Saturday, 10 January 2015

Getting Political

At the end of the first week of election campaigning, there's no doubt that the Tories intend to carry on with an assault on public services. In readiness for making up to a million redundant, first we heard about their plans to cap redundancy payments at £95,000 and now we hear any attempt at strike action will be curtailed. This on the BBC website:- 
Conservatives pledge public sector strike curbs
The Conservative Party says it will make it harder to call strikes in certain "core" public services if it wins the general election. Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.
Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.
The Tories have already proposed a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots, which unions say is "anti-democratic". They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing. The package of measures will feature in the party's manifesto for May's general election.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said trade unions were "important institutions with a strong history".But he added: "It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too." 
He said the changes, which would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament, would "increase the legitimacy" of strike action held by unions. "It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services."
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it "virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike". This, he added, would "shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants. "The UK already has tough laws on strikes - there is no need to make them stricter still."
Apart from the jibe at 'politicised' union leaders, this is the bit that gets me riled:- 
And GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010. "Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support. They had no hesitation in forming a government in 2010 without securing 40% support from the electorate."
Readers will no doubt recall that MP's have voted themselves a large pay increase following the next General Election and of course their redundancy packages won't be affected by anything so crude as a £95,000 cap. And people wonder why there's widespread disillusionment with the Westminster political class?

On the subject of 'politicisation', many thanks to the keen-eyed reader who recently pointed me in the direction of yet more crap from that most odious of political think tanks, Policy Exchange. But before we get to that, it's probably worth reminding ourselves of their pedigree and whilst we do, bear in mind they are a charity. This from Wikipedia:-
Policy Exchange is a British right-wing think tank, created in 2002 and based in London. The Daily Telegraph has described it as "the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right".

The New Statesman named it as David Cameron's "favourite think tank", a view shared by the Political Editor of the Evening Standard Joe Murphy, who referred to it as "the intellectual boot camp of the Tory modernisers’".

It describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free market solutions to public policy problems, with research programmes covering health, education, energy and environment, crime and justice, welfare, housing policy, family policy and security. It works with academics and policy advisors across the political spectrum, and members of its advisory councils include Lord Trimble, Peter Clarke, former Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, James Cameron, Executive Director of Climate Change Capital, and Simon Stevens, former health advisor to Tony Blair.

Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by a group including Nicholas Boles (director), Michael Gove (chairman) and Francis Maude. Maude went on to become Minister for the Cabinet Office, and names being one of the co-founders as his proudest political achievement. Gove went on to become Secretary of State for Education.
Gove was succeeded as chairman by Charles Moore, former editor of the Spectator and the Daily Telegraph. In June 2011, Moore stepped down to focus on his newspaper columns and his biography of Margaret Thatcher, and was succeeded by Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor of The Times.
In May 2007, Boles was succeeded as director by Anthony Browne, a journalist and political correspondent for The Times. In September 2008, Browne stepped down to work for Boris Johnson, and was succeeded by Neil O'Brien, formerly director of Open Europe. In November 2012, O'Brien was appointed as a special adviser to George Osborne, ]and in 2013 he was succeeded by Dean Godson, formerly head of Policy Exchange's security unit.
Anyway, we come on to their latest offering on the criminal justice front:-
Swift and Certain: A new paradigm for criminal justice
Prolific criminals serving community orders, who break the terms of their probation, could be sent to jail for up to a week under plans to make the criminal justice system swifter and fairer. Swift and Certain shows that 182,000 offenders receive either a Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order every year. 
  • 1 in 3 fail to complete their Order, predominantly due to a failure to comply with the requirements of their sentence or as a result of a further conviction.
  • Punishment for breaching probation is not handed out until 5 weeks after the breach has taken place and the average time elapsed from committing the breach to completion can take up to 53 working days.
  • Currently first time breaches of Orders usually result in a warning from a probation officer, and further breaches are left to their discretion. Only after multiple breaches and significant time delays is an offender likely to be brought before the court and receive a punishment.
The paper, authored by former prison governor Kevin Lockyer, proposes a series of recommendations similar to the HOPE probation programme in Hawaii that is judge-led and sets out clear conditions for offenders with drug and alcohol related problems from the start of their sentence including short, sharp spells in prison for missing appointments with probation officers or failing a drug test. The scheme has been so successful in reducing reoffending rates that it has been replicated in 18 States across America.
The report says that replicating the HOPE model could lead to a 50% reduction in the 23,000 people not complying with the terms of their Community Orders. Under the new swift and certain system, between 6,000 and 8,500 could receive short prison sentences over the course of a year. Under current guidelines courts in England and Wales are discouraged from handing out custodial sentences.
Recommendations include: 
  • The creation of a new ‘Conditional Behaviour Order’, as a requirement attached to Community Orders, which would set out guidelines including drug testing and alcohol monitoring for people with clear sanctions for non compliance.
  • Fast-tracking prolific offenders to dedicated ‘Breach Courts’ with specialist magistrates and judges sentencing guilty pleas within 24 hours of the decision to charge.
  • The introduction of new Police Courts with magistrates sat in or nearby policy stations to immediately sentence low level offences where there has been a guilty plea.
An awful lot pisses me off about this kind of stuff, starting with the authors. Lets see what qualifies them as experts in the field of offending:-
Kevin Lockyer has worked in prison and probation management, central government and the voluntary sector for more than 25 years. Kevin governed three prisons. His experience ranges from large, high security prisons holding the most dangerous prisoners in the prison system to the development and implementation of specialist regimes for young prisoners aged 15–21 years. Kevin has also held senior roles in the National Offender Management Service, where he was responsible for the tactical and strategic management of the prison population; this included advising government ministers and commissioning large scale operational contracts and conducting their performance management, including for the electronic monitoring of offenders and prisoner transport and escorting services. In the voluntary sector, Kevin was Services Director for Nacro, a crime reduction charity with a turnover of more than £60m and was Chief Executive of Nacro Housing, a housing association specialising in providing high-intensity supported housing for offenders and those at high risk of offending. He now works as an independent consultant, primarily in the justice sector.
Glyn Gaskarth is the Head of the Crime & Justice Unit at Policy Exchange. Before joining Policy Exchange, he worked at the Local Government Information Unit and the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Prior to this, he worked for Accenture. He also served as a Special Adviser to the former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP and as a Parliamentary Researcher for Oliver Letwin MP. He has a BSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
Charlotte McLeod is a Crime and Justice Research Fellow at Policy Exchange. She has authored two reports, Future Courts: A new vision for summary justice (2014) and Power Down: A plan for a cheaper, more effective justice system (2013). She has also edited the report The Estate we’re In: Lessons from the front line (2014). Charlotte was called to the Bar by The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in November 2012, following completion of the Bar Professional Training Course at City Law School and an LLB at Cardiff University. Charlotte was previously Development Assistant at Policy Exchange and a former volunteer for the National Centre for Domestic Violence.
Why as a profession are we allowing 'politicised' think tanks like this to set the agenda and come up with yet more barking-mad ideas that will lead to thousands more people being incarcerated for a week at a time in police cells? Where is there a robust alternative voice of reason and expertise?    

