Wednesday, 11 March 2015


There's nothing like an impending election to flush out the true colours of politicians, together with an unbelievable quantity of utter bollocks that ranges from the blatantly untrue, to the completely ignorant. First off there's this from the 'Keep Probation Public, not Private' facebook page:-

People, we got to get emailing candidates for the General Election. A probation supporter emailed their Liberal Democrat candidate stating the Lib Dems sold off Probation. The candidate asked Lord McNally to respond this is the response...

It is simply not true that we "sold off" the probation service. Both Simon and I have been strong supporters of the service and the difficult job probation officers do in our criminal justice system.

The Conservatives had been critical of probation in opposition and, given a free hand, there is little doubt that they would have abolished the service. It was the Liberal Democrats who prevented them from doing so. Under our influence the most serious cases have been retained for the National Probation Service. For the first time we now have a National Probation Service. Probation was always the poor relation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) with the Prison service being the dominant partner (there was not a single probation officer on the NOMS main board). The reforms we have brought in provide flexibility and provide for "through the gate" and post sentence supervision for offenders serving less than 12 months whilst retaining serious case supervision and court assessments for the new national service. Provision has also been made for the creation of a Chartered Institute of Probation which would give enhanced professional status for probation officers.

The new structure provides for the active participation of NGOs, Charities and the Voluntary Sector in offender rehabilitation - and many have taken the opportunity to become involved. I believe the reforms we made will deliver a better service, particularly for those serving short sentences (the most prolific re-offenders) and will allow the Probation Service to go forward with enhanced status and increased responsibility.

Given the financial crisis we inherited, the alternative would have been draconian cuts which would have undermined probation with non of the benefits of our reforms. So to say we "sold off" the probation service is to replace facts with a slogan.

In the Clacton Gazette, Tory turn-coat Douglas Carswell MP ably demonstrates his complete ignorance of the criminal justice system:-  

Meat cleaver attacker who was on licence 'should never have been free to commit horrific crime'

A BRAVE couple who helped to save a neighbour after discovering her lying bleeding in the street have blamed the Probation Service for allowing her attacker to be freed. Mum-of-four Ashley Arnold was found in the road near her home after being attacked with a meat cleaver by boyfriend Kerry Roberts. Neighbours Bryan and Margaret Whitcomb rushed to her aid. They called for the police and helped give her first aid until paramedics arrived.

Mr Whitcomb said Roberts should never have been free to commit the horrific attack on his then girlfriend. He was on licence at the time, after being jailed for six years for setting fire to a former girlfriend’ s home. “I don’ t think Roberts should have been out on licence,” said Mr Whitcomb. “I blame probation for letting him out – they should have kept him in. The man clearly needed help. I have spoken to the poor woman since. She’s terribly scarred, but said she's getting over it."

MP Douglas Carswell also hit out at the probation service. He said: “How many horrendous crimes does someone have to commit before probation realises someone has to be locked up? What we need is a criminal justice system that punishes people and sticks to that punishment. Probation has had a long history of encouraging criminals to move to our area and they seem to be on the side of the offender, not the law-abiding majority."

The Ministry of Justice said offenders given determinate prison sentences are released on licence at the halfway point of their sentence. The remaining half is served in the community on licence where they are subject to strict conditions and controls. If offenders breach these they are liable to be recalled to prison.

A spokesman said: "Our sympathies are with the victim and her family following this horrific crime. Public protection is our priority and we are determined to have the best possible systems in place to supervise offenders in the community and protect the public. In all cases of serious further offending, a review is carried out to identify any learning for the management of future cases."

Meanwhile the Tories proper, in the shape of Francis Maude, continue to demonstrate their pernicious ways as campaigning gets going in earnest. This from Civil Service World:-

Lucy Powell brands Francis Maude reform update a 'pre-election union-bashing exercise'

The government's reforms to trade union activity in the civil service have saved £26m a year, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has announced, but Labour branded his latest update a "pre-election union-bashing exercise".

