Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Select Committee Special

"The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were a significant first step towards a more effective probation system." Sam Gyimah

Revisionist Liar. (comment yesterday)


What an extraordinary session of the Justice Select Committee! I urge people to spend a bit of time watching and listening to the video, until such time as the transcript is available. 

Although using mealy-mouthed words at various stages, witness after witness had no alternative but to confirm what an utter bloody disaster the whole TR omnishambles has turned into - but how long is it going to take Bob Neill and his lack-lustre committee to have the courage to state the blindingly-obvious?  


"As the Public Accounts Committee noted in its report on Transforming Rehabilitation, a key factor in the performance of the probation system has been the volume reductions which have had an impact on CRC revenue and their ability to transform their businesses. We are discussing with providers the steps we can take to provide them with greater certainty over their future income and to enable long-term planning and transformation of services. This element of the review includes examination of potential changes to the CRC contracts’ payment mechanism. We are currently discussing proposals with CRCs but are confident that we can bring greater financial stability to providers and provide a stronger foundation for improving system performance."

Should read:

"TR has been the shambolic f*ckup anticipated by the PAC but as you know we carried on regardless. Now the CRCs are underperforming - for all of the reasons predicted so widely by so many - it highlights what an utter clusterfuck we find ourselves in, so once again we're going to try to buy our way out by handing out even more public money to the private sector."

I shall be writing to the PAC myself today to this effect:

"Dear PAC - these thieving, lying bastards have already stolen £Millions of public funds, they've ruined hundreds of professionals' careers & blighted communities with their ideological vandalism by dismantling the pre-existing professional probation service. Please don't listen to anymore of their pathetic lies and make them accountable for the damage they have caused. Thank you."

"providers will be robustly held to account."

No they won't. This hasn't happened yet, nor will it happen. The providers have MoJ tightly by the balls and simply squeeze whenever they want something. The NOMS contract police are invisible nobody's who have not once intervened; they have stood silently to attention, impotent whilst CRCs have decimated staff & services. The nigh-on £100M contribution from the Modernisation Fund - not a peep from the contract managers when that money wasn't used as intended, then suddenly it became free money for the CRCs to pocket. "Robust contract management" or craven capitulation?

Mr Bob Neill MP
Justice Select Committee


Please accept my apologies in advance for an uninvited approach.

I wanted to write to you in your capacity as Chair of the Justice Select Committee to briefly express my dismay & concern at the ongoing & costly shambles that is the so-called Transforming Rehabilitation programme. I am aware you are considering evidence tomorrow (Tues 21 Mar) and I have recently had sight of Mr Gyimah's letter (dated 7 Mar 2017) expressing a wish to, in effect, amend the contracts with & increase funding for the CRCs.

After some 25 years of being employed by the Probation Service I was, as an experienced & qualified Probation Officer, unceremoniously (& without choice) transferred to a CRC in 2014 with wild promises of opportunity & riches. In July 2015 I was served notice of redundancy and by September 2015 I was unemployed - as were many others of long & valued service. The CRCs chose not to implement the widely advertised redundancy package agreed between the unions & NOMS in 2014 despite the CRCs having been gifted a share (allegedly some £80M) of public money from the Cabinet's 'Modernisation Fund' to pay off staff. The CRCs were later told they could keep the £80M and use it howsoever they chose.

You will be aware that the PAC made numerous unsuccessful attempts to get the MoJ & NOMS to provide concrete details of the TR programme; the majority of excuses used being linked to the notion of "commercial sensitivity". They have spent unaccountable £Millions trying to implement this lamentable privatisation.

Mr Gyimah writes:

"The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were a significant first step towards a more effective probation system."

The spiralling costs of this experiment have been vast both in financial and human terms. In 2017 I would estimate there have been some 600+ professionals lost to the probation service - either through CRC reductions in staffing or people simply leaving. After two years the impact upon service provision HAS been significant but NOT effective in any positive sense; and certainly those reforms do not represent any improvement upon the gold standard organisation that was the Probation Service, and which it is clearly the MoJ's unfathomable yet unshakeable ambition to replace at any cost.

I find it astonishing, grotesque & deeply offensive that there could be any consideration of throwing further £Millions of public funds at the bank accounts of global enterprise - to achieve what? How is that going to realise "a more effective probation system."?

Mr Neill, thank you for taking the time to read my email.

Yours Sincerely

An ex-Probation Officer who must remain anonymous for contractual reasons imposed in lieu of redundancy.


