Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Liz Truss in the Hot Seat

Today we find out if Liz Truss has been doing her homework during the Parliamentary Recess; if she has a rather more measured view on crime and punishment and more significantly, if she has a plan:-

The Justice Committee questions Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP on her priorities as Secretary of State for Justice.

Watch Parliament TV: The work of the Secretary of State
Inquiry: The work of the Secretary of State
Justice Committee

Witnesses Wednesday 7 September 2016, Thatcher Room, Portcullis House At 9.45am

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice


Rob Allen has quite a few questions he'd quite like to see answered. This is his starter for ten:-

A Few Questions for the New Justice Secretary

On Wednesday, Liz Truss is due to answer questions from the Justice Committee about her priorities as Justice Secretary. Here are four criminal justice topics that MPs should ask about.

First, does Ms Truss still believe, as she did in 2011, that prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places? Philip Davies MP will hope so but other MP’s will expect a more constructive tone from the minister leading (what was at least) the Government’s flagship policy of prison reform. When can we expect a White paper/Draft Bill and what will it cover? In the meantime what is Ms Truss planning to do to increase safety and reduce violence in prisons and ensure they are adequately staffed? The committee should also probe on the plans for separate units for jihadi prisoners due to start in 4 category A prisons next year, and her thinking on tariff expired IPP cases.

Second, Ms Truss has reportedly been less than keen on problem solving courts (but was more positive on the Today Programme on 22 August). MPs should ask if and when pilots will start, where they will take place and what exactly they will be piloting. They should also try to find out if, like Mr Gove, she sees these are a vehicle for reducing imprisonment, particularly for women. Back in 2011, Ms Truss wanted to reverse the tide of soft justice. But, as a judge might put it “tempora mutantur".

Third, has Ms Truss made any assessment of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms? Her Permanent Secretary told the Public Accounts Committee in July he was only 60% confident that they were working. What sort of figure would she put on it? And what more can she say about the various electronic tagging pilots that are due to get off the ground in the autumn. One of the areas Gove’s team were exploring is where electronic monitoring might enable offenders to be given a community sentence where at present they would be sent to custody. Is this still on the cards along with the greater use of electronically monitored release on temporary licence?

Finally on youth justice, what’s happened to Charlie Taylor’s review? Can Ms Truss be drawn on the likelihood of the new generation of secure schools outlined in February’s interim report or changes to courts and sentencing which Taylor’s been looking at since? Is the YJB, as is widely expected, heading for the exit door and what’s the latest on the sale of G4S’s Secure Training Centres?


Unfortunately, the omens are not good, judging by this parliamentary exchange yesterday that would seem to indicate the new minister is as deluded as her predecessor:-

Jo Stevens MP

Since the Government’s probation privatisation, concerns have repeatedly been raised about the quality of pre-sentence reports for the courts as a result of arbitrary targets set. The probation inspectorate has this month described that as a persistent problem leading to inappropriate sentences being handed down. Vital safeguarding checks, such as domestic violence checks with police and child protection checks with children’s services, are not taking place prior to sentencing. Will the Justice Secretary today commit to an urgent review so that the public, probation professionals and sentencers can have confidence that when convicted criminals are sentenced, those deciding on them have all the necessary safeguarding evidence available?

Elizabeth Truss MP

Our probation services do vital work and the Minister responsible for prisons and probation is looking very closely at this issue, but I would point out that those now on shorter sentences get much more support thanks to our new probation contracts.


  1. Yeah Lizzie and I won both the lottery and the international triathlon last weekend!

  2. Perhaps Elizabeth Truss can answer an as yet unanswered question put by Unison regarding the hidden costs of TR & thus further enhancement of the privateers' profits whilst back-loading the liabilities of the public purse & misrepresenting the 'value for money' aspect of TR. This from Unison's evidence to PAC in July 2016:

    "2.4 Hidden Costs: Pensions and the Failure to Transfer Commercial Risk

    Pension costs can form a substantial part of the financial reckoning in any privatisation. Over 90% of the former Probation Trust workforces were members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). They have protection under scheme rules to retain their pension scheme when subject to a compulsory transfer to a new employer, say via outsourcing.

    Normally in the case of privatisation, the successful bidders are required to purchase a bond on the market to ensure that they are able to cover the LGPS fund costs/liabilities in respect of the workforce due to be transferred as a result of any outsourcing. In the case of Transforming Rehabilitation, the government took the unusual step of retaining all the pension liabilities on the public sector balance sheet.

    This was called the ‘Secretary of State’s Guarantee’ and was put in place presumably to provide an extra incentive to bidders to take on the CRC contracts. However, the government claimed that this was actually a money saving measure, because the cost of the companies acquiring the bonds would have been reflected in the eventual contract price.

