Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Pious Words From Probation Minister

It's becoming quite apparent that the Tories realise they have an 'image' problem and that in order to have any hope of attracting young people and stopping the seemingly inexorable rise of Corbyn, they'd better start looking less nasty and more 'cuddly'. Over the coming months we can expect lots more really reasonable-sounding stuff from their spin doctors, like the recent report on how to reduce the prison population, cynically taking advantage of a hung parliament. 

So it is in this vein that we see the completely ineffectual junior justice secretary with responsibility for probation writing on ConservativeHome about rehabilitation and never mention probation once:- 

The family is the best agency for rehabilitating criminals

Prisons are places of punishment. But they should also be places of reform. And the case for the ‘family’ in reforming offenders is clear-cut.

Stable, healthy families are the wellspring of a strong society because we all thrive when we feel safe, valued and supported. It is through a family’s unconditional love that from the word ‘Go’ we learn the big lessons of life: self-respect, self-belief – and right from wrong.

The reverse is also true. A fractured family leads to a fractured society and broken citizens. Unfortunately, too many of them will find their way to our prisons.

But while it is the state that incarcerates offenders, it is families and communities who accept them back into their midst at the end of their sentence. That means a prisoner’s family is the most effective resettlement agency we have – as the prison inspectorate, the probation service, and Ofsted all agree.

That’s not to say that families where both parents are fully engaged can’t be dysfunctional; nor is it to say that all offenders’ families are virtuous pillars of the community. But where the benefits of healthy family ties are so far-reaching, there is every reason to support them. alongside improving education and work training for offenders and tackling mental health and substance abuse problems.

Offenders are more likely to make progress in prison and afterwards if they receive consistent encouragement and support from family outside. It’s a theme reinforced by an excellent new review by Lord Farmer, who describes as a ‘golden thread’ the link between positive family ties and reducing re-offending.

Making sure this thread does not snap should be a priority for all those who want to see crime come down. Close family plays a big role in the future path an offender takes, and can have the most profound influence over behaviour. A close family gives offenders a sense of purpose and direction.

So it’s all the more vital that a prisoner returning home is neither a stranger, nor a more damaged person than before they went to prison – and that family ties are properly nurtured in the interim.

The time to work on this is from the moment an offender is sentenced to jail. To leave it any longer is to leave it too late. In the first few days and nights in prison sentence, when offenders are more likely to self-harm or, worse, take their own life, support from close family lessens the risk. As prison officers know only too well, family letters, phone calls and visits – or their absence – can make or break a prisoner’s spirit.

As time goes by, we know that a prisoner who remains in close touch with family is likely to have a stronger sense of purpose and direction, and feel more settled. Multiply this improved mood by all the men on a wing and it becomes a safer, more productive place.

There are already many prison schemes that focus on family ties. ‘Storybook Dads and Mums’, for example – a bedtime reading project that lets kids drift off to sleep listening to their absent parent reading out a pre-recorded story. HMP Parc’s ‘Learning Together’ Club encourages dads and children to do homework together, while at HMP Doncaster, a ‘Daddy Newborn’ scheme teaches men to look after their babies.

Away from these projects, I want to tell you about two men I recently met, a father and son. They’d never had a proper parent-child dynamic but were being encouraged to work on building the kind of natural relationship most of us take for granted – pretty much from scratch.

Where was this happening? In HMP Belmarsh, where both men had ended up being confined at once. The first time they were acting like a dad and a son, and it was in prison.

Unfortunately, we should not be surprised that both were behind bars. We know that boys are six times more likely to offend if they have a parent who is in prison or has served time in the past – a terrible legacy that cascades down generations. On any given day, around 200,000 children in England and Wales will have a parent in prison.

That’s why our focus should never be just the offenders, but also on those left behind as the prison van pulls away. While society rightly punishes people who commit serious crimes by removing their freedom, families are most often innocents, ‘collateral damage’. Improving family contact is better for society as a whole, given the proven link between children with a parent in prison becoming criminals themselves.

Lord Farmer’s review points us in the right direction to identify ways to improve these relationships and mitigate known problems, and decide upon the best ways to harness the influence of families to keep offenders out of trouble and out of jail.

Our efforts will be boosted by having more staff on the frontline in prisons: we are investing £100 million to increase the number of prison officers by 2,500. It will help visiting times run more smoothly. In time, the extra numbers will enable us to introduce a new ‘key-worker’ scheme in which named officers are allocated to six offenders to challenge them to reform. One particular focus will be encouraging them to maintain and develop positive family ties.

