Saturday, 4 February 2017

Deckchairs Due For Reshuffle

News started breaking a couple of days ago that time was finally being called on NOMS - aka Nightmare On Marsham Street - with its abolition due for announcement by the Minister next Tuesday. Its demise has certainly been presaged on this blog more than once and to many will merely confirm that probation will be totally subsumed under Prison Service control.  Joe Kuipers was quick to respond on twitter:- 
"If so, prison will continue to rule the roost to the detriment of work in the community. Opportunity to redress imbalance will be missed." 
"Already merged and probation already under prison control. Rebadging exercise."
I see Napo's General Secretary made it the subject of his Friday blog, in the process earning this twitter accolade from PrisonStorm:-
"Some of the most eloquent speculation we've ever read." 
Is the number up for NOMS?

More often than not, beleaguered Government Ministers are regularly asked to do the exact opposite. It's an occupational hazard for anyone in charge of anything of course, but heading up one of the most powerful departments of state brings big responsibilities.

Napo's interface so far with the Secretary of State and the Probation and Prison Minister Sam Gyimah confirmed that they were embarking on a tough mission designed to repair the damage caused by Chris Grayling and which Michael Gove never quite had time to address as he succumbed to naked ambition and the ultimately unattainable prospect of becoming primus inter pares.

Anyway, this is past and recent history and it’s what is going to happen next that we await with baited breath.

Napo has long argued that even before the disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation experiment, the NOMS infrastructure, and its very purpose in life if I am being honest, were in dire need of review or abolition. Let me make it absolutely clear that this is not to question the skill, commitment and sheer hard work that individual staff and Napo members have made and are making to the organisation, but as Agencies go, NOMS is still seen as a bureaucratic and prison centric mish-mash of command structures that were problematical in themselves many years ago and which, in probation terms at least, have simply been unable to hack it post TR.

Governments have a habit of creating agencies in reaction to a perceived problem without having first thought through how that Agency would necessarily solve the problem. NOMS is a good example. It has always been a barrier between the Ministers and the MoJ and front line delivery – an extra set of people to blame if and when something went wrong. Grayling went a step further to compound all this by privatising as much as he could get away with, making strategic co-ordination even more challenging.

An example of just one of the difficulties that NOMS through the NPS faces is implementation of E3. It is a business model that ought to have been in existence at the time of the staff split that presaged TR, but it was not; and the NPS is playing catchup to get staff in the places it needs them and at the same time seeks to dilute professional standards to get the job done more quickly and cheaply. Its classic austerity driven business engineering of the like that has floundered or failed elsewhere and it will take a lot to convince our members that it won’t go the same way.

Napo is doing its best to engage with this challenging agenda and while we appreciate the efforts being made by our NOMS counterparts to respond to the myriad issues that members are regularly asking us to take to them, I often feel that they are swimming against an increasingly fierce tide with little sign of a lifeboat appearing any time soon.

Not that their parent department are exactly a raging success, but if Ministers have decided to adopt a radical approach to reform or even scrap NOMS, then it’s unlikely that there will be any tears shed amongst our members out there at the sharp end.

Merging prisons and probation?

If abolition happens then what would be put in its place? It would be great to think that a separate MoJ agency covering Prisons and Probation might emerge which would hopefully have the right mix of managerial and professional skills to get a real grip on the perennial problem of prison overcrowding and post sentence recidivism and an expectation that Government will grasp the opportunity it presents for inclusive, outcome focused strategic reflection.

However you organise accountability at the centre, public safety outcomes across probation, prison and courts are intrinsically linked.

You will only solve the prison crisis by reducing the number of people sent to prisons. You only do this by placing rehabilitation, and probation, at the heart of everything you’re seeking to achieve.

We welcome the Secretary of State stepping up and looking to break the cycle of failure and crisis. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around operational reforms that will bring better, safer outcomes for our members and the public – starting with urgently addressing probation pay reform; bringing clarity and stability to the contracts with the CRC’s; and inclusive development of a new Offender Management in Custody strategy built around strong rehabilitation principles that will deliver better, safer outcomes for offenders, staff and the public.

