Friday, 13 February 2015

Time to Get a Grip

"With all this bollocks going on, the voice that's missing is NAPOs. I really am starting to believe that Delia did more for Norwich 'where are you', than NAPO are doing for probation. At least a fucking statement or a news letter just to let us know you're still interested. NAPO should be keeping us informed about what's going on, not the workforce. STEP UP NAPO. Grab the nettle, and show you're worth my subs. It's time to show your worth."
The above comment came in last night and after I'd prepared most of today's post. 

The astute or regular reader will have noticed that Napo hasn't featured much on this blog of late and pretty much since last years failed legal challenge to TR. I suspect like many members, we're still waiting for a satisfactory explanation, but then Napo's track record on such matters is hardly good is it? Maybe the General Secretary feels it'll all just 'blow over' and people will forget about it. Perhaps he thinks members really did buy all that guff about Napo having won considerable concessions from the MoJ and 'confidentiality' means nothing more could be said?

My information is that at a particularly feisty meeting between Napo and the MoJ, the latter felt obliged to confront the union with a few home truths:-
  • Napo lost
  • It was the wrong case
  • It was late
  • The MoJ did not back down
  • Napo withdrew against huge odds  
Of course there are those, including myself, that believe the General Secretary never had any intention of bringing a legal challenge. Like so much of his modus operandi, it was just all a matter of going through the motions; putting up the appearance of doing something, whilst simultaneously ensuring absolutely nothing useful happened. The members revolt at the Scarborough AGM gave him a nasty shock, but sadly by then it's now all too apparent that any viable legal option had already been exhausted. 

The big question that needs answering in all this is how on earth did it happen? The short answer is an old chestnut on this blog; utter dysfunctionality of management at the top of the union. It's not just the personalities involved, and in particular some incredibly inflated egos; it's structural and unless this issue is urgently addressed, then I can't see how the union has much of a future in a radically changed probation environment. 

At this point I guess I'd better repeat that I am not anti-Napo. I joined the union as soon as I started my probation career, but it's also true that I've studiously remained a passive member. Throughout this whole sorry TR saga I have sought to try and support Napo in trying to fight privatisation, but so often I've also felt compelled to take issue with what I've perceived as piss-poor direction from the top and incompetence. In my view the members and particularly branch officers have always deserved better, but have been consistently let down. 

I think it's important to say that at various points over the last year or two there have been attempts to establish a dialogue with senior elected officers, motivated out of a genuine desire to mount the most effective fight against TR as possible. As some readers will know, a dialogue of sorts was established through an 'honest broker', the redoubtable Joanna Hughes, but sadly with zero success, almost certainly due to the dysfunctionality of control and management at the top of the union. 

Upon reflection, it's probably been for the best because I might have felt somewhat constrained in what I felt able to say here, had I been simultaneously in dialogue with elected officials. To put it bluntly, despite the theory and rhetoric, and change in elected officers at the top, it's pretty obvious that the tail continues to wag the dog in Napo. At this point, it's probably worth quoting from a blog post last June 'Napo - The Future':-
For some time now this blog has been alluding to what I choose to call a serious dysfunctionality at the top of Napo. I suspect most Napo members will have been blissfully unaware of an almighty internal row going on at Chivalry Road and personalities aside, basically concerning the prosecution - or not - of the fight against TR.
I have it on good authority and from numerous sources that it's been the General Secretary who had to be reluctantly persuaded to proceed with Judicial Review, contrary to any impression he may wish to subsequently convey. In effect there has been a power struggle between the elected Chair and General Secretary for some time, and one in which most significantly the other elected officials failed to support their Chair.
As to the role of the NEC, they appear to be an unwieldy body and pretty ineffective in being able to exercise any effective control or meaningful degree of accountability over the General Secretary. Interestingly, this has been known about for donkey's years and I'm told was a parting observation made by former General Secretary Judy McKnight and subsequently proved beyond doubt by the shenanigans involving the following incumbent.
This is all desperately depressing, just at a time when most of us are depressed enough, but I don't see any indication that things have changed much at all and certainly no sign that anyone has even acknowledged there's a serious dysfunctionality at the top, let alone formulate any plans as to how to deal with it. This is what I said last June:-
It's quite likely that one of the officials who so singularly failed to back their Chair will assume the vacant position temporarily and possibly join other candidates in seeking a mandate from the membership at the next AGM. I think the membership will want a number of questions answering before casting their vote and in particular may well want to hear what plans any candidate may have in dealing with a whole raft of issues, such as:-
  • An independent enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous General Secretary
  • An internal constitutional review of governance arrangements
  • An effective member involvement and communication strategy
  • A financial, staffing and office accommodation Review 
  • An Action Plan for the continued resistance to TR, sale of the CRC's and member retention
Of course nothing happened because this is just an unaccountable anonymous blog that Napo HQ reads avidly, but studiously avoids ever acknowledging. You could say it's an exemplary example of how to bury your head in the sand and try and defy the tide Canute-style. But as we all know, time and tide waits for no man and something has got to happen soon as membership continues to decline. 

