Tuesday, 23 February 2016

TR Is Crap Says Research

Today sees the launch of an important piece of research by Professor Gill Kirton:-

Employment Relations and Working Conditions in Probation after Transforming Rehabilitation With a special focus on gender and union effects

The launch was trailed earlier in this Guardian article:- 
Privatised probation staff: stressed, deskilled and facing job cuts
In February 2015, 8,600 professional, highly-skilled public sector jobs were privatised. But despite strike action and fierce lobbying, the privatisation of more than half of the probation service in England and Wales has gone largely unnoticed. According to Gill Kirton, professor of employment relations at Queen Mary University of London, privatisation on this scale has slipped through under the radar because it’s not glamorous and most of the public have little contact with probation services. “It’s not like the junior doctors,” she says. “These people are not commonly seen as heroes. It doesn’t have that feeling of working for the public good in quite the same way.”
Under the government’s transforming rehabilitation agenda, supervision of low- to medium-risk offenders was outsourced last year to 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), run by private companies with payment-by-results contracts. Cases involving high-risk offenders remain within the National Probation Service (NPS), which is now part of the civil service. Kirton’s report on working conditions in both sides of the service, published on 23 February, reveals a fractured workforce feeling the strain of increased workload, less autonomy, job insecurity and narrowing opportunities for training and progression. 
The paper is well worth reading in full, but in essence the findings will come as no great surprise to regular readers of this blog. Here are some highlights:- 

Earlier studies of privatisation and outsourcing in other industries/occupations have shown that there are both adverse worker and union effects that flow from marketisation /commercialisation. In respect of effects on work/careers/working conditions, these can end up being particularly deleterious for women workers and for feminised occupations (such as probation). When it comes to union effects, previous privatisation/outsourcing programmes have revealed the potential for negative impact on a union’s ability to represent members effectively, bargain on behalf of members, and recruit and retain members in the newly created multi-employer context. The concern about negative union effects, is likely amplified in the case of a small independent union (such as Napo) where there are bound to be concerns about its future viability.

In the case of probation, where the main union doubles up as a professional association, Napo not only fears that the probation split and privatisation/outsourcing will have adverse impact on staff terms, conditions and welfare, and on training and career prospects, but also on the service provided to ‘clients’(offenders) and on the risk to the public. Much of the academic debate so far about Transforming Rehabilitation comes from criminal justice scholars and typically focuses on the impact on purposes and values of probation, on delivery of probation services and on clients (e.g. Deering and Feilzer 2015). While this debate is obviously extremely important, it is equally important to consider the effects on employees and unions in order to keep them firmly at the centre of the post-TR picture as key probation stakeholders. Therefore, in contrast to the debate so far, this report is concerned with the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation on employment relations in probation, on the main probation union (Napo) and on probation practitioners’ working conditions/careers. In addition, we take a gender and equality lens to our research and analysis confronting the fact that as an occupation, probation, like some other public services, has comprised a predominantly female workforce for more than 20 years.


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Interview sample 

In order to get a picture of national union activity, we carried out interviews with four national officers (lay elected) and four national officials (paid appointed). The main aim though was to hear from Napo branches about their experiences and those of the members they represent. We set out with the aim of interviewing at least one officer from each of the 21 Napo branches, but practical constraints meant that in the end, we managed to conduct 29 interviews across 17 branches (see Table 4.1). This sample gave us a cross section including female and male Napo branch officers (63/37% split), CRC and NPS (52/48% split) workers, and different grades of probation practitioner represented by Napo. We assured all research participants of anonymity and therefore we do not name individuals or their branches in the findings sections.

Branch case studies 

The regions selected for the branch case studies were: Greater London (CRC owners MTCNovo); Kent, Surrey, Sussex (CRC owners Seetec); Northumbria (CRC owners Sodexo); West Yorkshire (CRC owners Purple Futures). Combined, these branches provided geographical spread across the country, different CRC owners, and different offending/client profiles. In three cases, we attended branch meetings (where we had the chance to listen to members articulate their concerns about the post-TR enviroment) and in one, we held two roundtable discussions that specifically addressed the current challenges and concerns post-TR. Those in attendance at these branch events were a mix of NPS and CRC employees. 

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Findings: Employment relations and working conditions after Transforming Rehabilitation

Introduction


To begin with, it is worth stating that we found an almost total lack of support for TR and the probation split. Just one or two Napo officers (branch and national) were of the view that in principle opening up a space for more providers (especially third sector) to be involved in delivery of probation services might create more innovation. However, we found an unequivocal lack of support for private sector company involvement. The split was often described using highly emotive metaphors – ‘a train crash’, ‘a messy divorce’ – that conveyed the strength of feeling in opposition to TR. Similarly, referring to the aftermath of TR people frequently talked about ‘grieving’, ‘mourning’ and feeling ‘loss’.

