Thursday, 31 December 2015

Another Year

It's time to reflect on another year cataloguing the travails facing our once-proud profession. Having sailed past 3 million, even with readership falling steadily as many highly-experienced staff are forced out, it's interesting to note that as soon as something 'kicks-off', as with Working Links this week, the hit-rate returns to 4,000+ a day. What this says to me is that there remains a need for discourse and information-sharing especially as we enter the terminal phase where full implementation of TR begins to have the predicted result of widespread service collapse and eventual contract failure. 

As I write this there are rumours of other CRC's following South Yorkshire into 'special measures', some contract winners and possibly a loser considering legal action against the MoJ and all wondering how any money can be made from smaller than predicted 'throughput' and a shrunken but totally pissed-off workforce. In all this Grayling-created mess it's incredible but true that the MoJ architects of this whole omnishambles won a Civil Service award.

One thing seems pretty certain to me as we enter the New Year and that is Gove will have to do something and quite quickly because as all the other CRC's start ruthlessly following in Sodexo's footsteps in getting rid of staff, targets will be missed, audits will be failed and the whole lot will quickly fall over like a line of dominoes. What's needed is a fall guy; an explanation; someone or something to blame in order to move on, preferably in conjunction with a Brand New Idea. I'm sure they're working on it down at MoJ HQ. The question is, will it be better?    

In my view 2016 is going to decide whether Napo and the Probation Institute have a viable future or not. I'm clear in believing that both organisations ought to be at the heart of what probation should be about, but in the current shambolic TR world where both CRC's and a prison-dominated NOMS are intent on airbrushing the name out of existence, readers regularly voice their dismay with both. Napo, under deeply uninspiring central leadership, appear increasingly at odds with local activists and give every impression of just treading water and 'going through the motions'. 

The Institute on the other hand remains largely mute in the face of privateers going about their business of purging the Service of many experienced staff, whilst earning a fee from handing out Fellowships to the very same people. Despite all the reassuring words from much-respected individuals, readers appear resolute in calling it humbug and many would be happy for Napo to come off the fence and withdraw their obviously half-hearted support.

I wish I could be more upbeat about things, but in reality we all know it's just shit. But the show will go on for as long as it looks like there's a need and we prove beyond any doubt that TR was a huge mistake. As ever, the blog will only work if people contribute and supply me with those nuggets of information that make the thing worth reading. 

Here's to hoping that 'probation' gets treated better in 2016 and thanks for being part of something that's very important to me. Rest-assured I shall raise a glass to all colleagues and friends of probation later tonight. 

Happy New Year!    


  1. My last comment of 2015 -well said Jim, easy to read and straight to the point. Like you, Probation remains important to me, even though I retired almost 5 years ago.

    I keep in touch with friends and colleagues on both sides of the barrier and my heart breaks for them and for the slow death of a proud organisation. I noted an excellent lengthy comment yday about a northern town, which I suspect to be Newcastle, and yes I heartily agree with everything said. I am aware of its headquarters moving to the back of beyond,(albeit still in Newcastle) while I have no doubt that the stately Lifton House in the posh end of the toon will be developed and sold off by the leaseholders as fancy apartments for the comfortably rich.

    I can only keep my fingers crossed for a miracle in this coming year and wish all those deeply affected by TR some better news soon.

    And my best wishes to you too Jim,and keep fighting the good fight.

  2. It's been a bad year for the word transform. Like the word reform you hope that its use will augur something for the general good. In the case of probation, as the saying goes, the ideologues have stepped over a dollar to pick up a dime. Probation has been traduced, not transformed.

    In the hands of such ideologues, as Orwell observed: 'Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.'

    As for the Probation Institute, its credo is that of the three wise monkeys and it's full of hail-fellows-well-met. A bunch of 'useful idiots' for the MoJ and a franchise extension for some fellows who have feet in other income streams. How it must dream of 400 never mind 4,000 hits daily to its blog.

    It's been a bad year for collective bargaining. The days of punching above weight are now the stuff of bedtime stories for the innocent. We now have sad sights of a seven stone weakling being serially bullied into submission and no signs of a collective fightback.