    Such was the quantum of state backing required for the pension solution that the UK government was required to go to the European Commission to get permission for this fix in relation to EU rules regarding state aid. UNISON sought to discover the nature of the discussions between the UK government and the Commission by way of an FOI disclosure, but despite an appeal to the Information Commissioner, we were denied access to the relevant information. The MOJ relied on a claim that disclosure would jeopardise international relations (in this case between the UK and the EU Commission), which can be a valid defence against an FOI request, and the Information Commissioner backed them up.

    Much therefore remains unclear about the nature of the pension fix, but one thing that is certain, is that that the public sector has retained all the pension liabilities relating to the staff of the CRCs and the private sector owner have escaped completely from any liability or risk transfer in relation to the same. In particular, we wonder whether the cost of the pension fix was taken into account by the Office for Government Commerce, or the Major Projects Office, when they made their assessments of the value for money represented by the Transforming Rehabilitation proposal. Indeed, it would be interesting to know the actual quantum of the pension liabilities held on the public sector balance sheet in respect of TR?"

  3. The more I tead & hear about this TR nonsense, the more suspicious I get. Why would anyone go to such extreme lengths & trouble to not only rush through the TR agenda, but also take the time & effort to ensure every aspect is as hidden from public scrutiny as possible? Sweeteners from the public purse have been rife in this exercise, from funding consultants (min £9M before the privatisation even happened) & Modernisation Fund handouts (£80M to pay off staff, although most went straight into the privateers' pockets) & now removing the impact of pension costs for the privateers - at undisclosed cost to the public purse.

    Something smells rotten...


    1. Homeless young offenders' housing criticised by report

      A third of homeless 16 and 17-year-old offenders in England and Wales are being placed in unsafe or unsuitable accommodation, a report has found. The report outlines a number of failings including poor support and a lack of appropriate housing.

      Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said the wider support children received was "sometimes... woefully inadequate". The government said children's services had to protect this group by law.

      The report was produced from the joint findings of HM Inspectorate of Probation and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales.

      Local authorities are responsible for providing accommodation for homeless young people of that age, and the report said many had already been in the care system.

      What does the report show? Inspectors found:
      While the young people had a roof over their heads, they often did not get more than a few hours of professional support a week

      There were particular concerns about risks to young people who were sharing hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation with adult strangers, some of whom had criminal records

      There was a limited range of suitable housing which meant some young people were placed in accommodation that did not meet their needs

      Inspectors said some of the reasons for the failures appeared to be inadequate assessment, a limited range of suitable accommodation, a lack of understanding of each child's needs and treating them as if they were adults. They added that none of the local authorities they spoke to blamed failures on a lack of funding. All the 16 and 17-year-olds whose cases were examined by probation and social care inspectors had experienced some sort of trauma in their earlier life and, the inspectors said, had often often demonstrated "difficult behaviour".

      Crucially, the report concluded that these children were "not yet capable of independence and still needed some form of parenting or support". The report said local authorities "should avoid" placing youngsters in accommodation with adults who may pose a risk of harm to them, and youth offending teams should work together to improve the support for these children - including tailoring their support to the needs of each child. "The wider support children received was sometimes excellent but in other cases, woefully inadequate," Dame Glenys said. "Support for these children needs to be more consistent, effective and in line with the expectations set by the courts, so that they can successfully become independent adults."

      A government spokesperson said: "The law is clear that children's services must protect any child without a home and give them the support they need - and this age group is no exception. The number of 16 and 17-year-olds being placed in bed and breakfast accommodation has fallen but we know there is more to do. That is why we are investing over £500m to tackle homelessness and are collecting data on all children who go missing from care. This will help local services respond more quickly to this issue."

  5. I watched Liz Truss give evidence to the Justice Committee. Though it wasn't really evidence......she bumbled through saying she hadn't decided on anything yet and seemed to know next to nothing about her portfolio.

    She says that delivering 5 new prisons by 2020 would be done, but didn't know where they would be, no plans for planning permission, or contracting the builders or the operators. In short, nothing has seemingly been done.

    Inept does not come close to describing her performance and lack of charisma.

    For those who haven't seen her in action previously I recommend viewing this from her time heading up DEFRA, disturbing..

  6. Nasty and a bit dim. May never did have much time for the MoJ

  7. This seems as good a summing up as any:-

    As I'm sure many will have witnessed, the Justice Committee questioned the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP on her priorities as Secretary of State for Justice this morning. Some very astute MPs, with maybe the odd exception, really asking those awkward questions we all wanted answers to.

    Dear future...are we ready?

    Streamed live across the internet the questioning would give us a glimpse into the future of our justice system, or so we thought. What transpired seemed to be very much about ‘opportunities to reform’ with no tangible detail of how that will be achieved. Granted, the Justice Secretary has not been in post long but judging by the social media fallout the professionals out there expected much more.