Prison works. But only if offenders are reformed, so there are fewer victims in future. Most offenders will one day be released, and harnessing the family is the best way to ensure they can function fully as members of society.

Sam Gyimah is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing and MP for East Surrey.

--oo00oo--

This was Paul Senior's verdict posted on twitter:-
"Lots of well meaning pious words underpins a lack of detailed understanding of realities of post-custodial life and the job of probation."
Meanwhile, it looks as if the Welsh are at last beginning to wake up to the concept of taking control of matters in their part of the world:-

First Minister establishes a Commission on Justice in Wales

A new Commission on Justice in Wales has today been announced by First Minister Carwyn Jones. The Commission, to be chaired by the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will review the justice system and policing in Wales and consider how the system can achieve better outcomes for Wales.

The Commission will deal with the unfinished business from the Silk Commission, which made a number of carefully reasoned, evidence-based recommendations, in respect of justice - covering the courts, probation, prisons and youth justice. It will also address crucial issues relating to the legal jurisdiction and the challenges facing the legal services sector in Wales.

The First Minister said:

“In Wales, we have had a separate legislature for 6 years but, as yet, we do not have our own jurisdiction. By establishing the Commission on Justice in Wales, we are taking an important first step towards developing a distinctive justice system which is truly representative of Welsh needs. The Commission will consider how we can do things differently in Wales and identify options to develop a distinct Welsh justice system, which improves people’s access to justice, reduces crime and promotes rehabilitation. I am delighted that Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd will chair the Commission when he steps down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. Having risen to the heights of the judiciary in Wales and England, Lord Thomas commands universal respect and brings his unprecedented wealth of experience to this important role.”
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said:
“I am very pleased to take on this challenge when I step down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. As a small developing jurisdiction, Wales offers unique opportunities to identify new solutions to the complex challenges facing justice and the legal profession. These are crucial to Wales’ future prosperity and I hope the commission will make a valuable contribution to addressing them.” 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Getting A Grip On Pensions

As we are all well-aware, there are many serious on-going problems with every part of probation since it was split in two by Chris Grayling and continues to hemorrhage disgruntled but experienced staff on a daily basis. Here's Napo Assistant General Secretary Dean Rogers writing recently about the thorny issue of pensions in the NPS. At first sight it might appear a bit of a nerdy topic, but this is surely the sort of bread and butter stuff you'd expect a trade union to be getting to grips with:-  

NPS Pension Faultline and the Next Steps for the NPS


Since before the transfer of staff to the NPS and CRCs, I have been raising concerns about the contractual sustainability and HR problems inevitably arising from probation staff becoming civil servants continuing to be members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) – and as such, not having any right to be members of the Principle Civil Service Compensation Scheme (PCSPS).

Napo recognise and have never opposed the reasons for the separation – primarily the extraordinary cost of transferring pension liabilities, combined with the practical need to reassure transferees that they would suffer no pension loss upon becoming civil servants.

However, it wasn’t long before these concerns become self-evident. The depth of the problem, in there being a core difference in probation staffs’ terms and conditions from those of all other staff employed directly by NOMS or the MoJ, shouldn’t be under-estimated, especially with the MoJ ever more determined to align rehabilitation practice and delivery more closely across probation and prison settings.

The problem has come to ahead with the discovery by unions, of the widespread failure to collect or pay employee and employer contributions on potentially thousands of NPS staff pay since the new Single Operating Platform, or SOP was turned on in February 2017. The shortfall to the pension will be in the high £100,000’s. We also believe there are auto-enrolment issues in the NPS – staff transferring in from CRCs being wrongly enrolled in the civil service scheme then taken out of the pension system altogether after the error was identified, a criminal act from the Ministry of Justice! The damage to the credibility of the NPS as an employer at a point of huge recruitment difficulty could be impossible to calculate.

Additionally, we’ve had many grievances and personal cases brought by Napo members since the split when seeking to access elements informed by the LGPS – for example, the confusion about partial retirement rights, processes and obligations; application of the 85 Year Rule and discretions; or staff simply seeking to clarify their entitlements prior to retirement and being wrongly directed towards the civil service pension operator, MyServices and advice specifically relevant to the PCSPS.

