Friday, 27 February 2015

Worth a Second Look

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I've been taking a 'back seat' of late and allowed the blog to coast along, sustained mostly with 'guest blogs'. I think without exception they've been great, injected some variety and differing perspectives and allowed me to have a bit of a rest. The viewing figures tell me they're hugely popular and I sincerely hope others may be in the pipeline. 

But it's not just the 'guest' pieces that provide added interest and stimulation - I find many of the 'comment' contributions are brilliant, but don't always get the attention they deserve due to the alarming speed the blog moves at. So, in order to help rectify this, here's a selection of stuff that particularly caught my eye recently and deserve a second look in my view:-      

I've been in the service over 30 years but take away the drugs and offending and the views expressed could have come from my mouth.

I read an article once about a Doctor who advocated prescribing drugs (heroin) for those that needed them. They were no longer allowed to practice in this way and our (now privatised) local drug agency is focusing increasingly on reduction. One of my 60yrs + clients, a long-term user (although rarely illegally these days,) is very worried at his dose being reduced - his demons are too deep-seated for him to contemplate a completely drug free life. Luckily he has a great GP who agrees.

This job has made me hate drugs. So many articulate, intelligent, thoughtful people with lives wasted because of them. Seems to me though that people don't set out to become addicted to anything so wouldn't choose addiction as a lifestyle - it's an unwelcome byproduct. The real damage is done by the economic pressures drug addiction causes for those without a mega income. To prescribe drugs to those who needed them would reduce this tenfold, but even some of my colleagues look askance at me when I say this.

I don’t agree that social work trained vs those who joined later are necessarily so different. There have always been those who took a more punitive view but I do think the role of a PO has been ‘sold’ differently in latter years and maybe this has attracted more of those who don’t question the issues so much.

I have always felt that Probation has never proclaimed or publicly been lauded for the things it was best at. Always the rhetoric has been to 'sex up' the 'tough' side. This has been true throughout my career except that the 'toughening' language has increased proportionately to appease successive governments. 'Breach them', 'recall' them, 'demanding' programmes', 'national standards', 'robust' approaches to protect the public. I've been guilty myself when writing reports to persuade courts to seek non custodial sentences for someone. '..this will restrict his liberty x times per week..' etc. 

Underneath, I really believe that valuing someone, providing a bit of a shoulder sometimes, showing a interest, being a bit of a champion, the odd befriending fund payment at a well timed juncture, sometimes plain old ‘damage limitation’ is just as effective a way of helping and preventing victims.

This blog is NOT "full of personal abuse", it raises many diverse topics and is a vehicle for (mainly, but not exclusively) practitioners having a voice. It is clear for many years but emphatically with TR, that staff have been removed from any right to comment and effectively, silenced. I came from the private sector and couldn't believe the culture of dislike of management but then realised I had got this wrong. Management in probation do not like the staff and once you realise this you can spot this on a daily basis. Strange word to use 'like' but it is a simple word from which words such as respect, esteem and positivity flow.

So, what you read here is those without a voice, in a culture where it is now difficult to have one, expressing their views. Managers appear to be there not to lead but to functionally impose a system which is undeveloped by research and practice and fundamentally, they do not believe in.

I was appalled to learn that the former Chief Executive of DTV Trust, and then some of his Directors regularly spoke to the managers with "JFDI". It is an abusive term with bullying overtones and wholly unacceptable in the management of people. Yet, did any managers raise this? No. So what attitudes do you think those managers displayed to their staff? Of course, never voicing "JFDI" literally, but modelling it's sentiments, it would be impossible not to when that is the standard they were managed to. Any managers reading this ask yourself honestly, when did you last genuinely say something positive to your team or individual staff?

The biggest overhead of the probation business is staff and they are simply, at all levels, not managed well. Look at the cost of staff sickness and how often this is due to inadequate management. The culture of policies and procedures has overridden managers developing, or God forbid using, soft skills. Indeed look at the selection of managers and how soft skills simply are not rated. Any problem? Use the policy.... is it a grievance or code of conduct.... lets hide behind the bureaucracy of what we have written down....then we do not have to get involved.....

There is something rotten in the culture of this organisation and opinion, when from staff, is not "personal attack". It may be written in frustration and out of the need to 'get it out' but I often find what is posted here interesting and sometimes funny. Occasionally overstepping the mark yes, but then, also self policed by Jim or later contributors.

