Sodexo Justice Services. And although plenty of charities are named in the bids, they will in most cases be minority partners or subcontractors to private companies. In order to dispel charges of charities being used as social window-dressing or “bid candy”, the MoJ needs to commit to publishing the major subcontracting workflows within each contract area. This would create some transparency on how these private-social partnerships work in practice.
But there has been a deeper, more structural issue with this procurement process: its bias towards organisational size. There are practically no service-delivery charities or social enterprises in the UK that have assets anywhere near the size of the winning bidders. Unless this size bias is addressed, the future for the social sector in the big government outsourcing markets, such as Work Programme Plus and NHS community health contracts, will be limited to being junior partners or subcontracting to big private companies.
Part of the problem was the sheer stamina needed to survive 13 months of formal procurement. Most problematic, though, was the MoJ’s insistence on a “parent company guarantee”, which ranged from £13m to £74m per contract area. This is similar to a parent guaranteeing the mortgage debt of their child so that if they miss a repayment the parent covers it. Here, what the “parent” is covering is service failure.
Companies with large balance sheets can just about stomach this. But bidders with smaller balance sheets had to either “bet the ranch” on one contract, or look to a third party, such as a social investment bank, to provide a guarantee on their behalf. Third parties are not parent companies (by definition) and critically lack the information, control or expertise over service delivery that a parent company has. At Big Society Capital we offered a form of guarantee (as a third party) to two very credible socially led bids by a mutual and a large charity, but they weren’t successful.
If plurality and diversity in the UK public service market is to mean anything, it must include social sector organisations managing primary contracts, and not just being subcontractors to big private firms. The government has to seriously address the bias towards size by removing the parent company guarantee, or stop pretending that it really values market diversity. 
In view of the above, I think this contribution left earlier today is particularly relevant:-

As the manager of a regional medium-sized homeless charity, I thought I would make a few comments about partnership with CRC. Firstly, our successful under 12 month project with the Probation Service was scrapped on day one of the new CRC taking over. The explanation was “no resources”.

The chances of us developing a partnership with a multi-national billion pound company running a CRC is absolutely nil. Why would this charity expend resources to support a multi-national? How could I go to my trustees, supporters or trusts and ask for money to partner these companies who have vast financial resources? 

We will continue to work with offenders but not through the CRC. We will not act as a reporting centre for them so they can achieve their PbR targets. We will also not seek joint funding with them as again, why should a trust support a multi-national company and ourselves?

The basis of all our work with offenders is not driven by profit, it is driven by the desire to offer offenders a basis from which to grow and develop, to start again, to rehabilitate, to reinvest with dignity. Money or financial rewards do not come into the equation, that is what the private companies and national charities do not understand. We do because it is the right thing to do. 

Then there's the odious Edward Boyd writing on the Conservative Home website last week. Despite being Deputy Policy Director at the Centre for Social Justice, it strikes me he has little understanding of what he writes about, and by the end admits TR might not work at all. At least we agree on that I suppose.
Chris Grayling took over from Ken Clarke in 2012, and immediately injected energy and pace to the Ministry of Justice. He has instigated a number of wide-ranging ranging reforms to legal aid, the court system and the probation service, to name just a few. While there are important areas that the Ministry of Justice still need to tackle with urgency – none more so than the concerning spike in prison suicides – the reform of the probation service is encouraging and holds significant promise. It has been met with predictable hostility from the unions who have called it an “untried and untested ideological experiment”. Yet scratch beneath the surface and it is not hard to see that this reform is not just welcome, but is desperately needed.
It is made increasingly important by a recent change in the nature of crime. Put simply, while fewer people are committing crime we are struggling to rehabilitate a hardcore group of offenders who keep coming back to prison time and time again.
The statistics tell the story: there has been a 30 per cent rise over the last decade in the number of people going to prison for serious crimes who have already committed at least 15 previous offences. Offenders are being given sentences that are not changing their criminal behaviour.
This is primarily the probation service’s responsibility, and it is right to be ambitious in improving it. Any Government concerned with protecting communities should not tolerate the fact that almost six in ten of those given short sentences are convicted of further crimes within a year of being released. We need a more effective approach to turning round the lives of the most dangerous and broken people in our society.

