Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Manchester Leading the Way

As we've discussed before, Manchester leads the way in doing things differently under a Combined Authority and Elected Mayor, both big ideas of now former Chancellor George Osborne. Assuming that Theresa May intends to allow the 'City Region' devolution experiment to continue, included in this 'new deal' is not only control over things like the NHS, but also Police and Crime Commissioner, prisons and probation. However, Frances Crook of the Howard League is concerned at the early decision to build a new prison and says so in her latest blog post:-  

Devolution and criminal justice system

Devolution is being offered to Manchester, and it is a great opportunity for the great city to do things differently. Unfortunately, it comes with strings. Indeed, the puppet master is yet again the Treasury and central government and this means that devolution is not quite the real deal.

It could be a real opportunity to develop distinctive local policy to create safer communities in Manchester and invest in what works. This is a chance to take control of Greater Manchester’s future by pioneering new responses to the problems in the criminal justice system and reject Westminster’s failed policies.

I have been impressed with the innovative approaches emerging from Manchester in recent years, not least the whole-system approach for women in contact with the criminal justice system. This followed the evidence, bringing agencies together to intervene early, divert people from the criminal justice system and respond to law breaking in the community, with the least harmful and most effective response.

The Howard League has worked closely and successfully with Greater Manchester Police over the last few years to change the approach to policing children and reduce child arrests. Our latest figures show that GMP has achieved a larger reduction in the number of children arrested than any other police force. In policing Manchester is leading the way in showing the best outcomes for individuals are achieved by investing to keep people out of the criminal justice system. This, importantly, saves money for the police and the city. The whole point of devolved budgets is to give cash back to communities, so they have the flexibility to invest early to save in the long run as well as improving the lives of local people.

In light of this, I was disappointed to see that plans are already afoot to build yet another prison in Manchester. This is the wrong approach to take and if pursued would be a missed opportunity to ensure the criminal justice system better serves the people of Manchester. Beyond the initial capital spend, the long-term commitment of resources will eat into future budgets and prevent other investment. It will mean taking cash out of communities rather than giving cash back to help those communities thrive.

Manchester Strangeways prison has not had a happy history and all the new big prisons across the country have suffered appalling problems with high levels of violence, assaults on staff, lack of activity, self injury and suicide, and endemic recidivism. The giant prison being built in Wrexham will force men to share small cells and has only half the number of workshop places for its proposed population.

Prison building has been a Westminster obsession but the evidence that this approach has failed is everywhere apparent in the prisons themselves. Building more prisons simply creates a larger, more expensive version of the failing system we have at the moment. Greater Manchester should resist this and follow its own example of applying downward pressure to reduce the involvement of criminal justice agencies in people’s lives.

A new prison will absorb a huge proportion of the local justice budget and house people from all over the country. This money would be far better spent investing in community sentences, drug and mental health services and strengthening the network of women’s centres – policies that would lead to real improvements in community safety.

We need real devolution and a markedly different approach to responding to crime and it can be implemented in Manchester.

I will follow with close interest how the devolved powers work and what is achieved. If used properly, Greater Manchester could lead the country in developing a much more humane and effective justice system that serves local people.


This from the Manchester Evening News:-

Greater Manchester now 'committed' to new prison – and looking at possible sites

Greater Manchester leaders are committed to building a new ‘local’ prison and are now drawing up a shortlist of sites, according to the region’s interim mayor. The government has asked town hall chiefs to identify suitable places for a new ‘resettlement prison’, a kind of open facility for low-risk offenders from the local area designed to rehabilitate them back into the community.

George Osborne announced plans for a series of such prisons several months ago and since then local authorities across the country have been asked by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to scope out locations. Now, as Greater Manchester signs a deal to devolve criminal justice - so it can better line up the court, probation, police and prison system in a bid to cut offending - both the government and interim mayor Tony Lloyd say there will be a new prison built somewhere in the area.

Asked whether the region’s combined authority was ‘committed’ to the idea, Mr Lloyd said yes. “We have got to identify what are good sites,” he said. “To me it’s a no-brainer because we know local prisons are better. If they maintain proper contact with partners and family, it’s more likely people come out of prison ready to go straight. “We will work quickly to identify what’s the right site.”

There have been no indications so far of where the prison might go, but combined authority insiders said it could be on existing prison estate, privately owned land or a council-owned site - but since the latter are being prioritised by council leaders for housing, that is less likely.

Justice minister Andrew Selous said: “At the moment the ball is in the court of the Greater Manchester combined authority for the region to come up with some possible sites to present to the MoJ so we can have a look at them. “We are looking at new prison capacity on a ‘new for old’ basis. We do want to close inefficient prison accommodation as part of providing these 10,000 new prison places in better conditions.”

However combined authority sources said a prison closure in the region was unlikely - as most facilities are relatively modern, while Strangeways is for category A prisoners rather than low-risk offenders and has recently had an expensive refurbishment.


