Monday, 21 November 2016

Memo to Bob Neill MP


First off, can I say that next time you take up what sounds like a brilliant suggestion from one of your young and enthusiastic team, such as a foray into 'social media' on Facebook with an offer to 'Ask Bob', you have something meaningful to say. To put it bluntly, this isn't a good enough answer to the considered and detailed questions highlighted in Wednesday's blog post:-
Bob: "Hi Denice, we don’t hold this information and we are afraid the questions should be directed to MoJ or to the CRCs involved. Should the Committee decide to inquire into this subject in the future it will no doubt take evidence on the impact on staff of the new arrangements. Thank you."
I notice the author didn't give up though and got this further response from you:-
"Thank you for following up on this. The Committee is following developments in Transforming Rehabilitation very closely, having questioned MoJ’s Permanent Secretary on the issue and held an informal meeting with CRCs, Government officials and academics earlier this month. It has already received many suggestions that it pursue an inquiry into the subject; this will be given consideration as soon as possible, but cannot be addressed immediately as its work programme is already full with other urgent issues (including Prison reform and Implications of Brexit for the justice system)."
So Bob, you don't think the crisis in probation is that urgent? Well, let me tell you that the shit is shortly to hit the fan in relation to MTCnovo, the dodgy American outfit that was awarded the contract to run the largest probation service by far, that of London, right on your doorstep. 

News reaches me from last Friday's meeting of Napo London Branch that when the HMIP report is published:-  
"They will get an absolute kicking, 'be slaughtered, likely to be one of the worst reports to date' - seems they are awaiting CRC Improvement Action Plan before publication - but threats to withdraw contract seem in the air - as a consequence front line staff are 'copping it' in terms of intense performance management crack down with a sense of demoralisation (defiance from some) palpable...50% OASys reports outstanding etc due to CRC inept handling - the cohort model will be replaced by a patch based approach (seems that the model of practice adopted was for Thames Valley & was introduced as a panic measure). Seems that 'lots of senior faces have been purged' in advance of report."
"London RISE* - financial meltdown backlog of reports, each costing 3k and a sense of impending collapse...Community Payback - disaster area! 66 Case Managers - now 18 staff for whole of London - derisory training - apparently a decision to make Orders 'concurrent' when pre-existing Order in force, one example of 'corrupt practices' -  'downtrodden' was how the heroic rep described colleagues.."
Now Bob, in my humble submission, none of this is going to play well, coming as it does on top of the now very public knowledge of the crisis created in our prisons by Chris Grayling's disastrous policy decisions when Justice Minister. Of course he did a very similar job with TR and probation and I have to say your Committee has been extremely slow in recognising there's a very serious problem here too. Yes, you've given ministers and senior Civil Servants a grilling, but if I may say so, you've been extremely lax in failing to follow up on the soft soap and bollocks you've been told on a regular basis and routinely highlighted on this blog by astute commentators.

Can I suggest that under your watch the MoJ Contract Police have obviously been asleep at the wheel? Why didn't they give MTCnovo a good kicking before HMIP got in and discovered London was in such a mess? They're only up the road for goodness sake! An American company that knows nothing about probation with a former prison governor in charge was always likely to end in tears wasn't it?   

We all know that the dreadful Coalition government made sure that the TR probation contracts contained a poison pill making cancellation prohibitively expensive, but CRC contractors such as MTCnovo are clearly not delivering, so surely the contracts need to be taken away on the grounds of non-compliance? 

It's got to make sense because an effective probation service must form part of any plan for prison reform and the present system is completely broken. May I therefore be so bold as to suggest you heed the advice you have already been given, as indeed you freely admit, namely:- 
"It has already received many suggestions that it pursue an inquiry into the subject; this will be given consideration as soon as possible."
so jolly well get on with it, please, Bob!  

*RISE was formed as a result of the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. We deliver specialist offender rehabilitation services in London as part of our contract with MTCnovo, which is a consortium of third, public and private sector companies that provide rehabilitation and offender management services across London and Thames Valley. We have also won contracts with a number of London Boroughs delivering programmes tailored to complex local needs.


  1. When is London CRC inspection report to be published? It was back in Sept 2016 when rumours of its failings were being first discussed on this blog.

