Friday, 7 August 2015

An Open Letter

As decision day rapidly approaches for staff in the six Sodexo-owned CRC's, it's clear that much of the profession has descended into sombre mood. I'm grateful to the reader for sharing the following open letter sent recently to all Napo members in Cumbria and Lancashire. It eloquently outlines the dreadful position many colleagues find themselves in and should be food for thought for all of us.

In case you were wondering, for completeness, the benefit of staff in non Sodexo CRC's, and the historical record, I intend to publish the two remaining parts of the lengthy Q & A document referred to later today or tomorrow.

NAPO Cumbria and Lancashire Branch – open letter to CRC members considering the Voluntary Severance Package and Early Retirement

Members will have seen the Q & A document distributed on Penny Barker’s behalf last week and will have also seen NAPO HQ’s emails regarding a vote for or against accepting the Sodexo Voluntary Severance package and an indicative ballot for industrial action in the event that it is rejected. Despite these attempts to ‘clarify’ some of the issues, our discussions with Cumbria and Lancashire Branch members would suggest that many individuals are still not sure what to do for the best in terms of their own decisions on the issue. Important questions that should inform our decision making remain, in the main, unanswered (Where would I be working? What would I be doing? What would my job look like?).

There is a fundamental principle at play here. CLCRC management are trying to make this process as fair and transparent as possible. Despite their best efforts, however, and the best efforts of NAPO’s officers both locally and nationally, this process remains unfair and opaque. Branch Officers and Members alike are trying to make sense of it in order to provide advice but, given the timescales, the pace and the nature of the ‘modernisation’, many of the decisions relating to roles and locations have not yet been made. Just as was the case with last year’s ‘sifting’, members are consequently being expected to make decisions regarding their futures without all of the necessary information. The simple choice of ‘do I want to stay or go?’ is compromised by the need to establish whether, if an individual chooses not to volunteer for severance, they will be forced out anyway with an even lower severance payment and whether, if they choose to stay, they will be required to undertake a much longer commute and to work in ways and locations unfamiliar to them. The decision to put oneself forward for voluntary severance is being taken, by many, not on the basis of ‘choice, but on the basis that they cannot see themselves in the proposed operating model and need to accrue as large a severance payment as possible in order to meet their needs whilst they seek alternative employment. It is an appallingly unreasonable position to put employees in and, I think it is fair to say, many members are seeking to leave simply because they do not wish to work for a company that treats it’s staff this badly.

Under the above circumstances, NAPO’s vote on the offer and it’s talk of industrial action in the longer term, does not make sense to most members. A vote to reject when you have expressed an interest in the severance offer seems, to many of us, to be a contradictory position. Also, members will be aware that a formal (as opposed to an indicative) ballot would take time to organise and the initial stages of the VS/compulsory redundancy processes are likely to have been completed before the ballot even takes place, never mind before an actual strike can be arranged. Whatever the consequences of the union’s strategy, many of those at risk will not be around to see them.

The important thing to note here is that applying for voluntary severance does not put you in conflict with NAPO’s national position. By voting to reject the severance offer nationally, you are making a point that it is all but impossible for you to make locally; that your decision to apply for and accept a considerably lower offer than that negotiated in the National Framework agreements is made under duress, just as your ‘choice’ to be sifted was made under duress, and that your decision to ‘accept’ this offer is made because you have been manipulated into this position by an unscrupulous employer and without reference to the established national negotiation machinery.

So, where does this leave us? There are those who are wondering whether there is any merit in holding out for a ‘better offer’. Sodexo have made it clear that there will be no better offer. There is still a slim chance that the outcome of the indicative ballot by NAPO and UNISON could secure improvements to ‘the offer’ but, equally, it may achieve nothing. In the meantime, the simple fact is that members need to make a decision based on their own circumstances.

Each member will need to gauge their own priorities and their own perceived vulnerability to redundancy based on grade, location, eligibility for early retirement, age and length of service. The lack of clear detail means that this is in no way an exact science and that advice needs to be tailored to individual circumstances. By applying for voluntary severance, each of us will at least be able to establish the figures we will get if we gain voluntary severance or are released compulsorily and, with that information, do the sums. If you wish to remain in the employment of CLCRC and think that the difference between the two figures is small enough to make it worth the gamble, so be it. If not, you may feel it more appropriate to put your name forward for a severance payment and, assuming that is secured, walk away.

