Monday, 26 September 2016

How We Got Here

I notice that the recent scathing Public Accounts Committee report on TR, where the chair Meg Hillier said the MoJ 'had bitten off more than it could chew', has prompted this interesting analysis on Facebook of how we got to where we are now:-

Privatisation of the probation service in England and Wales was based on the false premise that reoffending rates had remained pretty much the same for some time, were unacceptably high, resistant to change, and therefore radical and disruptive action was necessary to start bringing them down. This was however just an excuse to pursue a neoliberal agenda which, in Graylings limited and simplistic understanding of these things (he has never pretended to be an expert but relies on his gut instinct when considering what to do), involves the privatisation of as much of the public sector as he can get away with as quickly as possible.

There is good evidence that initially Grayling's plan, supported by David Cameron and other ministers, was to privatise the entire probation service. However, he was apparently advised by probation folk in NOMS that this was a bad idea and at the very least he should retain some of the work with high risk offenders, prisons, the courts, and the APs in the public sector as there were significant fears - gained from the experience of prison privatisation and the privatisation of CP in London - that wholesale privatisation would simply be too risky and would inevitably expose the government to charges of recklessness with regard to public safety and accountability should anything major go wrong. Grayling was fully aware and had been briefed that companies such as Serco and G4S were not safe bets by any means (and fast becoming too toxic even for the usually, in his eyes as a former BBC Producer and PR company manager, gullible public to accept) so one of the main tasks of the Transformation Team was to find and encourage bidders to have a punt.

It is however the split between NPS and the CRCs that is the source of most of the concerns about risk and there were those in senior positions in the Trusts who urged and lobbied Grayling not to split the service but rather reform the Trusts and even give them the extra work. However the gamble to steer Grayling towards a rational rather than ideological outcome failed. They were reasonably certain for some time he would follow their informed advice. If I thought that Grayling was capable of strategic thinking I would credit him with playing the Trust Chiefs seemingly holding out a carrot only to replace this with a swerve to the right and a stab in the vitals followed later by a more conciliatory promise of a payoff and a gong if they played ball. Grayling was however convinced (his gut told him) that reform should be radical and revolutionary and not just a bit of a nip and tuck regarding the Trusts. He heeded advice from NOMS/MoJ to retain certain areas of work in the public sector placing this under closer direct government control and ignored advice from those warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a split.

Bidders for CRCs were therefore encouraged to present 'innovative' operating models in their bids. This was deliberate as the idea was to disrupt the status quo by establishing and bringing into existence a diverse range of approaches to tackling reoffending that would stimulate competition and further innovation. You could say that Grayling wanted to produce loosely controlled chaos from which he hoped would emerge cheaper leaner and meaner probation services that would chip away at the stubborn reoffending monolith.

This might appear to some to be a decidedly bold and exciting plan with lots of potential for innovation and transformative change however it soon became clear in the first round of bids that very few private companies were interested in participating and competing in what was essentially an artificially created rehabilitation services market. There was some panic that the whole TR programme would go belly up and in the second round bidders were assisted to come up with improved bids. As we know some CRC package areas only had one suitable bidder and some large multinational bidders were able to mop up a number of areas with bids that were superficially innovative but in reality just about doing things cheaper with less resources.

With a bizarre and discredited PBR payment system and significant risks to reputation smaller bidders, who were perhaps more genuinely innovative, such as staff mutuals were effectively discouraged. The usual multinational suspects, minus G4S and Serco who were under SFO investigation, were allowed to take over - much to the MoJs relief - as a politically embarrassing PR disaster was narrowly averted. Cameron gave Grayling whatever PR management resources he needed and at one time he had a team of 60 working to counter the efforts of trade unions and other organisations and pressure groups including a covert social media campaign designed to disrupt and counter any organised opposition.

However it very soon became clear to a number of the bidders, some of whom had not dealt with the MoJ/NOMS, that they had been sold a pup. A lot of the important planning work that should have been done had not been done and the rush to avoid ministerial embarrassment and tie the hands of any new administration was obstructive to any major tweaking.

Many of those voting to transform rehabilitation (TR) undoubtedly didn't have a clue or didn't bother to find out what they were voting for and didn't appreciate the dogs breakfast that needed to be sorted out and is still being sorted out in order to do anything new whilst retaining a degree of stability or business as usual.

