I took action - I took legal advice (expensive), I took union advice (pisspoor), I spoke with my MP (buffoon), I wrote to the press (ineffective), I challenged senior managers (unpleasant), I challenged the CEO (deeply unpleasant), I wrote to the Chair of the new owners (unanswered). The inevitable happened & I walked - I could still feel cold steel in my back for some considerable time. At least I tried. Others kept their counsel, kept their heads down, smiled & are still there as far as I know.To this I could add that for all the seemingly endless blogging, it's all been to no avail. But then night turns to day; the sun comes out; the mood lifts and maybe the glass isn't half empty after all....
It's becoming increasingly clear to me though that the traditional ways of trying to influence things in our supposedly democratic society just don't work any more. Of course the rather more politically-aware might say they never did - "if voting ever changed anything, it would be banned". But we really do seem to be sleep-walking into an increasingly corrupt and totalitarian state with the Tories up to all kinds of sneaky, underhand tricks. Why, David Cameron even intends to abolish the vast majority of Conservative Associations because they've got too much democratic power! This from the Telegraph:-
David Cameron needs to crush his party members – or risk Labour's fate
The election of Jeremy Corbyn shows you can't trust your grassroots. Reforming Conservative associations is long overdue. Party members – who’d have them? Not the Labour Party, for sure. Jeremy Corbyn is the living, breathing emblem of why you can actually have too much democratic involvement in a political party.
Indeed, party members are the wrong people to make most political decisions. It doesn’t matter that in a world of mass higher education and social media everyone has a view and a channel for publishing it. The fetishisation of participation has masked two fundamental facts about modern political parties: their membership, despite blips, is too small to be in any real sense representative of voters, and at the same time too large to be a proper, modern, professional organisation. This is the tearing tension in modern parties – the desire to "involve people", which risks getting big decisions wrong, and the need to centralise, which risks accusations of control-freakery. It is in that context that Cameron is about to embark on the messy and dangerous process of party reform. His stated aim: professionalization. The purpose: power. The problem: it’s all a bit too late.
Now I've got no time for Nick Clegg after what he did to help bring about TR, but he's right about this, writing in the Independent:-
Nick Clegg accuses Conservatives of 'rigging the rules' in attempt to create 'one-party state'
Nick Clegg has accused the Conservatives of “Americanising” British politics by “rigging the rules” against their opponents in the hope of creating a “one-party state.” In his first newspaper interview since last May’s general election, the former Deputy Prime Minister condemned David Cameron for using “One Nation rhetoric” to mask his Government’s decision to abandon the Coalition’s progressive policies.
Mr Clegg told The Independent that the Tories had departed dramatically from the tradition that the “rules of the game” in British politics were agreed on a cross-party basis. He cited their “petty, spiteful” moves to cripple Labour’s funding by changing the way trade unionists pay the political levy and cutting state funding for opposition parties.
He said: “If you look at the way the Conservatives seek to hobble and neuter Westminster, the bullying swagger with which they treat the BBC, the general air of hubris, there is a feeling that politics is being reduced to the whims and mood swings of one political party. That is not healthy. “A combination of US-style game playing by the Conservatives and Labour’s self-indulgence is conspiring to leave millions of British voters completely voiceless.”
There are worrying signs everywhere of the Tories trying to close down avenues of dissent with well-publicised plans to stop charities being able to lobby government, and now this from the Conversation website:-
Academics' ability to lobby government under threat from new funding clause
There are growing worries in universities that restrictions on the use of public money to lobby the government, initially focused on charities, may have a chilling effect on the independence of publicly funded research. Whether this is ministers’ intention is an open question.
In mid-February, the government announced that a new clause will be inserted into new and renewed grant agreements from May 1, forbidding recipients from “using taxpayer funds to lobby government and parliament”. As well as covering grants to charities to carry out services, this also covers those “funding research and development”.
