Friday, 18 November 2016

Slow News Day

It looks as if we're going to have to get used to the idea that probation is rapidly fading from the news agenda - if it was really ever on it - and the talk is all about prison. Look a bit harder though and social work keeps cropping up and we know that the government would dearly love to privatise this area of work, if only they could sneak things past the House of Lords. 
It's a slow news day for probation, despite Facebook confirming there was a complete national computer melt-down the other say at 2.25pm; that London CRC, the largest in the country by far, has withdrawn all union facility time and therefore has no Napo Branch Chair or Vice Chair; the Justice Committee Facebook discussion was a waste of time, and the Working Links CRC dispute rumbles on with rumours of an imminent mass staff exodus despite the best efforts of local union reps:-  
15 November 2016


Tomorrow is the deadline for those of you who may have applied for VS. Napo have stated this is entirely a matter for individuals. We are unable to advise you on voluntary matters. These fall way short of the arrangement and protections that your Trade Unions continue to argue, and when able explore legal action to ensure your rights are protected. either individually or collectively.

I would remind you however that the Trade Unions are continuing to work to protect the Redundancy Terms and Conditions. There are a lot of new jobs, however for new jobs to exist your old job should either be terminated by reason of redundancy or through a variation of contract that has been agreed to; however none of these have been agreed with the Trade Unions. None of the reduced pay rates have been through Job Evaluation, and therefore have no place to be put to staff in this way.

Ironically there is no talk of Senior Management reductions on pay with their fewer duties and responsibilities across the CJ sphere than they used to carry out when we were one service. In the meantime we will keep you posted and updated on ACAS.

Denice James


So, back to social work as there are many similarities with probation. I notice the following was posted on Facebook by David Raho from a recent Guardian Social Care Network piece:-   

Has hotdesking had its day for social workers?

When social workers discuss the challenges they face in their jobs, they might mention increasing caseloads, colossal amounts of paperwork, or how undervalued they feel, but one issue is sure to make many see red: hotdesking.

Hotdesking involves multiple workers using a single workstation during different time periods. Many professionals feel, however, that social work and hotdesking do not go hand in hand, and councils are reportedly beginning to move away from it. With the Hackney model’s pod system seemingly being more widely adopted, has hotdesking had its day?

Slough children’s services trust, a not-for-profit independent company that took over children’s services from Slough borough council, soon realised that hotdesking was a contentious issue among many of its new staff.

Eric de Mello, head of operations at the trust, says it had to act. “We haven’t completely moved away from hotdesking,” he says. “We’re just in our first year of operation after taking over services from the council, but we have heard what social workers have to say. We have been allocated nine [desk] spaces for every 13 people and our social workers were struggling. Newly qualified social workers were telling us that they found it quite difficult not knowing where to go for advice.”

Initially the trust made sure newly qualified social workers were in line of sight of their managers, but then decided to move to a hub system based on the Hackney model and similar set-ups around the country. Space restrictions mean it is still not possible for everyone to have their own desk all the time, de Mello says, but the trust has been able to make better use of space and ensure teams are able to stick together as much as they can.

Prof Eileen Munro has been outspoken about the harm hotdesking is doing to social work and hopes more councils will follow suit. Munro, whose landmark review of child protection practices was published five years ago, has argued that hotdesking leaves social workers feeling isolated, hindering their work.

She understands that saving money is a top priority but practitioners’ needs differ from those of the office workers authorities also employ. “Councils need to think about how the office is organised,” she says. “Is it organised so that social workers can have sensitive conversations without disturbing others and without being overheard? Are there periods when most people in a team are in and can easily meet?”

She adds: “It’s not just about how social workers should have their own desk. It’s about the office being somewhere people like to go and where they can find colleagues who are supportive. It’s about the role social workers play being valued.”

These conclusions are echoed in research by Laura Biggart, a senior academic at the University of East Anglia, who led a research project into emotional intelligence and burnout in child and family social work. As part of the study, Biggart and her colleagues spoke to social workers and managers about work environments and found the topic of hotdesking came up time and again.

Aside from the practical issues it caused, leading some to resort to working from their cars, many social workers discussed the emotional impact of hotdesking. “Hotdesking creates unpredictability and uncertainty, so inevitably it adds to the anxiety social workers feel,” Biggart says. “It also lowers morale because they see it as not being worthwhile enough to have a desk. They see managers who make these decisions keeping their desks whereas social workers lose theirs.”

She explains why it is such a big issue for social workers in particular: “If you got shouted at in the street and insulted, most people would want to go home because it’s a safe space, and people will be there to show sympathy and support. Your workspace is a bit like that and social workers are being yelled at or dealing with very upsetting things every day. They need somewhere safe to return to and hotdesking doesn’t help with that.”

