Friday, 29 January 2016

NOMS For the Chop

Ever since its creation, the National Offender Management Service has been a disaster for the probation service, a massive and costly extra bureaucratic burden upon the taxpayer and been responsible for policy blunder after blunder, especially in relation to the contracting out of services. 

Of course, by the nature of the way things work, it hasn't prevented junior civil servants from winning awards and senior civil servants furthering their careers and future commercial prospects upon retirement, but then call me a cynical old bastard. However, in a rather neat demonstration of the dangers inherent in reaping what one sows, I'm pleased to say that it finally looks like their day is numbered as Gove looks set to give them the chop as a way of funding his reversal of all Grayling's mad and damaging initiatives. 

As I said yesterday, I'd like to believe that Gove has been deeply unimpressed with advice from his NOMS senior management team, which in turn got him thinking about what the hell NOMS brought to the party which had been run pretty well up until their arrival by the Prison and Probation Service respectively. Gove's decision to return autonomy to prison governor's and indeed extend it has clearly rattled NOMS HQ, hence Michael Spurr's interesting comments at the Clinks AGM the other day. 

I know one should always be careful of what one wishes for, but I'm long past being grumpy and well down the path of being bitter and angry at what NOMS has done to my profession. TR was and is an utter travesty and now remains the sole survivor of the Grayling era under the likes of Michael Spurr. This slow train crash is getting faster and worsening by the day and as we've seen, the NOMS-inspired E3 plans for NPS will bring similar chaos and carnage to the 30% of probation still in the public sector.

In probation we are very familiar with the concept of past behaviour being a strong indicator of future behaviour and as one legal commentator said the other day, if a judge's decisions were continually overturned on appeal, the question arises why they are still a judge? This simple truth does not just apply to Grayling, but in my view to NOMS and its senior civil servants as well.

It's abundantly clear to everyone, especially within what's left of probation, that urgent prison reform is required and that Gove looks like the right man at the right time. This is a golden opportunity for the probation voice to be heard by him because we're skilled, we know the issues and we could easily be mobilised to help him in this task, but it won't and can't happen under the current TR omnishambles.  Now really is the time for everyone who holds the probation ideal dear to speak up, cogently, clearly and convincingly because Gove is a guy who listens to reason and argument and TR defies both.  

The good news is that there are voices of reason out there, for example in the shape of Joe Kuipers and Rob Allen. Lets make sure the Minister of Justice gets to hear from as many as possible in the coming weeks and as he develops his ideas for prison reform. As always Rob Allen is well worth reading and this is his latest take on a possible danger:-              

Spurring On Prison Reform

Earlier this week, Justice Secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons, not for the first time, that he wanted to see prison governors given more freedom along the lines of Academy Principals or NHS Trust CEO’s. Gove believes that with increased autonomy in a structure of clear accountability, significant improvements can be achieved in the prison service (whose dire performance was once again indicated by the latest data on deaths,self-harm and assaults).

At the same time a mile or two away, Michael Spurr the Head of the National Offender Management Service was telling the Annual General Meeting of CLINKS (the umbrella organisation for prison charities) just how difficult it was going to be to make Gove’s governor autonomy policy happen in practice.

In an admirably candid talk, Spurr said he had hoped for a period of consolidation after the substantial changes to prisons and probation wrought by the last government. But Gove’s refreshing reform agenda offered huge opportunities, with 10,000 new prison places in 9 new prisons enabling a new model of imprisonment in which overcrowding and idleness could be, if not eradicated, then much reduced.

But as for the governor autonomy agenda, Spurr admitted there were many thorny issues to resolve. In a perhaps too candid example, he pondered aloud whether a governor who wanted to introduce overnight family visits would be allowed to do so. A lot of head scratching in Whitehall seems to be going on about where the limits to freedom of action should lie. But don’t bet on conjugal visits surviving the first ministerial briefing or outing in the Daily Mail.

In education, freedom from local authority control has brought with it the ability to depart from the national curriculum, set pay and conditions for staff, change the length of school terms and school days. Along with greater control over budgets principals have responsibility for their buildings and their management. Could prison governors be given these kind of powers?