As it happens the CEO of the local CRC is bowing out and in a fit of 'gate fever' appears remarkably optimistic about the future. This from the CRC's website:-


After a career in probation that has lasted for more than 33 years Chris Noah, the Chief Executive of Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company (CGM CRC), is retiring. Chris’ long association with probation began when she was just fifteen when she first saw the effect the justice system could have on people’s lives,

“Every Wednesday afternoon, at the grammar school I went to in Harrow, we did voluntary work out in the community. I ended up on a placement at a prisoners wives centre helping to run the crèche. Listening to the stories of the wives, stories about how they coped with the impact the criminal justice system had on their families, was fascinating. Something just clicked and I knew that this was an area in which I wanted to work, and one in which I could make a difference. So I actively started to look around for a career within the justice system, which in those pre-internet days was no easy task, and eventually I came across the probation service.”

Armed with advice from the careers service Chris took aim at her next objective, securing the Certificate in Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) at Keele University.

“I took the probation option with my CQSW which meant I got my first insight into probation on a placement in Crewe, after which my thoughts turned to where I might want to practice. I applied to a number of probation services and I was offered interviews in London but I took the interview in Greater Manchester even though I’d only been to the city twice before to play netball!”

Not only did Chris take the interview she also, when it was offered, took the job becoming the youngest probation officer in what was then the Greater Manchester Probation Service (GMPS). However on that first day back in 1983, in the forbidding surroundings of Salford Probation Centre, Chris had no idea just how far her career would take her.

“I remember that first day so well. Back then the building itself was a grim affair, with bars on all the windows, but as I peered through them I saw they had plants inside and I thought if plants can grow in there then it’ll be alright! When I first joined all I wanted to be was a probation officer. I very quickly found that I loved the work, that I loved helping people change their lives and to stop offending. But I never for one minute thought I would be with the organisation for so long let alone end up as chief executive. But it’s fascinating that as retirement has got closer what I’ve been thinking about, what I’ve been reflecting on, has been those years in Salford, those years as a practitioner working directly with service users." 

"In some ways the job back then was very different. There were no computers or mobile phones of course and everything was hand written or typed. There was much less in the way of procedure around things like home visits. I’d be out to a tower block in Salford at seven at night and no one would know where I was, which is unthinkable now, although it has to be said I was always more afraid of the dogs than the people. But some things about the job haven’t changed. In terms of helping people to change their behaviour the issues of employment and housing are the same, the issues around drug and alcohol use are the same. In fact in many ways the root causes of why people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place haven’t changed at all.”

But that’s not to say that Chris believes there hasn’t been progress over the last three decades.

“There’s been an awful lot of research into what does and what doesn’t work and that’s definitely deepened our understanding of how to effect positive changes in the behaviour of service users. And we’re all undoubtedly much better at working effectively in partnerships now. In fact these days it’s generally recognised that offending is not just the problem of the criminal justice system, and that employment, accommodation, drug and health services have massive parts to play.”

As the years went by, and as the GMPS morphed into the Greater Manchester Probation Trust (GMPT), Chris advanced steadily up the ladder but the decision to take that first step into management had a somewhat unusual origin.

“In my early years I was unfortunate enough to observe a truly terrible manager in action. Watching that person was a real lesson in how not to be a manager, in how not to be a leader. In fact on one memorable occasion this person actually climbed out of a window and left the building rather than respond to an announcement over the P.A. system requiring their attention. I can vividly remember thinking to myself that I’ve got to be able to do a better job than that and it was then that I really decided to set out on the whole management and leadership trail.”

Her final promotion came in 2014 when the split between the CRCs and the National Probation Service (NPS) took place and Chris was made chief executive of CGM CRC. During this time Chris also led the creation of the new management structure encompassing both CGM CRC and Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company.

“To tell you the truth I don’t know what I expected when I took on the role of chief executive, but I knew I had to do it, that I had to get in there and make sure that we did the right thing for the staff and for the service users. No one would pretend that the last two years have been all plain sailing. Change can be hard for people and setting up a new company, establishing a going concern in only six months, was a real challenge for everyone and I couldn’t have done it without the fantastic team I had around me."

“Even though I would have never said I wanted to work in the private sector I’ve really valued the last 18 months and the opportunity to see how things can be done differently, to see what is possible without the old bureaucracy. In a way it’s almost like going back to those early 1980s days where you’d try something and if it didn’t work you wouldn’t do it again, but if it did work you’d develop it further. When we get through the last part of the changes, including the much needed changes with our IT, it will not only give our staff more time to spend with service users it will also help them to be more innovative and more creative in how they are able to help people, because we have to remember that we’re not dealing with widgets on a production line, we’re dealing with people.”

As she prepares to say goodbye to the organisation she helped create Chris is optimistic about it’s future.

“There’s a great team in place and Chris Edwards is going to be a brilliant chief executive. I’m of the view that with Interserve Justice the two CRCs in the North West have a real opportunity to make positive and lasting changes in both the lives of our services users and in our communities. I think the new model and service design will strengthen the relationship between our staff and our service users.”

And what advice does Chris have for someone just starting out on their own career in probation?

