If I'm correct in this, then I can see why there was an imperative to revisit the rules regarding quoracy this year as there may well be a feeling that travelling considerable distance for a significantly shorter AGM and conference just isn't really worth it. Added to which, historically, there's always been an air of it just being a 'jolly', paid for by the union, a view considerably re-inforced by regular venues being beside the sea. I suspect a day and a half in Nottingham might finally put that notion to bed.
Of course a shorter AGM also means a great deal more pressure on providing enough time for business and hence even more pressure to drop some of the unkindly referred-to 'fillers'. And that would be a great shame in my view because Napo has a great track record on inviting good and important external speakers to conference. This year was no exception with an absolutely fascinating contribution from Dame Glenys Stacey, the new Chief Inspector of Probation.
Of course it is she who is already gaining quite a bit of attention with her increasingly-scathing reports into CRC's and there's a few more in the pipeline to be published very shortly. I don't know about anyone else, but as a probation 'outsider', I was mightily impressed by her obvious grasp of our situation, her candour and the steely-determination with which she is approaching her difficult and highly politically-charged task. Of course in an ideal world, this is no more than should be expected of one of Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors, but I'm reminded of some of her 'insider' predecessor's and their somewhat half-hearted approach to the task.
Interestingly, as Dame Stacey was addressing us in person, she was also featuring on BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour regarding her concerns with funding and adequate services for women. This is clearly an Inspector on a mission and someone keen to be innovative in altering the pattern of inspections so as to reflect the new probation landscape. She speculated on possibly looking at all the CRCs owned by a given company, or possibly looking at specific geographic areas. At the same time she stated that her advice to government was to allow her agency to take over supervision of SFO investigations and make sure they were focused on lessons to be learnt, as with air accident investigations.
It was obvious that the MP for Cardiff Central and Shadow Solicitor General, Jo Stevens, was delighted to be asked to speak and convey the news that Jeremy Corbyn would ensure a future Labour Government would re-nationalise and re-unite the probation service. She is also someone clearly very well-briefed regarding our plight, not least I suspect because prior to her election to Parliament in 2015 she was a solicitor and Director of Thompsons, Napo's solicitors.
Another speaker of note was Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru's first female MP and someone who has picked up the mantle from Elfyn Llwyd as Chair of the Justice Unions and Family Court Unions Parliamentary Groups. I suspect her thorough grasp of our situation belies the hand of Harry Fletcher who succumbed to a better offer and switched from advising the Labour Party, news which seemed to come as a surprise to at least some of the top table.
It was good to hear from the new Chair of the Magistrates Association, Malcolm Richardson, even if he did choose his words very carefully indeed. Reading between the lines though, I think it's pretty obvious there are signs that at last the lay bench are getting a bit pissed off with things and especially not getting any information from the CRC's. I note their AGM has the following motion to debate shortly:-
"This AGM believes the sentencing aim of reducing re-offending cannot be met by magistrates without knowledge of the availability of community order options provided by CRCs”.But, I suspect for many of us, it was the contribution from a former Welsh miner, Dai Donovan and his portrayal in that incredibly moving film 'Pride', that proved the star turn of this year's AGM and conference. Complete with a couple of film clips, for me it underlines why guest speakers are never just 'fillers', but rather help ensure that as probation and family court welfare staff, we remain rooted to the wider context; reminded what our work is all about and the professional ethics we hold dear. Needless to say Dai received one of the few standing ovations this year.
Finally, I should have mentioned in the first report that following lively debate, agency workers can now join Napo and as a union, we're now 'supporting' Jeremy Corbyn, seeing as he's promised to re-nationalise and re-unite us, should he ever form a government that is.