Ministers have moved to reduce the amount of paid time off that reps working in departments spend on union activity, arguing they "cannot be exempt from the current cross-government drive for efficiency". They have also vowed to end the automatic deduction of union dues from civil servant's salaries, known as 'check-off'.

Updating MPs today, Maude hailed progress in reducing the number of officials in the public sector working on union matters. "Today I can tell the House that the cost of trade union facility time has dropped by nearly 75% from £36m in 2011 to just over £10m now, saving taxpayers £26m a year," Maude told the House.

He added: "The cost has fallen from 0.26% of the pay bill to just 0.07% for the latest rolling year to date, well below the benchmark we set of 0.1%. I can also reveal that the number of full-time trade union officials on the public's payroll has fallen from 200 to just eight today.

"The civil service is now over a fifth smaller like-for-like than it was in 2010, and I expect the overall number of representatives to continue to fall over the coming years."

Maude revealed that Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had written to the permanent secretaries of government departments to "remind them" of their obligation to end payroll check-off. And he said eight departments - including HMRC and the Ministry of Defence - had "served notice to the trade unions" that they plan to stop the practice.

But his statement was criticised by Labour's Lucy Powell, who said the government's reform attempts were politically motivated. "There is absolutely nothing new in this statement today and one wonders what his motives are," the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office said.

Maude rejected the charge, saying the government recognised that the presence of trade union officials in department was "helpful" in the "resolution of disputes and grievances. What we're concerned with here is the abuse of it,” he said. “And the abuse of paid time-off in facility time for people, large numbers of civil servants, at the public expense to attend union conferences with the expenses paid, that is not acceptable. And that is what we have called time on."

So, a saving of £26 million to be trumpeted, but not quite so much publicity for this as revealed by The Register:-

Gov departments still splashing BILLIONS on big-ticket IT projects
Mad Frankie Maude's one-time Cabinet Office axemen fling cash around like confetti

Big Whitehall departments got the green light to splash more than a billion pounds on IT projects last year, data analysis by The Register can reveal. A total of £1.4bn was handed out to the six largest government departments according to their spend exemption data, which is made available as part of the government's commitment to publish all spending over £25,000. The money was in addition to the cost of running IT, with the same six spending £2.3bn just to keep the screens on in 2013/14.

Since 2010 all spending above £5m has to go through the Cabinet Office for approval. The most expensive project to get the go ahead was a £257m seven-year ERP shared services programme for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). This was for the department to join the Cabinet Office's outsourced shared services centre from November 2014.

It followed an embarrassing £56m IT write-off of the MoJ's own shared services programme last year. The cost of the new programme also includes extensions and upgrades to MoJ IT systems and Oracle licences. The Department for Work and Pensions was given approval for £365m worth of projects. Yet the DWP also has one of the poorest records for IT write-offs since the spending approvals were introduced.

The DWP may have to can all but £34m in IT of nearly £700m spent on its disastrous Universal Credit project, according to government spending watchdog the National Audit Office. The NAO has also said the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service saved £91m in 2013/14 via the spend controls. This was less than the department had initially claimed. In the last 12 months the government wasted more than £100m on failed or cancelled IT projects, according to the Tax Payers' Alliance last month

Of course probation staff in the NPS are now civil servants and both Napo and Unison have been given cursory notice about check-off:-

Dear All, 

Check-off facility within Ministry of Justice/NOMS/NPS 

In December 2013 the Cabinet Office asked departments to review the provision of check-off facilities to their trade unions. Following a management review of the check-off facility the Ministry of Justice is minded to remove it for the following reasons: 

1. There is no statutory obligation for employers to provide this service and in principle we believe that the trade unions and their members should make arrangements for the collection of subscriptions between themselves without using the employer as an intermediary. Further, we do not believe that there would be any detrimental impact on any employee as a result of withdrawing check-off as any member of staff who currently subscribes to a union via payroll deduction will easily be able to pay their subscription via an alternative method and continue their union membership. 

2. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 places a new statutory obligation on unions to provide an annual membership audit certificate (MAC) to the certification officer. The removal of check-off would align with this obligation in that unions alone would be in control of their membership data. 

3. The administration of check-off needs to comply with the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and if MoJ was to breach its legal obligations in this regard it could find itself at risk of an Employment Tribunal claim. Withdrawing check-off would eliminate this risk. 

This letter formally opens consultation regarding our proposal to remove the check-off facility across MoJ and its agencies. The consultation period will close on 23 March 2015. A one hour meeting has been arranged on 4 March at 15:00 to discuss the matter in room 5.12A, Clive House and all unions are invited to send one representative per union (or per bargaining unit for NOMSTUS & PSJIC). I would be grateful if you confirm a name to Alicia John ( In addition you are welcome to provide comments in writing via your NOMS ER lead contact. 

We acknowledge that a decision to remove check-off would result in you needing to communicate with your members around alternative methods for paying their subscriptions. If the final decision is that check-off will be removed we would provide three months’ notice which would enable you to engage with your members and ensure they have alternative payment arrangements in place before the removal of check-off. If required, we would also be willing to provide reasonable workplace access for your reps to communicate with members however paid facility time would not be provided for this trade union activity. 

Yours sincerely

Francis Stuart 
Deputy Head of NOMS Employee Relations


  1. Mr Whitcomb said Roberts should never have been free to commit the horrific attack on his then girlfriend. He was on licence at the time, after being jailed for six years for setting fire to a former girlfriend’ s home. “I don’ t think Roberts should have been out on licence,” said Mr Whitcomb. “I blame probation for letting him out – they should have kept him in. The man clearly needed help. I have spoken to the poor woman since. She’s terribly scarred, but said she's getting over it."

    Unfortunately probation has no say whatsoever about whether or not a determinate sentenced prisoner gets let out at the halfway point of their sentence so to blame probation for "letting" this offender out is ridiculous and shows a woeful lack of understanding amongst the general populace about what probation does and is for. The only way that probation is involved in the release of offenders is in respect of indeterminately sentenced offenders undergoing the parole process. Is Carswell therefore suggesting that a) no one gets released on licence even non-violent offenders or b) that everyone should have an indeterminate sentence and have to go through the parole process before being released on licence? The MoJ's message about why determinate sentenced prisoners are released on licence simply isn't getting across to the public. One wonders why not. In respect of the particular offender mentioned in this attack, well clearly locking him up didn't change him or deal with the issues that caused him to offend in the first place so you could better argue that the prison service failed to do their bit in the equation which would make the probation bit of the equation more likely to fail. In any case, locking anyone up indefinitely as carswell seems to be suggesting simply isn't going to solve the problems. Until we have a prison service fit for purpose that actually rehabilitates offenders, society will continue to experience such failures.

    Wow. I never thought I'd be defending probation but in this case it is clearly the prison service that failed and not probation

    1. In the format we've been working to over the last few years its hard to point at anyone other than the Government - this one and the previous one; they failed the electorate, they failed the victims, and they failed the perpetrator. No structured provision of public services, too much time spent schmoozing privateers, public school blame culture and no focused forward thinking.

      A disgraceful abandonment of public duty.

    2. Even if he was past the supervision and in the 'at risk' period, we are going to be scrutinised, so best to get that over first, before slamming everyone else as ignorant.

    3. What are you talking about anon 15:31?
      The abuse from Carswel was about probation 'letting him out' when it is clear probation had no say in letting him out. The end.


    " @HMIProbation Our online consultation is not live yet. We will notify stakeholders when it can be completed. "

    AND a link to HMIP's Project Outcome Website: -

    1. I guess there is a lot of "Politics" in the HMIP's plans to merely focus on the outcomes of Probation work; which avoids them needing to take any sort of position on the policy to split Probation agencies so that there are two functioning probation agencies serving every area of England and Wales.