Still on the theme of politicisation, the bastards have even hijacked the Magna Carta celebrations. This astonishing piece from Peter Oborne in the Torygraph for goodness sake:-
The hypocrites have jumped aboard the Magna Carta bandwagon
KIng John signs Magna Carta in 1215
The rank stench of moral hypocrisy will hang over the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre. Before the last election, Mr Cameron promised a judge-led inquiry into the very serious allegations that the British state has been involved in torture. After nearly five years, it has gone nowhere. Who cares, when there’s a networking opportunity at the QE2?
Mr Cameron’s Government has launched a systematic attack on the legal aid system which gives poor people access to the justice system. There has always been a two-tier system of justice in Britain, one for the poor and one for those who can afford expensive private lawyers. The Government changes have widened this divide, and run flatly contrary to Magna Carta. So does the latest Criminal Justice Bill, with its vicious attack on judicial review, the main way in which arbitrary government decisions are held to account through the courts.
Most important of all, Mr Cameron is close to committing Britain to withdraw altogether from the European Convention on Human Rights, a document which entrenches the principles of Magna Carta in international law. Britain will, under Conservative plans, exit the Council of Europe, and become the awful bedfellow of only two European countries: Belarus and Kazakhstan.
To summarise, Mr Cameron’s Government has launched something close to an out-and-out attack on the rule of law. The idea that either he or his ministers give a damn for the principles that underlie Magna Carta is preposterous.
Let’s now return to the cast list for next month’s event. The big corporate lawyers are out in force. The Allen & Overy partner Sir David Wootton is chairman. His board contains 15 men, zero women. Seven Allen & Overy partners – repeat, seven – are billed to speak. Most of the big firms will be there: Simmons & Simmons; Berwin Leighton Paisner; Travers Smith; Macfarlanes; and, to its lasting discredit, the barristers’ chambers 39 Essex Street, which is known for carrying out a great deal of government-related business and is the workplace of Ed Miliband’s wife, Justine Thornton.
But don’t bother looking for those small solicitor firms, which for pitiful fees have made a precarious living out of advising legal aid customers. This is an occasion where only legal oligarchs, along with their wealthy clients, are welcome. This is an occasion that celebrates justice – for the rich, the powerful and the well-connected.
High Court judges are supposed to be fastidious about where they go and who they meet. Senior members of the judiciary, such as the Lord Chief Justice, Baron Thomas, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, need to ask some searching questions and they need to start asking them now. The anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta falls on June 15. Why, then, the need to hold the London celebration at the end of February, more than five months before the anniversary proper – but just weeks before the formal launch of the general election campaign?
With so many government ministers (including the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling) speaking, why has no invitation been sent to Sadiq Khan, shadow Lord Chancellor? The system of law and justice which has come down to us from Magna Carta belongs to everyone. It is emphatically not the private domain of the Conservative Party.
Next month’s event looks uncomfortably like a partisan attempt to hijack one of the great glories of our common history for party political purposes on the eve of a general election. David Cameron would be well advised to call off this improper, revolting and dreadfully conceived enterprise.


  1. Excellent blog - and the content has put me off my breakfast. Can't wait for May!

    A comment on 'Borstal' and David Wilson, the later is a megalomaniac in pursuit of fame and fortune, sadly, he's just a sad bastard who hasn't had anything new or interesting to say for a very long time. My son wrote to him after he appeared on This Morning - regarding an article he presented about the most serious and dangerous criminals in Britain and he mentioned Ian Huntley, Roul Moat, that bloke who shot the two female officers in Manchester, and a high profile female offender, who didn't kill and arguably did not injure anyone, together in the same sentence. My son may have been only 18 at the time, but he's no fool and even he recognized the absurdity of his comment - when he wrote and asked him why he felt it necessary to include the female in his description of 'serious and dangerous criminals?'. Mr Wilson wrote back saying he did not have control over the editorial processes of ITV - cope out, and he obviously has no control over his own professional integrity either. Now, Borstal - I probably have too much to say on the matter, having the experience of shelpping from a town in Lancashire to Wetherby Borstal throughout 1974, 1975 and 1976, by public transport - as my brother was detained there, for causing damage to a corporation bus, on his way back from a football match at Turf Moor. ( He and another disgruntled spectator at said match - removed the foam inlay from a single seat.) He was only 16/17 at the time, and a bloody nuisance, but never hurt anyone directly. But a sentence of between 12 - 23 months was passed. The regime was not what contributed to his reform, but his absence from home and he genuinely regretted what he had done and the misery he caused to me and our mum. So, it's been 38 years since he even farted in the wrong place and he has carved out a very successful business for himself. He did enjoy all the outdoor training, fishing, climbing, caving, canoeing, and hiking expeditions up Snowdonia, but he enjoyed that anyway, however, my 'single' mum could not afford to pay for such luxuries in the community. Some things haven't changed that much at all. But for those who think a short sharp shock, or a national service type regime will reap rewards in dealing with, chaotic, ill disciplined young people - think again. If that kind of harsh and unforgiving regime worked, then there wouldn't be any ex - military, scouts, or military influenced cadets in the criminal justice system, and sadly, I would hazard a guess, there is a fair proportion of them in and around the CJS. It is a similar argument to - if the death penalty deterred people from killing others, then there wouldn't be anyone waiting to be killed on death row in the USA.