There are still a number of factors that could easily de-rail this reform. For instance, new providers will have to form relationships with partner organisations quickly, deal with offenders who become high-risk effectively, and learn to do far more with a lot less money than their predecessors. They will also need to do this in partnership with a prison service that is struggling to play its part in rehabilitating offenders. None of this will be easy. Yet the scale of the problem requires a radical response, and this is what is being delivered. The ambition should not be faulted. Crime-ridden communities across the UK will be hoping that the reforms live up to their promise.
Happily Mike Guilfoyle is someone who does understand, and in another tale from the frontline, as a new member of the lay bench, he ponders who the magistrates are going to turn to in the future? 
The presenting facts of the court case had a weary familiarity about them. Russell had been arrested in the street adjoining his temporary address for threatening a member of the public in what appeared to be a 'psychotic' like rant that clearly represented, on looking at the accompanying documentation, a worrying relapse in his response to the input from the community mental health team. His psycho-social history was a patchwork of troubled episodes when unresponsive to such interventions, emergency hospital admissions and a dual diagnostic support framework that looked like it was once again demanding another possible coercive ‘therapeutic' intervention. 
I struggled to engage with Russell, who likened me to a ‘traffic warden'! It seems that these public servants often featured in his, at times, distorted cognitions, and I recognised that a more considered mental health assessment was needed. The court agreed to a suggested adjournment, although it did mean that he would be returned to the hospital wing at the remand prison awaiting this assessment when next at court.

With plans to outsource the bulk of probation work to the private and third sector now being challenged in the courts, I recall that one of the magistrates, in something of an obiter dicta after Russell had been escorted from the dock, turned to me and noted, ‘It is good to know that the Probation Service is on hand to assist the bench with this most difficult and unfortunate defendant'.
Maybe Justice Secretary Chris Grayling might belatedly ponder, in pushing ahead with his dangerously ill-considered reforms, who my magistrate colleagues will turn to when Russell next makes a court appearance and they ask for an 'Officer of the court’?


  1. It was a great write up from Mike -

    three stand downs in a day is a bit much if one is also supposed to be present in court at the same time -

    that was always a problem - covering two courts at the same time - doing the work that is generated including cell interviews - I remember when I returned to City Court work at Clerkenwell in 1989 - having for six years before worked in weekly Essex town or village courts was a real shock - even though I started out in Liverpool City Magistrates.

    However, I must be misunderstanding, because surely NPS are required to provide qualified Probation Officers to be available for informed consultation nowadays in every Magistrate's Court?

    In actual fact a lot of what happens in court depends upon the relationship between individuals concerned.

    Meanwhile - did we miss this before - a comment from Richard Johnson the Buying Quality blogger, who looks at things from an Outsourcers pov: -


  2. Andrew, the majority of court staff are PSO grade although since the staff split more POs are being put back into court.

    1. To anon 18.59 this depends on area. We in Lancs have always kept significant number of POs in Court

    2. To anon 18.59 I made a reply a few minutes ago but it seems not to have been posted properly. In Lancs we have always had a significant (majority) number of POs in Court

  3. There is work for PSOs at Court but not in my opinion doing any reports except in an emergency, if the PSO has significant experience of supervising a wide range of clients.

    Otherwise they are being required to do work above their pay grade and courts will not get the benefit of a person with the understanding that comes from a proper training, and that is to the detriment of us all.

    I know some POs are very slovenly doing court report work, but that is an issue of poor supervision.

    As a half time court duty po in 1979/80 in a busy City sentencing Court, with a then, Stipendiary Magistrate for about 18 months - I had the experience of answering in court, for all sorts of work presented by absent colleagues.

    I still remember one SPO who produced trash and I was asked to answer some questions - I simply said - I cannot answer - I invited the court to adjourn and get him there but that happened too little even then.

    Attending court with current clients or where prison was expected was a priority in my practice, even then many POs avoided court and I am sure a few I worked with in London & Essex, were actually scared of it. There were also bombastic bullying Magistrates and Judges but once a professional has a sense of their absolute right to be actively involved in a court case, one can cope with that.

    Fortunately the training we had in Liverpool put us in the witness box answering for our work as often as possible - it was good practice but not understood when I got to Essex and later London. My attitude to court remained basically the same for 30 years, because of experiences of being involved in some of the best casework interventions as part of the court process, with clients and their families, particularly in post sentence cell interviews which can really be a good prelude to a parole report, perhaps done by someone else years later - the courts are the probation services' shop window and the right place for the main grade caseworkers to be - often.

    I worked closely with several PSOs but we messed up the role boundaries issue - many get to be excellent but few are until they have done several years as indeed nor was I but I did have my training to rely on, some of which I acknowledge was inevitably patchy.

  4. "There is work for PSOs at Court but not in my opinion doing any reports except in an emergency, if the PSO has significant experience of supervising a wide range of clients.