The onerous task of making TR work was largely shouldered by what remained of Trust staff and the job of keeping the show on the road has been achieved through the titanic efforts of what remains of experienced frontline practitioners. What remains of the old Trust senior managers who couldn't get out on lucrative enhanced voluntary redundancy schemes are gradually being replaced in most cases by the owners own corporate employees who they assume are loyal to their cause - though in some cases have been turned from the dark side. The long suffering frontline practitioners who have not been offered an exit option have had no option but to keep carrying on despite evidence of low morale and increasingly poor performance due to factors such as unreliable IT systems, bedding in of new ways of working, that are largely beyond their control. Many would leave if they could leave without financial loss and employers are well aware that if they opened a door there would be a stampede to exit.

The fact remains that the probation service was not failing prior to privatisation and was not responsible for reoffending rates remaining static particularly those sentenced to less than 12 months custody whom they were never asked to work with. We should in any case be wary and sceptical of crime and reoffending statistics as their production is now a very politically sensitive operation that may well alter the fate of those agencies producing them. For instance many crimes may be ignored and certain groups disproportionately targeted as easy wins whilst harder criminal cases such as fraud and tax evasion pursued with less enthusiasm. Politicians have also interfered in the criminal justice system in England and Wales ignoring expert advice and pursuing populist policies of punishment and retribution rather than rehabilitation that has for instance led to an expansion of the prison system when some of our apparently more enlightened European neighbours are closing theirs and seeking ways to enhance and expand offender rehabilitation valuing the contribution of probation staff more rather than less.

Successive governments have cumulatively made a disgraceful mess of the probation service by treating it as a political football (Grayling is probably the most inept and determined in recent times). It would now take a very strong/brave and enlightened government to reform the criminal justice system to reflect modern thinking rather than sticking with the worst of all systems. Such a government does not appear to exist and probation has few if any champions in Westminster.

The expertise is still available although there is relatively little evidence that the new players have shown much if any interest in real innovation or indeed tried and tested approaches nor have actually involved themselves in producing any research evidence regarding whether what they have been doing actually works to reduce reoffending as yet - except anything they need to do to get paid. The suspicion, in the absence of reliable evidence, must be that at best they are making no difference - in comparison to what was previously in place - or that they are actually making things worse. If that is found to be the case then yes there is reason for considerable regret and for certain individuals to step up and take responsibility for their actions.

David Raho


"Cameron gave Grayling whatever PR management resources he needed and at one time he had a team of 60 working to counter the efforts of trade unions and other organisations and pressure groups including a covert social media campaign designed to disrupt and counter any organised opposition."

I find this particularly interesting as it was often alleged on the blog that 'dark forces' were at work trying to disrupt things on social media - and possibly still are. I wonder what evidence the author has for this assertion? 


  1. Enjoyed reading, wholly believable. Be interesting to here what the upcoming political conferences have to say about Criminal Justice and particularly Probation.

  2. This was originally published in response to this article

    1. Government could come to regret 'rehabilitation revolution' claims - MPs

      The Ministry of Justice may have “bitten off more than it can chew” in attempting to overhaul the probation system, an influential committee of MPs has warned.

      The Public Accounts Committee said the Government “may regret” presenting its programme as a “rehabilitation revolution”, saying the promised changes had not yet materialised. The Ministry of Justice said it was conducting a "comprehensive review" of the scheme. When Chris Grayling was justice secretary in the Coalition government, he unveiled a package of reforms that saw responsibility for the rehabilitation of low- and medium-risk offenders handed over to private companies.

      The MPs said there were “significant barriers” to encouraging innovation among the community rehabilitation companies (CRC) – one of the key factors cited by Mr Grayling when he announced the changes. Today’s report also says there are “serious risks” to meeting expected standards by next year.

      “There is a real danger the Ministry of Justice has bitten off more than it can chew,” said PAC chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier.

      “It set out with some fervour a programme of reforms not just to rehabilitation but also to the courts and prison systems. Ambition is one thing but, as our Committee continues to document across government, delivering positive results for taxpayers and society in general is quite another. ’Revolution’ is a potent word the Government may regret using to describe its reforms to rehabilitation.”

      The MPs said there were “gaps in the data” which made it difficult to assess the overall effectiveness of the reform programme, and called on the MoJ to publish an update on its progress by the end of next year.

      In response to the report, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “We are carrying out a comprehensive review of the probation service to improve outcomes for offenders and communities. Public protection is our top priority and we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to make sure our vital reforms are being delivered to reduce reoffending, cut crime and prevent future victims.”