    NB: I too would be interested in what is laying on the cutting room floor of this series, as I'd put my next months salary on the older of the brothers, will either attack the sanctimonious Mr Wilson, or tell him, in no uncertain terms where to go!

  2. Cheers Jim. The full piece by P.Oborne is highly recommended. That's the way to shame the tories.

    1. I'm assuming that's the same Peter Oborne who last week was lauding the Tories for their "reforms" and calling on them to be re-elected in May to finish off the job (or finish us off, depending on your point of view).

      Shame his outrage about the legal system doesn't extend to the other disasters meted out by the nasty, ignorant posh boys.

  3. 182,000 receive community orders or suspended sentences.
    One in three fail to complete them.
    Thats approx 60,000.
    Sending them to prison for a week? Strikes me that would have a masive impact on the already bulging prison population. It's also an awful lot of £46s, and because thats not enough anymore its another 60,000 subject to 12months supervision!
    And it achieves what?

  4. A letter from the torygraph.

    Unprosecuted crimesSIR – How disingenuous of Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, to say he wants to end the “cautions culture”. He is the architect of the latest and arguably the most savage cuts to both prosecution and defence funding, which have produced this unhappy state of affairs.The drive to save costs has resulted in a culture of routinely charging people with less serious offences than would previously have been the charge, in order to encourage guilty pleas in low-profile, high-volume cases. If, despite this, the case seems to be heading for a trial, ludicrously lenient plea packages are increasingly agreed by the Crown, save in the most egregious cases, rather than suffer the time and expense of litigating the matter.The sentencing judge is bound to sentence only on what an offender has pleaded guilty to. The net result is that many really quite serious offences go unprosecuted or underprosecuted.Yvonne Coen QC Stamford, Lincolnshire

  5. Well said Yvonne! It also appears to me that the police are responding to the 'no more cautions' instruction by recording arrested individuals under the umbrella of insufficient evidence! I see the arrest sheets for the previous 24 hours and whereas I was always disturbed by the number of simple cautions given for DV cases, now they are released Scott free! More unsafe practices as a consequence of CG's I'll thought out musings!

  6. Time for 38 degrees to consider petitioning for no MP to be elected unless he/she gains 40% of the vote.....sauce for the goose

  7. oh what a good idea!

  8. What an excellent blog, Jim. I do recommend 'The Establishment' by Owen Jones to show how right wing think tanks make policy.

    1. On the back if a fag packet!

    2. On the back of a packet of free fags provided by the tobacco firm that funds their 'researach'...

  9. on the back of the fag packet produced by the company daddy has now placed his holdings of into a trust fund to benefit the right honourable member of parliament ......

  10. on the back of a fag packet from my wife's company which does not represent a conflict of interest or how would talented couples be able to make a mint from public life? {Surely you mean contribute to public service?}

  11. Here's something to keep an eye on.

    1. Sodexo has confirmed HMP Northumberland director Matt Spencer will be leave the jail but said the move is unrelated to an upcoming inspection report.

      The governor of the North East’s only private prison is set to quit - amid warnings of ‘huge problems’ brewing at the jail.

      Matt Spencer, director of HMP Northumberland, has confirmed he will leave his post early this year.