      The 'split' itself leads to confusion and misunderstandings for all and sundry, (e.g. see article quoted from Clacton paper above).

      Misunderstandings seem inevitable, even if the arrangements for coordinating casework, so that when necessary, client transfers & liaison between the agencies happens seamlessly and smoothly!

  3. Now it's the Chartered Institute of Probation, which it isn't, as apparently chartered institutes come with royal approval. Whenever the split is mentioned and the splitters are on the defensive, they always throw in mention of the PI, usually alongside £46 in your pocket. The PI is toothless, it has no powers whatsoever. It may have hopes for a better world, a professional register, for example, but hopes are for faith-based entities, not for an organisation that is allegedly there to protect and promote professional standards.

    The PI is akin to the Rorschach ink-blot test. It welcomes your projections - your interests, agendas and biases, etc. - and you will find in it whatever suits your purposes.

  4. There's a puff piece for Purple Futures in the Guardian today, about the Intensive Alternatives to Custody scheme. Could have been written by Grayling himself, almost no mention that this sort of thing has been run many times over the years by Trusts, and PF come in and take the credit.

    1. Do you have a link?


    3. I thought the article was a great explanation of good probation work. Factual, professional and informative. Nice to read a thoughtful piece about the great work that's still going on out there.

    4. Maybe good traditional probation work.

      However also, I suspect that article and Anons Comment at 23:11 is the work of Public Relations professionals who are making the best of what they have to publicise whilst keeping a lid on the difficult stuff.

  5. On 14\1\2015 I wrote to UKIP Head Office:
    Would you be kind enough to let me know your views on the current Government's TR agenda. How will you, if in government achieve TTG support for all prisoners serving less than 12 months, leaving custody?

    Reply on 15\1\2015.
    Thanks, your email has been forwarded to our spokesman on Justice and Home Affairs - Diane James MEP for attention.

    Me on 27\1\2015 - Can you respond to my email?

    On 27\1\2015 - Many thanks for your query which I am forwarding to Diane James MEP, but at a different e-mail address. I have a feeling that the address we were using had a few problems and Diane might not have received your original on.

    On 8\2\2015 From Diane James to her PA and Phil Birch:
    Please can you two liaise on this and provide me with
    - an understanding of what this is all about
    - how I might respond

    Diane James UKIP Group Leader Waverley BC, UKIP MEP South East Region UK

    8\2\2015 from Phil Birch to Diane James: (exactly as written)
    Hi Diane
    Leave it with us and we shall cracking on with getting the information for you.

    2\3\2015 To me from Diane James's PA.

    Firstly, many apologies for not getting back to you with more information and answers to your questions. In order to answer your question on a personal level, I would be very grateful if you could tell us a bit about yourself. Which constituency do you live in and do you have any personal experience of the system? It really helps to answer your question about support to prisoners serving less than 12 months. I look forward to haring from you and of course, any views that you have.

    Well I had to restrain myself as most of my views would not be to ukips liking. I did say:
    I just want to know ukip's policy and plans, it's not personal. I am the electorate and I am entitled to ask!

    Not had anything back, and I don't really expect one. Is it possible these people are given power come May? It scares me to think they could get enough votes to actually influence how the country is run, just cannot imagine any one of UKIP 'leaders' having a seat in cabinet!

    That's politics by Lidl?

  6. Can probation officers run for council elections now we are civil servants?


    1. I believe serving civil servants are disqualified from standing for elected office. Electoral commission website clarifies.

    2. The Electoral Commission website does not clarify it for me.

      I am not clear that there is an absolute bar to a Civil Servant being a Local Government Councillor; either as a Parish/Town or Community Councillor, or as a County, Unilateral Borough, or District Councillor: -

  7. The Isle of Wight has two prisons – Parkhurst and Albany. There was a third – Camphill – but it closed. Grayling was on the Island last week. Guess which 'prison' he visited? Camphill! Had he visited Albany, he would have heard about the fire, that started in a cell but led to a full-scale emergency and 18 prisoners in hospital. There was panic at one point with trapped prisoners being told to saturate towels and hold them to their faces when the electronic cell doors initially failed to open. Maybe I missed this in the news at the time or was it supressed? Not a minor incident as A wing was shutdown for weeks. But not something that Grayling thought worth a visit – preferring an empty prison instead.

    1. Interesting behaviour by Grayling reported here in the Torygraph:-

      Chris Grayling, the Justice secretary, was one of more than 100 Conservative who voted against plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain packets in the House of Commons on Wednesday

      Chris Grayling, the Justice secretary, was one of more than 100 Conservative who voted against plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain packets in the House of Commons on Wednesday.In a major blow to the authority of David Cameron, the Prime Minister, Mr Grayling, Liz Truss, the Environment secretary and four Government members of the Government - Harriet Baldwin, Mark Francois, Theres Coffey and John Hayes - voted against the changes.Eleanor Laing, the deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, announced at 3.45pm that 113 MPs voted against the measure at lunchtime, with 367 MPs in favour - one of the biggest ever Commons rebellions since the Coalition was formed.Number 10 confirmed that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, voted in favour of the ban. His official spokesman said: "He has pleased it has gone through."In the free vote, the 104 Tory MPs - more than a third of the Conservative parliamentary party - were joined by three members of the Labour Party, two Liberal Democrats, both Ukip MPs and two members of the DUP.

    2. CG was none too pleased about smoking in jails being 'exposed', and this from his home town rag:

      "Surrey County Council has been accused of a shocking conflict of interest after taking over the task of helping people quit smoking, while investing more than £12m in tobacco companies."

      British American Tobacco have a close link with Surrey (docks, importation, etc) and were always proud of their association with industrial chimney & previous Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

      Maybe there's a link with CG's reluctance to damage the tobacco industry's profits by protecting the health of the nation? Global profits over peoples' lives?

    3. Graylings just launched an appeal against a judgement last week that ruled that smoking in prisons was not exempt from anti smoking laws.
      Obviously a vested interest somewhere.

    4. Wonder if this mudslinging from Dec 2004 will come back to haunt Grayling?

      "Downing Street confirmed yesterday that the Prime Minister [BlairWeasel] would be replying to Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Although Sir Philip initially dismissed a complaint by the Tory MP Chris Grayling, he has now asked Mr Blair for more information. Mr Grayling claims Mr Blair should have disclosed in the MPs' Register of Interests his family's five-day holiday in 2002 at the 15th-century chateau owned by Alain Dominique Perrin, in the Lot region of south-west France. At the time, he was chief executive of the luxury goods firm Richemont, whose brands include Dunhill and Cartier and which owns a 21 per cent stake in British American tobacco."

      And I also found this recently, which might explain Grayling's particular pernicious brand of determination:

      "The new justice secretary Chris Grayling, a favourite of the Tory right-wing who made history as the first non-lawyer to be appointed in the position, today took a bruising in the Commons from Labour MPs.

      Labour MP Paul Flynn, later suspended from the Commons for calling defence secretary Philip Hammond a ‘liar’ on Afghanistan strategy, first challenged Grayling on the steps he planned to take to reduce the size of the prison population.

      Grayling responded by saying that he had “no plans to reduce” the prison population, but instead was ensuring that more foreign nationals are being returned to their country of origin and that there is a better job of rehabilitation.

      Flynn hit back saying, “I’m not grateful for that cynical backward looking answer.” He criticised Grayling, who he said hadn’t recognised that despite, “all the fresh and dynamic teams that have come before the house and have been welcomed in the last 42 years, not one minister of justice had reduced recidivism by one iota”.

      The maverick Flynn didn’t hold back, proclaiming that the House should regret losing, “a civilised and vintage popular secretary, the member for Rushcliffe, who demonstrated that he had a working brain, who understood the benefits of remedial justice. Haven’t we sadly exchanged old lace for arsenic?”