The findings section of this report considers employment relations and working conditions after TR with a special focus on gender and union effects. While our discussions with Napo (national and branch) officers, activists and members could not help but touch on the impact of TR on clients, this was not the focus of our research and this topic is therefore not considered in any depth in this report (see Deering and Feilzer 2015 on this aspect of TR).

Prior to TR employment relations operated, and basic terms and conditions were set, within a national agreement with Napo. However, a variety of formal and informal arrangements not covered by the national agreement, many negotiated by Napo branches, existed in the 35 Probation Trusts and across different probation workplaces. Following restructuring and outsourcing, one significant question, as yet unanswered, is how/if the locally based formal/informal arrangements that staff might have benefited from (e.g. flexible work) have transferred to the new structures of the NPS and CRCs. We also consider whether new, possibly detrimental, formal/informal practices have emerged.

The motivation to reduce labour costs (the greatest overhead) will obviously be particularly strong in the CRCs as a means of creating the profit margin sought by the private owners. Previous restructuring, privatisation and outsourcing programmes suggest that savings might be achieved by not replacing leavers and increasing workloads, cutting training opportunities, using PSOs to do some aspects of PO work, and of course redundancies cannot by any means be ruled out (note Sodexo’s May 2015 announcement of an impending redundancy round). Our findings provide compelling evidence that all of these apply in outsourced probation. Equally, in the current environment government austerity measures are bound to impact eventually on the NPS, now part of the Civil Service.

Fundamentally, TR has disrupted a well-functioning public service and apart from the immediate fall-out for staff working conditions, there are medium-long term employment relations ramifications suggested by experiences so far among probation staff and national and branch union officers.

Experiences of the probation service split

Before we start talking about what have been overwhelmingly negative staff and union experiences of TR so far, it is worth reiterating the point made earlier in the introduction to this report that longer-serving probation practitioners are familiar with organisational and occupational restructuring, but this has become more significant over the last decade or so (see Deering and Feilzer 2015). Many of the people we spoke to talked about the historic resilience of probation staff in the face of regular change – in other words, these are not people who habitually complain about the slightest change to working practices, but rather they are people who get on with the task of doing their best for their clients. Further, many probation workers do not oppose change per se and some supported the principle of introducing greater scope for innovation in probation work if it is for the benefit of clients. However, we did not speak to any national and branch union officers who believed that this was the aim or outcome of TR and the survey gave no indication that the wider staff population generally believes this to be the case.

Aside from the widespread in principle opposition to the split of probation services, negative employee experiences with TR began with the processes for deciding who would go where. Some branch officers even felt that pressure on staff (e.g. to work with tighter deadlines and fewer resources) started building soon after TR was announced as the employers (the Probation Trusts), themselves under pressure from the MoJ, wanted probation to look like it was meeting its performance targets in order to attract ‘high calibre’ bidders.

In the course of our research, we talked quite extensively to Napo national and branch officers and activists about experiences of the implementation of the split and in addition, the survey asked questions about this. Despite the fact that staff could express a preference for either the NPS or the CRCs, a common view was that people did not have sufficient information about what would become the two distinct parts of probation on which to make a considered choice.

The allocation methodology used – based on an assessment, against guidelines issued by the MoJ, of work undertaken on a single day in November 2013 – caused much consternation, dissatisfaction and bewilderment among probation staff. Many practitioners felt that what was widely seen to have been an extremely simplistic methodology, did not properly acknowledge their probation experience, qualifications and skill sets. Although Napo branch officers acknowledged that managers found the guidelines complex, they did feel that the guidelines were in the main applied fairly and transparently – ‘it was what it was’ was a phrase often used. Generally, it was with the guidelines, and with the fact that there was a prior government-set agenda to outsource 70% of probation workers, that Napo national officials, most Napo national and branch officers and members took issue.

There were though one or two reports of random allocation in order to meet the target numbers and even one instance of literally pulling names out of a hat! We also received reports from some individuals who felt they had been allocated to the CRC as a punishment for having taken a grievance against the Trust or having stood up to senior managers in the recent past. Some people reported blatant errors in individual cases and there was one region where newly qualified POs were automatically assigned to the CRC which branch union officers considered grossly unfair. This all caused a lot of uncertainty and stress for the individuals involved even if errors were rectified, transfers made or appeals upheld.

According to the survey, those placed in the NPS were more likely to agree with their allocation (87%) compared with those placed in the CRCs (52%). There were no significant differences here across grade or gender. The general preference for the NPS reflects most probation workers’ desire to remain in the public sector and a quite common perception that allocation to the CRCs symbolised professional failure. Some people did however express a preference for the CRC, usually because they thought there would be more opportunities for innovation. One survey respondent explained that she was told that the CRC would offer more scope to work in the local community and with clients’ families, which was something she valued. She said that she had been na├»ve to believe this and that such opportunities had not materialised; instead, she spent most of her day in front of a computer.

