Right, we all seem to agree that the show must go on, so the challenge becomes how do we fill the pages? I'm definitely going to need help, not just because it's all so time-consuming - I don't mind setting aside as much as is required - but the main issue is identifying and providing content.
As things have evolved so far, readers act as 'newshounds', scanning online newspapers and other sources and flagging them up. I find this absolutely essential and would urge people to carry this on please. Then there's the invaluable comment and discussion thread that helps keep us all up-to-date and informed. This is where really good stuff comes in and I'm able to selectively republish.
Then there's the growing 'guest blog' facility that I'd like to encourage because it broadens our discussion and introduces new angles and ideas. Please give it a thought and drop me a line.
Finally, like all editors, you just can't beat a scoop now and then, a bit of inside knowledge or 'whistleblowing' to keep those in control of our destiny on their toes and always mindful that the truth 'will out', despite all efforts at obfuscation or dissembling even.
Basically, I'm suggesting more of the same in 2015.
We're rapidly approaching the end of the 'festive season' with normal service resuming on Monday. Thoughts must return to some very-much unresolved matters from the tail end of last year and before we can all 'move on', so to speak. Because this blog sometimes moves along at an alarming pace, I can't help feeling that really good contributions get left behind in all the excitement and they deserve some greater attention. So, I've decided to republish some reflections and exchanges that came in towards the end of last year concerning how we've ended up in the mess we're in now.
Before I do though, I'd like to preface them by saying that my motive is not to encourage recrimination per se, but rather some genuine, measured and thoughtful analysis of our situation and predicament. This may be yet more naivety on my part, but I believe this was the key motive upper most in the mind of the following authors and it would be great if that spirit could be respected. Thanks.
Someone recently observed that Napo did not lose, it was beaten. This seems a fairer take on the situation. No area of the public services has been able to resist privatisation over the past twenty years. Napo could not win on the streets, in parliament or in the courts.
There was no victory on the streets because there was too much member apathy. Had resistance been demonstrated in huge numbers, it would have shaken the confidence of the MoJ and made it laughable for 'probation leaders' to glibly claim support for the changes amongst the workforce at large. If you are not actively dissenting, silence is consent.
As for the leadership in Napo, it was the worse possible start, with the expensive demise of the former general secretary, followed by an assistant general secretary who had all the parliamentary and media experience. Then we had the former chair seeking a position with a CRC. It was a series of own goals and it harmed Napo's reputation.
Apathy plus key changes to personnel at a critical time was not likely to lead to a happy outcome. It was all rhetoric and weak resistance. The last throw of the dice was placing hopes in the judiciary. But when did the courts ever come to the rescue of the trade unions? I can only recall examples of sequestered assets and onerous bail conditions to inhibit picketing. The power of unions always resides in their capacity for collective action to force real, not rhetorical, concessions out of employers and governments.
I also wonder whether there was real fire in the belly of Napo's leadership to fight TR. I am not suggesting they approved of it, but perhaps there was a belief that they could not win and therefore 'resistance' was a charade as you have to do something when grassroots activists are calling for action. If a Napo officer had believed the CRCs were beatable, would he have applied for a job in one? I also think the signing of the framework agreement signalled an acceptance of the inevitable as did Napo's special AGM to make the appropriate constitutional changes. To sign a document to legitimise a split and then for Napo to say that they were tooth and nail opposed to the spilt was a distinction without a difference for many and of course it enabled the MoJ to say the unions have signed an agreement.
There was disunity between the unions. I have no idea why Unison saw the signing of the agreement as job done, but Napo could never go it alone and, again, advocates of TR could only interpret this as one union down, a smaller one to go. Similarly, the MoJ was able to reassure critics that the probation institute, which they financed, would underpin professional standards.
It may have helped the cause if more than one Trust had spoken publicly about the risks of TR. Trusts had, however, shown their willingness to be mean and lean and cut terms and conditions, never missing an opportunity to remind their staff that this was necessary in the 'real world'. They sweated their assets, but when it came to defending those assets they buried their heads as senior managers calculated their generous payoffs and, for some, futures in the private sector.
The focus on the risks of TR vis a vis public safety was the main thrust of the campaign and very much under the radar was the risks to workers' terms and conditions. The high-minded professional concerns regarding safety trumped the bread and butter issues. But just as companies first duties are to their shareholders, to the unions it should be to the livelihoods of their members. Maybe protecting pay and conditions would have resonated more with the actual membership as they learned about the risks of TR, not as a model of operation, but as a means of reducing their pay and job security.
The problem with focusing on risks of IT and the split is that it invited technocratic solutions through the various testgates - and lo and behold, the solutions were found – but they are a secret! No number of testgates could have protected salaries and careers. But the framework agreement did create a false sense of security with its continuity of service and other promises. In the next few years these will count for nothing. Any company can 'restructure' - jobs will go and pay will fall. The Trusts, after all, often seemed to be in a state of permanent restructuring, with some staff forever applying for their jobs following restructures. I know of one person who was obliged to reapply for her job several times.
