Tuesday, 3 May 2016

No Shit Sherlock!

Here we have a fascinating piece in Civil Service World highlighting how the third sector were shafted during the TR bidding process and were used as "bid candy!"  Why, if this carries on, there could be accusations of 'fiddling the figures'.

Transforming Rehabilitation: The MoJ's probation shake-up must not treat charities as "bid candy"

The National Audit Office (NAO) has delivered its verdict on the early days of Transforming Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice’s ambitious attempt to shake-up the probation system. As watchdog reports go, the MoJ will probably be pretty relieved.

Transforming Rehabilitation doesn’t get a clean bill of health — probation staff raised with the NAO concerns about workload and professional relationships, as CSW reported — but the report’s tone is generally positive. Amid substantial changes, with responsibility for managing ex-offenders split between new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and the national probation service, services were found to have been sustained successfully. Officials are praised for its handling of the 21 CRC contracts.

The NAO also refer, briefly, to the charities which bid for prime contracts. "Voluntary bodies were largely unsuccessful," its report concedes, "due to their more limited resources and appetite for risk". But this account feel partial at best.

Here at New Philanthropy Capital we know, from work we have done with rehabilitation charities over the last two years, that there was significant disquiet in the voluntary sector about how this process unfolded for them. Charities had been directly encouraged to apply to act as prime providers, including a senior MoJ official speaking at NPC’s annual conference in 2013 to emphasise how keen the department was to have some not-for-profit organisations in those roles.

Ultimately, though, 20 of the 21 prime contracts went to private providers, and one to a mutual led by probation staff. Some charities have been sub-contracted by the prime providers, but the involvement is far more limited than anticipated. NPC published a short account of those frustrations after we convened a discussion with major rehabilitation charities to reflect on what had gone wrong. All of the charities who bid to run CRCs were well-established, successful, and experienced in managing large public sector contracts.

In talking with us, the charities identified two broad reasons why they thought those bids hadn’t been successful. Firstly, there was a strong feeling that charities had been undone by key, eleventh-hour changes to the bidding process, which left voluntary organisations at a particular disadvantage.

Crucial details of a "parent company guarantee" were only refined after the first bidding rounds had been completed, which required bidders to have a parent company willing to stake assets equivalent to the size of the annual CRC contract. Working with far less capital than private companies, this meant charities needed to scramble to find a third party which would provide the guarantee and carry the risk. Not surprisingly, this created substantial extra work, and many would-be charity providers simply couldn’t find anyone willing to do so. The whole thing, explained one charity involved, was "chaotic and confused".

Secondly, there was a fear that charities’ involvement was merely cosmetic. Voluntary bodies came to suspect they were "bid candy", there only to give an appearance of balance to a process stacked against them: it was politically expedient for MoJ officials to engage them, but little more. These were major players in rehabilitation work, but some admitted to worrying that they had been naïve.

The charities have every right to be frustrated. Government officials shouldn’t play fast and loose with the charity sector. The frustrations we heard didn’t just turn on their failure to get contracts (although they were naturally unhappy about that, too). There was also a lot of annoyance about the amount of time wasted putting together bids which weren’t then taken seriously enough, and about the sacrifices made to meet conditions which shifted very late in the process. The MoJ "had behaved irresponsibility with charity resources", we were told.

This is no small deal for charities. Voluntary organisations must justify how they use their resources to their donors, and are required by law to make sure that their time is committed to achieving their charitable goals. When we met with the charities involved, they felt used. And that isn’t good enough.

In 2015, Transforming Rehabilitation won a Civil Service Award for, among other things, "building a diverse market". To be honest, this feels a bit rich. The charity sector brings diverse expertise to civil society, quite distinct from what would be found in public bodies and private companies. At its best, it can deliver lasting impact for society as a whole.

We think charities should have had the chance to head-up some of this work, with civil society organisations leading the way in a new system — but that chance has been lost.

About the author - 
James Noble is deputy head of measurement and evaluation at NPC, the charity think tank and consultancy​.



    "Eileen Munro compares hotdesking to cut costs with hospitals making savings by not sterilising surgical instruments"


    1. Social workers should have their own desk and the space to have conversations with colleagues about cases without being overheard, the government’s leading adviser on child protection has declared.

      Eileen Munro, who carried out a review of practice that has led to major changes in children’s social work, said that insisting on hotdesking to cut costs was as bad as a hospital making savings by not sterilising surgical instruments.

      Her outspoken intervention comes after the Guardian’s Social Lives survey of social workers found that almost six in 10 professionals are required to hotdesk. Almost exactly the same proportion think it bad for team working.

      A separate survey by the British Association of Social Workers suggested that two in three professionals have resorted to using their cars to hold private conversations.