Despite high-level dissatisfaction with allocation to the CRCs, of survey respondents, only 15% appealed. This likely reflects a degree of fatalism, but it is largely a function of the fact that challenges to decisions were only accepted if there had been an error in applying the criteria. The criteria were very narrow and therefore very difficult to challenge, as some branch officers explained.

I know one probation officer that volunteered to go and work for the CRC and I know one that was transferred who was happy. Other probation officers … have spoken to me … because they were unhappy… they all appealed the decision for them to be transferred to the CRC and they all lost their appeals because there was only a three- stage appeal and you had to meet certain criteria and they didn’t … And there were people that were off on maternity leave at the time that the shift was done and they were transferred because they didn’t happen to be in a team at that time. So if you were in a team that time managing high risk offenders or sex offenders then you would have got transferred as probation officer because that’s the cases that went. But if you were off sick or maternity leave and there were two women that were on maternity leave at the time, they both got transferred into the CRC. And before they went on maternity leave they was dealing with high risk cases. (Branch officer)

Oh, you could express preference. Basically the way it happened is, some decisions were made for you in the sense that some people were put in one or the other and then people who were left were given the opportunity to choose, but the people who were given the opportunity to choose were a very small number compared to the overall … So if you worked in a hostel you were in the NPS, if you worked in support services you were in the CRC, if you worked in a prison you were in the NPS but if you worked in programmes you were in the CRC … some things you were just automatically put into one or the other without any negotiation. But that was the decision taken by central government, by the ministry and by NOMS. (Branch officer)
Reinforcing this, some survey respondents commented that in their Trust the Chief Probation Officer made it perfectly clear that appeals would not be ‘allowed’ and others saw the appeal process as too stressful to pursue. Branch officers’ view of the relatively small number of appeals was that many people chose to leave probation altogether rather than go through the appeal process.

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Working conditions and employee experiences in probation post-TR

The evidence from this research indicating that working conditions and employee experiences in probation post-TR and the split of the service have deteriorated is compelling for both parts – the NPS and the CRCs. The section considers the evidence from our research in three parts: workplace culture; working conditions; probation careers. Where we found significant differences across the dimensions of gender, race/ethnicity, age, grade, public/private, we highlight these. When it comes to gender, it is important to underline the fact that probation is more than 70% women and therefore the experiences described below are predominantly women’s experiences of public sector restructuring/outsourcing.

Workplace culture

When it comes to workplace culture, the recurrent themes were lack of inclusion, staff feeling unvalued, uncertainty, lack of consultation and low morale – these were all sources of stress and anxiety affecting both the NPS and CRCs, women and men, and all age groups. These themes arose in interviews, roundtable discussions, WiN workshops and are confirmed by the survey (see Table 5.2).

At the time of the fieldwork (January – June 2015), most probation workplaces still housed both NPS and CRC workers, although typically workplaces had been physically divided by use of different floors or parts of floors for NPS and CRC staff. Many branch officers talked about how divisive the split had been for staff groups who had previously worked together in an integrated fashion, but who now experienced tension, resentment and other negative emotions across the divide. A substantial number of survey respondents echoed this view (see Table 5.2). The following quote from one branch officer is a typical example of people’s experiences: 

Some people were sort of like oh, I’ve got NPS because I’m a good probation officer … everyone was highly emotive at that time, emotions were high. And so I think that affected things, so people thought “they think they’re better than us” … So you had this office where people worked with clients, I mean, it wasn’t perfect but then when the split came, it was literally like someone took an axe to the office and smashed it in half. And I don’t think it’s got better since then.
Everyday signs of the split included separate stationery cupboards, separate fridges, all the way down to separate tea bags. While research participants laughed about these trivial symbols of the split, they also identified serious consequences of the separation of functions/tasks for service delivery and by extension for their own professional ethics. The consequences included: CRC staff not being able to access offender records they had written after an offender transferred to the NPS; no lines of communication between CRC and NPS staff about individual cases; clients being kept waiting for unreasonable amounts of time because there was no available NPS/CRC worker to deal with them; longstanding complex cases being reallocated a PO several times as a succession of people transferred from the CRC to the NPS. One quote from a branch officer interview expresses the sentiments of many research participants: 
People felt sort of processed and undervalued and there’s this split so colleagues that you worked with very closely are suddenly in this other organisation and there are tales that if you go up on the fourth floor where the NPS are, they’re supposed to turn their screens off if you go up to talk to them. You know, we’ve always shared information.
This new division of work, and the isolation of people it brings, is seen as very detrimental to the capacity professionals have to face their daily work challenges:
I don’t think this is a job you could do if you did kind of isolate yourself from your colleagues because you have to be able to cope with the things that you hear and you read and there’s stuff that you have to talk about … I can’t tell you how difficult it is doing some of the things we have to do in our job. And being able to get support from your colleagues in doing that and even just the feeling of they know what I’m going through because they have to do it too, that helps. And so we work in an open plan office, some of our offices are smaller, but shared between a couple of people and you form close bonds with people that you sit close to because they’re the ones that overhear you when you have difficult phone conversations and you put the phone down and they’ll be the ones putting the kettle on and, ‘do you need to talk about it?’. Or they’re the ones that at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon where suddenly you have to complete a recall who rally round and keep you going. (National officer)
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There can surely be no doubt that the national situation in the CRCs has a lot to do with the Sodexo announcement in May 2015 of impending large-scale redundancies in the CRCs it owns and with Purple Futures also apparently indicating that redundancies might be in the offing. Combined, Sodexo and Purple Futures own 11 of the 21 CRCs and the sense of insecurity staff feel is bound to reverberate even among the CRCs with different owners. In fact, among the eight CRC owners, the survey indicates that the workplace culture of Sodexo owned CRCs is particularly problematic. In three branches with Sodexo owned CRCs, workers experienced particularly high levels of uncertainty (85%), and in four particularly high levels of low morale were reported (76%). On Sodexo, two participants’ comments mirror those of other people we spoke to in Sodexo owned CRCs:

I feel that Sodexo have lied to me, have tried to cheat myself and colleagues out of redundancy packages and have created total uncertainty in many areas of my working and private life. I have increased stress and anxiety since the TR and Probation split. (Survey respondent)

I retrained to come into this. And I’m not in it for the money, I came into it because I wanted to do the job and I believed in the job. I’ve never felt in twenty-odd years that I didn’t want to come into work, but it’s pretty soul destroying at the moment. And I think everywhere you go people are very flat. We just had the whole redundancy scenario explained to us and again you know, it’s affected everybody’s morale. (Branch roundtable participant)
Participants in the WiN workshop also felt that different CRC owners had different cultures – ranging from purely profit driven to mission driven – and that the full implications of this for probation staff would unfold over time. Participants thought, for example, that profit driven owners would attempt to drive down labour costs by various means in order to extract more profit, while mission driven owners would seek to enlist volunteers to deliver some probation services within budget. Practitioners now working in CRCs who were specialised in delivering programmes and working with the community before the split mentioned the effects that the restructuring had already had on the delivery of programmes with some activities designed to support clients disappearing or being diluted. Both models – the profit driven and mission driven – would result in an adverse climate for the probation workforce and the future of training and development and long-term careers would surely be put in jeopardy.

Against this discussion of the CRCs, it is important to stress, however, that our research in general and the survey results in particular hardly suggest a positive workplace culture in the NPS either, with widespread perceptions of uncertainty, feeling unvalued, lack of consultation, lack of inclusion and low morale in both parts of probation. In addition, on the NPS side, many branch officers and survey respondents felt frustrated by the more bureaucratic culture of the Civil Service compared to their experience of Probation Trusts. One branch officer, an SPO managing approved premises, spoke about the operational difficulties he was now facing especially when an unforeseen event or crisis occurred. Getting authorisation to make necessary expenditure had become more complex especially outside of normal office hours. He described a situation where unexpectedly he had to move 18 high-risk offenders released from prison on licence, which required spending on accommodation, food and transport. His story and the manner of its telling was one of palpable frustration.

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As with workplace culture, on some of the working conditions of greatest concern – stress, workloads, closures and relocation – branches with Sodexo owned CRCs consistently appear to fare among the worst. The highest stress levels were reported in four branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (56%); there was a higher than average inability to cope with workload in two branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (48%); there was higher than average fear of workplace closures and relocation in four branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (74%).

When it comes to targets and deadlines, at least one CRC that we are aware of is considering ‘naming and shaming’ individuals who do not meet targets (for example, completion of OAsys reports). Completing OAsys reports is widely seen as laborious and onerous and target deadlines too short. One issue that cropped up is that deadlines are unadjusted for part-timers, so they experience particular pressure with completing this task on time – while admittedly this has been the case for some time part-timers are apparently feeling the pressure far more keenly in the current stressful and insecure environment. For many full-timers the unrealistic deadlines result in long hours working – and attendant accumulation of TOIL already discussed. Added to this, nearly half of survey respondents reported that there is no cover for staff absences (sickness, annual leave, TOIL etc) and work simply accumulates or is redistributed to already overloaded staff. For many, work overload was resulting in poor health, but there was also fear (apparently unprecedented in probation) of taking sick leave in case sickness records are used against individuals in a future redundancy situation in the CRCs. There were also some reports of managers advising individuals to use annual leave instead of sick leave to avoid getting a warning. The following survey respondents described their experiences:
I am frightened to take sick time off from work, even though it is stress related. Really have to work hard so can take TOIL off. Targets and workload are too high. I co-work cases that really should belong to POs. There isn’t any time most times to say hi to other colleagues, always rushing around.