  2. Mr Bob Neill - can I please add something to the Memo above?

    Napo and the other probation related unions have also sat on their hands, have given issues consideration and have prioritised other "urgent" matters, e.g. getting subs from NPS staff. Meantime the CRCs have ridden roughshod over employees' terms & conditions, reduced service provision to less than bare minimum, extracted & squirrelled away £hundreds-of-millions of public monies from (at best) a wholly incompetent and (at worst) a complicit MoJ/Noms. This has all happened under-the-radar. Your Committee can stop the rot.

  3. Action to Protect Your Terms and Conditions

    As you will be aware, Napo and UNISON are campaigning hard to persuade [CRC owner] to honour the National Negotiating Council (NNC) enhanced voluntary redundancy (EVR) scheme.

    In [xxx] CRC, in addition to not offering the NNC EVR scheme, as it should do, your employer has also unilaterally varied the local CRC agreement which guaranteed you the NNC EVR terms in the event that you were made compulsorily redundant.

    To protect your position in relation to your terms and conditions, should you be made compulsorily redundant by your CRC at some point in the future, Napo and UNISON strongly recommend that you complete the attached letter and send to [xxx] CRC CEO, as a matter of urgency.

    The letter confirms that you do not accept the recent unilateral variation of the [pre-existing] Organisational Change policy. Please ensure that you:

    • date the letter, sign and print your name
    • Keep one copy of the completed letter yourself
    • Provide one copy of the completed letter to your Napo or UNISON representative/branch

    Please note that should you choose not to submit the attached letter, this may affect the ability of Napo or UNISON to properly represent your interests in relation to redundancy payments in the future, should you need this."

    So in Aug 2015 I duly followed the advice of my union. The unilateral, non-negotiable change to my terms & conditions was nevertheless imposed by the CRC. Nothing was heard from the noms contract police, nothing was heard from the holder of the "golden share" in the CRC.

  4. I've been reading back through some personal diary entries from last year. I'm not convinced TR has improved anything. I found this from late Aug 2015:

    "This morning... Unknown person attends saying he's been transferred & wants us to give him a letter confirming his ID for housing benefit. Checks by soon-to-be-gone experienced PO colleague reveal 'unknown person' is an out-of-area ex-gang member (possibly witness protection) with previous firearms offences allocated to a PSO by our (usually absent) manager. Our transient (& equally absent) thru-the-gate worker (Not employed by CRC) says "he's okay, I know him, I'll deal with it." WTF!!

    This afternoon, case allocated to a PSO for common assault offence claims his life is at risk & wants help. Turns out that 'common assault' was in the context of trying to commit a sexual offence against a child, but only charged as a common assault (god bless the cps). Same manager as above failed to read the notes attached to the court email. The "child" is a 15 year old male, son of a prominent drug dealer. Daddy wants revenge.

    I want out before someone dies..."

    1. Thanks for providing that - absolutely shocking but sadly typical I suspect. Can we encourage you to share some other gems which would make an excellent guest blog or several?

    2. Jim, a kind & generous offer but no thanks. The more I've looked back at what happened the more I realise I'm just engaged in retrospective navel gazing. I tried at the time. I tried to fight. I wrote to everyone I could but nothing made any difference. It was like the shitstorm wasn't really there, just white noise in my own head. I'm sick to the back teeth of the perpetual & bare-faced lies from all involved - moj, noms, napo, crc's, etc etc. Wright, Grayling, Brennan et al all denied TR was about saving money. Ok...

      I have resurrected a letter Caroline Dineage MP sent to me in her capacity as Duty MP last year. She confirmed the CRCs' restructuring was subject to full commercial scrutiny & that the viability of plans to "realise efficiencies" was thoroughly examined. Bids were accepted which included restructuring of the way services were delivered: "the bid included the need to reduce staffing in the manner set out, to achieve their proposed operating model. We are content their bid satisfied our requirements."

      Are you sure it wasn't about saving money, then?

      She went on to reassure me that any attempts to vary contractual obligations regarding NNC terms & conditions or EVR would require negotiation with Trades Unions, and that any attempt to offer anything other than enhanced terms would be subject to close scrutiny to ensure compliance with contractual obligations.

      So what happened? Where were the contract police? Who blinked? Or more to the point, who was happy to wear the blinkers?

      Grayling's TR was the Wooden Horse to reduce staffing in probation. It served no other purpose. The Top Tables of Napo/Unison will have been aware of this so their eager agreement to a bizarrely ringfenced EVR, their pitiful posturing about saving jobs and their lacklustre challenge (what challenge?!?) to TR is thus explained, in my view.