Now just to be clear, I am definitely not advocating that members give up on the Union; I have never done this. What I want to see is a bit more evidence of the 'coup' that happened at the AGM in Scarborough last October. Things are serious my friends and the time really has come to give those at the top of Napo a good shaking; bang a few heads together and force someone to get a grip! 

42 comments:

  1. Well done with the numerical milestone - keeping going is a major achievement and receiving ever more relevant information from the diverse places that probation policy is devised and implemented has been critical.

    I am especially grateful for the insights about Napo, which still seems beyond the control of the collective will of the ordinary members either in a general meeting or as represented by those on the National Executive Committee.

    It is particularly good that reports are now coming through of the adaptations being made locally so that performance “targets” can be met despite the impact on the wellbeing of the workers.

    We need far more of that so TR can be exposed.

    It seems as if the MOJ and the politicos also have in their grasp most of the mainstream media content, the workers need a strategy to better overcome that.

    From in front of my computer screen, Napo have been fluctuatingly inconsistent, Unison almost completely in the shadows and GMB underground. Yet, the only way workers have a chance of being effective in restricting the damage and achieving something better is collaboratively and that involves being public about much of what is being attempted.

    Ultimately, as we have been reminded forcefully, it is ONLY the Government which determines probation policy and how it is supposed to be implemented. As I understand things under the UK's, non-written constitution, the ONLY people the UK Government are required to answer to are the ACTUAL members of parliament, be they in the House of Lords or House of Commons, and not those who elect them or recommend them for appointment.

    Getting a person elected or appointed to parliament is not straightforward, BUT perhaps needs to be considered as Government policy is not determined by logic. However as Lord Ramsbotham’s attempt reveals yesterday, even facing the government with glaringly obvious failings, is unlikely to achieve a change in policy, unless it is also possible to achieve a majority in parliament who support such opposition.
    http://www.napo2.org.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=937&sid=e76649084363eb2185ea6fd1d48c27ed

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  2. Would Napo members be any worse off without their union? Napo has not been able to protect, let alone progress, the terms and conditions of its members. The subscriptions maintain salaried staff at the centre. Anyone with experience of representation at branch level will know that you don't really feel that joined-up with the centre. In my experience it was always an uphill struggle to get any legal advice. Yet when the former GS was in trouble a fortune was spent defending the indefensible.

    In Napo I do not see a progressive union that is in touch with its wider membership and doing things to strengthen branch organisation. You would think that after the TR débâcle there would be a urgency to learn any lessons about the resistance campaign and share ideas of future strategy. We hear all the time about the recruitment drive, but this seems more about revenue rather than an inspired call to be part of something that will make a difference. I think of the SNP in Scotland who have seen their membership grow exponentially. This was a grassroots recruitment, whose momentum came from the perception that the SNP is progressive, not part of a tired consensus that made empty promises, but something dynamic and active that is committed to progressive change. You don't need recruiting sergeants if people see an organisation as something they want to be a part of. What is Napo offering, apart from cheaper car and house insurance, that will inspire?