    Otherwise they are being required to do work above their pay grade and courts will not get the benefit of a person with the understanding that comes from a proper training, and that is to the detriment of us all."

    Oh dear Andrew - don't get us sidetracked down this avenue again and potentially stir up another hornets nest. PO's were removed from virtually all courts - Mags and Crown - years ago.

    1. Jim see my post above.We never lost majority of staffing being POs in Lancs Courts

    2. Jim again my first reply has got lost in the ether . Please see above Lancs has always kept sig numb of POs in Court.Clearly there is regional variation.

    3. Got shunted off into the spam filter for some reason!

  5. One of the hidden issues linked to TR is the shafting of VCS existing provision in prisons. This will inevitably be reduced or eroded as CRC's bring in their own providers. Loss of localism and diversity.

    1. That is certainly true, and there is a lack of understanding among the primes. They seem to think that these services were offered within the budget that TR is taking over. But of course they weren't. These projects were funded by other partnerships and finance streams, that will most likely now dry up. If the Primes want these projects to continue they will have to find additional money for them. Of course, they won't do that and many of the projects will be surrendered. I am sure the Primes have not made allowances for this in their budgets.

      The Primes will also not have realised the colossal expense that is ahead of them within the core business of Probation. They will inherit a now chaotic service that is much more expensive and dysfunctional than it was twelve months ago, and that is before they even think about the Under 12 months cases that will overwhelm caseloads even if they decide to do virtually nothing with them (which is likely).

      There is a reason that government have backed off from giving responsibility for the U12m cases to Probation. because they realised how expensive it would be. Again, the Primes simply haven't understood this, because they don't understand Probation. They will do well to have a good long look at the contracts during this period of preferred bidder status. It will be their last chance to realise what they would be getting themselves involved in.

  6. 'PO's were removed from virtually all courts - Mags and Crown - years ago.'

    Really? PO's in ALL Manchester Courts - 8 or more at the magistrates alone... is it really so different elsewhere?

    1. In the south west, Courts are staffed by PO

    2. PSOs are in courts in wilts, Avon and Somerset. Have done for years

  7. I'm a court probation officer and have been for years. My area reintroduced POs into the court role, replacing probation service officers with the aim of increasing the number of same day reports. POs had been previously taken out of this role following the lack of POs arising from the shortage created following Michael Howard's removal of training from social work courses. Another problem for the service created by politicians.

  8. I think Andrew is recalling a level of service delivery that pre-dates the widening of the PSO role, never mind the post TR 'Macdonaldisation of court reports, when assessment is, at best, a finger in the wind. Current assessments aren't. They are educated guesses ay best, a pretence at worst. We are fast approaching a situation where no assessments will take place pre-sentence.

    1. Removing pre-sentence reports/ enquiries from the process was proposed in the 90's. Getting rid of those pesky PO's was on the to do list before then...More District Judges, the CJA 03 and 05 all geared towards this. Took a while but they are getting there !!

  9. Clearly the variations nationally are massive.

  10. Andrew please butt out of commenting on operational practise, it only serves to be devisive.
    "I know some PO's are very slovenly doing court report work, but that is an issue of poor supervision" . . .Well I have news for you, not a single court report is checked by anyone other than the author themselves. There might be the odd PO who occasionally will ask a colleague to pass an opinion on a difficult sentence, but they are few and far between. I am an experienced Court Duty Officer, PSO grade, who not only produces several 'fast delivery' reports per week, but acts as quality control for every full PSR that is submiitted to Magistrates. I would hazard a guess that at least 25 % of said reports are sub standard and myself and my colleagues have to intervene before the Magistrates get sight of the 'proposal'.
    I am not laying blame on the PO's, because a lot of the problem is workload pressure.
    What you seem not to be able to grasp, but something I have explained several times on this blog, is that Magistrates no longer need 'social enquiry' type reports. PSO's are very skilled at interpreting the Magistrates " Indication Of Seriousness" and proposing a sentence commensurate with those instructions. The future is in generic 'Activity Requirements' with absolutely no need to be specific about the detail of such proposals. Any detail and / or 'Risk' can be further explored at 'Post Sentence Assessment ' stage. I am in no way condoning these developments, but I am reaffirming that this will be introduced in all courts when the new legislation is approved.
    I am a regular visitor to this site but I despise anyone who attempts to propogate the PO omnipotent . . .PSO rubbing rag , point of view. There is many an occasion when I compare myself to my PO colleagues and scratch my head as to how / why , on average, they take home an extra £10K per anum !. Finally there are senior mangerial roles within Probation that are occupied by non - qualified officers ie some PSO's and PO's will be line managed by staff that are not 'qualified' in the sense that you put forward.

