Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Dear Constituent

You know how it works in a mature democracy. You are very unhappy with some government policy or other and write a strong letter to your, as it happens, opposition MP. In turn they write to the relevant government minister, enclosing said letter. They pass it on to loyal civil servants to draft an appropriate and fullsome reply. The minister duly signs it off and sends it to his fellow 'honourable' colleague, who forwards a copy on to you. Job done and all very correct and mature. A bit like this in fact:-  

14th January 2015

Dear S (MP),

Thank you for your letter of 13 December, forwarding on the concerns of your constituent, Mgt L, regarding our reforms to the Probation Service.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I set out the rationale for our reforms. While it is true that over recent years former Probation Trusts improved their performance and this is a tribute to the hard work of Probation staff at all levels, it is widely agreed that we need to improve provision of services and support for those who reoffend the most - offenders being released from prison following short term sentences. As in every other part of Government, we are faced with the challenge of trying to do better for less. We can either impose further cuts on the structures we have, risking increases in reoffending and leaving short sentence offenders without support after release, or we can reform the system so that it provides more effective rehabilitation at a better value to the taxpayer. We want to do this in a way that is sustainable for the future and we are committed to reinvesting most of the savings we make in order to support supervision for short sentence offenders. We can only do that if we bring in the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors to work with offenders in order to reduce their reoffending rates. Although Ms L was concerned about the cost of the reforms, I can assure you that our proposals are affordable within the context of the MoJ commitment to deliver annual savings of over £2billion by 2014/15.

In response to Ms L's concerns about public safety, I would like to reassure her that protecting the public is a key priority and we are clear that management of offenders who pose the highest risk of serious harm should remain with the public sector. However, we believe it is the right approach to open up the management of low and medium risk offenders to the private and voluntary sector. This will deliver greater innovation and efficiency in reducing reoffending rates. In terms of maintaining the quality of service following the implementation of our reforms, the Secretary of State will continue to issue national standards for the management of offenders, and the government will place contractual requirements on CRC's in relation to the management of offenders, to ensure that the risk of harm posed by all offenders is effectively managed. The new system will ensure that professional standards continue to be maintained and the NPS and CRCs are both required to have suitably qualified and competent staff. The NPS continues to use a Probation Qualification Framework (PQF) and CRC's are free to do the same should they choose to.

I would also like to reassure Ms L that thorough, externally assured business and systems readiness testing was conducted to review key activities that had to be completed prior to transition to the new probation structures on 1 June. On the basis of evidence from the testing we remain satisfied that the business was ready to make that transition. Performance measures, rolled forward from the previous system, also continue to be monitored and show broadly consistent performance with pre-transition levels. The wide range of information we published in mid-November demonstrates how closely we are monitoring the system to ensure that the performance levels are maintained. There is of course, still work to do and this has been a challenging time for staff. but they should be extremely proud of the way they have kept up standards. We are also continuing to provide support to staff in both the NPS and the CRC's as they work to embed the new structures and we are using all of the period up to the point that contracts are let to stabilise and embed the new structures.

In response to Ms L's concerns about the workloads of probation staff, and the appointment of Trainee Probation Officers, we recognise the importance of ensuring that there is enough capacity to meet demand within the new system, and are confident the new NPS and CRC's are sufficiently resourced to deliver their core duties. However, we continue to monitor the system closely. Furthermore, since September, the first cohort of new probation officers into NPS has begun training, further intakes are planned for early in the New Year (January and April). This is part of a process of recruiting 1000 new trainee Probation Officers. All these recruits will have relevant degrees, for example in Criminology, and will be assigned and available for work within the system and will undertake professional training to become fully qualified Probation staff. We are continuing with other recruitment as well, with campaigns ongoing across the NPS and, where they determine it appropriate, CRC's to fill operationally critical posts.

In terms of the allocation of staff to the new probation structures, I would like to reassure Ms L that we took care to ensure that the arrangements for the assignment of staff to either one of the 21 CRC's or the NPS were carried out in a fair and transparent manner. The sifting criteria and appeals process were developed by the Ministry of Justice in consultation with Trade Unions and the employers' side as part of discussions to provide the right means of assigning staff to the appropriate organisation on an objective, transparent and equitable basis. The automatic assignment process and, where appropriate, the sifting criteria were applied on the basis of posts held on 11 November 2013. This provided a standardised approach to assessing existing roles and provided a clear basis for undertaking assignment.