I rarely take time off on sick but I have recently taken two weeks off with stress and anxieties. Due to my work, it has been affecting my already high blood pressure, which I am treated for and I constantly suffer from heart palpitations and chest pains. I am concerned about my physical health on the back of this, as well as my mental health. I have come back after two weeks off sick because I was concerned for my colleagues who already in a very small team, and the fact they were having to cover my cases in my absence, I did not return because I felt better.
Targets have become a highly contentious issue in some CRCs and in some NPS workplaces. One branch officer explained that in his office (which contains both CRC and NPS staff) every offender manager is on the first stage of the disciplinary process (action plan) for failing to meet targets caused by severe understaffing. He believed that staff would be unlikely to meet the action plan requirements because they are still getting additional cases.

For many practitioners, work overloaded was not simply about the volume of cases – which is typically the greater problem on the CRC side. NPS practitioners are also overloaded in terms of the intensity and complexity of high-risk cases as one roundtable participant explains: 
I mean literally my workload has virtually doubled as a result of TR. But not only doubled, it’s jumped in intensity because you don’t have those minor offences, you don’t have the six month orders, the twelve month orders. The large majority of my cases at the moment won’t terminate until 2018, 2019. I’ve got offenders that I will be supervising until 2027. Now they’re telling me your caseloads are going to get better and only literally over the last two weeks have I seen any kind of respite. But no one seems to be able to tell me what’s going to happen to all the cases that are going to need to be allocated between now and 2027 because my caseload isn’t going anywhere. There isn’t the natural tail-off anymore because we’re getting such beefy sentences because we’re dealing with the higher risk.
Many Napo branch officers put the widespread stress in the NPS down to the change in the nature of POs’ workloads, who formerly would typically have had a mix of high and medium risk clients providing some balance to their working week. They are now dealing with only highly complex high-risk cases often involving some harrowing crimes and these clients require a lot of individual attention and multiple strategies, which can prove physically and emotionally exhausting for offender managers.

Apart from stress, other health and safety concerns also emerged in interviews, roundtables and workshops. There are concerns about safety, especially for female staff, when meeting clients outside of the workplace; when supervising domestic violence cases with only the most basic training; when running programmes with larger numbers of male participants than previously; about planned removal of screens from offices and installation of hot drinks machines in reception areas. Branch officers reported that health and safety seem to have slipped off the employers’ agenda and there is no risk assessments conducted. One female branch officer’s experience illustrates the potential health and safety consequences of not sharing information across the NPS/CRC divide as well as those that might flow from an artificial hierarchy of offender risk:

I ran a [domestic violence] group on one occasion where the men were disclosing some of their offences and I was really aware being a tutor in that room that I did not know the background of all these men who I was tutoring. So I didn’t know their risk because I didn’t have access to their information. And there was one guy on there and he turned round and he said, “I was in prison, I’m out now, I was done for stabbing my partner”. And you just sit there as a tutor and you think this is information I shouldn’t be having to be grappling around for, or not having access to. This should be information that I should have access to because potentially there is a risk to me …
Practitioners fear new risks for themselves, but also less efficiency in dealing with offenders. The implementation of new IT systems by the private companies that do not combine with the NPS system was raised repeatedly as a major communication problem, but it also constrains communication with other agencies and the police. In the NPS, many participants underline the complete organisational chaos in which they operate and emphasise the fact that if the service is still functioning, it is thanks to professionals’ good will and dedication.

In addition to the general concerns about working conditions expressed across gender and grade, disability-specific issues also cropped up. Some staff with disabilities experienced problems in the NPS with retaining the ‘reasonable adjustments’ provided by the Trusts:

Since the split, virtually every person who has a disability, and asked for reasonable adjustments, has seen either their admin support has been removed without anything replacing it or their workload relief has been cut without anything replacing it. Their assisted technology, if it isn’t working well managers have been encouraged to say well don’t use it. But they’re not making other adjustments instead and we’re having a devil of a time in [the region] at the moment because we have quite a strong minded equalities lead for the NPS side who is absolutely determined that you shouldn’t be given workload relief as a matter of course if you’re an assisted technology user. You should be able to be up to speed as soon as you’ve had the training and it doesn’t work like that because assisted technology packages are rubbish, they don’t work. (WiN workshop participant)
I am disabled and my reasonable adjustments have not been provided/honoured post-split. I have been informed or 'threatened' that intermittent disability leave can result in dismissal by HR - despite only having one day off - evidence of a 'bullying culture' and a lack of respect for disability issues within the NPS. This has been echoed by other Napo colleagues. (Survey respondent)

