Last Friday saw Napo London Branch hold its AGM and the indefatigable Pat Waterman bowed out as Chair having served her maximum term of four years. By far the largest branch and operating close to all the key players in our national political life, both she and the branch were always likely to be heavily involved in the fight against TR, but it was obvious from the start there were considerable tensions between the branch and Napo HQ.
I'll be interested to hear what other commentators have to say, but I'm fairly sure there were quite a few squabbles and disagreements regarding tactics during the battle against TR and at a time when you'd have thought everyone's energy would have been harnessed to the common cause, Napo HQ appeared to be continually applying the brake to campaigning efforts by London Branch. I would say yet another example of ineffective leadership at the top of the union in being able to knock heads together, agree a strategy and exert line management of the General Secretary.
A strong character who undoubtedly rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, Pat is going to be a very hard act to follow and we would all do well to reflect on what she has to say. My thanks to the colleague for sending me a copy of her valedictory report delivered on Friday in the presence of both Ian Lawrence and Dean Rogers. The pic has been lifted from Facebook and I hope David Raho doesn't mind.
This AGM marks the end of my term of office as Chair of London Branch and so this report is not only an account of the work done in the past year but also a summary of the events of the past four years.
Unlike the rest of the country, London did not need to wait for Grayling’s master plan to experience privatisation first hand. Within weeks of taking office in 2012 I was immediately involved in trying to protect the interests of members who work in Community Payback as part of that was sold to SERCO. The Senior Managers who were involved in that sell off have all now departed, some with generous redundancy packages. But the members who work in CP, and who are now back working for the CRC, have had a very uncertain past four years.
The ructions in our national office, that led to many of the officers and officials spending the latter part of 2012 at an Employment Tribunal, had an impact on the whole of the union beyond just the financial. The rapid elevation of the former chair of this branch to the post of full time national chair was a difficult period both for him and for his relationship with this branch.
But, in my opinion, we reached an all time low when twenty five members of this branch took it upon themselves to complain to the General Secretary about the choice of speaker at a Branch Meeting. I was advised by the him that, if we did not rescind the invitation, he would have to consider taking legal advice. I advised the General Secretary not to waste members’ money. The meeting went ahead as planned and our guest, who had voiced criticism of our former General Secretary, was allowed to speak on a variety of issues.
But 2013 was the year that Grayling commenced a consultation exercise on his plans for the Probation Service. The exercise itself was phoney. The views of both practitioners and managers were ignored and in May of that year the disaster that was known as Transforming Rehabilitation was launched.
Transforming Rehabilitation dominated the activities of this branch throughout 2013 and 2014. We fought a good campaign but the truth is we lost. In June 2014 London Probation Trust was abolished and everyone was assigned to either the NPS or the CRC. By the end of the year it was announced that the CRC had been sold to a consortium called MTCnovo.
In my report to the 2015 AGM I noted that the new owners made it clear from the outset that they wanted to work with us and for much of that year we enjoyed quite productive and cordial relations. What a difference a year can make.
As always London Branch was present at the National AGM in 2015 in strength. We sent a total of 75 members to Eastbourne but unfortunately the meeting was only ruled to be quorate for the afternoon of the second day. This meant that most of the motions, including some submitted by this branch, could not be appropriately debated.
It is with great personal regret that I have watched NAPO being torn apart by the politics of the Middle East. Motions to affiliate this union to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) have been on the National AGM agenda three times in recent years. Twice the motions have been debated and defeated. At the 2014 AGM yet another motion to affiliate to PSC was on the order paper but was not reached due to lack of time. This motion was then taken to the NEC in November by individual members where it was subsequently passed and became the policy of this trade union.
The diversity of the capital is reflected in the membership of this branch and the NEC decision reverberated through subsequent branch meetings often in a most acrimonious way.
After the National AGM some members of this branch wrote to the National Chairs voicing their concerns about the way the Annual Report, which contained the decisions of the NEC, was handled. These concerns were barely acknowledged let alone addressed. A letter from the Branch Officers to the National Chairs earlier this year, voicing our concerns that complaints of Anti-Semitism by members of this branch had not been addressed, has not yet even been acknowledged. As the Chair of this Branch I am disappointed but as a Jew I am disgusted.