      Its all been a sham, a shameful deceit.

    3. "Its all been a sham, a shameful deceit".

      Yes, I and many others would agree. Thanks for getting back to me and of course I can appreciate how painful it's all been and going back over it is difficult and probably not conducive to wellbeing. Look after yourself and thanks again for supporting the cause.

    4. As I prepare for another shift in my new found career as a barista (it was supposed to be barrister - bloody spellchecker!) I couldn't help one last trawl through some of my past contributions to the blog. They sound very familiar! These from 2014, for instance:

      - "The Ministry anticipates that savings generated by the reforms will allow the provision of rehabilitation services to be extended for the first time to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody." At no time has the MoJ claimed TR is about making savings; they've cited reducing reoffending rates and ideology, but never savings. MoJ staff argued the savings would come from elsewhere within the MoJ budget to pay for these reforms."

      - "At the Public Accounts Committee in March 2014:

      Q3 Chair: Hang on a minute. You have a 10% savings target for 2014-15. Does that not cover the probation service?
      Dame Ursula Brennan: We have deliberately concluded that we want to protect spending around probation in order to be able to extend it.
      Chair: Okay. But once the new service is set up, the way you will fund the 50,000 extra offenders is by finding savings elsewhere?
      Dame Ursula Brennan: We will be obliged to find savings in the Ministry of Justice budget, and we have been doing that."

      - "I have written to the PAC and others on a regular basis with my concerns. I have raised FOI requests, only to have them batted off or delayed or ignored. They are being pursued. I have written to my MP (waste of space, time & oxygen). I have written to the press. I have copied most of these efforts to napo. Not a peep from anyone - except the unhelpful tactics of the FOI handlers. No-one gives a flying fig about the scandalous behaviour and outright lies of the MoJ, the SoS, NOMS or the Trusts. No-one cares about the pay-offs, the back-room deals, the criminal history of the bidders, the utter silence of napo, the shafting of a professional workforce."

      Navel gazing? More like naval gazing, i.e. "I see no ships".

      Can I interest you in a warm pastry? Croissant? Almond, plain or pain au raisin?

    5. Completely agree friend, at least you will have respect and employment protections working for Costa, and what a wonderful feeling to complete your sociable work each day and know you are not responsible for an innocent's injury or death because your caseload is out of control. To sleep soundly at night is priceless. Well done you

    6. For over two fucking years people have been raising the flag for probation, contacting MPs and unions and the media. Nothing has changed. The sell-off happened, the money has been shipped overseas, the Napo GS still gets £70k+ a year & Grayling is so far up May's arse its hard to know if she'll ever manage to take a dump again. (Presumably) Experienced, qualified staff have left and seem to be pushing the frontiers of the provision of hot beverages. And, as highlighted by 14:16, "no-one gives a flying fig".

  5. About the latest Oasys knee jerk in the London CRC: we were told earlier this year we had to do Oasys initial sentence plan within 10 days of forts conact. Any Oasys outstanding from before April we need not worry about. Because of the inspection we have now been told we must do all pre April Oasys after all. For most of us these amount to quite a few. They must all be completed within a month. Here are the catches, unresolved and unlikely to be addressed:
    If we do the backlog Oasys well we are even less likely to be able to keep up with the current on going work than we are already. Hence the backlog Oasys are like to be done really really badly and not worth the paper they are not written on. What would be the point of that? Still, NOMS and MOJ will be happy to see boxes ticked. Further, if we do all the Backlog Oasys as initial sentence plan we will thousands of " misses" since all of them will be from before April. I can't wait.

    1. This makes my blood boil. How can you deliver a sentence of the court and address need without a sentence plan!!! This reinforces my belief probatiom is full of people who think the job should be done there way and not what the employer wants. In any other job you'd be sacked for this and rightly so!

    2. We're dammed if we do and dammed if we don't. Which would you rather be dammed for?

    3. Cannot imagine any well trained Probation staff willfully not doing OASys as it a key tool (arguably overly cumbersome and difficult to navigate). My experience was one of too few staff, high sickness rates, temps coming and going, not enough hours in day etc. I did manage to just do all mine but I recognise team I was in was lower caseload than most others and we managed some stability re staffing. Quality, now that's a different question as was implementing the sentence plan. We / I were working like stink and doing our best. I am sure same is true for vast majority.