One of the things that they announced a few months ago is that all our staff with assisted technology, and some of them have got 30% workload reductions and they said well, that’s got to go. That you’ve got the assisted technology and you work at 100% or as close to 100% of your colleagues. Well, I mean, all our staff with assisted technology in NPS have all put grievances in. They’re up in the air and they’re all majorly worried that they’re suddenly going to be taking competency measures out against them. (Branch officer)
As stated previously, working conditions in probation have never been entirely consistent across Trusts, but Napo branch officers did not regard such inconsistencies as existed as a major problem; it was more likely that some branches had been able to negotiate with the local employers to improve on national conditions for the benefit of members. In the current environment, the concern is that deleterious inconsistencies in working conditions are emerging, especially across the CRCs.

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Deprofessionalisation and deskilling were words frequently used by Napo national and branch officers and activists to describe the assault that TR has perpetrated on probation practitioners’ everyday practice as well as professional identity. The branch officers below are all speaking about this from a CRC perspective and the fact that CRC staff cannot supervise high-risk offenders nor do court-related work: 
The big thing for the people left behind [in the CRCs] is the deskilling. One of my colleagues had been a probation officer forever, she’s not allowed to go to a normal hearing anymore without having someone from the NPS accompanying her and when they rang up they said it could be anybody, it didn’t really matter, it just had to be somebody from the NPS to tag along. (Branch officer) 
One example, one of our people went to a parole board hearing and the parole board judge said, “I need somebody from the NPS”. And it’s like, well, I’m a probation officer, yeah, you’re not … Almost like you’re not a proper one, I need a proper one from the NPS and that is the sort of sense that people are getting. That sort of thing is getting out there, it is like the NPS is the professional part of probation. The CRC isn’t …. because NPS have kept all the high risk and dangerous offenders, they kept all the report writing so they do all the court work, all the parole work. So it is all that stuff that probation officers are trained to do and they’re pretty good at it most of them. But the ones who are in the CRC are no longer allowed to do those key core tasks that was always the job of a probation officer. And I think that’s where the sense of deskilling, deprofessionalisation …. you’ve got examples where somebody has just qualified and they’re in the NPS and they’ve been a probation officer for like, a few weeks. But they are allowed to make a decision that somebody who’s been a probation officer for fifteen years is no longer allowed to make purely because of where they ended up. (Branch officer)
The deskilling and the deprofessionalisation for me were almost immediate. You need to hand your lifers over and I was really angry about that because one in particular I’d had for I think about eleven years. He’s in a special hospital and the only outside contact this man has is with his probation officer and he had a relationship with his previous probation officer that was quite productive and he passed him on to me and then I spent quite a long time working on having a productive relationship with this man who’s got some fairly significant illnesses and then just to have that removed. Oh, he’s got to go to somebody else now because you know, you’re no longer … And nobody actually said you’re no longer qualified but that’s how it feels. (Branch officer)
CRC practitioners find it demeaning and an insult to their professional knowledge and expertise that they can no longer perform certain tasks or supervise high-risk offenders. It also makes them conscious that certain career choices are no longer available to them (e.g. to transition to high-risk cases). There has also been a negative impact on professional identity experienced by NPS staff:
The whole thing about professional identity I feel has gone and you can’t measure that, can you. You can’t quantify what that means to you as a practitioner, what you see going on around you. But it just feels like a series of tasks, every day you have a to-do list and a set of targets to meet. You are making decisions and somewhere in the middle, you might exercise your professional judgement. It doesn’t actually feel that way because all the time it’s about a process rather than about looking at anything, having the capacity to reflect on what you’re doing and look at the bigger picture and understand what’s going on and have time to talk to anybody about what it is you’re trying to do at any point in time. (Branch officer)
While people recognised that many of the professional challenges with which they are now grappling existed prior to TR (e.g. unrealistic targets, poor IT infrastructure, changes to training and development, poor practice tools, etc), the almost universal view is that TR has only served to exacerbate the problems. CRC practitioners, but also some in the NPS, underline the fact the new owners do not understand probation work and are making unreasonable proposals to restructure the organisation of work that practitioners predict will fail. Overall, TR seems to have had a negative impact on professional identity and it also seems to have removed from many the sense of pride they took in being part of probation: 
We’re proud workers, you know. When I qualified to become a probation officer, it was like wow, and all my family and friends were like really pleased. And you take pride in your work and when you see people change for the better, you know, someone that gets a job that finds it difficult …. that outweighs all the crappy days and now that’s all gone because the cuts that the government are implementing, have implemented, and the rest that are going to come, means that there isn’t much you can do …. (Branch officer)
The above branch officer went on to lament how a lot of POs were now taking a tougher stance with offenders (and for example instigating formal breaches more frequently) because the scope had shrunk for using professional judgement without risking reprimand or formal disciplinary proceedings starting.