Stop Press

This from Alan Travis in the Guardian:-

Private companies could pull out of probation contracts over costs

Interserve Justice and MTCnovo tell MPs they may consider quitting if Ministry of Justice review does not deliver changes

Two of the private companies that provide 50% of probation services in England and Wales have confirmed to MPs they will have to consider quitting if a Ministry of Justice review fails to deliver improvements.

Interserve Justice and MTCnovo, which have contracts worth more than £150m a year to run “community rehabilitation companies”, have told the Commons justice select committee that their finances are unsustainable. “Our work is going up, our payment is going down,” said Yvonne Thomas, director of justice at Interserve.

The warning that pulling out of their probation contracts “will be an option on the table that will have to be considered” was delivered after the chief inspector of probation told MPs that probation privatisation had proved “enormously difficult” since it was introduced in 2014.

The transforming rehabilitation programme was introduced by Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary. It involves 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) taking over the supervision of 140,000 “medium- to low-risk” offenders each year while the publicly run National Probation Service (NPS) continues to supervise high-risk offenders.

The chief inspector, Dame Glenys Stacey, said the probation system was in a very “unsettling position”. The number of offenders under probation supervision was 30% fewer than anticipated and payment was largely linked to the number of offenders “through the door”, which had led to substantial financial challenges, she said.

“They are running with ever fewer professional staff and are taking other steps to reduce expenditure wherever possible. They are pared back and focused on what is measured and rewarded and seeking to avoid stinging penalties for non-delivery against their targets,” said Stacy.

“The financial model, the financial underpinnings for these organisations, is not sufficiently stable and it is substantially inhibiting these CRCs as they seek to develop and implement new operating models,” she said, adding that promised innovations had yet to become apparent.

She said the programme had proved “a very significant cultural challenge” for probation: “This wholesale move to fragment the service and give it a commercial edge has been enormously difficult … No one in my position would feel comfortable at the moment with the way the service is performing.”

The chief inspector said CRC staff were overwhelmed by workloads while attempts to implement “half-baked” new operating models had stalled. This contrasted with the “acceptable” performance of the NPS with high-risk offenders “safe in the arms of the state”.

Nicky Park, head of prison services at the St Giles Trust, which has pioneered “through the gate” resettlement programmes for released prisoners, said it had been reduced to a “barebones service”, which had become an “admin heavy” tick-box exercise and no longer delivered quality interventions.

The MoJ is due to complete a review of the £889m-a-year probation service, which supervises 200,000 offenders a year.

The two private justice companies giving evidence to the select committee made clear they were pinning their hopes on ministers “fixing” the payment mechanism for the programme so the financial situation was put on a stable footing.

Both said they hoped something sensible would come out of the MoJ review, but agreed with the suggestion from MPs that they would have to discuss withdrawal from the contracts if it failed to deliver. However, Thomas added: “Nobody is talking about walking at this stage.”


  1. The letter from "an ex-probation officer who must remain anonymous for contractual reasons imposed in lieu of redundancy" is a letter I wish I had written and which so many could have written. How about all of us in exactly the same boat as this write a very similar, if not identical, letter to the chairman of the Justice Select Committee? Perhaps when his Committee receive thousands (literally) of letters from ex SPO's, PO's and PSO's it may dawn on them that a major catastrophe has taken place which cannot be undone. Maybe then the Committee will PROPERLY look into what has actually taken place and make the biggest public denouncement of Grayling and Co. plus of course the privateers who have the nerve to complain that they are not making money and need more. Where did the £millions compensation for the failed IT systems go; where did the £millions earmarked for voluntary redundancy go? Not only do these companies want their cake and eat it, they expect glasses of champagne to wash it down. I haven't even mentioned public safety and the role that the "proper" Probation service undertook with their clients.

    Another anonymous ex employee who must remain nameless due to a gagging order

    1. Do it! And send the letters to Bob Neill (Chair, JSC), Meg Hillier (Chair, PAC) & your constituency MP. Their email addresses are publicly & readily available. Let them know the reality, the truth - rather than the limited, filtered & tame submissions of your unions. For all those who have left the service on various conditions & terms make it clear you must be anonymous & why. Think about Dame Glenys' words quoted above:

      "They are running with ever fewer professional staff and are taking other steps to reduce expenditure wherever possible … No one in my position would feel comfortable at the moment with the way the service is performing..." The chief inspector said CRC staff were overwhelmed by workloads while attempts to implement “half-baked” new operating models had stalled.