      Andrew Neilson, the campaign director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "The break-up of the public probation service, with a large part of it handed to 21 private companies, was supposed to turn lives around, reduce reoffending and make us all safer. However, even though the probation watchdog waited more than a year for the new arrangements to bed down before carrying out local inspections, the reports we have seen show that the quality of work has declined. Poor probation work increases the risk to the public and lets down people who are trying to change their lives. The Howard League warned that ministers were taking a huge risk by dismantling a service that was performing well. We remain of that view.”

  3. I pretty much agree with that, though think the Liberal Democrats and especially those in Government at the MOJ, such as Lord McNally and his replacement Simon Hughes along with Nick Clegg all have great personal responsibility as do hundreds of parliamentarians who voted for things they do not understand that have harmed the social fabric of our nation.

    The Media also are responsible for very poor reporting.

    Neither do I excuse Labour whose opposition was late weak and unfocused and whose shoddy 2007 legislation enabled the whole disaster in the first place.

  4. It would be good to think that lessons could be learnt from the whole TR shambles, however it's unlikely because this government does not care. In the same way they do not care how the benefits reform affected people with disastrous results for some. Lessons learnt will not prevent this government from reforming social services in a similar way or from the continued privatisation of parts of the NHS. Probation is just one of the many casualties of this government.

  5. Within months of Brexit books giving insider accounts are being rushed out and serialised in newspapers. There are a fair number of former leaders in probation who were amply rewarded by biting their tongues at the time TR was being force-fed to their workforces – a la foie gras. Their pensions are now safe, though I know there is always consultancy work here and there. But if there are some who have enough of the King's silver and given that TR is now facing fire from many sides, perhaps it's an opportune time to spill some beans.

  6. I don't think any of the political parties have the vision or courage to put the cjs right. Investment and long term planning as well as joined up thinking elude them all. You can't make a good job of reforming prisons, courts, probation, police, the welfare system, health , housing employment and education in isolation from each other. They all have to work well together to produce the desired results, and this is the only genuine lasting money saving exercise there is. But all budgets and government departments work in silos and in competition with each other, and individuals seek glory for themselves rather than results that will benefit the public.

  7. A very powerful piece David . Heartfelt thanks to ALL those that Stand UP/By and consistently speak out for Probation. In a very small way I too remain proud to defend a ' much loved and greatly respected Probation. Thanks too for Jim Brown whose steadfastness and resilience has been an inspiration to many and whilst WE are ALL likely to have different views this Blog has enabled the 'hearts, minds, voices to be consistently and robustly heard. Through-out the past 4 years the Government have had an opportunity to listen to wel like- evidenced and amply expressed concerns across the whole spectrum of diverse and informed opinion I only hope and pray indeed daily that they begin to listen Meanwhile, in OUR own ways the light on the impact of TR will undoubtably continue Sending best wishes to you ALL i@iangould5

    1. Keep on praying Ian. I'm praying too.

  8. I haven't access to any data but wondered if the new PSS arrangements had had a noticeable detrimental impact upon those subject to such supervision, i.e. if you are subject to 12 months' supervision on Licence as a minimum then you "may's well be hung for a sheep as a lamb"? This would possibly up-tariff more cases into the realms of NPS (e.g more serious offences) as well as increase the reoffending rates, thereby placing the CRCs in double-jeopardy by reducing their caseloads AND damaging their funding formula.

    No doubt the MOJ will arrange yet more displays of funding gymnastics to keep the greedy privateers sweet.

  9. In my view PSS had been extremely detrimental in rehabilitation. At best I just ignore it in that I don't take any action for non attendance and st worst its provided a constant merry go round of prison court probation ! It's time it was got rid of
    NPS PO


    1. Voluntary sector 'squeezed out' in justice reforms, MPs conclude

      The Ministry of Justice is not realising the full potential of the third sector in its probation reforms, according to a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

      In 2014, the government enacted reforms to the probation system designed to reduce the human and economic costs of reoffending. The changes resulted in a new National Probation Service taking over supervision of high-risk offenders and 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) to supervise low and medium-risk offenders.

      Successful bidders to run the CRCs were expected to subcontract some services’ delivery to public, private and voluntary sector organisations.

      But in its Transforming Rehabilitation report, which examines the government’s progress in enacting its probation reforms and was published last week, the committee said that despite plans to "open up the probation sector to a diverse range of rehabilitation providers, including mutuals" the CRCs were dominated by private sector firms.

      It therefore recommended that the government and National Offender Management Service "assess the health of the voluntary sector’s relationships with CRCs and the NPS and use this insight to identify and address gaps in provision and enable smaller providers to contribute more effectively".