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Another issue that cropped up regularly in discussions was the creeping blurring of the boundaries between PO and PSO roles, which had started prior to TR, but which had escalated such that it had become a major concern especially in the CRCs. The fear is (and all the signs suggest) that the CRCs will employ as few POs as possible whose main role will end up being to supervise/oversee/sign off the work of PSOs. As the branch officer below observes, this could be a money saving exercise for the CRC owners:

You’ve got probation officers in the CRC managing the same cases as probation service officers so in reality why would you pay them £7,000 a year more, why would you do it? So I think at some point there’s going to be that deprofessionalisation where they just get rid of the qualified people because they don’t need them. The model requires that you might keep one or two around to like oversee but really and truly I think there’s going to be a move to deprofessionalise the CRC. I don’t think long term they’ll have the qualification there because why … The qualification is really expensive and if you don’t need to put people on it why would you? Also in reality you probably put them on a qualification, eventually they’ll leave to go to the NPS anyway because if they’re qualified to work with high risk offenders why would they not work with high risk offenders?
They’re talking about removing the PO/PSO boundaries. Up to now there have been quite clear divisions that certain parts of the work are done by POs and for that they got paid a PO grade. And certain other tasks were done by PSOs who hadn’t been through the training and weren’t paid as much. I think there’s been pressure over the past few years for the PSOs to do more of the work that was previously done by the POs and that’s something that as a union we’ve been against because we think that people should be trained to do the job they’re doing, paid for the job they’re doing. And I think at the briefing [by the CRC owners] they said, we’re going to remove these boundaries. So the concern is OK, so if you’re going to get a PSO to do that work are they going to be paid the same rate? People worked hard to get their qualification, they want it, and it’s part of your identity.
Whereas previously, the blurring of role boundaries was part of the professional group dynamics, allowing learning processes and flexibility, many Napo officers fear that the CRC owners will use it as an argument to re-band and rebrand PSO grades:
… there is a total blurring of boundaries, but that’s been constant ever since I’ve been in probation… blurring the boundaries all the time because they [case administrators] are doing more of the stuff that a PSO might have previously done… They’ve piloted it here of having administrators in court taking all the court results and someone just gets sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work, they don’t need a probation worker to do that, you can just have an administrator, just see them outside the court room… that’s happening already and I think that will happen more and more. Because if you’re a private company you want to get the best deal you can. (Branch officer)
Post-TR and the probation split, probation careers appear overall to offer less satisfaction and fulfilment and fewer opportunities to make a difference – and this is what attracted many practitioners in the first place. Overall, the deskilling and downgrading of jobs, the end of career progression and the conversion to market forces (in the CRCs) symbolises the deterioration of a professional space that had attracted many women who found probation offered non-discriminatory working conditions and career prospects.

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Apart from the few activists who are known to have left Napo because they disagreed with the union strategy and felt betrayed by the outcomes of the Judicial Review, branch officers report that their members have not left Napo in large numbers. They also report that losses are mainly due to members retiring or leaving probation in the wake of TR.

But I think realistically, if you look beyond that active layer which is quite a thin layer of people really, key activists within branches may be only, you know, a few dozen people really. But wider membership I found are far more realistic about what our prospects were … and what the long term prospects are, the fact that we have to keep defending their terms and conditions. We haven’t had this huge haemorrhaging of membership that some were anticipating. We’ve had people leave but I think that is, it’s been in the dozens, not the hundreds. And you know, we need to analyse the data but it seems that most of those people who have left are because they are retiring or they are moving on because they don’t like what is happening. We haven’t had a sort of a backlash against the union in that sense. So there is a bit of a wait and see attitude amongst the membership as to whether we’re going to stem the tide and continue to have an influence within both the NPS and the CRCs. (National Officer)
We have lost members through mainly through just natural wastage of people retiring. People have left, people are so fed up that I’ve had people who’ve said to me I’ve had enough, I’ve got no other job to go onto but I can’t stand it anymore, I’m leaving and they’ve left. People have resigned. All sorts going … And it’s a really unhappy place. (Branch officer) 

17 comments:

  1. Great article and research which someone should take notice of. Unfortunately it will all just be swept under the carpet and ignored by those responsible for running what now passes for a Probation Service. Both CRC and NPS appear to be " managing" people out of employment by making their lives intolerable in terms of demands on their time and empathy. They should be ashes of themselves.

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  2. Ashes of themselves? Moronic comment alert. He wants people to burn. Jim take action

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    1. ashamed of themselves perhaps?