Pessimists, and conspiracy theorists, discern a pattern of the government displaying alarming authoritarian instincts. Ministers do not seem to recognise the need for pluralism in an open and democratic society. So “short” money, to help fund political parties (and a “loyal” opposition that is duty-bound to attack the government), has been cut. Meanwhile, local councils have been instructed not to use procurement procedures to enforce boycotts of dubious suppliers. It is not just campaigning charities that are in the government’s sights.
I'm probably old enough to remember there used to be such a concept as 'consensus' in our society; a general cross-party belief in certain things, like social housing when post-war governments, Tory or Socialist, would vie with each other on the number constructed each year. Seems incredible now doesn't it?
There used to be consensus on such matters as criminal justice, but we're only too well aware of how that became a party political football to be used in the shameless pursuit of votes through scare stories in the popular press. The same has been true with so many other areas of social policy, such as drug addiction and treatment, to name but one more. The results have been unmitigated disasters, but still the policies roll on, seemingly impervious to public opinion and now even expert opinion. This astonishing news from Mark Easton on the BBC website:-
Home Office drug strategy: Time to refresh or rethink?
With deaths from illegal drugs in England and Wales at the highest rate ever recorded one might imagine the Home Office would be desperate to ensure it had a robust and effective strategy for dealing with this current crisis. So it comes as a surprise to discover that Ministers have quietly abandoned the idea of a formal consultation process in advance of a new drugs strategy later this month.
Traditionally, these five-year plans are put together after weeks of discussions and submissions from experts and the general public. In 2010 there were 1,850 responses to the drug strategy consultation, including from health professionals, charities, lobby groups, local authorities, government advisors, police and service providers. Individuals with a close interest in drug policy, often because of the death of a close relative, were also encouraged to participate.
But not this time. The new five-year strategy has been written with hardly any public discussion at all. You won't find any details on the Home Office website. Nothing.It is almost as though the department doesn't want to consider alternative options - which is odd because next month UK ministers will be attending the most important United Nations meeting on global drug strategy for decades.
The UN General Assembly will gather in New York to try and agree a new global drug policy. It will decide whether the "war on drugs" should be consigned to history and a new people-centred approach adopted. In short, it is reviewing the international treaty obligations that will frame everything this country does on drugs. So one might have thought ministers would be keen to get the views of everyone touched by drugs policy in Britain as they prepare for this historic United Nations meeting.
I understand that just two meetings specifically about the new UK drugs strategy have been held by the Home Office. They were behind closed doors and there were no votes, no reports and no minutes published.
Our existing political structures seem to be increasingly unable and unwilling to be trusted to fairly represent the views of the people. As far as I'm aware, public opinion is massively in favour of a publicly-run NHS, and yet privatisation continues inexorably under governments of all shades. They euphemistically call it 'reform of public services', but we know what that's code for. Despite the public having no appetite for it, privatisation marches on with social work set to be next in line following the supposed runaway success of farming probation out under TR. This from the Guardian:-
Plans to privatise child protection are moving at pace
During 2014, the government continued to move forward with the marketisation and privatisation of children’s social services, including child protection investigations and assessments.
Following considerable public opposition in May to initial proposals, the government issued a revised regulation. It does not stop private sector companies from getting contracts to provide child protection and other children’s social services. What they will now have to do is set up a not-for-profit subsidiary to provide the services. Money can then be made for the parent company by charging its subsidiary for management, administration and estates services at a cost determined by the parent company. This is how the big companies such as G4S and Serco, which thrive on government contracts, will be able to generate their profit. Some have argued this will not happen. How strong are their arguments?
If existing political structures are proving so much of a problem, what chance have any of us got of influencing things for the better? The answer must surely lie in the wonderful gift to humanity of the internet, the incredible ability to publish and share information freely and easily so as to better understand and hence influence political decision-making. It strikes me that we're the first generation able to benefit from the democratisation of knowledge and the ability to use the same technology to organise independently of existing organisations, and to create new groupings for specific purposes.