    The year has ended on a good note with news of South Yorkshire's audit and we saw a changing of the guard at the probation inspectorate as the former was sleeping with the enemy.

    Happy New Year, Jim. 'Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition'.

    1. "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."

      Indeed Netnipper, indeed. Thanks for your regular, erudite contributions that, without a doubt, help make the blog what it is. Happy New Year to you!

    2. My last post of the year then and I will do my best to be polite. Gloom and lost is all I read from Nipper, actually Jim and no way is he half right half the time. Too many on here say I agree with Nipper ! WTF are they talking about agree ? To what he says or his missed the point analysis. I am not saying he is aware of more or less than others but whatever information he relies he says the wrong things to readers but it reads well. That is as dangerous as just getting it plain wrong and readers can look on and reconnect with NAPO and wider unions. Now the debate about NAPO is as strong as the situation it can have impact on . Have none of you heard of fighting the battles you can win ! While we are chucking around the religious references lets have a reminder of the fellah David and a few small pebbles. What about that drunken pirate and a few Spanish galleons with a wind in the right direction a lot can be achieved. In the future effectively next year starting tomorrow If we have to have so much more of Nipper then try and get a balance and read through the facts before you pontiff out anymore inaccurate wisdoms . I for one have had enough of them. Now to all other readers engaged in the fight to save probation of course I wish you well too and hope we have yet to see a better future together.

      I am sure many will rise to the defence of Nipper . Give us all a break and let him look after himself some of his stuff I respect too.

    3. What drunken pirate?

    4. Anon@14.15. I confess I am a pessimist regarding probation and I was one before TR. I could probably date the onset of this prevailing mood with the introduction of OASys, it worsened with the advent of targets, trusts and league tables. I think it's now so chronic I am incurable, but maybe you have some magic bullets!

      I could dream an alternative reality, but I tend towards realism and am cursed with seeing what's in front of my nose.

      You mention David and pebbles and presumably you believe that the TR Goliath can still be defeated. So far Napo has not been able to slay TR, but you say that if people would reconnect with Napo and the wider union movement, then the battle may yet be won. With a mixture of inspiring myth and solidarity we can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I get the rhetoric of reconnecting and the calls to arms, but you have to look around and see that the workforce whilst demoralised is not collectively organised to stage a fightback. And this is not just the situation now, it has been the situation for years and it's been reflected in ballot turnouts in the pensions campaign, previous industrial action and the election of union officers and the general secretary. It's no good blaming pessimists like myself for this sorry state. Surely you have a responsibility, in addition, to criticising the doom and gloom merchants, to spell out exactly how you will slay Goliath in the real world and not just in your own mind. You have to show in your analysis where it all went wrong and what can be done to put things right and achieve victory.

      There are now 21 CRCs. In effect 21 battlegrounds as a dispute in one cannot trigger industrial action across the 21 areas. This stretches the resources of Napo and as we are seeing they are forced into a reactive mode as the CRCs start throwing their weight around. The CRCs are contemptuous of collective bargaining and the leaderships of the relevant unions know they have no industrial muscle. I would rather it was otherwise, but that's as far I can dream.

      You say I say the wrong things to readers, but I am a reader too and just like them I am grown-up enough to make up my own mind about what I read on this blog. The beauty of this blog is its airing of various viewpoints, as anything that makes us think a little and adds to our understanding is no bad thing. I am not interested if people agree with me or with being 'on message'. It's nice when some agreement occurs, but it's a by-product. Essentially I think my own thoughts – like you and others - and share them through this blog. I don't like any demagoguery, I prefer the sound of individual voices, including yours.

    5. 15:10 Cap'n Jack Sparrow

  3. How do you know that Net is not a she?

  4. Happy New Year Jim

  5. Thanks Jim Brown, Netnipper, Probation Officer, ml, and all of the Anons. Across the interweb I can hear a clatter as keyboards, pads, smart (& dim) phones & mice are dropped to the chorus of "I'm Anonymous".

    I'd like to bestow the honour of "Fuck You" to any and all CRC profiteers, MoJ collaborators, PI apologists & enablers of TR.