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  3. From Devon to Carlisle and Newcastle to Southampton the same story is rolling in, this was an untested ill conceived and poorly managed idea that can never generate the profit that was promised...even when the culling stops......the many Chiefs briefings we attended when we were assured that POs will have a role......all lies......the creativity and shackle removing innovation.....lies......the end of red tape......lies and it's now worse than ever....so yes it is bad all over the country so it's time for the MOJ to accept some responsibility for this situation...oh but they did that didn't they.....they won an award......you couldn't make it up........

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  4. http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2016/feb/23/privatisation-probation-service-stressed-job-cuts?CMP=share_btn_fb

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  5. TR is even worse than many of us imagined. Many of us did not have a choice about where we went. The numbers were wrong leaving one side or another short of staff. So then rather than giving jobs in NPS to staff that were forced into CRC's they took on new staff. Recently told I have to write a parole report but must have someone from NPS at parole hearing, after years of managing high risk cases.

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  6. All this bleating about "High Risk Cases". Probation Officer work included high risk but was not central to what we did. Risk assessment and understanding may have been (that is another debate) but not HIGH risk. As a PO in NPS my caseload divides into two categories, people who have done something horrid and have done or are doing long sentences. They are largely safe as they know their freedom hangs by a thread. And people who are truly dangerous and we all know about it.

    As a PO in my trust I had a caseload of people some of whom were like those mentioned above but the mass were assessed as Medium risk. they included all those DV cases and chaotic drug using robbers/burglars. Any one of which could go off the deep end at any point. I would argue that the bulk of my caseload were more worrying 2 years ago because they were less predictable.

    CRC caseloads are potentially MORE dangerous than the stuff I now deal with day to day. My problem with my current caseload is that I am stressed not by what they might do but by what they have done. Constantly being given rapists and wife killers has/is undermining my faith in humanity and (as a man) in men.

    Point is that by banging on about how you could do High risk work you are undermining the point you are trying to make, CRC demands EQUALLY high standards of staff because you have to be alert to what your caseloads might do. A CRC caseload, person for person is statistically more likely to produce an SFO than an NPS caseload. There are no supports for the staff in spotting this and when (and it is a when) it happens you will be on your own.

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    1. Excellent points 21:54.

      Why are POs not allowed to do their job at parole hearings? I still don't fully understand.

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    2. Anon 21:54 I absolutely agree with your points. I was not 'bleating about high risk cases' but the fact that in the crc we have no autonomy. Everything checked by nps who we once worked alongside.

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    3. That is not because you are incapable but because you are no longer "An officer of the Court" and so no longer recognised and authorised to represent. A stupid situation that none of us wanted

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    4. Bleating not aimed at you, but it is a constant refrain here as if High risk is the only "Real" probation work and the touchstone to good practice. Which in my view is rubbish.

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  7. Only one disappointing thing not to come out in this research, is the diluted court reports seen in at least 95% of cases. That is not down to colleagues in NPS its down to NOMS and MOJ.

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  8. A very clear and concise analysis of reality in probation, past and present by 21:54. Several years ago I used to work solely with sex offenders. This group, however, were not the ones killing or being killed by others. I've known a fair few probation clients who have sadly met their demise at the hands of other people; the perpetrators on the whole being those that would most likely be assessed as "medium risk."

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    1. As I and others have said here on a number of occasions, the focus on risk is a smokescreen that was fabricated & introduced to divide & rule (e.g. the shafting process of 11 Nov 2013), a Trojan Horse for managerialism, a pseudo-science with which to command & control staff. The manufactured misdirections of Low, Medium & High or Green, Amber & Red, etc. are evident, as shown by Anon 21:54, and therein lies the real concern. It is incontrovertible that CRC caseloads are more volatile & more likely to generate a SFO, but the MoJ model states that the CRCs "only" have "low & medium risk cases", and that the "highest risk cases" are managed by the NPS. The implications are clear (NPS good, CRC bad); the deception (of bidders, of staff, of the public) is hidden by the emotive smokescreens of low, medium & high.

      They've used labelling theory to bamboozle & corral practitioners, and in the process have encouraged those practitioners to take their eyes off the prize, i.e. the uniqueness of the individual. Long gone are the days of discussing cases; its now commercially sensitive this, group that, processing, programmes, sequencing, metrics, blah blah blah.

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  9. 21:54 here

    Actually on reflection CRC has to be BETTER than NPS as you don't know what you are getting.

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  10. Remote case management by tablet to be piloted by WL. How can you assess acute risk factors?

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  11. TR Is Crap Says Research. I agree, not completely, but very largely. This was a bad idea at the outset and no amount of tinkering will, in my opinion, make it very much better. There were, and still are, solutions to the issues we were faced with that would have made much more sense. It is time to start presenting those ideas so that they gain some traction and realistically with a view that they start to take shape not in this decade but the next. How we as Probation professionals inform those ideas is not clear to me at this stage. The research pleases me as it mirrors my experiences accurately but equally it does not present a different vision for the future. Please can we start presenting an alternative?

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