Take the analogy with the national curriculum. Would Gove’s brave new world allow governors to disapply Prison service orders or instructions if they so wish? As things stand, even private prisons which seem to be Gove’s model, can’t do that. A recent study of competition illustrated the weight of prescription by showing 15 pages of a contract specifying how prisoner can use their own cash to buy goods. Are these to be ripped up and if so how many of the pages? Will newly empowered governors be able to opt out of the ACCT suicide prevention scheme or relax security procedures? Or decide to dispense with accredited offending behaviour programmes in favour of activities of their own liking? These standards are there for a reason. They reflect the fact that prisoners are in a uniquely vulnerable position and both they and society have the right to expect they are cared for in an ethical and principled way.

Presumably some standards will be required to be met (and inspected) in the new regime, but in prisons unlike schools the price of failure is counted not in not poor exam grades but escapes, reoffending and human rights violations. If things go wrong, ministers will not be able to stand idly by. Spurr took some flak yesterday for his honest appraisal of the way the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have weakened the ability of the centre to intervene in probation services now contracted out and paid by results. CRC’s who have failed to engage with third sector providers, whatever promises they may have made, look untouchable. Will that be the case for Gove’s Governors in his nine new prisons?

In existing jails, education, health and, since last year, resettlement activities are all outsourced. Prison Governors haven’t had a say in how those contracts have been let. Of course they could do so in future. There’s a lot to be said for concentrating commissioning responsibility in the hands of the governor but unless Gove can buy out existing contracts he’s stuck with the existing choreography for several years to come in the bulk of his system. With Wrexham opening next year and the new facilities scheduled during the lifetime of the parliament there are opportunities for the new model to be introduced. But by the time it starts to happen, there’s a fair chance Gove will be out of government and by the time it’s finished his party may be out of power.

But what his scheme will enable in the short term is a bonfire of headquarters, with no longer a need for policy development, learning lessons, monitoring outcomes or system wide planning. Devolving power will provide a pretext for big cuts at the centre and the eventual disappearance of NOMS. Gove said today that his reversal of Grayling’s legal aid cuts had been made possible in part by economies he has made elsewhere in his department. This is probably one of them.


  1. Good riddens. What has noms done anyway.

  2. Didn't Narey do well!!! On that subject, I note that he was/is a paid consultant for 3 years for G4S and had described Rainsbrook Secure Youth Prison as being very caring and doing overwhelming well. Last year he was paid £10000 by G4S.Hmmm...

    I have also found a Justice Committee report 23/5/11, discussing 'The Role of the Probation Service' and examining witness Martin Narey. Interesting.

    Google - 'House of Commons- Justice Committee - minutes of evidence'

  3. North Wales, much of Cheshire and probably Staffordshire has needed to be served by a local prison not in the Manchester/Liverpool area since at least the 1970s. However building a monster Local at Wrexham is simply daft but as with other poor location siting decisions, about prisons, like moving women out of central London, they remain for a long-time.

    Plus UK Governments waste money and professional energy and stir frustration by holding enquiries and then ignoring them - Woolfe on Strangeway's and to bring us up to date - Harris on deaths of young people under State detention (sneaked out the day Parliament recessed for Christmas).

    The bigger question is whether Gove's appointment as Lord Chancellor is seriously about Criminal Justice or merely political expediency, in which case we will probably get a Grayling clone type person back at the MOJ before the General Election in 2020, by which time the Conservative's will have a new leader. I guess the events - dear boy - between now and then will also be part of the PR jigsaw that will affect the Conservatives who above all else want to remain in Government. Liberal Democrats have had their goose burnt to a cinder as they succumbed to their lust for power. The populace has for the time being seen of the junior Conservatives - though there will be a fight back from the Mandlesonians, I am almost certain.

    Whither Probation - who knows? - it hardly got a mention in the Corbynite's first "big go" at Criminal Justice this week. Presumably Gove's silence is contrived and not because there is nothing to say.

    We live in interesting times, can the media and parliament even now realise that probation is a key part of the CJS in England and Wales? - I am not very optimistic.

  4. I have grave doubts about welcoming Gove as the saviour of Probation. He has a history of relying upon his own special advisors and the lightbulb thoughts he has regarding policy when looking at himself in the mirror each morning while shaving rather than listening to people on the ground who are actually doing the job.

    1. There's always hope - wikipedia:-

      "Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large."

      "Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. Frederickson argues that with great need comes an unusually wide range of ideas, as well as such positive emotions as happiness and joy, courage, and empowerment, drawn from four different areas of one’s self: from a cognitive, psychological, social, or physical perspective."