With regard to Ms L's points about ICT and access to information, we are modifying our ICT infrastructure to improve risk assessment, and to support the new organisations and information sharing between different providers. We will continue to work with the NPS and CRCs to ensure effective systems are in place. Testing of key systems, including ICT, is well advanced and will continue at every stage and we continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly. It is also worth noting that, as part of our reforms, it was necessary to introduce controls within the main systems, based on individuals' roles, to ensure that the right people have access to the right information at the right time. These control which data authorised users can access, in a similar way to previous controls on use by Probation Trust staff. However, it is important to stress that there is no reason why information of offenders cannot be shared between organisations where appropriate. This was already common prior to the creation of the NPS and CRCs, with information shared between many different agencies in offender management.

In relation to Ms L's concerns about use of office space, I can confirm that there are no plans for the probation estate to change as a diect result of transition. The NPS and CRCs are operating from the buildings used previously by Trusts. Where a building services a function that only exists in the CRC (eg a community payback unit) or NPS ( eg an approved premise) it is being operated by that organisation. Where a building services a function that exists in both the NPS and CRC (eg, an offender management unit), both organisations are co-located within that building. The relative allocation of space has been determined and the cost of the building charged accordingly. In the future if either the NPS or CRC's want to move the new organisations to a new location, they will have to follow due process to consult with staff.

Ms L also raised the issue of the ability of staff to raise matters of concern. As civil servants, staff in the NPS are now covered by the Civil Service Code. The Code does place certain restrictions, which apply to all civil servants, on the activities of staff. However, I would like to reassure you and your constituent that this does not restrict their ability to report concerns about the functioning of the service through appropriate channels.

Ms L also highlighted the importance of the relationship between Magistrates and the Probation Service. I would like to reassure her that one of the fundamental aspects of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms is the recognition that, to successfully reduce reoffending, the new probation providers will need to work closely with all local services and agencies. The CRCs are contractually required to participate in relevant statutory partnerships and also engage in non-statutory partnership working arrangements aimed at protecting the public from harm, safeguarding vulnerable adults or potential victims of domestic abuse and promoting service integration. Outside of this, CRCs will also have the flexibility to enter into local agreements and arrangements with other agencies involved in delivering services to offenders if they consider it will help them in achieving their overarching objective to reduce offending. This includes the ability to enter into information sharing agreements.

Ms L also expressed concerns about the performance of the Prison Service. I would like to make it clear that overcrowding in prisons is at the lowest level for 10 years. In 2013-14, the average number of prisons held in crowded conditions decreased to 22.9% of the total population compared to 23.3% in 2012-13. This is the lowest level since 2001-02 and has come down from a high of 25.3%in 2007-08. We will always have enough prison capacity for those committed by the courts and will aim to manage the prison population in a way that gives taxpayers the best possible value for money. All our prisons operate an effective regime with safe population levels, and space for those sent by the courts.

Finally, Ms L may be interested in our wider progress in implementing these reforms. On 19 September the Government launched the competition to find the future owners of the CRCs who will deliver rehabilitation services in England and Wales. On 18 December we signed contracts with the new owners of the 21 CRCs. This announcement marked another significant step towards implementing these vital reforms. It is also worth emphasising that we have an incredibly diverse market. In 19 of the 21 areas a mutual or a voluntary, community or social enterprise (VCSE) is involved in the Tier 1 bid, and six of the CRCs will be run with the involvement of a probation staff mutual. All new owners have included VCSE organisations in their proposed supply chains and 75% of the 300 contractors named in those supply chains are VCSE or mutual organisations. All of the new owners also have experience working with offenders or across the Criminal Justice System.