NAPO Cumbria and Lancashire Branch would very much prefer to give each of you clear guidance on the ramifications of each potential outcome of this process but this is all but impossible in advance of the decisions taken post 10th August. All we can suggest is that you talk to your colleagues. Talk to your managers, Talk to your union reps. Gather as much information as you can. Most of all, talk to your families. No-one has the answers but many of us have our own thoughts on the issue and will willingly share them. It is important to remember that the position you are all in is unreasonable and unfair but knowing that does not offer you any answers.

If anyone wants to run things past me or any other Branch officials, please feel free to do so. We will do anything we can to help you make the choice that is right for you and will support you in whatever decision you make but, ultimately, the choice over whether or not to apply for voluntary severance or early retirement will be yours.

Jeremy Sharples
NAPO Vice Chair and LJNCC Convenor


  1. This reads like a victim statement. There would never be any collective action if it was all left down to counselling individuals in their deliberations. This missive effectively dismisses the merits of industrial action and expresses sympathy for senior management and all grades alike. It does boil down to making choices and I think it's disingenuous to suggest otherwise, but in this scenario whatever choice is made is the right one, because it's an individual choice. If this is to become the default analysis, then all the private companies know they have an open goal. There really is no point in having unions if at times like this they offer nothing that could bring individuals together. Imagine the RMT telling it's members to spend more time with their families! This really does look like the endgame for the unions in probation as an effective voice.

    1. I am no fan of Napo, but comparisons with the RMT are very unfair - they have a national media profile and, more importantly, their members do a job which the average member of the public understands - and where there is an immediate and highly visible impact when industrial action is taken. There's no equivalent to the Tube strike within the probation arena - perhaps if Napo had threatened not to complete PSRs or parole reports (for example) in opposition to TR there might have been some impact, but even then it would have taken weeks for the effects to show.

      For me this letter reads like sensible advice from a local union official who is trying to do the best for his members. It might seem defeatist, but after two years of being let down by national Napo, that's hardly surprising.

      In the absence of good leadership (which has been absent from Napo for years), collective action is the sum total of individual calculations. My own calculation in this position (I'm not in a Sodexo CRC but no doubt my own employer is watching this play out with extreme interest) is whether the severance is enough to make it worth while me taking another job (probably on lower pay but hopefully without the ridiculous levels of stress, management-speak bollocks and endless evidence-free comments from Government ministers about how wonderful the private sector solutions are going to be) for a couple of years until this whole sorry mess falls apart when Sodexo and their ilk realise they have no hope of meeting their targets without staff who actually know what they're doing.

    2. Ouch ! A bit harsh Nip but I do agree with some of that. Let me dress it up a little. The branch title VC bestows something of an expectation to write completely to members locally on the issues as the rep understands things currently. Falling into the trap of explaining options and making it a personal choice just illustrates a lack of leadership without the fullest understanding of the wider implications.
      If I were writing to branch in this way I would point out we are angry that Napo have known about the renegade approach to the EVR scheme and should have taken Indicative ballot action immediately way back.. However Mr Lawrence and the team are weak and do not have a clue what their role is . I read this week Mr Lawrence is due to speak in a parliamentary something or other about protecting the public . Look here Mr Lawrence your job is in the union of which you are failing however you seem to want to be in any limelight. Chairs Vice Chairs you are supposed to manage this man.

      Back to the implications then, Volunteers lose their rights to claim any ET chance for unfair selection.
      lose their right to retro claim via ET if Sodexo change the terms later in favour of a fairer deal or re-instate the terms.
      Lose the right to make a claim on grounds of Race if more staff in certain characteristics are targeted or encouraged and allowed to go. Same with women on sex discrimination . So no Diversity issues for Voluntary activity. Sodexo will love those cheap lambs.
      Foolish anyone over 55 applying FOOLISH. This group WAIT WAIT make them sack on Compulsory measures. By doing so you will get your pension released without penalty. They have to state on the grounds of efficiency and that's all you need . The compulsory lump sum may well be reduced but in comparison to the bribe the volunteers receive (those who will not understand this message ) which in time we have grounds to sue at ET for comparable compensation between the groups. Most importantly we tie them in the ET process and NAPO centrally should be organising this. (That top table group it is not just about photos and a small piece in napo news news you know). This role you claimed to be good for impacts on lives but what the hell are you doing?.
      This is what you are elected to be talking about advising and leading. There are two chairs there but you wont hear a word from them and the GS is on holiday at a time we are drowning.