      The report also said that while the government said it recognised the voluntary sector had less capacity than the private sector to accept commercial risk when bidding for contracts, "it is not evident to us that this learning was well applied to the CRC procurement".

      The report said: "In other sectors, the committee has repeatedly seen a narrowing of the private contractors bidding for, and running, services over time. Despite the ministry’s professed intention to avoid this, we are concerned about the trajectory which appears to mirror other sectors where smaller expert providers are squeezed out.

      "We also received submissions raising concerns about how voluntary groups are being managed by CRCs and the lack of transparency about work opportunities."

      Nick Davies, public services manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations , said the government must urgently assess charities relationship with probation services "ensure a diverse market of suppliers".

      He said: "Otherwise, as with the Work Programme and countless other services, the danger is that the expertise and capacity of smaller, specialist organisations, particularly in supporting those with the most complex needs, will be lost."

      Anne Fox, chief executive of Clinks, which represents criminal justice charities, said: "To revolutionise and transform rehabilitation the voluntary sector’s expertise of working in innovative ways with impressive results needs to be fully involved. However, the Public Accounts Committee has recognised that the full potential of the voluntary sector is not being realised."

      Sam Gyimah, the justice minister, said: "We are carrying out a comprehensive review of the probation service to improve outcomes for offenders and communities.Public protection is our top priority and we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to make sure our vital reforms are being delivered to reduce reoffending, cut crime and prevent future victims."

    2. Thing is tho' - every time we send someone to a voluntary sector agency (or they attend of their own volition) and we count it as a RAR day, the CRC essentially is being 'paid' for service being delivered by someone else. Am not referring to the commissioned services such as drug agencies; more the agencies we invite in to share our HUb spaces, and send all our clients to. They see them, do our work for nothing and we get paid!!! What"s not to like? Wonder how long it will take the voluntary agencies we 'invite'to share our CRC Community Hubs to cotton on !!!!

  11. How did we get here? We started off by bearing right about 19 years ago, then turned sharp right some 6 years back. By 2020 we'll have reached our Destination...

  12. Where is it going is the big question. There seems to be a lot of headless chickens looking for direction at the moment in company boardrooms.
    But that solutions are badly needed is recognised and this article I've just read does not fill me with enthusiasm.

    1. Many thanks for this! It's so good I'll probably use it in a post of its own.

    2. It is an interesting read but also a bit worrying that KPMG, with the blessing of John Manzoni & the Cabinet Office, is collaborating in redesigning government from within without any political mandate - and I'm fairly certain it won't be a generous gift from the beancounters turned consultants. This from KPMG's own website for their staff:

      "Let's Reimagine...

      We’ve engaged in a series of thought experiments, as our staff imagine new ways for government to achieve public policy objectives.

      This might mean building services around the user rather than the provider. Or drawing on the huge potential of data and digital technologies. Or tapping into the power of markets, new incentives, transparency, or the wisdom of crowds. In every case, it involves fresh ideas.

      We imposed three rules. Ideas must be designed to produce better public outcomes without increasing the burden on the taxpayer. They must align with the government’s philosophy and headline policies. And they must be realistic and deliverable.

      But within these rules we want to step outside conventional thinking, and test out new ideas. What do you think?"

    3. ... or we could invest in our Probation Service. Reimagine that!!


    1. From the Yellow Advertiser:-

      EXCLUSIVE: Privatised probation service leaves Basildon safety officials in the dark over reoffending figures

      The Privatisation of the probation service is preventing Basildon safety officers from doing their jobs properly, a public meeting has heard. A council officer told councillors that since the service was partially privatised two years ago it had stopped supplying data on reoffending – meaning the Basildon Community Safety Partnership was unable to measure whether it was meeting its goal of reducing reoffending across Basildon.

      The claim was made as Basildon Council’s community safety manager Paula Mason was questioned by councillors in a community and infrastructure scrutiny meeting earlier this month, September 7. Ms Mason told the meeting: “Reoffending rates, whereas we used to have figures provided to us, with the split in the probation service we have been unable to get performance figures out of Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC).”

      Committee chairman and Labour leader Gavin Callaghan said: “This worries me enormously, that we don’t seem to have any kind of concrete figures for reoffending.
      “In September 2014 the act of Parliament went through to separate the probation service. It seems to me utterly ridiculous that we still don’t have any way of capturing reoffending. How can anyone, police and crime commissioner or a government minister, stand up and speak with any authority about reoffending in Essex when we don’t have a clue what is actually going on?”