Can I just try to clarify for myself how things have developed since last July 2014 - apologies if this is a painful & dumb process for some, but I really am struggling here...

Trusts are dispensed with, and operational staff are transferred wholesale to either the CRC or NPS on random criteria, e.g. what name came out of the hat, did your face fit, were you off sick, were you on secondment, etc. Appeals are regarded as staff handing in their notice to quit - i.e. do what you're told or walk.

Those referred to as "HQ staff", e.g. directors, executives, Board Members, HR, finance, IT - they were all (or mostly) offered the chance of EVR because the Trusts were being dissolved and their roles no longer existed. Am I right in thinking that those staff were also offered the opportunity to defer their EVR so they could assist with the transition arrangements? 

So, as far as I am aware many (but not all) of those "HQ" staff seem to have reappeared in either NPS or CRC roles. For example, a Chief of an area is awarded EVR and is then successful in being appointed CEO of a CRC on a similar salary. S/he then remains in post (having the privilege of "suck-it-and-see" period) until shortly before the EVR deferment deadline, gives notice & walks away with EVR... perhaps to become a consultant on healthy daily rates? Or perhaps S/he has already taken their 67 weeks' money and (on a CEO salary that's a few pennies to play with) has been actively working with CRCs to ensure the 'new order'?

Similar could perhaps be applied to a Finance Director, or HR Manager. These were people in privileged positions within the Trusts who not only knew in advance what was happening, they were potentially involved in the attempts to set up staff mutuals, involved in the "commercially sensitive" negotiations & information coming from MoJ, who had access to information not permitted to be shared with the frontline cannon-fodder.

In many areas (as ever, with the exception of admin staff) the "HQ" roles were always well remunerated roles. So (and again this does not apply to all) they have had handsome payouts (or at least those payouts are in the pipeline) and slotted into new roles in the newly created organisations which they were involved in creating, i.e. the CRCs.

Their roles could, and perhaps there is a case for SHOULD, have been transferred across in the same way that PO, PSO, UPW and admin staff were "TUPE'd" over. Those frontline operational staff are equally in the same jobs but in new organisations - why were they excluded from EVR?

It seems very much, looking from afar, that many probation staff have been more severely abused than perhaps they had already imagined, whilst others have profited handsomely. And this on top of the fact (as predicted but now being widely realised) that the CRC bidders haven't a clue what they are supposed to be doing and they won't staff their organisations to an appropriate level because staff are the most expensive commodity - which means reduced profits.

So, as raised by many, many others - the promises to provide are falling by the wayside already. MoJ insisted they could rush this through, but its now evident that was at the expense of rigorous checks, public safety, staff morale and the loss of what was a world-class service.

Grayling, Spurr, Maiden, Allars and ALL those involved in forcing through the omnishambles that is TR and all it encompasses should be utterly ashamed of their actions and of blood money they've extracted from the public purse. The TR structural disaster is here - Now. Sad to say, its only a matter of time before the human disasters created by TR start to hit the headlines.

A review of John Seddons new book The Whitehall Effect noted the following “governments have continuously tried to improve standards in public services while reducing costs but the claims for actual improvements are often “doubtful” while costly catastrophes have become commonplace. To deal with rising demand, governments have tried outsourcing, setting targets, increasing competition and choice, publishing league tables, using large-scale IT systems, and seeking economies of scale, to name but a few of the much-vaunted reforms. Most of the time, according to Seddon, this has resulted in higher overall costs, less efficiency, lower staff morale, an expanding public sector, and poorer quality of services”.

My first encounter wit prison was in 1977. As a remand prisoner I could have a visit every day. My visitors could bring me up to 200 ciggies, a can and a half of beer or half a bottle of table wine, any amount of treats such as crisps, chocolate or fruit, and I could even have my dinner cooked at home and handed in.

The staff were typically ex service men (there were no women then), and they worked 12 to 14 hours a day because after so many hours overtime was paid at time and a half, rising to double time after so many hours again. Staff weren't recruited locally, they were allocated a prison after finishing training, and they worked from hand written lists because there was no computers. There were good 'screws' and there was bad ones.