“You have to believe in the ability of the individual to change and you have to learn not to take it personally if they reoffend. You have to persevere, you have to constantly be there for them because in my experience it might take a dozen attempts before they’re ready to change. But at some point that person will be ready and we need to be there in order to support and facilitate that change. It’s all about the service users, it’s not about us.”


  1. The gift that keeps giving, a south east crc has called in staff following a corporate review. Guess what they don't need everyone and a a summer holiday present let's start the next round of redundancies, trebles all round.

    1. Am wondering if this is the wonderful KSS area, from which we regularly hear how it is,all going swimmingly, no probs with anything, thank you.....

  2. After years & years of listening to incalculable amounts of bullshit from "managers" & "executives" I still can't figure out why such sizeable chunks of dishonourable blether don't stick in their throats & choke them to death.

    A more honest view?

    "When we get through the last part of the changes, including the much needed changes with our IT, it will give our staff more time to spend with their families & tending their gardens."

  3. Shit article today. Only 2 comments. Sort it out Jim or risk the blog coming to an end

  4. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 20:20

    "Every Wednesday afternoon, at the grammar school I went to in Harrow" ......

    And that's when I stopped reading!!

  5. I appreciate Jim is trying to get an all round picture but at the moment it is what is happening to front line staff which is important rather than the sentimental view of Senior Managers who are leaving,

  6. Wots today's blog about Who is being made redundantilsnt in the south east CRC speak up?

  7. I think we can be a bit more gracious than the above comments, and pat her on the back for probably offering a lot to both staff and clients over the years, however I would be interested in why she is going . I am looking forward to when I choose to go, when I finally pay off that ever ending mortgage after years in public service . Then I will be free to tell it how it is, expose the poor practise, poor training and bad management .

  8. well, I've tried to avoid making comment on this condescending tale of Chris Noah (have been expecting some blogger to making a corny comparison of Noah saving the planet's animal/human population on the planet with his ark. Soz folks)

    'I've really valued the last 18 months and the opportunity to see how things can be done differently' (Oh yes Chris, it is certainly being done differently.)

    'In a way, it's almost like going back to those early 80's days when you would try something, and if it didn't work you would try something else.' (Yes Chris, staff have indeed been trying something else- when the IT system fails. -it is called a pen and paper. And you're right, it's just like the 80's again but much worse.)

    'When we get through the last part of the changes, , including the much needed changes with our IT, it will not only give our staff more time to spend with service users, it will also help them to be more innovative.' (They have been doing that for 2 years Chris, it's called surviving, interviewing in your car, struggling to avoid the bosses orders to tell porkies, and wringing something out of nothing. And trying to find a minute to eat.)

    'Be more creative in how they are able to help people' -(take them home??)

    ...'because we have to remember we are not dealing with widgets on a production line (those widgets are called 'staff', chris,)

    ' we're dealing with people' (Oh PUL...EASE!!!)

    (Eureka! That's where you've been going wrong guys!!)

    I cannot understand how someone who started with a CQSW, then spend over 30 years as a PO, in various grades, can actually end up sounding so smug and pleased that CRCs are doing well!!!!!!!!! You may well be a lovely hard working woman,Chris, but you haven't done yourself any favours with those comments.

    1. OK Jim Bloggers, let's put this particular story to bed!! Chris Noah CEO Manchester/Cheshire and What's er name (OBE CEO Merseyside) forgotten her name already, she was such an inspiration.. Both of these so called Probation stalwarts wanted to jump ship at the same time once PF Interserve Justice had been awarded said contract. However, our Yvonne (Thomas that is , the CEO Interserve) said sorry ladies, can't have 2 CEOs leave at the same time , would look bad so toss a coin and low and behold OBE lady won. Chris old mucker you hold tight for 11 months and we will let you go with a nice pay off, nice new life in France .. No great loss.. except that if you are from Merseyside you can now see the amalgarmation of Manchester/Cheshire/Merseyside all rolled into one corporate entity with new CEO appointed that serious mouth piece Chris Edwards (He has no personality what so ever) taking over as the Interserve front of house man ; clueless, directionless and he is without character.. The Mancs are taking over! Not their fault really , just that Merseyside had soooo many ACOs take the coin and leave at the same time and we have been left with a complete set of novices who, with the best will in the world , are pretty hopeless at the strategic stuff!

      PF Interserve are very good at style over substance with INTERLINK as the new CMS (case management system) 2 years in the making and still not ready!!

      Interserve are under the radar: not making the news, they leave that to WL, MTNovo, Seetec and above all their greatest rivals in the public contracts market Sodexo.... Remember when the Conservatives privatised the public bus companies and loads of start up firms set up routes ... The big boys like Arriva, stagecoach sat back and waited for them to fail... and they did!! Sodexo, WL, MTNovo Seetec watch out.... Interserve are waiting and MoJ will transfer the contracts. Easy really, history teaches us well!!!!!! And I am sure this blog pretty much predicted this

  9. Why would you leave such a wonderful stimulating position, which is apparently doing great work?.......Could it be a golden handshake, and in return you produce this sentimental nonsense?

    About Manchester jail, will they only house Manchester folk?