We need to see some basic accountability
Despite our fundamental distrust of the private providers who have found themselves running probation delivery contracts worth billions of pounds of taxpayers money on the basis that someone thought they would do things better than before, Napo has a responsibility to our members to engage with all employers to try and protect and promote your interests.
We do that in good faith, but it's a challenging process to say the least in a number of areas. In fairness, some of the CRC employers have also worked with us to try and avoid disputes and find solutions to emerging problems, but unfortunately we are not always seeing the sort of transparency that we would like. This is especially the case in relation to the provision of safe working environments for staff and clients, and new operational concepts where service delivery is expected to be conducted in somewhat unconventional settings with an unrealistic reliance on the goodwill of staff. (pictures and testimonies welcome please)
Moreover, we have also been concerned about the role of so called independent providers and the 'innovative ideas' that result in our members being expected to trial new concepts with next to no consultation or guarantees about safety.
This week we have had cause to report Sodexo to the data watchdog following untold attempts by the unions to get them to publish the results of their review into the awful interview booths that they instructed their CRC bosses to install in a number of locations. The issues have been well rehearsed in Napo communications but here is what we have said to the Information Commissioner which pretty well sums up the sad story.
Information Commissioner's Office
15 June 2016
Dear Mr Graham,
Reporting Data Protection Breaches: Sodexo-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies
Napo and UNISON are recognised trade unions representing staff who work for the 6 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which deliver probation services in the following areas:
Cumbria & Lancashire
Norfolk & Suffolk
These 6 CRCs, in common with all 21 CRCs across England and Wales, were privatised by the government with effect from 1 February 2015 and the 6 listed above are now owned and run by the private company Sodexo. All 6 Sodexo CRCs are registered with the Information Commissioners Office.
Since Sodexo took over operation of the 6 CRCs, the company has introduced a new operating model which has replaced private rooms for staff to interview service users with an open-plan booth system. This booth system has been problematic from the start, because our members have found it impossible to guarantee service user confidentiality as a result of the acoustic deficiencies of the booths. In short, interviews with service users can be overheard by other service users, other members of the public visiting the CRC offices and staff working in the open plan environment.
This has caused distress both to service users and to our members who are very conscious of their legal responsibilities under the Data Protection Act to ensure that service users’ personal information is not disclosed in breach of the Act. Both Napo and UNISON have been raising our members’ concerns with Sodexo for some months now, but to no avail.
One of the responses of Sodexo to the disclosure problem has been to issue the following disclaimer to staff:
‘With regard breaches of sensitive personal data; staff are advised to maintain an awareness of other service users in the booth and waiting area when undertaking work with our client group. I would like to reassure you that providing employees act appropriately and responsibly, within the remit of their role, and in accordance with the Personal Commitment Statement, signed by all staff members, then (name of) CRC as the employer will not take formal action against individuals for inadvertent breaches.’The company commissioned two organisations earlier this year to provide potential remedies to the problem of data protection breaches, but we were informed at the end of last month by Sodexo that they have commissioned yet further consultants to report on solutions to the problem by the end of July. This further work has been ordered on the basis that the earlier commissioned remedies have, we believe, come up short in relation to recommendations to resolve the above problems. Neither Napo, nor UNISON, has been given sight of the consultants’ reports received to date.
Napo and UNISON believe that this further delay in finding a remedy to a problem which is causing great distress to service users and our members is unacceptable. Data protection principle 6 (Data Protection Act Schedule 1) states that an individual has: ‘A right to object to processing that is likely to cause or is causing damage and distress.’ Both Napo and UNISON interpret this as meaning that a service user could reasonably object to being interviewed in one of the Sodexo booths for the reasons set out above.
Out of frustration with Sodexo’s lack of action to address this issue, we are therefore referring the data protection issues set out above to you for your attention and intervention as appropriate.
We look forward to hearing from you.
IAN LAWRENCE BEN PRIESTLEY
General Secretary National Officer
The other issue that has emerged over the last 7 days involves Working Links, the owner of the 3 CRCs in the South West regions and Wales, which has led the unions to raise questions about the relationship with a mutual organisation who has provided them with advice about their operational hubs.
As always, I never publish a letter that we have sent directly to an employer/CRC owner until they have had an opportunity to reply, but I thought that members would want to see another example of how we are continuing to try and bring contractors to account.
It's AGM Season
In every union that I have worked for and been a member of, the most repeated question is: 'What's the union doing about it?'
There is nothing wrong with asking of course, but if you want to know more about what Napo is doing (loads) you could do worse than get along to your own branch's general meeting and of course read the material that we send out to branches, place on the website and increasingly, send to your preferred email address.
Napo meetings give you the opportunity to ask your elected officers and salaried employees (that's me on both counts) to explain what we are trying to do in response to the huge range of issues that are emerging from the 24 employers who we try and do business with. I am just completing this as I wait to speak at the well attended Western Napo branch in Weston-Super-Mare and my long journey down and to South South Western in Devon this week and Hampshire Isle of Wight has given me a strong sense that those predicting the demise of Napo are hugely off the mark.
Our longevity of course depends on rebuilding and maintaining a strong and vibrant membership base and ensuring that the growing numbers of new local reps who are volunteering to help you, are provided with the training they need. These obvious priorities will be met sooner by members signing over to direct debit and/or coming back to the Napo fold.
Napo Extra... coming your way soon
Finally, look out for news of the soon to be launched 'Napo Extra' member services package. We are promoting this over the next fortnight while we tie up the final stages of the new website that will host the services and products on offer.
Our partners at Parliament Hill calculate that an average £600 per annum in consumer and discounted savings could be available, and you will be able to test that out using the on line calculator that forms part of the offer.
Another reason beyond those that exist already, to be a member of Napo.