      Munro, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, made her comments while speaking at the inaugural Frontline Leadership seminar, organised by the Frontline fast-track training scheme for children’s social workers.

      She said the spread of hotdesking was a prime example of how managers of council social work teams failed to understand the nature of the job. It was vital that social workers returning to the office from a home visit were able to discuss their reflections with trusted colleagues, yet nowadays they often could not find either a quiet space or their colleagues.

      Unable to share their concerns and test their assessments, social workers were taking their anxieties home with them and “starting to get burnout”.

      Asked if it was not too late to reverse a hotdesking trend that had become the norm, Munro said: “You can’t imagine that a hospital facing spending cuts would decide to save money by stopping sterilising instruments for the operating theatre. It’s the same.”

      Munro’s review, published in 2011, marked a shift in thinking on child protection from rigid compliance with statutory guidance to enabling social workers to use their professional judgment in deciding how best to support children and their families.

      In her seminar address, Munro said that while a lot had changed in the past five years, much more still needed to be done to reform the system. Not all councils had embraced change as enthusiastically as others.

      Three key challenges for improving practice were to recognise the importance of understanding how people think and feel; to do better at managing uncertainty and making decisions on risk that were “good enough”; and to make better use of research in its widest definition, including the experiences of colleagues.

      “Your job is not to go and write reports and lovely essays,” she told the Frontline trainees and qualified staff in the audience. “It is to make life better for children.”

      Munro said she thought the media and political climate had become less hostile to social workers in recent years, largely because ministers had become less inclined to blame professionals when things went wrong.

      “When there have been horrid stories in the newspapers, the government have not come out with horrid statements. They have not been saying, ‘Heads will roll, someone is to blame’. They have been keeping quiet.

      “It would be great if they had been supportive, but at least they have kept quiet which is better than having someone saying, like Ed Balls [the former Labour children’s secretary], ‘Sack the director.’”

    2. It is so nice to see it written here: your job is not to go and write reports and lovely essays. It is to go and make children's lives better. I think that many of us in probation have rated ourselves and each other almost exclusively on the quality of our oasys for too long. We have been seduced by the mantra: if it is not written down it did not happen. I would like to turn that on its head and say: make it happen, then make a note.

  2. It is good to see that more of the real TR horrors are being slowly being filtered into the public arena,and published, although the Independent is online only now. So I think we should all have another go at writing to the press, pointing out that this information -figures, stats, issues,lies are coming from genuine authentic inspections, not just exaggerated rumours from 'anonymous cranky, sorry for themselves staff' (not MY thoughts, but some public and publications will believe that) Probation is no longer being mentioned anymore, the nearest will be references to Social Services. I saw a report yday which referred to problems in the public sector, and identified what they meant by printing all the variations of 'public sector' EXCEPT Probation!

    We are still here folk, and our inability to do the job properly, will place you and your children at risk, physically, emotionally, in the street and in your home! Please make a NOISE!

  3. It's me again -ML. Going slightly off topic - google 'The Italian jail which no one wants to leave'. - the Sant'Angelo Dei Lombardi, in Tuscany. Inmates are treated with respect, excellent cell conditions, no punishment,with full time jobs, working until 7 30pm, for which they get a decent wage (2 thirds of that on the outside). Examples of jobs are farming, bee-keeping, wine making, dry-cleaning, mending uniforms, and printing money (honestly!) for the Ministry of Defence. Conditions are excellent, using bright jolly colours,(there are photos),with a big play room stocked fully with toys for visiting children. One inmate said 'I have got my life back'. And the perks of this for the govt, is that it is cheaper to run, saving having to use outside resources to do those jobs. Like prisoners here,coming out of Cat D prisons (as it used to be) with confidence, and sometimes with jobs. I understand it is not wholly like that now, given that more people are being sent there inappropriately, not having been assessed properly.

    The average prisoner is serving 5 years upwards, (but not a security risk)so it is not the short timers.

    Read this Mr Gove!

    1. “It’s a longsighted, managerial approach to the public administration,” Alessandro D’Aloiso, a high official for the prison said, proud that the jail was recognized in 2011 as the best example of public administration in the country. The activities not only makes better use of inmates’ time but they also save the government money. Any profits are reinvested to pay for activities for inmates or to provide food to families of poorer inmates.
      “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Enrico Farina, who leads the jail’s educational program, said, quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky. And for the few lucky ones who do their time in Sant’Angelo, Italian society seems pretty civilized.