  5. We must be extremely careful what we wish for with Gove. Anon@13:18 above gives a beautiful precis of the man's approach. Many education professionals tell me Gove is "quite simply deluded" and that the damage he did to our education system far exceeds the vandalism Grayling got away with.

    However, I would support any decision to delete the NOMS gravy train from the criminal justice timetable. JB argues the case well against the organisation that has grown fat on the basis of self-importance, as opposed to fulfilling any meaningful role. It was NOMS who, by dangling & waving secondments & shiny things, distracted & divided the probation profession. Once staff had stuffed themselves at the swanky NOMS table they were dispatched back to the provinces & proceeded to defecate freely on their own doorsteps.

    Suddenly local fare wasn't good enough and staff in the regions were lambasted for being "parochial", "provincial", "not seeing the bigger picture" or "unsophisticated". Ambition & greed blinkered the chosen few and the notion of local services tailored to local areas was lost as NOMS tightened its grip on budgets & policies and imposed their will.

    So yes please, lets get shot of the wormtongues, the shapeshifters & the whole nest of narcissistic cuckoos who are NOMS.

    1. Yes of course, Anon at 14:03 BUT the problem now - which seems barely acknowledged, is that Probation has lost its local base with the former loudest cheerleaders - the Magistracy all but wiped out apart from being overlaid with 'District Judges' and now gathering in County & City Centres - like some latter-day Quarter Sessionists who are expected to meet once a fortnight, to do the bidding of the national Sovereign's current appointee, with very limited scope for truly individualised adjudications.

      Back in 1980, when Thatcher's 1st Government was struggling to escape the Winter of Discontent and probation officers and separately social workers & other local authority workers had outstanding pay claims, Napo targeted Chairmen (many were women) of the Magistrate's Benches for support. To some extent it worked, many of us were individually personally known & regarded by those JPs who in turn were treated with respect in Conservative Party circles.

      Those JPs have almost been superseded or wiped out now & I suspect are generally not well known to many front-line probation workers, to the extent that there is mutual personal respect. I suspect that it was such people having impact on the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, that at least got us a hearing, which does not seem to happen nowadays.

      Somehow probation workers, who seem almost forgotten and rarely no more than an afterthought, even for most Corbynist MPs, need to get more attention, or when the time eventually comes, as it must, the work will be re-organised yet again by others.


    1. The government is to scrap a key scheme designed to tackle gang violence, the Guardian has confirmed, prompting a warning that the Home Office should not “put a price on the lives of our young people”.

      The Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation Peer Review Network was set up by the Home Office after the 2011 riots and brought together police, academics, former gang members and experts to help local areas develop strategies for dealing with gang culture.

      In a leaked letter from the Home Office to local authority staff involved in the scheme, the department said the “frontline team support and associated funding will be ending at the end of March” and that it would “not be offering any further centrally funded peer reviews or local assessment processes in the next financial year”.

      Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham and former shadow business secretary, described the step as retrograde and said it would “seriously compromise” efforts to reduce gang and serious youth violence. “If it is being done to cost-cut, I say you cannot put a price on the lives of our young people,” he said.

      Umunna said the network was not being replaced with “anything meaningful” and that a couple of civil servants with no expert knowledge would have responsibility for the issue added to their existing work.

  7. Getting rid of NOMS would save so much money and NOMS would hardly be missed at all. This would be an excellent step for Gove to make.

    1. The only people that might actually miss NOMS are Michael Spurr and his lackeys. It has to rate as one of THE most waste of space and money organisations in the history of the UK. It does nothing positive but much negative and talks in some sort of weird gobbeldygook whereby the letter writer can waste pages saying absolutely nothing at great length

  8. Whole load of job positions sent out to us in Nps today. All about prison reform planning etc. Very short turn around for applications - think 3 Feb.
    Probably will be filled with the same crowd who are already in Noms. I hope not as it really needs a clean sweep to get the reform the prisons need.
    I interviewed someone today who has done far too many days behind a cell door who was saying how unsafe, violent and full of spice they are now.


  9. Working links had discussions with unions today. On Monday phone conference with managers who will then tell staff. Shit weekend ahead.

  10. I predict (NPS) probation will become at best an adjunct to prison, police and courts with probation staff employed directly by those services. The end of NOMs will only hasten that development. (crc) probation on the other hand? see other legacy social services now in the hands of third/charitable sector including youthwork and social care

  11. The rats will now be looking for other sewers they can inhabit.

  12. Hatton you are back :)