Probation Systems Review
Given that the former Secretary of State had to twice postpone a scheduled meeting with us due to his Brexit campaigning, then next week’s meeting with his successor is about as timely as it gets.
We have just provided an interim submission into the Probation Systems Review that I alerted you to a few weeks back and this will form a key part of the revised briefing that we will offer to Ministers. Here is what we have said:
Probation System Review – Interim submission 14th July 2016
Napo is the Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Court staff
As requested by NOMS this is an interim submission by the union for the Probation System Review and outlines some of the key concerns Napo has with regards to the current provision of probation services. A more detailed response outlining issues in specific CRCs and the NPS will be submitted later in the summer.
Many of the CRCs have said that a decrease in community orders with the highest payments attached to them such as unpaid work and programmes has resulted in a lower than expected WAV payment causing reduced budgets and job cuts. This highlights a flaw in the payment mechanism as it is not representative of the wide range of work that CRCs carry out. By only paying CRCs for accredited programmes and unpaid work, CRCs are being prevented financially from developing or maintaining other ways of working or maintaining or growing their staffing levels. (An example of this would be Warwickshire West Mercia CRC who inherited a number of interventions from West Mercia Trust such as Willowdene Farm. This intervention, whilst proven to be effective in reducing reoffending, does not attract additional payment and is becoming unsustainable. The CRC is currently looking to reduce its existing contract with Willowdene to save money.)
The cause of this is in part due to the original 70/30 split of staff which is not reflective of the 50/50 split in workloads. The reduction in service users worth the most money being managed by the CRCs may be as a result of a lack of confidence amongst sentencers with probation services post-contract mobilisation. Magistrates do not know what CRCs are offering and how they deliver the work. We understand that CRCs are not allowed to have direct contact with magistrates regarding this as it is seen as a conflict of interest. In addition to this the NPS is not making the level of referrals to programmes delivered by the CRCs as was anticipated. This is apparently due to a lack of money to pay for the commissioning of programmes and lengthy waiting lists which exclude people on shorter orders or licences from participating. This is of particular concern with regards to domestic violence programmes. It is also an indication that the NPS is not financially sustainable. We understand from some of our members that there is a move to NPS delivering its own interventions and this could have a significant impact on members’ jobs in the CRC.
Despite this, or because of the significant job cuts in the CRCs (approximately 1700), workloads remain extremely high for staff; with many reporting being well over 150% on workload management tools (this is for both CRCs and NPS). This is further evidence that it is the payment mechanism or the commercial viability of CRCs that is causing the problem rather than reduced offending rates. Other initiatives, such as an increased use of community interventions issued by police, do not appear to have been taken into consideration in terms of volumes of work going to the CRC.
Payment by Results (PbR) is due to come online next February but many CRCs have indicated to Napo that they do not intend to factor PbR into their budgets. The payment is too low to be of any significance but the interventions needed to produce the results would be very costly to implement.
There are growing concerns about the financial viability of a number of CRCs. Members report increased anxiety regarding finances as an increasing number of CRCs make job cuts citing financial restraints. The levels of job cuts we have seen so far also suggest that CRCs are not commercially viable. This coupled with Service Credit fines that have been imposed on some CRCs for poor performance could see further cuts to staff and interventions. Napo does not believe that this is sustainable and fears that further job cuts will reduce CRCs’ capacity to carry out any meaningful work with service users and mean that they will carry out the basics in order to maintain a profit.
The National Audit Office highlighted in its report this year that the reduced level of business passing to the CRCs needs to be properly risk assessed. It urged the MoJ to identify the risks associated with reduced business and to develop contingency plans should a CRC collapse. Napo would support this but would go further in saying that any assessment of the commercial viability of a CRC must be done in conjunction with an assessment of CRC service delivery against the level of service delivery expected by the MoJ.
Quality and Performance
Napo does not have access to an up-to-date list of CRCs that have had Service Credits imposed on them and has had to rely, at this stage, on feedback from branches and CRCs. It is clear that the imposition of these credits raises questions about the quality of service being delivered both in terms of what is being delivered and how. Napo has raised concerns from the outset that a number of CRCs have developed operation models that in our view, and that of our members, are both dangerous and undermine the purpose of probation to protect the public, enforce the law and to rehabilitate.
Napo calls on the MoJ to urgently review these operating models and to insist that CRCs going through a restructuring programme provide revised operating models to evidence their ability to maintain or improve quality. As a professional association Napo should have the opportunity to have sight of these models (not all CRCs are currently prepared to share them) so that we can assess the impact they will have on our members day to work, long term service delivery and compare the variations around the different providers.
Napo is receiving reports that CRCs are attempting to hide poor performance figures, in particular the enforcement of orders. Members are telling us that they are being verbally directed not to instigate breach proceedings and to carry out additional home visits or send motivational letters to avoid formal breach proceedings. Service user contact records are recording a successful completion when in fact individuals should have been breached numerous times. It has also been reported that in some areas initial appointments are being ‘offered’ on Delius to meet the target of first appointments; but are then subsequently rearranged resulting in many service users not being seen within the target time frame.
Accredited Programme delivery is very varied across the providers. Staff shortages in some areas have led to groups being cancelled on numerous occasions, to lone staff running evening groups, including domestic violence, and to high attrition rates. These approaches undermine the integrity of the programme as well as having a detrimental impact on staff wellbeing.
As reported in the HMIP inspection report earlier this year Through the Gate (TTG) appears to be a key area in which the CRCs are failing to deliver. The variations of its performance around the country are significant according to our anecdotal evidence but not one CRC appears to be delivering well on this contractual requirement. Members in some areas have stated that they get to spend on average 12 minutes with each service user. There is no infrastructure to enable support into housing for example, until an individual has already left custody. As such prisoners are simply being advised to report as homeless on release. Interface with the NPS is also poor regarding resettlement.
Communications between TTG teams and NPS staff is limited. Governors are agreeing licence conditions agreed by the TTG team but not with the consent of the NPS officer resulting in inadequate licences and releases. MoJ figures earlier this year show a rise in recalls to prison and a significant number of those being for short custody prisoners. It suggests that the revolving door is still revolving and possible at a faster rate than previously.
These issues amongst others are exacerbated by a lack of training in both CRCs and the NPS. There is a greater reliance on PSO grades to carry out more complex work but without the grounding they require or the remuneration they deserve. This will contribute to staff burnout, low morale and will impact on service delivery and public protection.
It would not be appropriate to make recommendations or solid conclusions at this stage of the review. However, Napo does feel able to make the following observations and suggestions:
- It is clear that NPS resourcing is having a direct impact on CRC provision. As such any reform of CRC contracts or service delivery should be done in conjunction with the NPS and the two should not be dealt with in silos.
- Greater transparency is needed for the CRCs in terms of their operating models, financial stability and service delivery. A lack of transparency on these issues heightens staff anxiety, hinders constructive discussions with staff and unions and prevents CRCs being accountable to their local communities and to the MoJ.
- The payment mechanism is flawed and this needs to be fully reviewed to ensure that it increases good practice and innovation rather than hindering it. If CRCs continue to cut back on services and partnerships they will inevitably reach a point of no return and to rebuild probation provision back to an award winning service will require huge investments and may still not be possible.
- Napo strongly believes that there must be greater investment from all parties in continual professional development in order to build a strong resilient and sustainable workforce. Napo is currently developing a professional strategy that we will include as part of our more detailed response.
- Any changes to roles within the NPS such as delivering ‘in house’ interventions must be done in conjunction with E3 and the unions.