THE STATE OF PROBATION - IT’S TIME FOR SOME HONESTY ALL ROUND
Next week sees the second session of the Justice Select Committee hearings into Transforming Rehabilitation. Napo will be among those who have been invited as Witnesses to provide oral evidence.
It’s one of several important opportunities that have come my way at various stages of my work with Napo and other unions before it, and this one follows on from that of last Tuesday where HM Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey gave a full and frank account of her views about what has happened, what is still going wrong and what might be done to improve the situation.
This Tuesday the Committee will hear from the Probation Institute, Napo and Unison and representatives from two of the Community Rehabilitation Companies.
You can see what was said last week’s gathering and follow proceedings live or afterwards, on Parliament TV.
Earlier this week I addressed a seminar held by the Westminster Legal Policy Forum on the possibilities for Devolving Criminal Justice Services so that a greater responsibility for delivery might fall within the remit of Metropolitan Mayors or Police and Crime Commissioners.
True to form, some of what I had to say about the impact of the TR programme did not go down especially well with some CRC chiefs who were in attendance; but as I said to a number of them afterwards I have a duty to our members to reflect the facts which, in short include the following:
- CRC performance (with a few exceptions) is well below what it ought to be
- Through the Gate has been an abject failure
- Many CRCs have gone running back to the Ministry of Justice crying foul over funding, the contract parameters and the fundamentally flawed Payment by Results mechanism.
- Many staff have been treated abysmally by their new employers
- Workloads have gone into meltdown
- Professional standards are seriously slipping
- Some Operational Models are well short of what is needed to ensure standards of service and protect the public
I also made it clear that Napo members (much as they would love it to happen) are realists, and don’t expect some miraculous ‘Damascene’ moment where Ministers suddenly decide that they are going to patch Probation back up again as once was.
But there are serious issues around accountability, competence and the way in which staff have been (and are being) treated, that also need to be addressed otherwise a devolved service to whoever is considered capable of taking more control of it locally in the future will simply be a waste of time.
That’s as honest an assessment as I can manage right now and the spotlight will be on others next week as well to come clean about where they are in life. It might be helpful if some CRC owners as well as the NPS bosses who told everyone it would be OK, fessed up and admitted that this whole TR thing was bigger than they thought and that they have miscalculated the enormity of it all. Whether they welcome it or not, it’s my view as well that not everything that has failed to work is necessarily their fault, but some have not helped themselves with perilous forecasts and strategies around staffing and service delivery that have left many of our members who remain in the NPS and CRCs in pieces. If senior management wherever they are from, are truly committed to making a fresh start in their relationship with the unions to find workable solutions than Napo will be there willing to engage.
Working Links in the spotlight again
It’s comforting to see that the recent media activity from Channel 4 and BBC Wales Radio into the Aurelius/Working Links CRC operation has been followed up by BBC South West last week.
I want to personally thank our former Napo activist Helen Coley and serving staff (anonymously for obvious reasons) for setting out the problems of an unrealistic operational model in stark fashion, and there won’t be anyone watching the programme who won’t have shared the sense of despair of the families of the two victims of the SFO’s that were featured.
One of these dreadful events happened prior to TR, and one afterwards; raising questions about the disrupted operational environment that existed prior to share sale and that during transition which shows little sign of major improvement according to our members.
To set the record straight, Napo’s part in this production was a legitimate attempt to illustrate the difficulties that have been among those that have given rise to a long running dispute between the unions and employers. The issues of responsibility and accountability, especially given the huge amounts of taxpayers money involved, are ones that ought to see the light of day and if Working Links think they have been hard done by then they should take it up with the BBC who many observers felt gave a very balanced view of the situation.