Watch this space.


I think this analysis, left earlier today, is much more likely:-

Aye, dear reader, 'tis the well-rewarded wormtongues within Noms who be behind all of probation's woes, whispering poisonous words into the ears of ministers and their aides. It never suited Noms to be burdened with the irritating troublesome "low risk" cases, but they always wanted to involve themselves with the "high risk" stuff. Notice how the more complex cases in custody always became the 'property' of prison psychology? Notice how many Noms staff would be involved with parole hearings? How quickly Noms wanted prison staff to be running OMUs within prisons, to be hands-on with OASys rather than on the wings, but how keen they were for other agencies to organise the more 'mundane' release plans, accommodation, etc.

This misguided power-hungry ambition has contributed to fewer prison staff on the wings, an increase in less experienced staff in prisons, the demise of probation and the introduction of the calamitous TR programme.

The remnants of probation remaining in public hands will now be totally absorbed by the Noms structure but I predict the new organisation will be given a new name - one which reflects the shift from "executive agency" to "government department", ensuring Spurr and his cronies achieve full Whitehall status and all of the benefits under a designated Minister. By the time he retires Spurr will have a gold plated platinum lined pension, a knighthood & as many non-executive positions as you can shake a riot baton at. THAT, dear reader, is the end-game.


  1. MoJ'a preferred Tagging operater Capita in the news!

    Three people have been arrested by police investigating the alleged misuse of electronic tags used to monitor criminals.
    The probe relates to allegations that Electronic Monitoring Service (EMS) employees were paid to fit the devices loosely so they could be removed, The Sun said.

    1. It was always the case that corrupt practices would multiply with outsourcing.

  2. I wholeheartedly would be behind the abolition of NOMS. This agency is a complete waste of tax payers money and creates nothing but bureaucracy for us on the front line trying to actually do our job. Just the thought of no more ignored emails and only them contacting me when it suits them must be a good thing. Go back to parole clerks in prisons - they know each case inside out and a firm point of contact with consistency. Cheaper, more efficient without the added NOMS b****cks bureaucracy. Shame its taken so long for even a sniff of getting rid of this farcical organisation.

  3. Agree! Good bloody riddance.

  4. I know days of The Probation Directorate are long gone, not likely to be reinvented but ... Ah well!

    1. Or even the pre-directorate Probation Unit - two blokes and a spider plant at 50 QAG when it was the Home Office and before it became the MoJ at the same building, the curiously renumbered 102 PF.

  5. Probation Officer4 February 2017 at 23:44

    Where does this leave probation? NOMS was a mess, we know that, but nobody seems to know who will run/lead Probation or whether it will be Probation friendly. We don't want to be left as a department of the HM Prison Service and poor relation of the Civil Service. Local councils and Police and Crime Commissioners may stake their claim on probation in due course but are not the answer either. NPS directors are complicit in all of this which means we will get no answers until the damage is already done.

  6. "However you organise accountability at the centre, public safety outcomes across probation, prison and courts are intrinsically linked."

    Not really, no, Mr Lawrence. They're linked to each other no more than they're linked to the CPS and defence solicitors, or to housing departments, social services and the Parole Board. As with all of these agencies/organisations, the Probation Service has worked best when left alone as a separate agency/arm of the Criminal Justice System and away from the meddling of ministers, prison governors and CEO's.

  7. Unlike those who seem to dream of a brave new world dawning ("We welcome the Secretary of State stepping up and looking to break the cycle of failure and crisis") I sense Jim is pointing out that the more likely scenario is nothing will change except the name. It will be the same topline of prison bullies, with maybe one or two casualties of early retirement & a generous £thank-you-bonus, the same Tory buffoons and the same blinkered agenda that leaves CRC staff in crisis & NPS staff in full harness.