Through the Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) 2014, which received Royal Assent on 13 March, we have changed the law so that all offenders released from short prison sentences - who are most likely to reoffend - receive 12 months of supervision in the community. The transfer of ownership of all the CRCs will take place on 1 February 2015, along with the transition to the new Services Agreements. We intend for the provision of the ORA 2014 to be commenced on this date.

Finally I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to probation staff for their hard work to implement these. I enclose a copy of this letter to share with Ms L should you wish to do so.

Yours ever,


(Andrew Selous)


  1. I'm sure Ms L feels oh so much better having received this manna from heaven from Mr Selous and all her concerns have been allayed by everything he said. I, myself, feel all warm and fuzzy after reading these words of comfort and reassurance.


    1. It reads a bit like a parole "knockback". You're doing great. You've achieved loads, but unfortunately at this stage.........

  2. Bullshit from Mr Selous

  3. I have to ask whether MP's and civil servants are sent on courses to teach them how to write total and utter bullshit or whether it is just a natural talent??

  4. It is lovely to know that, when Exlaxxo make me compulsariliy redundant in six months time, I can walk away with my head held high safe in the knowledge that my 30 years of experience are held in such high esteem.

  5. I've read this blog for some time now.

    Question - why are the new CRCs in such confusion?

    Surely they won bids to secure vast sums of taxpayer money on the basis of sound, convincing & effective business plans? If they don't know what they're doing, how can they have won their contracts? Who has bamboozled who? Bidders lying to MoJ in their bid documents? MoJ failing to carry out due diligence? MoJ lying to everyone?

    It all seems to be one HUGE lie. Maybe the truth will eventually emerge in 30 years' time?

  6. Whatever they put in their bids, I'm pretty certain there was a lot that they just didn't understand, such as how 'risk' is not static, and I really do believe that the private companies that did bid were under the belief that they would be getting shoplifters and fraudsters, anything more dodgey would go to the NPS.
    This article in the evening standard may give them food for thought.


    1. Nearly 6,000 new crimes including murder and robbery have been committed by London rioters since their rampage in the capital just over three years ago, official figures reveal today.

      The disturbing statistics show that 1,593 of the 3,914 people charged or cautioned by the Met following the riots in August 2011 have since reoffended in a new crime spree.

      Their offences include 12 killings, 180 attacks causing wounding or GBH and 151 crimes involving a weapon. They were among a total of 1,172 new violent offences committed by the former rioters.

      There were also 21 rapes, 719 burglaries and 451 robberies. One of the reoffending rioters has committed 72 new crimes since the 2011 disturbances.

      The rioters’ return to crime will raise fresh questions about the effectiveness of rehabilitation policies in the capital and was greeted with dismay by London’s policing supremo, Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh. He said that urgent changes were needed to protect the public by keeping a better “grip” of offenders.

      “Londoners remember how a minority of violent thugs caused mayhem in August 2011,” he said. “These figures show that some of them are still committing serious crimes and prove that the riots were fuelled by prolific offenders rather than low-level opportunists.

      “Even though the police have learnt the lessons of the riots, the wider criminal justice system needs to up its game and stop playing pass the parcel with these violent criminals.”

      Today’s statistics, obtained by the Evening Standard using the Freedom of Information Act, provide the most comprehensive picture so far of the criminal activities of rioters since they were dealt with the courts for their role in the disturbances of 2011.

      They show that 3,914 people in London, including 164 adults and 34 juveniles subsequently logged as gang members, were prosecuted or cautioned for offences committed during the riots.

      Of these, 1,593, including 168 gang members, had offended again by the end of 2014. They include 107 people who had committed ten or more new offences . Of these 17 were gang members.

      Another 261 rioters, including 49 gang members, have since committed between five and ten more crimes.

      The new figures also show that as well as the murders and rapes, the overall total of 5,878 new crimes committed by the rioters there were also 1,075 thefts and 1,819 drug offences. Of these, 221 involved drug trafficking.

      Reoffending rioters have also committed 36 fraud or forgery offences, 25 crimes of “going equipped” and were responsible for 213 incidents involving criminal damage.

      Violent offences included 314 “assault with injury” crimes, 171 cases of common assault and 265 of harassment.