  2. Really worth watching. No one said it was a bad idea from the start based on extremely negligible and doubtful evidence and against all professional and reasoned concern but it was there between the lines. They also know, I would guess, that the sensible fix is one that the government cannot deliver, namely a Probation Service that is unified again. In the absence of the latter the fix will be a 'Heath Robinson' affair at least for the time being.

  3. Yesterday on this blog: "The providers have MoJ tightly by the balls and simply squeeze whenever they want something."

    Today in the JSC hearing: "Two of the private companies that provide 50% of probation services in England and Wales have confirmed to MPs they will have to consider quitting if a Ministry of Justice review fails to deliver improvements"

    Just enough to be uncomfortable, to suggest what could follow, but not too brutal... not just yet, eh, Yvonne?

  4. I take issue with the term "private justice companies".
    They're actually cleaning companies, catering companies and builders, that were I'll suited to ever have been given probation contracts.

    With the prison crisis costing such huge sums of money already, and spending cuts still being enforced across Whitehall, the MoJ may struggle somewhat to satisfy the greed when topping up the privateers troughs.


  5. Good lord, its a flaming pile of shite and yet they are asking for more money.

  6. To paraphrase Yvonne Thomas at the JSC - "if TR had been piloted it would never have happened due to its complexity & the flawed funding model."

    And it certainly ain't working - never has, never will.

  7. I work for KSS crc and things are working.everything is working out well here so don't generalise that TR is a shambles because it's not here!

    1. Tell me more, I commented positively on inspection report for Kent CRC, and with evidence could be persuaded that mass privatisation and fragmentation of public Probation services is to be pursued. One swallow, however, does not make a Summer (so the saying goes at least).

    2. What on earth are you even talking about?

    3. KSS are supposedly the only CRC to have recruited staff rather than cutting them, so it wouldn't surprise me if they were more successful.

    4. Anonymous 21 March 2017 at 19:23
      Can't imagine that is the opinion of many colleagues at KSS CRC.
      I know management would like to believe this.

  8. Let them hand the keys back to MOJ, the money grabbing bastards. MOJ already expect and have made provision for this by approaching Police commissioners and asking them to manage probation shouldcthis happen. Not a long term solution but better than these private refuse and catering companies being left in charge.

    1. Go on Yvonne PLEASE, PLEASE hand the keys back.

    2. INTERSWERVE at it again, what would Yvonne want the money for, the interchange model will never work (it is utter shite) despite what amount of money you throw at it, they have vacated most of the offices we originally had at the start of their contract, they are not recruiting in Manchester despite high case loads and hardly any PO's left, they don't even have telephones on their desks, so what will this money be used for.

      If I was the PAC I would tell Yvonne to quit, never mind considering it, the lying greedy bastards.

  9. Grayling fulfilled his purpose, to disrupt and destroy public service - even if he failed to make his chums a packet of profit. We should really be getting our thinking together about what could be proposed when the privateers pull out (and I hope they do). Returning to local Trusts wont happen, nor will the staff and work be returned to the public sector by absorption into the NPS. So what to do? Ideas on a postcard?

    1. Seen on Facebook:-

      Several are apparently looking at the devolution of justice services and in particular deals with local authorities/mayor offices as a possible escape route. All they would need is some assistance from central government to be released from their contracts on a non loss basis.

      Last year when we had police and crime commissioner local elections and I was in contact with the labour candidate. He spoke to me Re probation and how did I feel about probation being under PCC.

      PCCs were at the conference today floating the idea of Justice Devolution. I think we tend to forget that their role is not just about policing. Remember in London for example the mayor is also effectively the PCC. There is arguably far more interest in Justice Devolution than there ever was for TR.

    2. I like your thinking. MoJ clearly under a lot of pressure to amend contracts under the current review but even this pack of incompetents can't get away with unlimited blank cheque solutions... And the privateers* have made it abundantly clear they want more dosh or they'll walk.

      *Apart from KSS, of course, who are doing just swimmingly - or so I'm told.

  10. KSS should be given all the contrast. We're saving probation. We get Xmas bonuses and all sorts.

    1. We are a service not a business, you cannot make profit out of victims, hand back your bonus.

  11. I suspect 21:23 is an agent provocateur as there was no bonus last Christmas.

  12. I have read a number of comments on this blog that the probation services NPS and CRC's cannot be merged, can someone explain why not. To me it would be the most logical way of moving forward, it can be merged in the same way it was split, what would be the problem with that.