      Police and crime commissioner Roger Hirst was present and nodded at Cllr Callaghan’s comments. Ms Mason replied: “They are working on that. I think we are quite close actually to seeing some data but for the purpose of this annual report we haven’t got any reoffending data. But we are being reassured that we will be seeing that data.”

    2. I notice David Raho respsonded to this on Facebook:-

      When I worked for Essex probation in the 1980s it was a great service to work for. I worked in Southend on Sea with a team of dedicated people who were generally happy, enthusiastic and enjoyed their work with clients. We worked hard but staff did not work excessive hours and we had some great parties. We also had 36 days leave, a good lease car scheme and you could manage your generic caseload with a high degree of autonomy. Some people loved prison visits where you could chalk up some serious mileage and get your credit card balance paid off in no time. SPOs were generally experienced and knowledgeable POs who were mostly interested in practice rather than managing and usually had a caseload of the more challenging clients so knew what they were talking about. I respected the experience and skill of my colleagues who I remember as being generous and supportive.

      Practice was of high quality and we had allocation and case discussion meetings where officers would bring cases and the whole team would support each other. The office buzzed with activity and social workers, housing people and drugs workers didn't need an appointment. I remember those years as some of the happiest and most rewarding I ever had in probation. The only clouds appeared when management consultants appeared one day and started asking us what our key output areas were. The general consensus was that attempting to run probation like a business would never succeed. Something told me this was the death knell of probation.

      I was involved with research at Essex probation HQ at one point and also spent some time at the Essex police HQ in Chelmsford and also spent time on my knees manually sifting court files to produce local reoffending statistics. I remember sitting with one of the SPOs with files all around getting the figures we needed from typed precons and faded printouts. These were the early days of PCs and I was asked to write a computer program to computerise this process. After thinking a lot about the considerable barriers to developing such a system I realised my limits and did my best to explain that such a project would involve the complex management of information and somehow getting a number of incompatible systems to share data when they effectively spoke different languages. Had I persevered it could have been me rather than Tim Berners Lee who came up with the World Wide Web two years later as essentially that's what I was being asked to do.

      Pretty sad that a once proud service has been split up and reduced to this kind of public shaming.

      David Raho

    3. Fascinating write up - I reemember the Essex training and the management consultants and the KPI's.

      One of the ambitious managers most closely associated with it went to great heights for a few years before her career seemed to end rather abruptly when she was in a prominent position in the West Country.

      I never heard any more about her but I still remember her very well as a young SPO.

  14. At risk of sounding very thick, but if no data is available on reoffending rates, then what formula is being used to calculate payment by result?


    1. Getafix - feel free to make a choice

      A. It don't matter a fig to us gamechangers, we're just cashing in

      B. Its a secret formula, commercially sensitive & only known to the great & the good.

      C. Its a total fuckup.

      D. (p/d*x2y)*[3f¥]\[€$€] = 2y

  15. at risk of going off topic, I have watched the Labour Conference today, with a wide variety of MPs and members, as they pulled the govt apart,and did they mention probation, or even prisons? nope, not once.

    People were speaking from various unions incl Unison, but not NAPO, and employees and families, of NHS, fire service, education, construction workers, steel works, trains, railways, shopworkers, community workers, youth workers etc, but even tho' decimation of public services was referred to, it was mainly about the NHS. The collapse of what was one of the most successful public services remains a big secret.

    Are those dark forces still lurking and suppressing any effort to get the horror story go viral? Or is it all gonna happen tomorrow, when I understand the justice system is the topic of the day, or have I got it wrong?

  16. Just read the article in Civil Service World (see link at Anonymous 16.25.) and the author, Chloe Burton of KPMG consultants, recommends a "Prisoner Performance Manager" for each released prisoner in an attempt to reduce reoffending. The duties of this role are spelt out and in many respects the author has just reinvented the PROBATION OFFICER. Well I never, I didn't think KPMG consultants were that clever!

    1. I cringe at corbyn being in charge of labour. He has no clue. Wants to give unions mire power blah blah blah.. I've switched to tory

    2. Good for you. You can explain the legitimacies of the Tory's social policy approach the next time one of your clients gets their benefits stopped for wearing blue and green without a colour in between.

  17. It's probably been noted but this coloum says that projected savings from the sale of Probation have already been outstripped by compensation paid to CRCs.

    1. They singled out the NOMS' nDelius case management system as a particular source of frustration that put "added pressure on hard-pressed staff”, and highlighted a £23m compensation payment made to CRCs by the ministry over delays in providing an access gateway to the NOMS ICT system.