I am sorry that both our representatives on the NEC decided to resign towards the end of last year. This left the branch without a voice in a national forum. As a consequence of decisions taken at a Special General Meeting in 2014 it was no longer possible for these vacancies to be filled locally and finally, after a protracted correspondence with national officers and officials, action was taken to try and ensure that there was an appropriate election for NEC representatives from this branch. I am grateful to Charron Culnane for putting herself forward and am only sorry that she is presently our sole representative on the NEC.
It is not for me to comment on the financial management of NAPO save for how it impacts on this branch. Members will be aware that, as a consequence of decisions taken by the NEC, our finances have become somewhat strained. I have written to the National Treasurer on more than one occasion outlining our position and asking for more money. It has been made clear to me that no additional funding will be given and the branch must confine its expenditure within existing limits.
Early in September some members in the NPS started telling me that they were receiving notices from HMRC advising them that they had underpaid their tax and that steps would be taken to recover the unpaid amount. It would appear that according to the Tax Office these members had been working for a period of time for both the NPS and the CRC. I raised this matter with local Senior Management whose immediate response was that tax was an individual matter which was for individuals to resolve. I knew it was not an individual matter when an overheard comment in the main office at Buckingham Palace Road produced a Mexican Wave style response.
An enormous amount of effort has been expended by me and by other branch officers seeking to resolve this situation. We were finally able to get both our national officials, NPS and CRC Senior Management to accept that this was not an individual problem but rather a systemic one caused by the transfer of data from the former Trust at the time when staff were assigned to one of two organisations. As a result of our hard work responsibility for this debacle has finally been accepted by NOMS who have instructed HRMC to rectify the mistakes. It is unfortunate that such mistakes could not be rectified within the previous tax year but I am now more optimistic that no one should suffer any financial detriment in the long term.
This is a problem that appears to have only affected London. I know that it is tempting to blame civil servants for this debacle but, in my opinion, the responsibility for ensuring that the data on her staff was appropriately passed to their new employers rested with the former Chief Executive of the London Probation Trust.
At the end of 2015 Nick Smart resigned as Chief Executive of the London CRC and Helga Swindenbank was appointed as the new Director. After a brief honeymoon period it soon became apparent that, as financial considerations started to bite, employment relations in the CRC were going to be very different. After a year long moratorium on permanent recruitment, the decision in March to release most temporary workers had a significant effect on members’ workloads. The development of the Cohort Model, which seemed to proceed so smoothly in the latter part of 2015, has started to become less sustainable and members are again being asked to move to locations not necessarily of their choosing. The long awaited new IT system has proved not to be the all purpose panacea.
I see things starting to unravel in the CRC and I fear for it’s future.
Meanwhile the NPS seems to becoming ever more bureaucratic with greater emphasis being placed on completing the correct forms rather than on actually engaging meaningfully with anybody. Decisions are all taken at a national level and local meetings with Senior Management are only really about information sharing rather than any real consultation and negotiation. I hope that we will have some influence in the implementation of the E3 Project locally but, as nobody seems to be too clear what is actually being implemented at any given time, I have my doubts.
The closure of the offices at Buckingham Palace Road presented us with the distinct possibility of having no office for this Branch. Negotiations took place with both the NPS and the CRC. In the end it paid to have some friends in influential places and Unit 6 in the car park at the back of Mitre House was refurbished largely to our specifications and dedicated to our sole use. For me it has been a trip down memory lane as I worked in Unit 6 when I was Branch ARO/ERO in 2010.
Since the last AGM we have had four Branch Meetings including one held at the View Hotel in Eastbourne. Two of these meetings have been quorate. Speakers at these meetings have been Professor Mike Nellis, Jim Barton (NOMS Deputy Director: E3 Programme Lead), Helga Swindenbank, Peter Tatchell, Becs T and Sally Wyatt (Lithium Laughter).
I am grateful for the help and support I have been given by the other Branch Officers, the Branch Executive and other members of this Branch. I could not have done this job without it.
Every year I have said that it is invidious to single out one member for special thanks and every year I have done just that. This year is no exception. This Branch could not function without Beverley Cole, our Branch Administrator.
It has been an honour and a privilege to serve this Branch as its Chair for the past four years. I thank you all and I wish my successors the very best of luck.
Branch Chair July 2016.