      A new governor is due to be appointed just weeks before an inspection report on the prison is published.

      Mr Spencer joined the jail when it was HMP Acklington oversaw the merger of HMPs Castington and Acklington, to create HMP Northumberland in 2011.

      He was at the helm when Sodexo took over the running of the prison in December 2013.

      After a turbulent 12 months it was confirmed Mr Spencer, who joined the prison service as an officer, will move to HMP Forest Bank, in Manchester, this year.

      Ian Lavery MP for Ashington, where the jail is based, said he hoped Sodexo would take action at the jail to prevent a ‘catastrophe’ after substantial staffing cuts which saw numbers fall from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013.

      He said: “I’m sure Matt Spencer was dealt a really bad hand as when Sodexo took over the prison they made one third of the staff, mostly officers, redundant.

      “His hands have been tied and there have been problems in the prison system.

      “Hopefully we will not see what could happen, if things continue, and some sort of huge problem developing at the prison.”

      Mr Spencer is due to be replaced by Tony Simpson, a former deputy director at HMP Addiewell, in West Lothian, which opened in 2008, for the past year he has been on secondment at HMP Northumberland.

      Tony Leech, managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, said: “Matt Spencer has been an excellent addition to Sodexo since he joined us with HMP Northumberland in December 2013.

      “He has overseen a successful transition for the prison from the public sector to Sodexo Justice Services and made great strides towards our goal of turning it into a working prison, providing more meaningful activity for prisoners.

      “I’m sure he will bring continued success to HMP Forest Bank, one of the biggest and best-run prisons in the country.

      “Tony Simpson was instrumental in mobilising HMP Northumberland as a Sodexo Justice Services prison and brings a huge amount of experience from his time at HMP Addiewell, a maximum security establishment.

      “We are entering an exciting and busy period in the history of Sodexo Justice Services.

      “These moves will ensure that we have the right people in the right places to meet the emerging challenges and to deliver success.”

      A Sodexo spokesman confirmed the inspection report, due to be issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, was expected in ‘coming weeks’ and said the reshuffle was unrelated.


    1. This is a very sad story indeed and thoughts are with her friends, family and colleagues:-

      A PROBATION officer who took her own life was heartbroken by the death of her cat and suffering from work-related stress an inquest heard on Tuesday.

      Sarah Jane Kane, 49, was found at home in Milton Avenue on July 7. Concerned colleagues raised the alarm after she failed to return to work after a three-week holiday.

      Ms Kane was diagnosed with depression in 2011 but had not been on any regular medication to treat the condition. She lived at home alone with her two cats, which were found next to her. They were also dead.

      Friends recall she had become withdrawn since the death of her rescue cat of ten years, Alfie. Ms Kane was single with no immediate family but had close friends.

      Ms Kane had also been under pressure at work, especially since a government restructure meant she was dealing with high-risk offenders such as rapists and murderers.

      Colleague and friend Amanda Brackley was absent from court but provided a statement which was read out by assistant coroner Ian Goldrup.

      In it she describes Ms Kane as "overwhelmed and exhausted" and alleged Ms Kane had sent an e-mail to bosses requesting a reduction in hours to which she received no response.

      Evidence from her GP states she had been struggling to manage her diabetes with the long hours she maintained at work. Despite feeling unwell and stressed in the days leading up to her death Ms Kane was described as "very happy to be on leave".

      Her former long-term partner David Saffrey, to whom she remained close, also recalls that the last time he saw her she appeared "very happy."

      Witness Patricia Fogg spoke to the tribunal about her friend of 30-years. She said "I saw her health was not too good – she suffered from kidney stones and it took a lot out of her – she was a lot more withdrawn, she was always a very sociable person but she would often say she was too tired when we asked her to come out."

      She also referred to the impact the death of her cat had on her. She said: "Nothing could replace Alfie, he was her constant companion for ten years – she did not get a cat again straight away, it took a while for her to take on more animals."