    1. 'myself and my colleagues have to intervene before the Magistrates get sight of the 'proposal'.'

      I would be appalled if someone changed a report I wrote which had my name on it and took it into court! Are you meant to be doing this?

    2. Read anon 20:45 half an hour ago..Self talking ever since ... I must not reply..I must not reply..I must not reply

    3. Two PSR's today suggested that Unpaid Work could form the punitive element of the sentence, now required in all proposals. Both defendants were.in receipt of ESA. Need I say more !

    4. ESA does not prevent people getting unpaid work

    5. Anon 22:36 that literally made me laugh out loud, thank you :-)

    6. Anon 22:44 in what circumstances can someone in receipt of ESA be suitable for unpaid work?

    7. I currently supervise two offenders in London who are autistic. Both get ESA. Both have unpaid work. Both are doing well.

    8. If you read the unpaid work operating manual you'd know ESA is not preventative of someone getting unpaid work. If you're taking that out of proposals because you don't agree you are acting unlawfully and discriminating against disabled people who frequently get this benefit as they are unfit for full time employment that would support them financially - does not mean they cannot do suitable unpaid work.

    9. With reference to poster @20:45 I work in an area where gate keeping reports is standard practice and had been for years. I was a court based PO for a number of years in the dim and distant past and always read reports before I placed them before the bench. I refused to let several through. For years now the gate keeping process has stopped this happening on the day. The court teams I have worked for have also had a healthy mix of PO and PSO grades. It's very workable if it's done properly. And this comes from a PO who is traditionally and strongly very critical of management decisions based on cost rather than good practice.

  11. Sorry, we all tend to read mainly the bits of a message with which we disagree.

    I specifically said positive things about experienced PSOs and even back to the 1980s I recall PSOs/Ancillaries experienced at court saving the bacon of the service when a PO had messed up, I said I was called to answer for an SPO who messed up with SERs (plural) I don't know why he wrote as many as he did) back in the 70s - he was good at other stuff but just did not do thorough reports - which some sentencers welcome others despise - hence I never wrote a recommendation in a PSR - and yes I know about the Macdonaldisation - it is time for it to be reversed or there will be little point of probation being more than a monitoring service.

  12. Don't worry the rush to tag/GPS an additional 75,000 will lead to no reports or assessments- as all the service user needs is an address, that doesn't get checked for risks, or even if the building exists!

    1. As someone who had to feed back to G4S re cases that they had lostt track of, I'd go as far saying that the service user and the building both had an abstract quality when G4S was 'managing' them. We would tell them the same information from Crams about liaison or lack of, yet G4S would request the same info on said case month after month as their record-keeping systems were more piss-poor even than ours!.

  13. Interesting report here in the evening standard, normally a big Grayling fan, but.....


  14. Meltdown_Manchester4 November 2014 at 22:30

    All the managers in Manchester need sacking. They have purposely led sheep to the slaughter. They have lied to staff and given false hope. They have not been upfront and honest from day one. I’m in CRC and have been advised in the strongest language in recent blog (after the preferred bidders announced) that any communication in the media will result in disciplinary proceedings. What kind of fairness is that? You shaft us, take the piss, give us a load of bullshit crap and then say well don’t tell anyone…it’s a fucking nightmare. They all need sacking.

    1. I am in the CRC in Manchester it has been appalling and I totally agree we have been sold down the river. Utter bullshit.

  15. What a journey we have been on, to now be nostalgic for the reign of Ken Clarke, he who saw off the rather inspired Unit Fines. It is a measure of how utterly apalling is this current government, and how far we have all been pulled pushed and seduced to the right.

  16. Another stopping point on Anon at 22:48's "Journey"

    "Members of the Council of the Probation Chiefs Association (PCA) will be meeting on Friday 14 November to vote on a resolution for the PCA to be closed down and for its resources to transfer to the Probation Institute."


    And the person who publicised it via Twitter - @jim_carley - who I have no knowledge about that I can recollect has previously blocked me - yet I am helping him with his publicity.

    Those folk seem especially gifted at shooting themselves in the foot!

    Meanwhile I read of him via his Twitter Profile : -

    " Managing Director of Carley Consult, providing solutions to the employment services, work based learning, further education and justice sectors.
    Retford · carleyconsult.com "

    So good luck to him and the Institute

    Incidentally is there yet to be a decision from Napo to suspend all but minimal engagement with them or did that not feature at the AGM after all?

    1. Don't think there was a simngle mention of the PI at AGM