      As well as the 21 rapes, there were 33 “other sexual” offences. The tally of 451 robbery offences is comprised of 383 muggings and 68 raids on businesses.

      Mr Greenhalgh, who is seeking to have City Hall placed in overall control of London’s entire criminal justice system in a New York style reform, said the statistics showed that significant improvements were needed.

      He added: “We need to grip these offenders. Many have not been deterred, despite prosecuting them more quickly in 2011, and have gone on to rape and murder in some cases.

      “If we want the rhetoric of a rehabilitation revolution to become a reality in our capital city, then the Mayor must be given oversight of London’s criminal justice system.”

      The Met said it worked with City Hall and organisations such as the Youth Justice Board to reduce reoffending, but that the task of monitoring freed offenders was mainly the responsibility of other agencies.

    2. A spokeswoman added: “The Met does not hold the primary responsibility for managing offenders in the community. We do, however, work closely with responsible agencies such as the Probation Service in seeking to reduce reoffending.

      “The Met also specifically targets offenders who continue to commit crime, given the harm that these individuals pose to communities.”

      Some offenders jailed during the riots are still in custody for the crimes they committed during the disturbances. But most have either been freed from their prison terms, despite the enhanced sentences handed out in some cases, or were given non-custodial penalties at the time.

      Today’s new statistics follow this newspaper’s disclosure of separate figures from a study of eight London boroughs showing that 418 prolific offenders living there have carried out about 20,000 offences. That is an average of around 48 each. The eight worst offenders registered more than 150 crimes apiece.

      Earlier Ministry of Justice statistics, obtained by the Standard last March, also highlighted the problem of reoffending in London. They showed that 554 criminals in the capital, each with at least 50 previous convictions, had offended again after being freed during one 12-month period.

  7. Seems to be one huge lie ? It is a huge lie. We now have surely the most corrupt, dishonest govt ever. We have a chance to be rid in May. Just vote for anyone who has a chance of beating the Tories (except ukip). The alternatives don't inspire much, we just want the least worst.

  8. Here's an old friend of probation that was very vocal in his arguements against TR.
    Maybe it's time Graylings expenses were focused on once more. I reckon he's claimed a few bob more then Mr. Wood has?


  9. Just seen an email from a well respected and long standing partnership agency. After a decade or more of sterling service in the area of benefit and debt advice, tbey have stopped taking referrals as they wind down to the end of their contract on 31st March, 2015.

    The replacement service? We don't know yet.

    1. There are many agencies coming to the same end at the moment. As from 1st April funding for many is no longer being provided by central government, it becomes the responsibility of local councils and local budgets.
      Who gets funded from then, is of local concern, and given the massive cuts to local budgets, it's going to be a choice of how many libraries do we close to fund x, or keep the libraries at the expense of x?
      Hard times I'm affraid!

    2. In Wales, CRC partnership agencies have had funding extened til June so that Lurking Winks can find out exactly what they do and what the next step will be. If services are kept will probably involve new tenders

  10. I'd like to hear Andrew S's comment on the above statistics resulting from the London riots. Will he blame it all on Probation pre the rise of our saviour ??

    I posted today's blog, via Jim, which was Andrew's response to a letter I sent my MP in Dec, (which I recall was the one which attached a copy of a full-on personal letter to CG - see that reproduced email to CG on GUEST BLOG 14). I asked my MP to spread the word around MP's, of the titanic catastrophe we are facing, and to gather up support to fight the good fight, not just give the letter to CG's mate, when they will now have one each - C&A.....(that well-loved store also collapsed -14 yrs ago- but not because it was taken over by megalomaniacs)

    Although I respect my MP for doing something and then writing back to me attaching Andrew's response to my letter -(which I had e-mailed to both CG's addresses- constituency and parliamentary- with no response), -it was not the most effective thing to do... though you never know, keep hoping for the Eureka! moment when the MoJ will say 'you're right' and change course. And my email to CG had included many personal questions about him, which were not answered. - surprise.