      Grayling, taken aback by the attack, responded that he is, “making sure we tackle the rehabilitation challenge and stop people going back to prison again and again.”

      Yet shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan pointed out that there is a “black hole” in the department, and that today’s National Audit Office report revealed there was a £130m loss of savings, since the Tory-led government took over 28 months ago, as a result of sentencing reforms not going ahead. Grayling maintained he was confident with the finances and that it was on track and that he wanted more for less while not engendering [surely endangering?] the public."

    5. Oh what chums we all are in this luvverly world of polliticks:

      From Observer in 2011

      “[Liam] Fox explained that the Atlantic Bridge [his charity organization] promoted the special relationship between the UK and the US by creating "a network of individual people who can know one another". He declared: "We are trying to bring people together who have common interests and to recognise that in an ever more globalised economy, we will all be called upon to defend those common interests."

      Last week those interests came back to haunt not just Fox, whose fall on Friday rocked David Cameron's coalition government, but also many Tory members of the cabinet, whose extensive links to the Atlantic Bridge are now under scrutiny. The irony is that it took a furore around Fox's friendship with a relatively minor player in the saga – a lobbyist, Adam Werritty – to make these links apparent.

      George Osborne, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and William Hague were all on its advisory council [whilst employed as Shadow Ministers] alongside Fox, its UK chairman. All four stood down as awkward questions over its political activities, which contravened charity laws, resulted in the organisation being wound up.

      But the links to the cabinet do not end there. Cara Usher-Smith, the director of business development at Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, was a former director of the Atlantic Bridge. David Cameron's press secretary, Gabby Bertin, admitted last week that she was paid £25,000 by the US drug giant Pfizer when working as the "sole employee" of the charity.”


    1. Page won't stay open long enough to read...?

  9. Oh look - smoking in cars with children... from Telegraph Feb 2015:

    "Smoking in cars with children will be outlawed in England from next October following a final vote of MPs.

    A change in the law will come into force on October 1 after 342 MPs voted in favour compared to just 74 against.

    More than 700 senior doctors backed a legal ban last year, saying that being in an enclosed space like a car significantly worsened the harm done to children by cigarette smoke.

    The issue has divided political parties and provoked a fierce debate about public health and individual freedom, particularly in the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg previously argued that the ban would be "profoundly illiberal".
    Mr Cameron himself had previously questioned the practicalities of a ban, alongside Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, but both changed their minds.

    Ken Clarke, the Tory minister without portfolio who has worked for the tobacco industry, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, Theresa May, the Home Secretary and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, are all understood to have voted against the ban last year."

  10. From "They Work for You" website (based on government statistics):

    How Chris Grayling voted on Welfare and Benefits

    - Voted strongly for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the "bedroom tax")
    - Voted very strongly against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
    - Voted very strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
    - Voted strongly for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support
    - Voted strongly for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
    - Voted strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed

    ... and ...

    - Voted moderately against smoking bans - BUT this was only due to his persistent absenteeism, i.e. absent 6 times out of 11 relevant votes since 2002. When he was present to cast a vote, it was always effectively in favour of the tobacco industry. Today's vote is not included in the statistics.

  11. Chris Grayling might regard probation staff as pond life but, as this excerpt from the Guardian's "Notes & Queries" highlights, he knows not what he is dealing with:

    "... in pond and stream there swims a more primitive worm, black and half an inch long: the flatworm (planaria). Cut one in two: the head grows a tail, the tail a head. Cut one in three: even the middle grows both new head and tail. Each part become whole is thought to carry the memories of its earlier entity; so beware, if you open this can of worms they may seek revenge. And they're carnivorous."

    Je suis David Bellamy.

    1. People leaving and no signs of any plans to replace them; people off sick; constant requests from management to courts to re-list cases; missed results due to staff absences; every previous route to efficiency blocked by a new layer of IT & bureaucracy. It isn't working.