    Ms Truss was intent on making the point that she intends to “look at the broad system as a whole” and an “important priority is that the justice system needs to work for everyone”. Points that most wouldn’t argue with but within the context of prison reforms and the need to make our prisons safe for staff and prisoners surely this should be a matter of urgency.


    Robert Neill, Chair of the Justice Committee, questioned the Justice Secretary specifically about the prisons bill that was included as a centrepiece of the Queen’s speech and asked “Are we not going to get one?” to which Ms Truss responded “I'm not saying that at all. What I want to do is lay out the plan which will outline exactly what legislation is required and when it will happen”.

    This crucial part of the questioning obviously did not bode well and raised concerns over whether there was an impending backtrack on the Queen’s speech, so much so the Ministry of Justice released a statement afterwards saying “Government remains totally committed to legislating on prison reform and will come forward with plans in due course.” A quick mopping up exercise…

    Staffing levels…

    Strangely the issues of staffing levels were not raised, although one could argue that Alex Chalk MP was indirectly referring to this when he mentioned about prisoners being in their cells 23 hours per day. Ms Truss stated she has an “overall vision for safety and reform” which really begs a question on how that can be achieved with such low staffing numbers.

    Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns for the Howard League for Penal Reform, recently said: "These figures show how reductions in staffing and problems in recruiting and retaining new staff are feeding the problems behind bars.” It could be suggested that we have two options, we increase the staffing levels to what is a safe level and/or we reduce the numbers of people in prison. The latter would almost certainly require sentencing reform, something the Justice Secretary seemed to avoid completely today.

    Transforming rehabilitation…

    Touching a raw nerve for many, the Justice Secretary said about Transforming Rehabilitation that it is “fundamentally the right approach” but went on to say that she is “looking at the overall performance of those contracts”. As with many of the questions raised today Ms Truss will ‘come back to us’.

    Not all bad…

    “Problem solving courts have a lot of potential”, a statement made by the Justice Secretary who went on to say she was “I’m very interested in a problem solving approach, I want to see us collecting good evidence how it is working”. This has been a bone of contention in the press for some time so for now it seems to be very much on the agenda, at least if the ‘good evidence’ can be provided.

    I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about whether the questioning today has given us less or more confidence in the new Justice Secretary. One thing for certain is that conjugal visits won’t be happening on her watch.

    As for prison reform, I think the jury is still out...

    Richard Rowley Business Development & Relationship Manager at SAFE Innovations Ltd

  8. This from Rob Allen:-

    Don't Despair on Prison Reform ...Just Yet

    On 19th July, five days after her appointment, Justice Secretary Liz Truss said she was clear that the vital work of prison reform will continue "at pace". Seven weeks in, the Guardian’s take on her evidence to the Justice Committee this morning is that the prison reform plans are on hold.

    The headline exaggerates a bit because as Ms Truss admitted there is no plan to put on hold. For all his rhetorical flourish, Michael Gove appears to have neglected to create much in the way of concrete proposals for improving prisons let alone a timetable for implementing them. Beyond slogans about giving governors’ more freedom there is no legacy. If we didn’t realise it already we now know that on prison reform (and much else besides), we’ve been conned.

    Enter Ms Truss, whose business background may have alerted her antennae to grandiose and ideological schemes floating free from reality. Her instinct, much on display before the Justice Committee is that of the management accountant she was, a profession who, says Wikipedia, “use the provisions of accounting information in order to better inform themselves before they decide matters within their organizations, which aids their management and performance of control functions”. It’s a world away from Gove’s talk of redemption. But it might actually do something.

    For what Ms Truss will have realised is that the prison system is in the midst of an operational crisis, while her predecessor did not acknowledge it was a system let alone one in crisis. Given the urgency of the problems, her approach might be what’s needed; risking another analogy , something closer to a plumber rather than architect. Rightly she said to the committee that making prisons safer is her most pressing priority. If prisoners and staff are afraid or threatened by violence, talk of reform means little.

    Where she disappointed was in her unwillingness to countenance a role in reducing the numbers in prison. While ruling out arbitrary reductions, she might well be attracted by rational, planned and evidence based reductions if they can be shown to bring about the outcomes she wants .What we’ll need from her is a bit of creative accountancy so that demand for prison places falls. She will find levers in the system to help her with that if she wants, not least in a revisiting of the probation system which, like much else, she is currently looking at. So don’t despair. .. just yet.

  9. She was all smiles when she took the job. Suspect she now realises what she has let herself in for given the mess. Wont be surprised if mass privatisation on the horizon. Give it to someone else to deal with ie just wash your hands of the total mess.

  10. Catholic church leader says some UK prisons are a stain on society

    Cardinal Vincent Nichols urges bold reform in speech saying treatment of inmates often falls short of acceptable standards