      In relation to making the employer work harder. Make them give notice for dismissals then class action claims should be pursued which has not been discussed ? Where is some legal views for members from NAPO please and why not ? I am hoping this blog is read and something will trigger them to wake . Do not make any decisions based on the sodexo deadlines. We have not pushed them back yet or negotiated any extension attempt. Obviously staff are not able to fully consider the implications in the unreasonable period imposed. It is another ground for a legal challenge. We have to look at what has been said on timing of the indicative vote and the call for ballot. Currently this action leave members without any formal advice or position.
      The officers group may have totally failed to grasp members need to be instructed. What decisions to make in each age group or service contracts. If the employer has ended all temporary and agency placed staffing. Exhausting all routes before compulsory measures. What Napo will do with the outcome of each potential so that members can be redeployed before a choice of leaving. The local reps explaining their perception fails everyone. What are the officials doing in NAPO? What support are the reps getting this is too much for single branch VC where is the chair by the way ?


    3. Finally for now at least , the situation over time will change their plans and the weakness of other deals will all come out. Napos members in the realisation of being duped coerced and in parts forced to go. It will be there for comparisons. The legal trickery and subterfuge. The cons the tight timescale the dishonouring of the published and inferred long term plans that were changed. The promise of different ways of working. There will be lots. Yet in that time members will discover had they have done things differently now they will have recourse. When they are not paying bills cant get a reasonable job at similar pay and terms with a pension . The longer term financial plans fail and family support seems the only way forward then the thought process will turn to what should I have done differently. Volunteers will have no options but those squeezed and booted out will still have the wonderful time limit of 6 years to make a claim in the court. The County courts not small claims either.

      So Sodexo will need to be wary of this because they will need to count on this clock not just ETs strict time limits. Also the financial loss in total can be claimed not the limits imposed in ET. Members can claim as their situations change. There is much we can still do. Volunteers actually justify Sodexo plans don't fall into that trap.

      Napo activists get real now please this is a fight not a professional discussion clap trap. It is a Fight biting gouging scratching and hair pulling is to be expected kicking below the waist and kicking them when they are down. We should expect to dish out what we have been served .

    4. "I read this week Mr Lawrence is due to speak in a parliamentary something or other about protecting the public. Look here Mr Lawrence your job is in the union of which you are failing however you seem to want to be in any limelight. Chairs Vice Chairs you are supposed to manage this man."

      Transforming Rehabilitation: Working Together to Reduce Reoffending

      Taking place in Central London (venue tbc) | Wednesday 16th September 2015

      Keynote Address Ian Lawrence, General Secretary, Napo

    5. There are an awful lot of mights and maybes in there. That is the problem. We can all speculate when there is time to do so but members want to know what to do today. A court case in four years time, which you may or may not win, won't pay the bills. This is damage limitation. The workforce is beaten down and there is little stomach for a fight. Rhetoric around what could happen is no response to what is.

    6. There are but that is the point is it not ? If members are not informed on all of their potentials they cannot make an informed choice. By taking a few extra shillings now will only favour the employers plan. A bribe for the fearful. This is a longer term game plan.

    7. Anon at 08:21 and 08:22 has made some good points that have helped my understanding of severance - which seems a shameful business especially if those signing up are also to be held to confidentiality agreements.

      I have not seen any discussion of the consequences of confidentiality agreements - especially in the long term - I can imagine it is hard to keep quiet for ever and ever - are there experiences of people being sued for breaking such agreements?

      I wonder whether Jim might consider republishing some of 08:21/22's points.

      Maybe someone who has signed a confidentiality agreement - there have been quite a few in probation, especially for some bosses - will write how it all worked out.

      Is someone legally bound not to say anything critical of an employer - such as how cases were allocated and staff relocated etc., etc.?


  2. The criticism of the open letter as defeatist is completely missing the point. Any action organised anywhere will be after the fact. Branch officials advising members to refuse the Voluntary Severance offer is condemning its membership to compulsory redundancy at the lowest possible rate. Any branch executive is going to balk at the idea of scoring political points at the financial expense of it's members. The advice given here is pragmatic.