    1. Forgot to mention, there are far fewer staff now so it would be an easier task.

  13. Antonia Romeo, the civil servant who was the Responsible Officer for TR contracts, speaking in her now famous Civil Service World interview:

    "In December, the MoJ announced that 30 bidders had passed the ‘pre-qualification questionnaire’ stage – a mix of private companies, consortiums, and probation trusts working towards ‘mutual’ status. At this point in the process, Romeo won’t say much about how the probation budget will be divided – either between the CRCs and the rump National Probation Service (NPS), which will manage high-risk offenders and write court reports; or between the ‘fees for service’ paid to CRCs for delivering their core work, and the funds awarded according to CRCs’ success in reducing reoffending. She does note, though, that “we’re not seeking to take a huge amount out of the overall probation budget over the next few years” – the challenge is to improve productivity to fund a rising caseload, rather than to maintain quality as income declines – and that “the majority of the contract will be on a fee-for-service basis.”

    In fact, it sounds as if Romeo hasn’t yet made the final decisions on the risk within the payment-by-results mechanisms: it’s “being set through the competition”, she says, with the MoJ “asking people to tell us how much they’re prepared to put at risk, and what reduction in reoffending” they think they can achieve. The important thing, she says, is that the competition isn’t designed to deliver a set of defined services for the smallest possible sum, but to identify those contractors who’ll provide the best possible service within the set budget. “This is not a price competition; this is a quality competition,” she says. “It’s about getting incremental reductions in reoffending over the long term, to help us live within our means in future years.”

    1. So, having sold off probation with outstandingly effective, successful contract management - as highlighted by the JSC hearing on 21 March - La Romeo is back in the running as a leading light for the Brexiteers, selling off the UK. This from the D**ly M**l in Jan'17:

      "Her task, with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, will be to sell Britain abroad as a mecca for inward investment.

      The US is Britain's most important trading partner and Mrs Romeo will be at the forefront of the drive to strike a rapid trade agreement with the Donald Trump's incoming administration.

      In six months as consul-general, she has already made a huge impact. Dr Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson are both huge fans.

      As home secretary, Theresa May knew Mrs Romeo when she was director-general for criminal justice in the Ministry of Justice. In September Mrs May addressed the United Nations in New York and there were a series of high-powered events at the consul-general's Manhattan residence. The two women really clicked.

      A senior source said: 'Theresa was impressed when she was home secretary, and saw in New York what a great job she was doing. She wanted Antonia back in Whitehall to lead the post-Brexit trade drive.' Downing Street will sign off on the appointment in days."


    2. From PAC in March 2014:

      "Q27 Nick Smith: ... How much will be paid by results and how much will be paid regardless of results?

      Antonia Romeo: As you have rightly identified, this is not just a wholly payment by results programme. The majority of the contract will be on a fee for service basis to ensure that quality is maintained in the provision of services, including, for example, the orders of the court. The exact proportion of the contract that will be fee for service versus payment by results is subject to negotiation during the bid process, so during competition we are asking providers to come back and tell us within an overall affordability envelope how much they would be prepared to put at risk. The answer to that is not yet known.

      Q28 Nick Smith: Do you have any sort of ballpark figure—whether it is going to be 80% fee/20% payment by results?

      Antonia Romeo: It is made slightly more complex by the fact that there is an additional element which is essentially at risk of the provider’s profit, if you like. We have something called service credits, which apply to the fee for service element. If the providers are not doing what they said they would do in the contract, we will be applying those service credits and they will have a proportion of their profit at risk on that basis. Overall, I think the best thing to say at this point, so that we do not prejudice the competition, is that the majority will be fee for service.

      Q29 Nick Smith: So just half? Just over half?

      Antonia Romeo: I guess by “majority” I am saying more than 50%. We are in the middle of a live competition, so with the indulgence of the Committee, I would prefer not give more detail at this time."

    3. And finally from that 2014 CSW interview again:

      "Taking the con out of contract

      Asked about contract management, Romeo emphasises the role of the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in approving and monitoring its new contracts. In the courts interpreters scheme, PAC said, the MoJ’s own credit rating report recommended that its chosen provider “should not be awarded a contract valued at more than £1m” – but the ministry ignored it. This time, Romeo says, things will be different: “The Cabinet Office has a very clear process for awarding contracts.” The CCS has “brought together all the things departments need to be doing, and obviously we are following those guidelines”: the ministry is currently “building a best practice contract management function, and that will have the deep domain business expertise that is required as well as the commercial expertise and the corporate services support.”