    4. Oh purleese anon 11:16, the sentence plan is already sketched out in broad terms in either the Community Order detail or encapsulated within the licence conditions, as any competent practitioner will tell you. Anyone worth their salt knows exactly the direction of travel in any given sentence and what input is required. Oasys sentence plans were only ever a way of trying to quantify this by a Service beginning to lose confidence in its professional abiiities and standing and feeling required to justify its self, rather than being allowed to just get on with the job. Oasys always has been a repetition of info held elsewhere and a waste of time. Now sentence plans are just meaningless cut and paste exercises competed by overworked court staff in order to hit completion targets.

  6. About the London branch union meeting last Friday: It does worry me when it seems that those who represent us appear to accept uncritically certain things they are being told by managers in the CRC, such as: "there's no money". I would say: unless you show us your accounts to prove this statement I am not prepared to believe it, What I am prepared to believe is that your company is unprepared to invest money, even though all businesses accept that investment is needed in order for profit to be made.

    1. Exactly the problem in WL/Aurelius CRC's. They want us to believe they have no money. They just want to keep it for themselves and damn the workers.

    2. RRP DLNR just waiting to see what others can get away with.Don't trust them one bit.

  7. There are some concrete examples of service users possibly being unable to access what they need because of fragmentation and possibly bad contract writing within the London CRC: those under 12 months custody being passed to Penrose for their post sentence supervision after a few weeks: they may not be able to access st Andrews emotional well being programmes. Similarly for Rise: all those service users I increasingly come across who were given a short prison sentence for DV instead of a programme (why?): although they come out with a years supervision I can't put BBR ( DVD programme) on their licence as a condition because Rise don't have a deal with our post sentence supervision provider Penrose, and the licence part of the supervision period is too short for BBR.

  8. B-business
    I -in
    O - offending
    N- now
    I- in
    C - crap or crisis (take your pick!)

  9. what I cannot understand is, to put it simply, how come the CRC profiteers can keep on exploding like an avalanche thro' what was an excellent service, causing mass destruction, and placing peoples' lives at risk,and yet still being 'PAID BY RESULTS'. And that if they were 'sacked' the MOJ would still have to pay them compensation, in huge figures, leaving the MOJ unable to get rid of the bastards.. manipulated statistics and ticky boxes are not the 'results' which NOMS meant...wasn't 'reducing offending' in there somewhere?

    I had understood that meant, if you didn't come up with the goods, running a trim professional service (as staff had been used to), they would not get paid. The results are truly a nightmare, putting at risk staff, community, families of clients, and clients themselves.

    Surely a good legal brain can get round that? Or am I being too simplistic? Why cannot there be a one day mass walk out as the prisons did? They got masses of double page spreads which at least brought it into the public and political arena, and let the public know that the risk to them was rising. Salaries have dropped so much since TR anyway, surely it would be worth sacrificing a day's pay?

    And when is someone of some pull going to identify Chris G and his cronies as smug, lying saboteurs who need to pay for their crimes, rather than sitting back - jobs protected- enjoying the chaos they have caused.

  10. About walking out I have often thought we should and still do. With prisons one day was enough. With probation we need much longer. And it needs to be CRCs and NPS . The other thing I have thought is that when crcs fail, and they are, we will all end up as NOMS/ MOJ civil servants I find that prospect as utterly depressing as working for a private profit mad company

  11. Caseloads in west yorkshire are 70 to 80 for PSO sickness levels according to the hierachy are 1 in 5 staff members. No support from managers or recognition that this is having a negative impact on staff morale or staffs mental health or well being.

    6 core modules is the reiventing of the wheel that insults the offenderand treets them like a like a child. The induction paper and sentence plan takes exacyly the same amount of time fir a 1st time offender or career offender. Once the offender has been released from prison he or she may have had 4 or 5 offender managers. The pss is causing a bottleneck of offenders that the turnaround time for sorting out accommodation etc is willfully inadequate and addresses nothing.

    The staff who remain are so disiluioned with the job that they have just given up the ghost. There is no scope left to specialise or move into new territory as we now deliver programnes, hold DRR orders,community orders, licence cases, pss licence, iom and ppo cases.

    Can the last person out turn off the lights.

  12. Ha ha ha ha ha - Trump wants Farage to be British Ambassador in USA. Perfect!! MTCNovo will be rooting for this.

  13. Worth a giggle - the noms contract compliance slideshow available here: