As we approach another significant milestone - the blog will hit 3 million well before Christmas if the present hit-rate of 90,000 a month is maintained - I thought it was worth reflecting a bit on what was happening and where I think things are going.
The graph rather nicely confirms what I already know anecdotally that readership has been in steady decline since project TR began and the blog went into campaigning mode as part of the attempt to fight it. As the predicted slow train crash continues its agonising progression, many excellent, highly experienced staff, continue to jump ship having become utterly demoralised by the whole omnishambles so ably concocted by Chris Grayling and his weasel Liberal Democrat colleagues.
It's quite understandable that with morale so low and depression widespread, the blog has lost much of its former lively atmosphere and content. I'm sure many former probation staff find it too much of a painful reminder to look at the blog, let alone have the energy to contribute any more. Even those that are left, mostly in NPS, are effectively 'gagged' from any open comment on social media by virtue of the command and control nature of their civil service status and remain fearful of possible identification even through anonymous contributions.
Despite this some brave souls are prepared to speak up and the following contribution highlights the dilemma many are facing:-
"Our divisional director dropped in unexpectedly the other week and held an informal Q and A. She was open to any input and was inevitably asked about prison visits and attendance at oral hearings. She trotted out all the usual stuff about phone and video links being acceptable alternatives. It seemed apparent though that she, like me, didn't really believe it. What she clearly does believe is that having to live in the real world is our new reality. Like many of us I have thought about getting out and if a good enough opportunity became apparent it would be hard to say no. But I, and many like me stay. We stay to try to help new PO's understand and embrace values that put people first, values that protect the public and values that will be needed when we achieve some sort of normality, whenever that might be. We are in a shitstorm not of our making and it is one that looks likely to carry on for some time. It's up to those of us who are in it to make the best of a bad lot. Not to moan about how awful it is or to hark back to some halcyon days that never really existed. Suck it up people and do what you can to help make our communities safer."
Just as many good contributors have faded away, for whatever reason of late we seem to have attracted some particularly moronic comments which add nothing to discussion and debate but rather are designed to wind me up. They are routinely deleted if they come to my attention and if certain people feel that counts as 'censorship', so be it. It all reminds me of a particularly famous landlord of a very well-known Soho pub who gained the title of Britain's rudest landlord. In one famous incident he was reputed to have barred a drinker 'for being boring' and I feel similarly in relation to some recent particularly crass one-liners.
In addition to the recent moronic comments, it's also been a bit of a surprise to discover how many Tories read this blog, feel that the election of Jeremy Corbyn is not the most exciting thing in politics for ages, believe the free market economy is working just fine and that TR is proving to be a runaway success. If you believe in conspiracies, it could all be the product of dark political forces, or it could be relatively new staff who don't know or care about our probation ethos. It could be some seriously deluded people, or just some plain-old mischief-making. I don't know, but I do know readership is steadily declining.
I think the following unpublished comment quite neatly sums up a particular view:-
The blog no longer serves any meaningful purpose. It informed during the TR "omnishambles" but no longer. It's just become a platform for Probation staff venting their woes and frustration, and if your morale is rock-bottom or if you've had a shit day, it's hardly uplifting. Probation, as was, is dead. Time to move on. Hankering for the past is futile, embrace the present or seek other avenues. Life's too short. I've ended up in a CRC against my will and, although procedures are far from perfect, new ways of working are making a difference. Anyway, I expect buckets of venom for my comments. Onwards, ever onwards.At various times of late I've pondered long and hard on whether the blog continues to serve any meaningful purpose or not and uppermost in my thoughts is the fact that in certain quarters its demise would be very welcome indeed. I have no doubt that down at Chivalry Road, Napo would be only too delighted to see the back of it, especially the General Secretary. So would the MoJ and NOMS. The privateers wouldn't mourn it's loss either. Interestingly, all monitor its content closely and they wouldn't do that if it was felt to be inconsequential, would they?
To say the least, we have an interesting situation developing in relation to the privateers that now own 70% of the probation service in this country. The so-called 'cooks and cleaners' who know nothing about what we do, such as Sodexo and Interserve, were warned about a number of things during the bidding process, such as the scope for reputational damage.
These global companies have their fingers in all kinds of pies, all over the place and are very much concerned about their public image, not least because they have shareholders and worried investors can affect share prices. Despite all the warm words, these companies exist primarily to make money and in our case, make money out of supervising offenders more cheaply than the previous gold-standard public service they replaced.
Even though the blog has recently been attracting some surprisingly flattering comments regarding how well project TR is progressing, most of us are sensible enough to know that the omnishambles is in fact getting worse by the day as the 'cooks and cleaners' begin to realise they were sold a pup by the MoJ and that there's very little likelihood of making any money, any time soon.
Sodexo, the 'cooks', seem happy to be blazing a trail and take all the flack with their deliberate policy of flouting agreements regarding redundancy payments and now have dangerous plans for putting all staff and clients in open plan offices in total disregard for safety and confidentiality.
In contrast the 'cleaners', Interserve or Purple Futures as they are branded, although having decided to take a rather more softly, softly approach, nevertheless their PR machine is hard at work in the background and interestingly decided to respond on the blog to negative publicity that surfaced recently over their shabby treatment of 14 government cleaners in London:-
"FYI I am responding from Interserve. As stated previously, we will only comment to correct errors. The assertion that people who ask for better wages are subjected to a disciplinary action is incorrect. No disciplinary action has been taken against these employees and none will be. The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded. Interserve is committed to paying its employees a fair wage and our personnel will benefit from the new National Living Wage when it comes into effect next year.
It’s important to us that everyone has a voice. Currently we are seeking our people’s views on proposals for organisation design and welcome all comments and questions via the channels made available to all our CRC staff."
This drew a number of responses:-
I don't understand Interserve's statement denying any disciplinary action. To me, the format of Interserve's letter alone was a 'disciplinary' action. They sent 14 people a very scary threatening letter, attaching a copy of the employees' letter to Philip Hammond, just so the cleaners would know what bad deed they had done, while informing them that they were under investigation for bringing Interserve into disrepute, and then told them that their action could lead to suspension or punishment. That is pretty strong stuff and sounded like a nasty threat of disciplinary action to me. Then, surprise surprise, what a coincidence that 3 cleaners did then lose their jobs..! Let's assume it was a coincidence then, was there any need to react so viciously towards 14 people who were politely making a valid point? I think Interserve have done a brilliant job in bringing themselves into disrepute, in that letter alone!
Assuming that (the comment) is truly an Interserve body, "Hello!" Note that the careful wording of the post makes it clear that no disciplinary action has been or will be taken in THOSE cases. It does not say that anyone else breaking rank won't face action viz - "The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded." So, if nothing else, everyone was interviewed & exposed to the stresses described. Be smart. Be careful. Stay safe.
As a matter of information, Interserve do not pay any sick pay. Employees only receive statutory sick pay. Low paid employees being taken advantage of.
Regular readers will be aware that the likes of Napo, NOMS, the MoJ and privateers normally have a policy of never acknowledging the blog directly, only obliquely if at all, but the privateers are very sensitive to negative publicity because they have investors and shareholders to worry about. Every word on this blog is monitored closely by all the major players involved in the present and on-going TR omnishambles and it will be interesting to see if the likes of Interserve are tempted to respond again in future. And there is going to be a future because the blog will carry on ticking over on less readership and less in the way of comment.
I will only publish if I think there's something worth saying or highlighting, but most importantly, it will remain as a platform ready to publish details of the next crisis, scandal, cock-up or shenanigans that develops and as the Grayling legacy continues to fall apart. It's important for the historical record as much as anything.