    Napo lacks conviction and for me this is evident in the stance it takes on the Probation Institute. It signs up, but does nothing to promote it. There is no evidence that the PI enjoys the support in the member-led ranks. So, what does Napo do? It keeps its head down. What does Napo stand for?

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  3. Jim I was part of the group discussion that was had in a pub at Scarborough, how can we organise a more stronger coup then? I am on branch exec in my area and have been active and vocal in my opposition to TR but sometimes I feel isolated and alone in this, in my office. Sometimes I feel like an outcast for continuing to oppose and criticise it.

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    1. Call a special general meeting - propose a vote of no confidence in general secretary in one motion. Propose a withdrawal from Probation Institute in another motion. Propose a review into management of Jonathan Ledger, Harry Fletcher and she who must not be publicly named's departure as Napo employees in another motion. Propose a positive strategy to oppose TR & manage Napo as THE recognised Union with all those undertaking tasks previously reserved to the Probation Trusts in another, for example.

      In other words test the resolve of the membership, so give a reasonable notice period for the holding of the SGM - go for Birmingham. Manchester or London to maximise attendance and probably have it on a Saturday.

      Jim's suggestion for action in the blog are as relevant and overlap mine, they were not in my mind as I wrote - BUT it all needs to be kept as simple as possible.

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    2. Anon 11:27 - a good question and I suppose a good starting point is a broad discussion of the issues which hopefully might lead to ideas for action.

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  4. Pat Waterman and other prominent members of Napo Greater London Branch exec have been away on well earned and much needed leave so I expect that explains the relative quiet from London. Not sure what's going on at Chivalry Rd.
    Regarding the Probation Institute. The PI is striving to be a democratically run body supporting the probation profession. Napo's involvement as far as I have witnessed has been one of cautious engagement as its members would expect. The unfortunate involvement of a discredited apparently self-serving former Napo National Chair was an unwelcome sideshow. The PI is growing and is establishing links with other similar institutions and providing a welcome base for the administration of established awards etc such as the Graham Smith Award that may well have fallen by the wayside. We need bodies such as the PI if probation is to call itself a profession and we should not be quick to discuss such initiatives that aim to support professional practice. Why shouldn't Napo be involved after all Napo was itself formed by the Home Office as a professional association and would not exist if it were not for an initial start up fund from central government. I would therefore disagree that Napo lacks conviction. Napo has grown up and reflects the broad range of views from its diverse membership which includes building bridges with potential allies in defending probation as a profession.

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    1. Napo was instigated by a Clerk to the Justices - Sydney Edridge not The Home Office, the probation governance and profession was in a completely different stage in those days, there were not even Principal Probation Officers and I do not think any SPOs.

      The PI was not formed by practitioners, still has not publicly spoken out about the danger to the public of splitting probation locally. It either needs to turn itself inside out and address those issues PRONTO or just be ignored.

      As for Graham Smith, a clever bloke, I actually spoke with him personally and heard his first hand justification for what some in ILPS considered his deviousness. When I joined ILPS in 1989, there were sarcastic remarks made about the quality of his suits and the much repeated saying of 'would you buy a used car from this man?' but he probably just about had the measure of folk in Whitehall at the time.

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    2. Follow the money Andrew. Edridge had no funds and after the initial meeting in 1910 not a lot happened for two years without cash. A slow trickle of legislation formed what we now recognise as the probation service that the Home Office eventually took over from the voluntary sector in 1941. Some funding had already been obtained from government sources and members of the aristocracy etc. How else do you get offices in Whitehall? It wasn't as clear-cut or transparent as you say and early benefactors may have had a variety of agendas.

      There have been concerns about how the PI was initially funded ie the MoJ gave it £90k and Grayling made some political play with regard to this claiming some credit for its establishment. I would say don't be taken in by the spin. In its infancy Napo actually got funding from a variety of places not all of which might be considered ethical by any standards. I would say it doesn't matter that much as it is not part of TR but should rather be considered as the fallout from the dismantling that TR has forced upon us and we should not dismiss it or ignore it or campaign against it but engage with it and make it what we might want it to be as was the case with NAPO that as you rightly say was instigated by those who were not probation officers or even police court missionaries.

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    3. Isn't some of this dialogue at cross purposes, conflating the origins of probation proper with the union. Historically interesting, but nothing that can sensibly be extrapolated to the present state of the union. As ever, there will be those who believe that Napo just needs to do a bit more networking and its beneficent influence will do the rest and those who think it's time for a serious review of the campaign and the group dynamics and priorities of the leadership. The point about the PI is that Napo is silent. If you actually believe that something is good for the membership and professionalism, then assert it – and stop waiting to see which way the wind blows. You cannot always have it both ways, like signing a framework agreement that was about splitting the service and then afterwards saying we don't agree with the split. Lack of conviction creates a credibility gap.

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    4. Thanks for pulling the discussion back Netnipper!

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  5. I believe the PI was a political sop to allay fears about probation professionalism when TR was developed. It is simply part of the PR rhetoric at which, to be fair, Grayling is an expert and is in reality a con. £90k is peanuts in terms of government support to supposedly establish THE industry body. It is irrelevant and many practitioners have seen through the mere puff of Graylings machinations - and that makes me proud. The PI is nothing and means nothing to the vast majority of probation professionals.
    a PO

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    1. I'd like to know how many PI members actually paid to join.

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    2. Approximately 3.14159265359

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    3. Fucking A!

      Take a bow, 21:36.

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  6. The only reason I joined the Probation Institute was for the kudos of having letters after my name.


    Magnum PI

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  7. I do not understand what was so wrong with the framework agreement ? What was the alternative? Does anyone really think that there was anything better to be had? If so what? Please enlighten me....

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    1. There wasn't an alternative - it was abundantly clear that the MoJ were going to forge ahead regardless, which meant that the potential for securing meaningful concessions was close to zero. As such, signing up to the framework agreement gained nothing for Napo, and lost them credibility and a lot of members. It would have been better if Napo had said "This isn't safe, so we're not signing up to it." We'd still be in the same position in terms of TR implementation, but Napo would be less compromised and its membership less divided.

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    2. I do not agree, the framework IS better than nothing. Please read the framework document - there are protections - and future court action may well result if the employer breaches this - all is not lost. To have failed to sign this, remember the other unions signed it too - can you imagine what SoS would have made of that? immediate death of NAPO - although that may have been preferable for some to the slow fade we seem to be experiencing. My point? NAPO needs urgent action to be saved. But I am utterly sick of non members criticising they do not have the right, simple so if you want a voice then join. But the membership does have that very right and needs to a) start attending branch meetings and shape the business b) get consensus and effect change. But I warn you, it takes effort on top of the day job to do so and there will be a personal cost.

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    3. People are still hurting. Some just aren't ready yet. Disollusioned is not the word.

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    4. I absolutely DO have the right to criticise Napo, whether I'm a member or not. To say otherwise is plainly ridiculous, and you're not going to convince people to join - or rejoin - by telling them they can't be critical until they do.

      I resigned following all the game-playing and lies that surrounded the judicial review that never was. Obviously I know that means I forfeit my right to a say within the union structure, but quite frankly I feel that I have had a greater say in things by posting on here than I ever had as a Napo member. Coming from a life-long trade unionist that is a difficult thing to have realised, but it's true.

      The framework protections are meaningless in comparison to the freedoms that the corporate owners have in the name of restructuring. All that Napo won was EVR for a few - and good luck to those who got it, I don't bear them any ill-will - and guaranteed union recognition for themselves, without which the union would have collapsed under its own meaninglessness.

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    5. Look the simple point is the corporate owners did not exist at the time of the framework agreement - the contracts were not in existence yet - agreement can not be made with entities that did not exist at that point! However the framework agreement does carry obligations forward for the agreed time under condition of sale....it really IS better than nothing and may yet prove its worth. I know one purchaser has "buying out" on its agenda, if it was worthless and gives no protections those discussions would not be starting. Read the document!

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  8. I'm not convinced that such a bed job could have been done by Napo due to dysfunctionality alone. I perhaps suspect an element of sabotage or something similar but for what reason I don't know. Someone above mentioned Tom Tendon as being 'discredited' and 'apparently self serving', however in his resignation letter he said 'I have disagreed with the direction of travel taken by Napo's senior officials'. Napo were aware they could fight individual cases but chose not to. Why? There is more going on and it needs to be exposed.

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    1. *bad not bed*

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    2. I think you are spot on anon 20:02 - the dysfunctionality is about who runs the union on behalf of members? The GS or the Chair? As for the NEC? Toothless. Tom Rendon's problem was he got caught looking after his own interests - but ironically he was right in taking on the GS over TR and especially JR.

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    3. I am aware of a similar discussion at a Napo meeting recently. Questions were asked why do members not trust the general sec and what evidence they had. If we are going to go for a vote of no confidence we need hard evidence rather than feelings of untrust. Where do we get this from? Can we insist on an internal investigation of Napo head office? Who would undertaken it? What other options are there? Will Tom give more details of what went on? Is there somneibe else in the know who will speak up?

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    4. I'm sorry but Tom Rendon did not serve members (or his own principles) well by
      resigning. He should have spelt out his concerns to the NEC at the very least. The NEC (on behalf of members) are employers of the GS and other paid Officials. If Tom had discussed what his concerns were the NEC could have debated and voted either to support him or whomever else or NEC decide to take the issue back to branches.Either way there would have been openness and a mandate as opposed to distraction and confusion at a really key time.

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    5. Good points. Won't argue with that. Point is, for whatever reason he did not do that. That leaves Napo members to regroup and sort thius out. Whatever the problems are they haven't gone away.

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    6. My understanding is that there were many discussions -some in closed session- at NEC and Tom Rendon stated his case. I also get the impression of NEC failing due to its very structure. Business rushed through, volatile disputes leaving little time for reasoned and informed debate, repeated attempts to force agendas....a very unsavoury picture in recent times. Many delegates travel large distances to attend and due to paucity of attendance at branch meetings there is very little grass roots debate about the issues on the agenda. Many NEC reps vote using their individual judgement rather than confirmed branch mandate. That's the reality of how it works at present. The reason? It is now left to the few to do whilst the rest moan...

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    7. Indeed see my posts below at 21.30 and 21.32. I referenced Tom because what he ignored was the importance of openness and debate.These are key in order to maximise real understanding of the issues , joint engagement and cohesion in action all vital to making progress whether you're talking about relationships/Probation or Unions imo. That weakness was evident to me in his actions as Co Chair and sole Chair to me well before his decision to resign

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    8. Apologies have just posted as Anon 21.42 and in trying to edit repeated myself; didn't mean to say "to me" twice ie delete after " Chair and sole Chair"! NEC can exert more influence.It could say (or branches could put forward) that it wanted motions debating as opposed to Cttee reports.It could say it wanted no more meaningless Officers Reports that dont tell you anything.It can do the equiv of AGM in moving next business, it can refer reports back to stop time being used listening to circulated reports being summarised (waste of time) and i stead use time to pose questio s to Officers and Officials and/or generate own debates. To make this work NEC reps need to get act together before hand and Branches should be instrumental in that. There is potential muscle here but it needs planning and co-ordination.

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  9. It seems to me before calling for SGMs, members need to focus on what are their key common concerns (eg re-organising of Union or pay or ??...) and then decide how best to get those issues before a wider audience . The getting concerns to wider audience can be done by getting more than Branch to debate same motion to bring before NEC (there are at least 2 more NECs before Oct AGM) or prepare a motion (s) for AGM. To maximise discussion and member involvement getting more than 1 Branch to debate same motion with aim to bring before NEC is best move imo especially if a change in Union org or TR campaign focus or Negotiating priorities are preferred as the motions could require the relevant Committees to begin work on the issues asap (the motion could incorporate some ref to relevant Cttes seeking volunteers to join Cttee to work on same. I think that is constitutionally feasible?) and then concerns also be brought to AGM within motion(s) which are hopefully then sharper, with progressed ideas as to preferred changes..hope that makes sense?

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  10. Sorry meant to say..getting more than 1 Branch to debate same motion...

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  11. So we are collectively pissed off about the Gen Sec, Tom Rendon and J Ledger, now what?

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    1. Do something about it. Proposals such as suggested by Andrew S H above, for example. Use the constitution to strengthen the union.

      NAPO has no credibility at present. It wandered off towards the end of Judy McKnight's reign (sorry Judy but you outstayed your otherwise excellent tenure) - and never came back when Ledger took the reins. Its still somewhere in the wilderness waiting to be rounded up & returned home. There's a General Election looming - so to paraphrase a recent blog, get a fucking grip.

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    2. And while NAPO's credibility is AWOL & still at large, the 3.14 Club (PI), the MoJ & Bidders are decimating terms & conditions. Admin staff are being sacrificed as I type; qualified PO staff will be next, whether SPO or PO.

      Those who feel "special" are merely being groomed by private enterprise (because its convenient) & will soon feel the sharp biting edge of steel in their backs.

      Profit has no friends.

      Battleflag (feat.PigeonHead) - listen & get wise.

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  12. http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/experts-agree-americas-prison-industrial-complex-is-broken-212

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  13. I'm anon 21.30/21.42 and am due an early night so this is but brief reply to 21.52.Personally Ithink we need focus on ways forward with Union re-organisation rather than analysis of individual GSs and Chairs and ways to improve communication between members and HQ and HQ and members which would make it less likely the deficiencies we are identifying occur again.

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  14. You lot aren't half funny getting all out of your prams. It's over. Accept it and move on. If you can't then move on out.

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    1. Och aye - and you & your chums won't know what's hit you when the new regime settles in. You won't be laughing at anyone then; you'll be wishing for the bad old days when probation were those funny old do-gooders, as a pose to the new breed of processors & jailers.

      I've already moved out, & I'm staying out; but I suspect you'll find yourself more 'in' than 'out'.

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  15. 23.28 what you don't seem to realise is the reason we campaigned and fought and are still discussing TR & ORA is about how unsafe untested and rushed it all is . And is based on the ideological whim of grayling et al. We believe it's morally wrong to make profit from victims, vulnerable people etc and we are concerned for public safety aswell as impact on staff.

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  16. A lively discussion, as I expected. The consensus seems to be a) there's clearly something wrong b) Napo HQ don't get it c) we can't agree what needs to happen next.

    At times like this of course, one would expect clear and direct leadership from the top and I don't mean the paid General Secretary. Is this likely with co-chairs? No.

    The NEC is the only hope and they have to get organised. A dickie bird told me some time ago that they had their e-mail group withdrawn on some pretext or other, the effect being to frustrate any plotting.

    I would suggest it was time that the NEC started their own e-mail group, got talking with each other and collectively exercise some authority over both the chairs and officers. That should focus minds at the top I'm sure.

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  17. Following a rather nasty incident at our office on 11\2 it became blatantly obvious that nobody knew how to respond; made all the more frighting as the systems in place, desk alarms, safety doors, all failed and the incident could so easily have had serious health and well being implications for the pregnant colleague involved, as well as others, a courier, other staff and service users! In the absence of any CRC/NPS policy or advise, I resorted to the old violence to staff procedures, ensuring the colleague was safe and the potential for further violence and harm being caused limited, contain the problem (SU) and get someone to dial 999 as the immediate risk of harm was very high! There were managers around but none knew what to do at the crucial moment, it was suggested that our absent team manager, would deal with it on his return the next day! Unfucking believable! Local napo rep sent me an NPS briefing, a flow chart, dated 12/2 on what to do following an "accident or incident" it's a bloody process of who is to notify who, not a mention of victimised staff, or what to do when the "she*t hits the fan" and actual physical and verbal violence is being dished out to colleagues! Due to the catalogue of failures, I know people who would have sued the arse off those who failed so spectacularly to fulfill their duty of care to my colleague, but she responded as most po's would, came in the next day with the objective of having a good day, to put the previous day behind her!

    If only C Grayling " the shit that has to be flushed" following the election (paraphrased quote from Jerry Hayes, Tory and Barrister) had anything like the level of this colleague's integrity we wouldn't be in this mess..

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