    Finally, I'd like to express my utter frustration & anger that Simon Danczuk MP, a man who has campaigned heroically & tirelessly against child sexual exploitation & has exposed some of the more salacious, hidden abusers, has now potentially undermined all of that work through his own failings. Simon, regardless of your exceptional & peerless achievements, you've handed the abusers a get out of jail free card that they will exploit to the full - as they did with the lives of the children they destroyed.

  6. It is worth remembering that the Probation Institute is a legacy of the Probation Trusts not TR. The idea for a PI has a long history pre dating Graylings omnishambles. We should not be so quick to dismiss it as it is part of what probation now. However rumour has it that unless membership increases or another source of funding is found then it will go the way of the Dodo.

    1. I would cheer, not because I do not see the potential of an organisation, other than the employers and unions , and maybe other informed CJS folk, to uphold and develop probation practice, but because maybe it would clear the decks so something good with real integrity can start from the probation front-line.

      Possibly PI mark 2 would be better than NPS mark 2 has seemed to be so far?

    2. Isn't "the way of the dodo" an ancient marital art, or have I had too many new year drinks?

  7. Probation Officer31 December 2015 at 17:25

    In probation our employers stab us in the front and back. As I said yesterday, it's such a pity there's no credible leadership or voice for probation. Our senior managers are snakes, our Napo Union is weak and our "professional" Probation Institute represents the enemy within. So whether by E3, BIONIC or whatever other nonsensical strategy they force upon us, our probation service aka NPS and CRC will continue to be decimated by those in charge.

    On the positive, I spent this week wishing clients the best for the coming year, those in custody and the community, the highly chaotic, complex and damaged included. Every single one was positive in response and felt 2016 would be the one for them, and for once there were no end of year breaches or recalls. Even though I've not had contact, I'm even positive for the few currently locked in prison segregation and strapped down in hospital beds under section. So while probation is coming apart at the seams I'm glad I'm still able see it's worth, but even though the shit has well and truly hit the fan, it does seem like our time is up!

    Happy New Year Jim (and to all that comment and contribute) and thanks for keeping us informed.

  8. Thanks indeed Jim Brown and all who travel with you.

    I presume that serious media commentators all read this blog, yet there is almost no take up in the main stream media of issues raised and no apparent investigative journalism, apart from a few forays, such as by Radio 5 Investigates and also a Radio 4 programme in the last year or so, but they all seem to lack follow up.

    I am bemused, because it seems to me there are 'stories' that if well developed could feed the sort of journalism that attracts audiences and therefore advertisers.

    I did have hope for the Corbyn led Labour Party because both Corbyn himself and equally if not more so, John McDonnell have been such critics of the whole TR business, obviously they currently have wider agendas but surely some in Parliament might even now be trying to use parliament to mitigate the damage to the public. Maybe I am, as I know many readers believe simply out of touch with reality.

    Of slight comfort is that what is in someways a parallel social media operation for prison workers, the Facebook 'Know the Danger" site seems to not be involved in main stream media reports despite many real life calamities and dangers on a day to day basis getting exposure there.

    For example I note the esteemed BBC legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg (husband of Melanie Phillips - who decades ago did some commissioned journalism for Napo) has today published for the BBC - what he describes as "The latest in my series of backgrounders for @BBCNews" titled

    " Gove's prison sentencing challenge "

    The word probation or with an acknowledgement to the now active CRCs, the word rehabilitation does not appear.

    The article is about sentencing - so one would expect a reference to the most common sentence, but again "fine" does not appear nor is there any reference to the practical problems of running the CJS, as featured here & in 'Know the Danger' nor ethical issues as dealt with to a degree in the largely disregarded Harris report, into deaths of young prisoners, which was junked as folk went on their Christmas holidays.

    I know there is no public interest in the detail of this stuff, but a man has been on the roof of Pentonville Prison in the last week and I do not think news of it has even squeaked into a national report in the broadcast media. Prisoner deaths are equally disregarded.