      The ministry’s proposed payment-by-results model has also come in for criticism, with the Social Market Foundation arguing that the 3% margin for error initially set out by the ministry would incentivise contractors to let reoffending rates creep up. “One thing is clear: we will not be operating a payment mechanism that incentivises people to do nothing,” Romeo responds. “We published our payment mechanism so that people could give us feedback, and we have looked at what people said in developing the final version.” For example, the MoJ moved from a “binary mechanism” – which required offenders to completely stop breaking the law – to a “hybrid mechanism”, rewarding both complete cessation of offending and a reduction in the number of crimes.
      The contracts are expected to run for 7-10 years, but they’ll include a set of penalty clauses and the right for the MoJ to “step in” and take over a failing service. “We’ll have, both within the contract management function and also within the NPS, expertise in probation services,” she points out; the ministry will be equipped to take over if required.

      Moving safely in a risky world

      As the ministry introduces the new system, Romeo argues, it’s taking every precaution to ensure it’s robust. “To get large transformation programmes working, you’ve got to have really good assurance in place so that you know you’re not believing your own hype,” she says. “We have external, independent assurers telling us if we’re doing the right thing and, before we proceed with any part of the programme, whether it’s sensible and appropriate to do so.” NOMS has a business assurance board designed, she adds, to “give me, the senior responsible officer, the assurance that this is going to work and isn’t taking on any unnecessary risk.”"

  14. This from Ian Poree at a PAC hearing in July 2016 might help?

    Sir Amyas Morse: I just wanted to ask something about the bidding process. Am I right in understanding that you must have given an indication of the likely volumes of people that the bidders could expect to have coming through the service? Am I not right that in fact the volumes are much lower than the bottom of the range you indicated? That is not their fault, is it? It is all right saying they should innovate, and find new ways of doing things, and that is great and I fully approve of that; but there are limits to that. So is it just their problem, or are you proposing to do something to help them with that?

    Ian Porée: It is clearly not just their problem. These services are core services of the Ministry of Justice. They are always our problem and we have statutory responsibility for ensuring the provision, as I do not think it can ever just be their problem. We were very transparent with providers about the historical data around the number of cases, the mix of offenders that come through the system. That has materially changed. It has changed in ways that have surprised us.

    We do have a contract that was designed to cope with variation in volumes, but of course, as you rightly say, there is a limit to where the relationship between your fixed and variable costs actually still works, once you are outside the range you were expecting. You would expect us, as we did, to test providers during the bidding as to ranges of changes of volume, so we could assure ourselves that they could cope with that, but we are outside those ranges, so we gave ourselves the contractual provision that if it was that far out, we would have the opportunity to reset some of those volumes based on the reality of what is happening.

    We are in the process of doing that with the organisations now. It was something we had planned to do a year into the contracts, and that has begun. So it is the case that we are in a territory that was not easily anticipated by either themselves or us; but we have a duty to behave in a way that is reasonable, and in good faith, and that is what we are doing. I reiterate, these are core services to us. They may have been outsourced, but this is still our business; and therefore we should manage that reasonably, in a good way.

  15. Aww, come on, enough of this bleeding heart shit already. The bidders like Interserve, Sodexo & MTC are multinationals who are used to managing these contracts. They have dedicated bid teams & dedicated contract lawyers, all of whom are well paid & very experienced. You think they haven't already modelled every eventuality? Can Sodexo argue that the shifting volumes led to staffing cuts? No. They cut those staff pre-bid, that's why they were offered the Modernisation Fund sweetener. And how does this argument work...

    Reduced volumes, yet increased workload & reduced payments?

    Someone wrote previously that the bidders want cake, want to eat it & wash it down with champagne. Not only that but they want silver service & Michelin star patisserie.

    They are greedy fuckers. Period.

    1. From BBC news, 30 Mar 2015 - about 4 weeks after starting the contract:

      "Sodexo Justice Services, in partnership with charity Nacro, was awarded the government contract to take over the monitoring of low and medium-risk offenders in six areas in December.
      Probation union Napo says about a third of the approximately 1,600 employees are to lose their jobs.
      Sodexo said it was consulting staff on its plans so would not comment.
      The company runs six community rehabilitation services (CRCs) across:
      Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire;
      Cumbria and Lancashire;
      Norfolk and Suffolk;
      Northumberland; and
      South Yorkshire."

      Presumably they were already aware of the ~30% reduction in work, so cut their staffing numbers accordingly?