For one social worker, however, hotdesking isn’t all bad. Sophie Olivia, who works in child protection at Cheshire East council, which has moved away from the system, says despite the difficulties there were upsides to hotdesking. “Positively, it enabled colleagues to get to know everybody on the team and we felt [like] a united service,” she says.

Around three years ago, Cheshire East also adopted the Hackney model’s pod system. Olivia’s team of approximately 50 staff is now split into five pods, each with approximately seven social workers of differing grades, from newly qualified workers to senior practitioners, overseen by a team manager.

Olivia is in favour of the pod system and believes it is a more efficient way of doing social work. “I think management oversight is better and, inevitably, by working in small teams other social workers become aware of the cases that social workers are holding on their pod,” she says. “This means that when a social worker is having to prioritise another case or there is staff sickness, for example, other social workers already have a good understanding of the case and can then offer support to the family. This prevents crises for families and also promotes the worker-client relationship.”

For de Mello, acting on the concerns of the social workers in his trust was a no-brainer. “We had to listen to what they had to say because the trust takes the view that our most precious and important resource is our staff.”


Hot desking not working for social work. How about probation?

When I first joined probation I shared a small office with one other person and had a huge desk, filing cabinet and lockable drawers. When I qualified I had my own little office with a door I could leave open when I didn't mind a chat and close when interviewing or when I needed to concentrate. The walls were thick enough to muffle sound but not so thick that you could hear if voices were raised. I got more done than at any other time and it was the happiest workplace I've ever worked in. 

I first experienced open plan in the mid -1990s and it felt like a backward step. Noisy, irritating, no privacy and nowhere to have a cup of tea in peace. I moved service and got an individual office back all too briefly until that office closed and we had to move to cramped shared rooms in a former satellite factory. What had been a well functioning probation office slowly fragmented and team spirit died. It was awful for everyone and a big cause of people leaving - ironically many went to work for social services who at that time gave you your own office. Sometimes we worked in interview rooms if they were free just to get a bit of quiet time and I know I often sat in my car at lunchtime to chill out. Sometimes clients even knocked on the car window if they were early.

In retrospect giving up individual offices was actually a very bad idea in my opinion and most of those who have known both will tell you that open plan has never really been a good arrangement for probation. When your office doubled as an interview room with a whiteboard etc and you had all your materials nearby it was extremely convenient and good work was done.

David Raho


Got any probation news? Contact me via the email address on the profile page. Thanks.


  1. After the lame Justice Committee Facebook nonsense I made further contact by email & received the following response:

    "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)."

    Let us hope an inquiry follows sooner rather than later...

    1. So the probation omnishambles doesn't even warrant being an 'urgent issue'.

    2. It would seem that "probation" has been deleted from the parliamentary lexicon. It no longer exists as a word, a concept or a profession. The work of the MoJ/Noms hierarchical organogram bullies & their lickspittle minions has always been to crush the left-leaning, social work orientated, humanist softies; what better outcome than to sell them into corporate slavery?

    3. More to the point Jim Brown's Blog person, the Select Committee appointed by the whole membership of The House of Commons does not seem to recognise that in England & Wales the probation system along with prisons are integrated simultaneously interacting with an even larger integrated complex Criminal Justice SYSTEM.

  2. Meanwhile: -

    "Train to be a Probation Officer

    We asked some of our colleagues to give us three words to describe working in the probation service."

    1. professional, innovative, supportive
      motivating, efficient, enforcing
      challenging, enabling, empowering
      proactive, energetic, enabling
      challenging, creative, diverse

    2. How about:
      Deskilling, demotivating, demoralizing
      Unnerving, uninspiring,unfulfilling

    3. It comes as no surprise then that around 25% of the workforce want to leave probation in the next 12 months In my area it's over 30% according to the survey results!

  3. London CRC cannot withdraw all facility time from any Union that they formally recognise. Unless they have 'derecognised' NAPO - which they can only do if membership drops below a certain level, and involves approaching the Certification Officer, then they are legally bound by TULCRA 1992 to provide adequate facility time for trade union duties. This situation is a matter of utmost seriousness and should be immediately challenged by NAPO, calling on the Certification Officer if necessary for a comment . The Branch should continue as per normal, nominated Officials should carry out their legally protected duties and the national Reps support staff should the managers be foolish enough to attempt to sanction or discipline them. This matter should be pursued and supported by NAPO HQ all the way to court if necessary, as it is an all out attack on the fundamental existence of a trade union and our current protections in law.
    There is too much anstey hand wringing and rolling over about facility time 'My manager won't allow it' or 'I 'm only allows to do union stuff on a certain day' Absolute rubbish!! Facility time is protected by law - end of. Read the Act, Gen up on the requirement and conditions, give a copy to your managers and then get on with what you are legally entitled to do.

    1. Well said Deb. We should not give in to bullying tactics. If we don't use what rights we have now we might as well just shut up.