By 1987 there was no beer or wine allowed, and treats, ciggies and your dinner was also off the menu. Staff were recruited locally, sat behind a computer on the desk, and worked far fewer hours as overtime had been exchanged for time in lieu. Promotion processes had also changed, and climbing the ladder had become more accessible for those on the shop floor. There were good 'screws' and there was bad ones.

Those joining the service in 1987, found themselves in a very different place than those that were there in 1977, still prison officers, still making assessments and managing a population of imprisoned people with all the challenges that brings. Things were very different, but they only knew the job as it was when they came to it, and I imagine the thought of a prisoner being allowed to have his Sunday dinner and a bottle of wine handed in on a visit must have been a very strange concept indeed.

All still prison officers, but some boarding the train at a later stop. Different terrain, different landscape, and not knowing the landscape the train had already travelled. That too is true of probation. Those that's been there longer will remember a longer journey and seen much more of the landscape. Those newer to the service will only know the job they came. You start your journey from what ever stop you get on.

So for me as an outsider all this PO-SPO stuff is rather futile and unproductive. It's not come about as a consequence of TR, rather TR has created a platform for long held beliefs and ideals to be voiced. I think it would be more productive and cause less division in the ranks, if everyone accepted that they all just got on at different stops, and however the landscape changes from the last stop, your all on the same journey.

I'm not sure how to explain this thought clearly but... There seems to be a general malaise that's swept the nation whereby those with significant roles & responsibility display crass stupidity, myopic decision-making & a total lack of wanting to face reality. It's as widespread as the Triffids & affects all aspects of our lives including politics, NHS, police, probation, child protection, cricket, football... Anything!

Not a single person, or group of people, want to accept any responsibility for fucking up. They all want eye-watering sums of cash, they all want to be seen to be shiny & kool & "made", but none seem to understand what it is they're supposed to actually doing. And when it all goes tits up? They try to cover their arses by blaming anyone & everyone else or they invent yet another farcical game of "pass the parcel", where some poor schmuck ends up carrying the can.

TTG? Volunteer & be subjected to rigorous checks, have NOMS rummaging in your bank accounts, your private life & peering up your back passage looking for a reason to hang you out to dry? Child abuse in Parliamentary circles? They're long gone. They packed their bags, burned the house down & left the planet. MPs expenses? The new rules cover their arses so completely we'll never have chance to complain ever again. Note that they haven't amended their grasping, greedy behaviour - they've just closed the curtains so we can't see who's ripping us off.

Tax? Probation? NHS? Education? Etc etc etc. Shocking, shameful & shit. And the cricket didn't go too well either.

TR and the Refuseniks

There was a comment on the Guest Blog 25 suggesting that the blog commentariat was too negative in criticising the presentation methods at a venue. How it would have been more helpful if constructive suggestions on improving the presentation had been made.

I thought, well, would the feedback on the event have been less negative if there had been 3D wall-to-wall Powerpoints with surround sound; if instead of no biscuits, there had been caviar and champagne at break time; if all the presenters has been RADA trained and so on. Now, all this would have put lipstick on the pig, but no one would have been fooled that it was still a pig.

There may be those who believe that presentation and propaganda are all that matters – that the medium is the message. That as long as the sales technique is slick you can sell anything, including bad ideas. But I don't think this is true. The problem that the TR advocates face in the workforce is that TR is an idea that many fundamentally reject – they reject the idea of contracting out the delivery of probation services to the private sector, they believe that it is immoral to make a profit in this way. No matter how well they perform in their job they will never be satisfied with the notion that that performance is making a profit for shareholders, they believe it's in the public good for probation services to be delivered by the public sector. They hate Bleak Futures and despise Missing Links.

Now this may frustrate managers, who want everyone to embrace the corporate message and speak positively about it. Managers have to be on-message with TR, as they would not last long if they were known to be criticising policy, This even includes middle managers who have to be seen to be mouthing support of TR. But practitioners don't have to mouth support, that's not their job. Their job is, as we well know: JFDI. And most will have to JFDI because they need to pay mortgages.

They will miss out on some job satisfaction, because fundamentally they are doing a job in a way that clashes with their sense of right and wrong. They will not feel positive about working in a split service and they know that they have been forced into a situation that was ideologically imposed and in defiance of all the sound evidence on how best to deliver probation services.

So even the most perfectly managed event will fail if one objective is to get the workforce enthused with, and enthusiastic about, TR. It will fail because TR is not just seen as bad in an operational sense, but is morally rejected by many in the workforce. And no surprise that TR feedback is critical. To embrace it would require not just selling your body to the corporation, but your soul as well – and that ain't going to happen.


  1. On the TTG theme, this link takes you to an interesting PDF document:

    1. The link doesn't seem to work, but found this:-

      The Breaking Free Health and Justice Package comprises two evidence-based treatment and recovery programmes for substance misuse and mental health difficulties – Breaking Free Online and Pillars of Recovery – that have been developed specifically for use in prisons.

      Allows the consistent and seamless delivery of effective psychosocial interventions between custody and community settings

      Approved by NOMS as an Effective Regime Intervention (PSO 4350), with the online component accessed via Virtual Campus

      Commissioned on a licence basis so there are no restrictions on the number of offenders that can be treated

      Strengthens ‘through the gate’ provision as offenders can use Breaking Free Online in prison and the community post-release

      Guides offenders to plan for their release and take positive steps to avoid relapse and overdose

      Builds recovery capital through Pillars of Recovery, a fully manualised group and stand-alone keyworking programme

      A separate version of the Health and Justice Package which has been tailored to the needs of probation services is also available.

    2. The link works it just doesn't open a Web page, instead it downloads a powerpoint presentation. Some browsers may block the auto download.

    3. The link does work it just downloads as a Powerpoint presentation

    4. "Strategic overview"

      •The Secretaries of State for Health and Justice agree that new funding would be made available from the Department of Health

      •Funding aimed at improving access for people with drug and or alcohol dependency in custody and ‘through the prison gate’ to existing substance misuse treatment and associated health services in the community

      •Announced as part of Transforming Rehabilitation Strategy
      May 2013

    5. The Project

      •DH funded initiative with NOMS, NHS England and Public Health England
      •Announced as part of Transforming Rehabilitation Strategy May 2013
      1.Test new pathway approaches to tackling substance misuse and building sustainable recovery through the gate in particular for those serving <12 months
      2.Encourage, incentivise and engage Service Users to engage and take responsibility for managing their recovery and rehabilitation
      3.Improve alignment between commissioners along the offender journey
      •Range of new products including: Drug testing, alcohol brief interventions, prison TOP, Recovery Housing, Computer Assisted Therapy
      •Roll out through tri-partite governance

    6. •Improve the alignment between commissioners along the offender journey

      •Up to 5,000 offenders a year in the NW would receive additional support in custody and on release

      •Not a pilot – but a test for up to a two year period to develop existing provision and enhance delivery

      •Learning from this approach used to inform wider roll out in the new system in line with the projected timescales of Transforming Rehabilitation Programme (TR)

      So why was this project never held up as a pilot for TR? What's been hidden?

    7. Drug addiction is a social problem not just a problem for the addict and as such the social problem needs to be addressed from a dual perspective. One that assists the needs of society just as much as the needs of the addict.
      It's worth noting that Britian at one stage was the biggest importer of herion in the world. It was a commodity that got us our tea from China and the lease of Hong Kong.
      The trouble now however, is that addiction whilst being acknowledged as an illness, being in possession of the materials needed to support that illness is deemed to be criminal.
      To my mind there seems to be only one solution, and although it may not resolve the individuals addiction problems, it would impact greatly on their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of society as a whole.
      Prescription based and regulated supply, and registration of the addict.
      Such a move would make a vast impact on the cost to society that addiction brings. At the moment, if caught with £20s worth of herion the costs far outweigh the crime. Police time, prossecution costs, magistrates and solicitor fees, a term of imprisonment, probation and medical assessment costs, aswell as 12 months supervision now too. Those costs whilst significant don't account for what you pinched in the first place to get the £20, the agencies you're refered to for your addiction or accommodation.
      And it seems even worse when you think that £10 will buy you 0.2 of a gramme of which at least 90% is pollutent. £50 gets you therefore 1gramme of which only 10% is herion.
      Could you not provide 10 addicts a day with their need from just 1 gramme of pure herion? And what would the cost of that 1 gramme be to society? I'd arguee, far far less then 10 people costing the amount of the things mentioned above?
      The risk to life is also far reduced. You know exactly what your putting in your bloodstream, and its not full of god knows what.
      I know they give methadone as treatment, but thats just as addictive, and I've never really understood it. Would you treat an alcoholic on a bottle of whisky a day by giving them a 3ltr bottle of super strength cider- even if it got them off the whisky?
      Addiction is an individuals problem, but the legal and social constructs built around it creates a great number of probems for society and a great drain on resources.
      It's a no brainer for me, if you don't stop treating it in punative terms believing fear of consequence will resolve the problem, then you may as well give up.