I know there are some who are still 'wishing and hoping', but TR is here in theory and will soon follow in practice proper when contracts are exchanged. As we have seen in the third sector, charities are ruthless in seeking to cut wages to win contracts at any costs. If you are a CEO or Gordon Gekko, you want an empire and the bigger the better. What about the workers? As Gordon said, 'If you need a friend, get a dog.'
There will be industrial action in the future. Strengthening local branches should, in my view, be the focus of Napo's rehabilitation. It should scale back on being a parliamentary pressure group and seek to radicalise its membership by preparing them for the worst and not just pay – but capability and discipline policies. These CRCs will do their utmost to destroy internal dissent and trade union organisation.
As for that old chestnut, is Napo a professional association or a trade union? In a fight I would rather have a strong and committed trade union behind me than a probation institute. I am wishing and hoping that Napo will withdraw from the Institute as a vote of no confidence in TR.
You're probably right that 'protecting pay and conditions would have resonated more with the actual membership as they learned about the risks of TR' but I suspect that's precisely the reason why that wasn't selected as a focus by NAPOs leaders. The General Secretary in particular appears to have been determined from the outset to avoid any meaningful action against TR, preferring instead to posture and puff and blow but otherwise stopping well short of anything that might have changed matters, least of all any degree of industrial action that could have proved effective. It's a matter of record that he was determined to avoid JR action, and he's now lead the 'officers' in making sure the action forced upon him was stopped before the first genuine risk of disrupting TR could unfold in court. If that sounds fanciful, well as we've seen NOMS are clear that NAPOs claim of 'concessions' having been won is totally bogus, and that everything is proceeding just as it was before the JR was junked. I've said it before, but I can't see how anyone making their way in the higher echelons of union bureaucracy, least of all a professional bureaucrat like Lawrence could be either naive enough or incompetent enough to land us in so woeful a position. It has to be deliberate.
As I understood it, safety was chosen as a focus as the TR changes do provoke risk about which all practitioners have real concerns. Further, it was felt that a focus on safety rather than t&c would resonate more with the public. It is always easier speaking from hindsight as to better possible actions. Decisions are not made by one person alone - every Napo member (even the above author if he/she is one) can bring issues to their branch and has a vote. Branches/NEC and AGMs all too play their part. I seem to recall Tom Rendon saying part of his rationale for standing down was not enough emphasis on professional issues. I suspect the decision to not pursue JR will have been steered by legal opinion. This obsession of the author that Ian Lawrence would deliberately try to steer Napo on the rocks is ludicrous and takes no account of the role of Officers, Officials and NEC reps.
Ludicrous? Well...you're probably right. I was more interested in generating some discussion of the bizarre course of events than anything else, but I might have let the present ridiculousness of our current situation overwhelm me when trying to work out just what the hell happened. NAPO pulling out of the Judicial Review - described by the GS just a few weeks ago as 'the final leg of our quest to seek legal redress to try and prevent the share sale of the 21 CRC' - and better still, pulling out on the basis of 'undertakings' that were apparently never undertaken might just about have tipped me over the edge. That said, I don't take much comfort in looking to the more reasonable explanations.
Take just the last few days: Originally we were told that the JR had been halted as we had won 'crucial concessions', the SoS having 'recognised the risks and set out publicly what he says he is going to do to solve these problems'. Shortly thereafter we then learnt that we would in fact need the consent of the court to disclose these 'public' undertakings. Then of course no such consent was forthcoming, the MoJ was awarded costs, and we subsequently learnt that 'Contrary to the claims by Napo, no new commitments or undertakings were given and no changes have been made' in the final roll out of TR. So what, then, is the realistic explanation? Did we mishear something in court? Did we confuse the words public and confidential? Did we get our legal advice from a man in a pub? Ludicrous is probably the most accurate description of this whole situation.
Yours in dismay,
What appears to be missing so far is an alternative model to TR. Is anybody seriously suggesting that the Probation Service, in its historical form, was in any way other than inefficient, bureaucratic and inept at fashioning its own unique destiny without relying on the likes of Harry Fletcher, every time there was a crisis. Get real, it was a minnow of an organisation led by an increasingly large band of flaccid middle and senior technocratic management with little understanding of the wider macro picture. Most, thankfully are now retired after taking a kings ransom, but they left a legacy that oversaw such substantial changes to its core values and operational practices that it made it almost invisible to the general public how the service really impacted on reducing offending.
What Grayling et al has done is introduce a scientific management model of business that arguably will see CRCs and NPS become more visibly lean and accountable. What's the alternative then folks, more of the same? Perhaps we should turn a blind eye to that that has gone before by seeing it from an unusually bland perspective. The danger comes from those managers left behind who have a zeal to embrace all things scientific. And we know where that will lead. Wake up, everybody! Things will never be the same.