Mr Gove showing signs that he gets it on Prisons and Legal Aid but what about Probation?
It’s not often that anyone could claim that a Parliamentary debate was riveting stuff, but I will claim a first in respect of the one which took place on Wednesday night on Prisons and Probation as a result of a motion tabled by the Opposition.
It was markedly different from many others I have witnessed and came on the back of three other debates involving Prisons and Probation that have taken place in the Lords and Commons over the last couple of weeks.
Tania Bassett will be issuing a Campaign Bulletin highlighting the key points that were covered in the debate (here is the link to the Hansard records) which will focus on the notable contributions from a number of Opposition MP's about the value of Probation staff in the rehabilitative process.
The interventions of the majority of participants in the debate, which included a notable speech from a certain Mr Kenneth Clarke (looking and sounding increasingly Liberal in his dotage) were of substantial quality, and those from the Opposition benches were testimony to the effective written and face to face briefings that Napo had provided beforehand.
As is always the case, the material we produced directly reflected the realities of our members experiences in the NPS and CRC and again illustrates the point that there are more ways to get the issues that matter in front of key people than relying on press releases that can be ignored by media outlets (like the one we issued in advance of this debate, thus proving my point unfortunately) who are only interested in template "journalism when precious time can sometimes be better spent by face to face contact with politicians and opinion formers.
Back to the debate itself, where the Lord Chancellor made what was for me one of the most intelligent and cogent contributions that I have heard from anyone in that position since well, Kenneth Clarke, actually.
His grasp of the issues that continually emerge from an overcrowded and increasingly substance fuelled and violent Prison Estate, and the value he placed on the report on Prisons by former HMIP Nick Hardwick was impressive. He also explained the actions that he has commissioned to try and tackle the problems but, as importantly, he seemed to understand the underlying social problems that are a factor in crime and recidivism in a way that I thought was enlightening. Like many, I was profoundly disappointed that he was unable to stay for the whole debate and share his views about the problems besetting Probation, but he had to leave that task to Andrew Selous, whose earnest and no doubt heartfelt exposition of the positive (in his view) aspects of TR, could have done with a little bit more substance and context than he was able to offer.
For once, (and probably to their and your surprise) I am not blaming the respective Ministers for this, but those who briefed them. It's almost as if the fourth report by HMI Probation has been glossed over (if indeed even read) by NOMS high command whose view of life at the sharp end seems markedly different to yours.
Labour’s motion was lost at the end of the debate, but that was no surprise and no reflection on the commitment shown by our friends in the House. I was also pleased at the debut of the new Shadow Minister for Justice Jo Stevens, who wasted no time in demonstrating her knowledge about what you do and how you do it.
Since Wednesday, Mr Gove has announced that he is reversing key aspects of the Legal Aid reforms that were launched by his predecessor; perhaps this is clear evidence that he is indeed a listening Minister? We certainly hope so as we aim to offer him some potential solutions to ease some of the problems that have been identified by the Probation Inspectorate.
The future of Victim Work
During the initial E3 consultative process we have received some extremely welcome views from many members, some of whom have taken part in job evaluation panels and/or the engagement events.
We also understand from Jim Barton that our VLO members have come top of the table in terms of submissions made, and that these views have been taken very seriously.
The Branch Briefing BR 06/2016 explains what we have been doing at our end, and contains a high level response from NOMS which I hope our VLO members and those who are not yet Napo members find useful. Napo has ensured that your issues are being taken to the right table.
More to follow next week on a range of other interesting issues. Have a good weekend.