  3. Both wrong money runs out it will. Volunteers is the end game and suits napo no cases to run.

  4. Please repeat in English.

  5. If you want my advice Do Not accept severance. I was dismissed from a company, cos that is what it is on the basis of a redundant role. I went to ET and won 'unfair dismissal' case and not only I but a colleague who did none of the hard work but was joined in the action. We both were reinstated and although it took a year, recieved all salary, pension and holiday accrued. Not a massive sum but i got continuity of service too and no break in work career. Why is this important?
    The company lost the case more than I won it - they did not follow proocess including their own policies and they walked rough shod over the legal framework because they thought they knew it all and nobody would challenge them.
    I DID withought a union and all alone except for a library of case law and advice from a relative. It took a year and there were very dark days when I could have given up...but if i had many colleagues around me as there are now the spirit would have been lifted higher.
    I never starved and I even trained for a new role but i never gave that company an inch and it cost them a damn sight more than my salary.

  6. 1059 Thank you that is what 821 is indicating lead and fight not cower . 1038 in English that is clear the money will run out the both wrong refers to those who want to settle now and walk wrong because all that does is help sodexo. Volunteering to sign away your rights is the end game and napo do not have to represent you after that event so no legal challenge whoever might win will benefit them. END GAME. 10 59 well done applaud you great post great effort and good advice to all . NAPO where are you in this holidays ? Getting ready for inappropriate speaking events . No PR what ? Hello.......................................

  7. This week Sodexo run HMP Northumberland and HMP Forest bank have attracted some very negative press. Indeed, some have called for a review of Sodexo's HMP Northumberland contract. The issue? The prisons are not functioning properly because Sodexo have cut staffing levels far too deeply far too quickly .
    Given the serious consequences that such cavelier staffing cuts have brought on the justice systems custodial estate, would it not be appropriate for the unions to call for an impact study on the possible consequences such a huge reduction of staffing levels in the probation service may bring, before Sodexo are allowed to make those cuts?


    1. re 12 36 post - and there's more ... See today's Newcastle Chronicle about HMP Northumberland. I quote a precised version-

      'HMP Northumberland is among the top 6 jails in England and Wales for prisoners testing positive during mandatory drug tests,, carried out at random, new figures reveal.

      Ian Lavery MP, has previously called for Sodexo's contract to be reviewed. The MP was backed by the Howard League.

      Andrew Neilson said " Despite the limitations of mandatory drug testing, not least that these tests cannot identify legal highs in jails, these figures nonetheless suggest Northumberland prison is failing miserably to keep the prison drug free."

      "The prison's most recent inspection report state that the number of prisoners who said it was easy to get illicit drugs and alcohol was higher than in comparable prisons."

      "Questions should be asked of Sodexo, the private company which runs Northumberland and which has had a troubling record since taking over the prison."

      The prison has the highest drug use rate in the private sector and the second highest in the north, while the national average is 6.9%. Northumberland scores 14.3% in the last year - or one in 7 prisoners.

      A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said " Due to the hard work of staff and our ROBUST ( there's that bloody word again) prccedures, the number of prisoners testing positive has reduced over the last 2 years.

      We recognise there is still more work to be done and we are committed to reducing this number further still."

      The whole article is probably available online, or Jim, you might want to use it as tomorrow's blog.

  8. In this Open Letter, there is a sentence highlighted in bold type: 'The important thing to note here is that applying for voluntary severance does not put you in conflict with NAPO’s national position.'

    Is it correct to say that applying for this sub-standard severance does not conflict with national advice? In the last advice that I am aware of it says,

    'All three unions are recommending that you vote to reject and take industrial action.' (28/7/15 and published On Probation Blog, 1/8/15)

    In light of this union position, I see a conflict in applying. Therefore does the advice in the open letter reflect or undermine the position taken nationally by the three unions?

  9. I'd like to say I'm pleased that the VC in CLCRC has penned the open letter. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but at least it gives a more honest and comprehensive (if gloomy) picture of the real situation facing colleagues - and maybe assists them in making choices... which is far more than I have read in the partisan PR from Sodexo, CRC CEOs and unions.

    Well done that man.