      The jail holds 207 people, and as of Mar. 31 it housed 152 male prisoners, mostly from the crime-ridden areas around Naples and Caserta, of Gomorrah‘s fame. The convicts typically serve sentences of five years or more for anything short of requiring heightened security, which is provided for mafia.
      The jail opened in 2007, replacing the original that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1980. “First, it was only us,” Giuseppe Cupo, who leads inmates intake, said. “Then we brought chairs, and furniture, cots for the prisoners. And then the first convicts started arriving.” Cells were basic and didn’t have showers.
      Under the leadership of the director, Massimiliano Forgione, the jail was transformed—including the cells, which were renovated by the inmates themselves. Today, with brightly colored walls and bars to a children’s room full of toys for children who visit, there’s little in the place that screams of the extreme control and surveillance. Just a few miles away from some of the most overcrowded jails in Italy, the prisoners in Sant’Angelo seem to have all the freedoms—short of, well, freedom itself.

      Inmates are out of their cells from 8am to 7:30 pm, with the exception of a roll call between 3pm and 4:30 pm. Most spend their days working within the large prison’s perimeter (about 5 square kilometers or 1.9 square miles) working with the printing press, sewing uniforms, running the dry cleaner and car wash that serves the prison personnel, farming, or beekeeping.

      A handful (up to seven) are hired by a local cooperative, and leave the prison’s perimeter to make wine. They produce Fiano, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe and Greco di Tufo, three refined wines with grapes made typical of the area, marketed with the jail brand, Fresco di Galera (Fresh out of Jail). In December 2015, a group of inmates met Pope Francis—and gave him a bottle of their wine.

      Some of the prisoners who are closer to being released and have shown particularly good behavior, even have their own separate kitchen where, D’Aloiso said, inmates can even make themselves pasta at night, if they please.

      The jail authority reports that a growing number of criminals report to serve time at Sant’Angelo’s jail, as opposed to other detention facilities. And the detainees who already are there know they have a good thing going. Prison management said that inmates have dropped their appeals for fear of being transferred to another facility, were the appeal unsuccessful.
      “I came back to life here,” said an inmate, aged 45. After spending time in various prisons in the area, he was transferred to Sant’Angelo in 2013. When he arrived, he suffered serious depression. “I wasn’t well, I was medicated and for about a year I kept to myself,” he remembers. Then, progressively, he opened up: he first took a course to become a personal trainer, then joined the jail’s band as a guitarist, and finally transitioned to work with the printing press, where he plans on working for the next year until his time is up. An exemplar for the positive effects of a jail system that promotes rehabilitation, he is off meds, and was part of the group that met the Pope. “Trust me,” he said, “it was a beautiful experience.”

  4. AND now a probation boss writes about being back on the front-line after 30 years and after the TR split - this is worth a read and hopefully will get attention from parliamentarians and sentencers.

    I hope lots of those at the probation front-line comment below the line.


  5. I don’t work for probation anymore, and I think that TR was a bad bit of ideologically driven policy that happened at breakneck speed and I wish it hadn’t. BUT you have published two articles today Jim, neither of which seem to support your often repeated view that CRCs, because they are run for profit, are in a complete mess.

    What I read in the click through link was “services have been sustained throughout a period of major changes", with offenders reporting that provision "had stayed the same or improved since the reforms". What I read suggests that a lot of the current problems are with public sector NPS, who are struggling on a number of fronts. The reports you feature both seemed very biased to me, being selective with their interpretations. I am not so sure that caseload data is very meaningful. It never was anyway. I have no idea what data CRCs are supposed to be withholding from NPS, but I do know that the reconviction data won’t be available until 2017. That was always the case, and as I understand this will come out of the MoJ not the CRCs. I also know that the Independent article is mistaken on many details. For instance the splitting up of probation and the creation of CRCs was always part of the privatisation plan, it wasn’t somehow tacked on as a last minute addition and so on.

    Equally I don’t hold much sympathy with the charities who are now crying foul. I was working for one at the time and the parent guarantee was known more or less from the start of the actual bidding process. A lot of us thought it was unnecessarily restrictive, and meant that a lot of charities would be excluded as a result and indeed tried to get the MoJ to change their minds. But it would be naïve to think that many charities had the scale or experience to take on a contract the size of even the smallest CRC and line everything up to be able to safely run it. In my experience that doesn’t always stop charities bidding, but that is partly a product of the way they are now chasing business irrespective of whether they have the capacity to do it well. The parent company guarantee did trip up one or two, but mostly charities decided to build strategic alliances with private sector so they could bring their money and we could bring our ideas.

    It is early days for CRCs and as I say I wish that it had not come to this. But in the occasional contact that I now have with old colleagues who work for CRCs, I see a group of dedicated people who are still trying to do their best in trying circumstances. Being continually told they are failing because they now work for the private sector does them a dis-service and does nothing to help the clients who depend on them.