Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Guest Blog 21

We are where we are

I am a second career Probation Officer in my fifties and having qualified fourteen years ago, entered the Service at a time when I believe there was already confusion about identity and poorly managed change processes had become acceptable.  From Michael Howard’s ‘prison works’ stance in the mid-1990s through Paul Boateng’s ‘what works’ directive to The Carter Report in 2003, probation was bobbing about on the prevailing tide responding to rather than setting the agenda.

My initial view of probation management when I joined, having been a manager in the private sector, was that here was a structure intended to be apart from practitioners, always the middle manager never the team leader. People, once promoted, needed to demonstrate a distance between them and the people they would manage to create a deliberate divide in the mistaken belief that it would promote impartiality. It was also intended to demonstrate loyalty to the executive and in doing so, in my view, reinforced a poor quality management structure.

The result of this was that when NOMS formed, probation managers were so grateful to be inside the big tent that they failed to assert their identity and so, defend the value of probation.  Not probation values, but the true value of effective probation with expertise developed over a century and practitioners who were competent professionals to maintain and progress the rehabilitation agenda. Prison management prevailed and probation began to be air brushed from history, its voice dimmed possibly to be eventually silenced. I believe this is the context in which the Transforming Rehabilitation programme was rushed through. We should all be concerned (and the evidence from this blog is that we are) about the process by which this seismic change is being so rapidly introduced. 

Training I undertook in a  previous career taught me that the first rule of change management is thoughtful planning with sensitive implementation and crucially, the engagement of the people affected by the changes. Forced changes only ever cause problems. This, I would argue, is where we are now. There is a pay-off between how the employer treats the employee and what the employee puts into the job.

So the challenge for us all as employees at every level whether within NPS or CRC, is what that ’pay off’ will be.  We are obliged to fulfil our contract of employment and so is the employer. I could argue that the current stress levels that all employees  are being placed under means the employer has frustrated the contract of those suffering ill effects from that, but perhaps that should be the subject of a separate blog. 

Many colleagues have posted previously about resisting the changes and suggested the means of doing so. My personal stance is to recognise that I need my job for family income and to try, within whatever system emerges, to fulfil my duties. My personal ‘pay off’ is no longer delivering the ‘altruism premium’ that meant I worked sometimes with a 200 % work load weighting to deliver whatever was asked of me.  If that does not sound much I can assure you it is a significant financial loss to the business perhaps ten hours of unpaid work on a weekly basis.

To all colleagues I offer my best wishes for finding your way through this chaos in the belief that we are in a change management process likely to fail. We are a body of principled professionals who have the necessary skills to restore our profession when that time comes and my hope is that it will be practitioner led.



  1. An excellent and thoughtful post which clearly expresses the views of many of my colleagues. In my office we are all trying to cope with no support from management or unions! Yesterday we were instructed that Priority 1 2 and 3 is completion of RSR and CAS and failure to do this will be addressed swiftly! It seems that when concerns were raised about risk management the view I was expressed that this remains important but not priority! We practioners are doing what we can to get our concerns heard but no one is interested JFDI is the culture of the day !

  2. One should never say never, and I would agree there has been catastrophic damage inflicted upon Probation over the last 20 years (when training was syphoned off from the social work degree structure). I would also agree that NOMS's prison-centric control-&-command managerialism has poisoned
    Probation waters; an approach many Probation managers (not all) have enjoyed as it allowed them to legitimise their aloof-ness.

    And I would agree that practitioners have been naive, lambs to the slaughter and as such carry a level of culpability. I feel that I haven't taken the stand I ought to have done, mainly because the bullying structuralism and stand-together of management succeeded in frightening me off. That was my weakness and thus my contribution to TR.

    I've been vocal and challenging in recent months, but sadly too late to stop TR and all the negatives it brings.

    BUT that doesn't mean practitioners can't continue the fight to prove they were right all along and ensure there's still an effective service when TR disappears up its own ideological fundament.

  3. You know, when all that matters is £££s, I wonder how many of the bean counters now in charge will factor in the true costs? The number of colleagues working their hours for the first time is amazing, I thought people would revert to working longer hours and missing lunch breaks after an initial protest but no, there has been a real change. This must be costing massive sums of money over all areas and I bet you will never hear about it but the employers should be aware all this has been lost and will cost them. The blog refers to the 'altruism premium' and guess what? The employers are now reaping what they have sewn and loss of this is a massive business cost.

  4. What happened to Big Society
    "The title of this report ‘Whose Society?’ reflects the overarching reason for that failure. A genuine Big Society would be owned by wider civil society, actively involving those with least power and influence now, and would be taken forward collaboratively by a state that sees its role as enabling, not as being in the driving seat. What should the next government do to avoid the mistakes of this one? First, a future Government must replace the market-based, public sector management model that has dominated the thinking of successive governments, with a collaborative one. On past performance, individual choice and competition for contracts will not deliver the radical changes needed to ensure those who most need support benefit equally from public services; nor will it
    make public services more effective at lower cost. It has delivered a ‘race to the bottom’ on contract price and the dominance of large private sector ‘quasi-monopoly’ providers who lack transparency and accountability".
    Read the report

  5. Two thoughts for the day - one for the many contributors to this blog and one for Grayling & his apologists:

    "There are only two ways of telling the complete truth — anonymously and posthumously." ~Thomas Sowell

    "When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth." ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, 2003

  6. As a outsider looking in I have the impression that all will be fine. I mean the vast majority of Clients don't need/want/require the unique brand of "help" that your gang of chimps have to offer so the least you have to do with them the better for them and your superior management, there is a huge saving to be made in the CRC's and NPS should take note of this.

    Mark my words, this blog is 99% "what about us Practitioners?", well, believe it or not, you are the least important people in Probation.

    1. With the greatest respect, 'as an outsider looking in', I don't think your contribution has added anything useful to the discussion.

    2. I have a suspicion that some of the comments in the past few days have came from the same source, but porporting to be different people.
      I'd urge contributers not to take the bait, it's a great blog and I enjoy the open and informed way the discussion evolves over the day.
      So don't get hooked, theres no need to respond to a comment thats posted thats designed by it's language only to rustle feathers.
      Keep the discussion alive, share opinions and information, and I'm sure that the somewhat distasteful comments will prove to be nothing more then a 'flash in the pan'.


    3. 'the vast majority of Clients don't need/want/require the unique brand of "help" that your gang of chimps have to offer so the least you have to do with them the better for them'

      You are so wrong and I speak from experience

  7. So, if the Government spent £15 million on consultants how come the changes are resulting in such chaos? Should Grayling ask for a refund on behalf of the tax payers 'cos it is our money he's spent? It is utter crap.

    1. The late Helen West, CPO of LRPT, preemptive of privatisation - it hadn't taken on the TR branding yet - brought in her own consultant at a reputed £50k for a fixed 6 months, doing a 3 day week. We were expecting a John Harvey-Jones 'Troubleshooter'. He put himself about, attending management and team meetings. No one knows to this day what he actually did. He came with a CV mainly working for local council HR. I think John Harvey-Jones would have been a better bet. After all, Ouija boards have some resale value.

  8. If in the past 10 years Probation has lost focus then how come reoffending has gone down year on year?

    Answer that...

    1. Offending has gone down year upon year.
      "Re- offending" has not.

    2. Oh right my bad, whoops.

      Well glad I'm well off out of the scummy halls of Probation.

    3. to Anon 13:39 Probation always worked because of great practitioners....