    There are a number of 'contentious' issues in the letter - another surprise - 1) the plan to use the best of public, voluntary and private sectors - did we not already do that?
    2) 'the sifting of staff was fair and transparent and involved union consultation..-' it certainly was NOT that from what I have been told, and what I have read. And was NAPO involved?
    3) 'no plans for estate to change as a direct result of transition' - so all the massive changes by October, which we are hearing, must be as an 'indirect' result of transition'?
    4) My concerns about the deteriorating relationship between Probation and Magistrates - which I had been direct about in my email - where is there any further comment about that in Andrew's reply ? He only referred to relationships with all local services and agencies to reduce crime. Is the Court a local service?
    5) 'prisons are NOT overcrowded and run an effective regime with safe population' - Oh Andrew, do you not read the papers?! HOW can you say that?

    Finally - I wish they would stop being patronising to staff - 3 times in his letter he praised you all for your wonderful work. He must know that most staff hate the MoJ and its partners in crime, and do their best at huge personal cost, because they do it for their clients, not the bloody government. And because they are professional. And because they CARE.

    So -I am now planning to reply to Andrew and am asking if there is anything in particular anyone wants me to say? Anything printable!

  11. 2) 'the sifting of staff was fair and transparent and involved union consultation..-' it certainly was NOT that from what I have been told, and what I have read. And was NAPO involved? 

    When Grayling was asked in the house (and so a matter of record), he denied it was done on a lottery basis.
    However, asked the same question, again in the house( so must also be a matter of record), Selous admitted it wss a matter of 'names being drawn from the hat'.
    Given both answers contridict each other, it would be of interest to know which one of them had not been truthful to parliament.

    We probably know the answer to that.

    1. Well, I can tell you as someone who was NAPO branch Chair and a member of the local JNCC during this whole process that regardless of whatever 'consultation' had gone on, NAPO did not 'agree' the selection process (being fundamentally opposed to the split) and Reps were discouraged by Chiv Rd from getting involved in its implementation (to avoid giving the impression of having agreed; so locally we didnt). Also, I can also confirm that there was DEFINITELY provision for the use of 'drawing names from a hat' within the selection guidance issued by the MoJ - I've probably still got the document around somewhere. I know I joked on this blog when the guidance was issued that our branch would favour the 'spin the bottle' method of selection! Although the lottery method wasnt used in my area, I understand it was in some.
      That's the beauty of this approach - if you keep saying it long enough, on enough occasions and to enough people, the truth gets airbrushed out of history...

    2. thanks Deb - wonder how A S will respond when I inform him that people in the MoJ are processing decisions behind his back.....! Poor man - how could they, making him look like a bit of an idiot??!

  12. I along with other colleagues, have been writing throughout this process to various MPs and committee members - I was amused that my MP sent my letter to the great Grayling himself and the reply was signed "best wishes Chris"...it was so similar to this response published here that clearly they are cutting and pasting! My view is that letter writing should continue and we should keep copies and the responses and then when this goes wrong publicly, we can produce evidence that they were warned in advance, did nothing during and then they can not claim they did not know the extent of the dangers of TR! Also, don't forget the Lords (including the Bishops) - it's good to keep them in touch too I find!
    a PO

    1. thanks 1600 - why don't you put your letter from Chris on the blog too, then we can compare notes??! We could even run a quiz - 'spot the difference'. -all monies going to the Edridge Fund to support probation staff in crisis.

      They're a friendly group of people aren't they? I have 2 letters from Andrew to my MP, both signed 'yours ever Andrew' - aaah.

  13. Dear Mr Sealous..'..improve provision of services and support for those who reoffend the most.' great idea but..errr.. we were previously told the 'Prolific and Priority Offenders' needed it the most ! they were supervised 'Intensively' by the IOM, PPO teams, multi agency involvement,seen several times a week, regular drug testing, quick pick ups and lots of liaison between services and so on. NOW the high risk PPO people have to come to NPS (understaffed in our area)often transferred at a crisis point, they are now seen once a week, drug tested monthly if that. The ones I inherited were well pleased at having a rest from all that intensive stuff..yep great idea, great idea...

  14. ...me again...sorry Mr S, spelt your name wrong...ETE workers also reduced in our area ..less help and support there also...Dang...!

    1. Unemployed offenders will probably all be mandated to the Work Programme