    8. In my 1960 Guineas book of records, it states the no. of 'known narcotic addicts' in the UK as 442. Read that again 442!. That was at a time when addicts were prescribed drugs. I'd rather that was the way addiction was dealt with, instead of victims like Alan Barnes were targeted by thugs for their fix. Tony

    9. Personally, I'd make all drugs legal, but if you committed just *one* single crime in furtherance of your addiction, then draconian punishments would ensue., and anything goes. Do to yourself what you like, but the minute you start hurting others to do it, then any rights or privileges you have to a normal life are immediately forfeit. Oh, and the 900lb gorilla in the room that addicts don't like to talk about? That their addiction is purely, totally and completely, their OWN CHOICE!

  2. Annon 09:54
    If you're a bidder in negotiation for a TR contract, and been told all this new funding and focus is being made available under the TR umbrella you'd be rubbing your greedy little hands together given that you've already done a little research and aware of the fair amount of community based agencies involved with drug rehabilitation that you can also tap into and refer to for free.
    It's the promise of a great amount of assistance for helping deal with the most problematic and chaotic of the <12 cohort that will be under your supervision if you're a successful bidder.
    The reality is that many of the agencies you hoped to tap into for free will no longer be in opperation later this year as central funding for such organisations is being devolved to local councils as from the 1st April.
    Most councils are currently in the processes of deciding on who'll get what next year, whilst having to deal with massive regional budget cuts themselves.
    And in reality, when you look at what the project offers to combat substance misuse?
    It's nowt in my opinion but a marketing ploy to sweeten TR bidders and contract holders.


    1. Cardiff County Council have proposed to cut the budget for drug and alcohol counselling & rehabilitation services to the bone, proposing that the service can be run by volunteers instead (2015/2016.)
      Surely , austerity does not mean making the vulnerable who want to make a change in their lives – even more vulnerable by withdrawing esential services from them !

    2. Local Government in UK is pretty much a flawed system depending on National Government for funding and not able to raise money as it thinks best. Then it has a number of statutory duties like education and social services etc., even though much work can now be contracted out. Then there are optional tasks and I suspect that is the position of drug and alcohol counselling/rehabilitation and also grant funding charitable bodies.

      I am surprised so many councils continue to undertake much of what is optional rather than just do what is statutorily required.

      I believe a root and branch review of Local Government is long overdue as - typical of UK - so much has been piecemeal, like the devo Manc health stuff seems.

      I think if it is researched thoroughly it could be shown that the 1888 major reorganisation, was never fully implemented and synchronised with the former structures, hence, for example the involvement of Magistrates with the probation services gradually evolved until there is now no local democratic or non nationally directed or contracted probation service governance at all. I realise Probation did not become national until 1907 - when it might have been part of the newish local authority work, rather than becoming administered via the long established Justices of the Peace system.

      It is very sad for those in need of services that local government is ideally placed to provide but does not due to an inability to raise the finance to do it properly.

  3. Staff Mutual CRCs - Is there one PROPER mutual Probation CRC?

    All staff have opportunity to be a member of the company and not required to buy more than a nominal shareholding - then all staff democratically able to elect a board of directors with no other body, also appointing directors? - I think not - and therefore suggest the term "staff mutual" is not used without qualification.

  4. DTV ARCC is the only staff mutual me thinks...and only a proportion of the staff became members....

    1. Isn't ARCC just made up with a staff mutual being one part of the organisation and yes proportion of staff are members and can and do vote for board members to be part of the ARCC board. ARCC itself is a not for profit organisation so will reinvest any money made. NOTE it is also a not for loss company

  5. My understanding of the term mutual would mean that there are none, just as the Trusts weren't actually Trusts. It all spin to justify and distort.