      Mr Goldrup recorded a verdict of suicide, saying Ms Kane had taken an overdose of insulin.

      He said "I accept the pathologist's report. It's my conclusion that Sarah Jane Kane took her own life.

      "It would have been very warming for her to see how many cared for her and I am sorry for your loss."

      Ms Kane was buried with her cats.

  13. re Governor Matt Spencer ( Anon 18;00), he once stunned me with his rudeness to a staff member. I was at HMP Northumberland for a sentence planning board and in deep conversation with the Offender Supervisor ( work related) walking to the houseblock when he walked up and interrupted the OS mid sentence telling him to do something. No civility or even nod to common courtesy, just spoke straight over him then walked away. I always thought it was very telling that such behaviour was deemed acceptable.

  14. RIP Sarah Jane Kane
    and my thoughts are with your family and colleagues

    1. RIP Sarah.
      Are the results of the inquest accessible online? I've read an overview in one local paper and they don't tend to focus much on the effects of TR.

    2. There was this some months ago which I think has been mentioned in an earlier blog piece: -


      On Probation Blog: TR Week Eleven
      17 Aug 2014

      On Probation Blog: Omnishambles Update 62
      18 Aug 2014

      On Probation Blog: TR Week Twelve
      24 Aug 2014

      On Probation Blog: Bidding Latest
      05 Sep 2014

    4. Thanks Andrew I know about Sarah's death but was hoping to read the inquest from Tuesday to see if the media are representing her death accurately.

    5. RIP sarah jane.

      Go safely everyone - use your Occupational Health if you still have one. Document concerns, and remember to print emails off because I know our IT system causes them to automatically delete after about 8 weeks - I have a few printed off for insurance purposes ie evidence that work were/are aware of ongoing issues.

  15. Mr Oborne at the Torygraff has clearly banged his head & gone bonkers:

    "I have just finished listening to the final part of Melvyn Bragg's BBC 4 series on the Magna Carta. There was no energy, no intellectual muscle, and no sense at all of the contemporary importance of this 800-year-old document. The programme was essentially a clunky assemblage of sound bites from academics, linked by Bragg, who sounded bored. At no point was the listener told that the great principles of British justice articulated in the Magna Carta have come under lethal attack from successive British governments over the last two decades.

    Tony Blair tore up the principle of no incarceration without trial with his control orders, attempts to undermine jury trial and attacks on proper legal process. David Cameron has followed in that tradition: Shaker Aamer is still in Guantanamo Bay and the government is now attacking judicial review, which enables the executive to be held to account in a court. Legal aid - designed to give poor people the same legal protections as rich ones - has also come under systematic attack.

    Above all the Tory plan to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights is a direct attack at the principles underlining the Magna Carta."

    Are the worms turning?

  16. I wondered if we might use this forthcoming election to "De-Cameron the UK", then I discovered what Boccaccio had done with his Decameron - its almost as if he was a C14th Tory spin-doctor:

    "Throughout Decameron the mercantile ethic prevails and predominates. The commercial and urban values of quick wit, sophistication, and intelligence are treasured, while the vices of stupidity and dullness are cured, or punished. While these traits and values may seem obvious to the modern reader, they were an emerging feature in Europe with the rise of urban centers and a monetized economic system beyond the traditional rural feudal and monastery systems which placed greater value on piety and loyalty."

    Ah well, serves me right for trying to out-ponce Lord Bragg.

  17. On the 50 % turnout idea for strike action to be valid, i'm all for this as long as they bring in this for the local councils and PCC's as well. In my local city council, turn out was well below 30% and down to 17.7% in certain wards. The worst PCC turnout was about 14%. And thats with publicity!

    The Government seem to have forgotten that only 32.5% of the 65% turnout, voted for them (21.5 % of the voting public), and that they weren't even the party with the most votes. Its shocking how weak the Lib Dems have been over the last 4 years to stem the flow of conservative changes, despite their lofted political position.