It should come as no great surprise that existing organisations feel considerably threatened by this democatisation, for example the recent attempts by the MoJ to stop the families of serving prisoners posting anything relating to the relative on social media sites such as Facebook. The issue is discussed here by Alex Cavendish on his excellent Prison UK:An Insider's View website, incidentally another brilliant example of how the internet is able to provide the means for closer examination of a subject area the government is only too keen was kept firmly under wraps.
When the history comes to be written, I think it's clear that our fight against TR was not assisted by Napo's failure to embrace the opportunities that opened up with the advent of new media and indeed are still struggling to find appropriate ways of responding. Sadly, King Canute-style they have persued a policy of denial, famously censoring the members online forum, actively assisting in it's withering and recently taking it down completely.
Thank goodness we have Facebook though and several groups are really beginning to gain momentum, such as Keep Probation Public, not Private who recently triggered a lively debate on the trials and tribulations of TTG.
Another Facebook posting was responsible for breaking the news about Sodexo 'McDonalds-style' interview booths with the story being picked up in the national press. This has got to be good news in what is otherwise a sea of TR doom and gloom, so I want to give this initiative a boost on here by being cheeky once more and re-publishing some recent threads in the hope that further interest can be generated. However, please bear in mind this health warning on the Facebook page:-
Just a friendly reminder that this is a Public page (in more than just name). Anyone, anywhere can see your comments. We are more than happy to post anonymously - just use the private message function if needed.Keep Probation Public, not Private
We are almost at 4,000 'likes' (thanks everyone!) and our posts reach over 30,000 people. Please help us to reach more by clicking on "invite friends to like this page" and selecting the ones you think would be interested; colleagues, family members, friends. Thank you all for your posts, messages and contributions.
"Hi. Regarding the now tragic state of Through The Gate. I was, until October, a specialist resettlement worker, but now working in Sodexo's TTG as a community worker (feeling very de-skilled currently). We very recently recieved a message that a service user would be released to a local night shelter. On further examination, I found that the prison TTG staff had called around a week before and been told to call back on the day of release. Needless to say, no further work had been done and there was no bed for the individual who will now be street homeless! We would never have let this happen a year ago!"
There's a resettlement team in prisons? Really??? Strange how most of the releases I meet up with have been told 'speak to probation'.
This is happening frequently now. We keep getting people reporting on licence who tell me that the TTG people informed them that Probation will find them accommodation. This is not the case. All we can do is tell them to report to the Council as being homeless. Currently, our referral and support system is shambolic.
I appreciate that the page is primarily focused on CRC issues at the moment and quite right however, in my NPS area, we have been directed to use rental cars and to car share; after being instructed to firstly provide costings and comparisons of train journey VS car and car parking etc. However, please be aware that should you be involved in an accident, it appears that only the driver is insured for any personal injury; passengers are not insured by the NPS insurance company and will have to seek their own legal advice!
Surely if we are told to car share, use hire cars, etc then someone needs to confirm that insurance is in place for everyone in the vehicle?
It is so disappointing to see everyone struggling day to day and not being able to get on with our job.
"I work for ***** CRC and we received an email this week informing us that unpaid work will no longer be delivered on an intensive basis and offenders can only attend one session a week - this alone appears to be a breach of contract. This information was shared with NOMS inspectors who were in the area this week who shared the same view!"
I'll end with this because it will be of interest to many no doubt:-
We've just received notice that all VLOs will be graded at band 3 following the E3 JE process. I have been involved in collective action with all of my VLO colleagues, providing a job description contributed by all and attending NOMS to provide them with a copy and discuss with the JE team. All to no avail I'm afraid. There is roughly a 45/55 % split over the UK with 45% on grade 4. We intend to appeal of course and have asked Ian Lawrence for assistance.
The MoJ promote a pro victim stance but in reality, the service costs money and they are not prepared to fund it with experienced staff. Those VLOs on band 4 terms will now either have to move to another post or take a substantial pay cut. The JE process should not produce anomalies but by Mr Barton's admission, the AP grade 6 posts cannot be agreed for this reason. The process is flawed and NAPO are standing by with the door open as usual. Please keep my identity confidential Jim. Thank you for your platform to expose this whole sham.