  9. I started the year 2015 enjoying my work,proud to work for the Probation Service.Hoped against all hope that the "train crash" would happen soon and derail this nightmare.Everyone helped each other,TOIL hours got ridiculous.There appeared to be an almost Wartime camaraderie.It won't happen,we will survive this.
    Fast forward 12 months,staff have been leaving in droves,stress levels through the roof,workloads unworkable,just waiting for the final last few screws in the coffin.
    Probation is finished,NAPO too.Those left are floundering,still helping each other,as we have always done.That is what we do.
    Those left will become Responsible Officers,on lower terms and conditions,those of us that have mortgages ,children etc cannot always just move on.
    But the way forward will be to de stress yourselves,work your allocated hours,do not stress at home about workloads or recalls,a Responsible Officer does not get paid enough to worry about such things.Charge for overtime,petrol.Take time out due to work related stress.Laugh at the way Community Payback becomes Community Cashback (good term Jim)Enjoy the fight back from the Service Users/Clients,who refuse to work to make money for the CRC's,knowing that the chance of being breached is almost non existent.
    But above all be proud of what you stood for as a previous PO or PSO,stay in touch with each other.For they can shape the future but they cannot shape the past.Take care all .

  10. It has been the worst year of my working career and one which saw me signed off on sick leave for the first time in 7 years. I have seen some colleagues survive by doing the bear minimum while others have crumbled trying to maintain the high standards of the past. I can only hope, like others that 2016 brings a halt to the shambles that probation on both sides has become. I wish each and every colleague/friend across the width and breadth of the country, a happier, healthier and more stable 2016. Stay safe, protect each other and your health. Thank you and best wishes Jim, you do an amazing job with this blog.x

  11. management doing round robin emails here to see if anyone will do sentence plans or terminations for colleagues who are off and are going to miss the target deadline. It's wrong they know we're snowed under so they shouldn't ask. Just desperate to not have any fails but as I've always said we should fail to show that we're struggling. Any offices that are showing that they are hitting targets are cutting corners and/or working all the hours god sends.

  12. I hear interesting tales on MTC and the shambles of their cohort model. Perhaps they too need an audit. And it is interesting that they have appointed Case administrators to PSO roles and are then allocating everyone to be supervised by guess who ? The PSOs...who are not trained and are not in teams working alongside experienced colleagues, but are cast adrift in offices that might be at the other side of town from their managers and peers. May 2016 bring an end to all this nonsense. Happy New Year everyone, thanks to Jim and colleagues for keeping us all informed .

    1. Well I heard MTCNOVO has subcontracted out most of its offenders subject to post sentence supervision. Apparently there's been hardly any supervision, no enforcement, and nobody can track it is the subcontracted agency hasn't been recording the contacts. On top of this nearly all offenders are assessed as low risk of harm by management instruction. Probably won't be a happy new year in London and Milton Keynes.

  13. Will this be a happy new year for probation? Well we're hearing a shambolic state of affairs exists in CRC's from Devon to Carlisle, from Dorset to Tyneside and all points in between-we're hearing that breaches are not being done and in some cases CRC's dont have working printers or photocopiers...the phones work intermittently and in some areas of the North a mobile signal is hard to colleagues the answer to all of this lies in the science of upward allocation...we did not make this mess and we should not try to fix it....the way forward is to document every problem to your line manager (The role itself likely to be extinct very soon if what I am hearing is true)and for every line manager to stop being scared of your ACE (amazing how many ACE's are deemed excellent by SPO's as if by repeating the mantra often enough and to enough different people they'll get to hear about it and bestow favours)and to send the problem upwards....managers are used to bullying tactics (not all granted and there are a lot of good managers who are trying to do what they can against impossible odds) see I know that Sodexo et al do not want to hear any of it for what they dont know cant be laid at their feet so as we enter the next turbulent few months we re going to hear about 'remedial action' or 'special measures' which is the Snr managements way of blaming staff-of course their un-preparedness was not to blame in any way...just as their bids designed for connurbations have tried to be shoe horned into shires,,,we know it;s not working (cue the everything is all right in mhy neck of the woods brigagde-well for you Im glad to hear it but you are the exception rather than the rule it would seem) and will not work as other commentators have testified but its not our fault and its time for our managers to JFDI.....complain upwards that is...

    1. Yup. Topping from the bottom. The way forward for 2016.