Further confusion has arisen from the wider application of the PCSPS to non-pension specific related exit and compensation terms. The LGPS is a funded scheme and as such, without looking like Maxwell or Green, the scheme cannot be raided for redundancy or any other purpose beyond paying pensions (although there are LGPS rules which afford members being made redundant over the age of 55 rights to immediately access their pension at protected terms; as well as protected terms afforded under Ill-Health Early Retirement Rules within the scheme which differ in specific aspects from the PCSPS equivalents).However, the PCSPS is and always has been, a unfunded scheme and as such is freer of such restrictions. “Pension speak” is routinely used and applied interchangeably with language about compensation, redundancy etc.

This problem of different language has cropped up consistently and has been amplified by the Shared Service Centre model, (aka SSCL) which is at the heart of all HR advice and support to line managers. The SSCL concept only works where basic assumptions the computer makes are shared and common. When these basic assumptions differ then the systems literally crash, or worse, try to make up an answer that ends up multiplying the problem – a case of “artificial stupidity”. We have seen the SSCL struggle to cope with any differences of process, pay, leave, expenses, etc. However, whilst it is plausible, at least in theory, to try to address these via harmonising NPS staff onto common terms (and even potentially pay rates) that in some way mirror or align with the rest of the MOJ, we can never fully integrate and harmonise because of the pension conflicts. In short, this is a big problem that isn’t going away whilst staff are in separate pension schemes and staff will have to remain in separate schemes until HM Treasury picks up an extraordinary bill for liabilities.

The urgency of recognising this now is even greater as a result of the proposed new civil service compensation arrangements and caps. These will, following the PCS Court victory recently, now presumably need to be re-negotiated.

However, in light of that verdict, the MoJ will also need to decide if NPS staff are:
included in these terms – in which case Napo and Unison must be a party to all the relevant negotiations and we will have to pick through the pension issues in a collective setting or; specifically excluded from all caps and any relevant changes – in which case we will need to decide what aspects of the civil service code will need to be adapted to recognise this difference.

ALTERNATIVE

There is an alternative – namely, breaking the NPS out of the MoJ SSCL systems. If the NPS was to become a Next-Steps Agency with greater autonomy to operate independently of the failing SSCL contract then many of these issues would dissolve. A more independent status for the NPS would also boost morale and potentially boost the profile and status of probation at a critical time professionally, without compromising the accountability of staff as crown servants and/or civil servants.

Indeed, Cafcass already provide a model for this within the MoJ family, having become adopted cousins on transfer from the DfE in 2015. Cafcass staff are bound by the same professional standards and accountabilities as civil servants (indeed even more so given the license to practice that also applies to them as social workers and which is another good idea probation could borrow) but Cafcass staff are members of the LGPS and they have separate pay and grading structures.

Napo recognises that politically this will be a challenging proposition from the MoJ – given they are seeking to place rehabilitation principles at the heart of the HMPPS, and are proposing more NPS employees working alongside prison service colleagues, mentoring and coaching them towards more enlightened practice. However, our argument must be that this aspiration will be hindered not helped by the continuing fault-line at the heart of our members’ terms and conditions arising from the different pensions schemes.

We would argue that greater co-operation and assimilation is best served (and possibly can only be served) by recognising this difference and finding ways of safely bridging it. This can be done by a combination of three things that are supposedly being considered already, namely:

A. Probation pay reform, recognising the gap that has arisen as a result of failed pay progression and providing more equitable and competitive pay rates for probation staff to comparator workers, not just in the MoJ but across police, courts, social work and the private and/or third sectors – something which is currently happening anyway.

B. Introducing a unified national set of professional standards underpinned by a Rehabilitation License to Practice – this is also already under consideration and is in our view essential to ensuring common professional standards and expectations across diverse private and public sector providers. With common standards and personal accountability arising from the introduction of a licensing system then closer working collaboration and co-operation between staff employed by different bodies must become easier – as seen in health and social work.

C. A clear and agreed set of secondment arrangements allowing staff to move between bodies and establishments without upsetting their terms and conditions – this could also be the easiest way of ensuring frequent movement (for example between custodial and community settings) without hitting huge terms and conditions issues and the pension fault-line constantly being problematic.

In effect, A, B and C are already desperately needed. Meeting them against the context of establishing the NPS as a more independent body will be easier and more sustainable, as opposed to trying to meet them whilst seeking to cajole and persuade probation professionals to assimilate into the prison centric HMPPS. Re-constituting the NPS as a Next-Steps Agency, and stabilising the risks associated with the pension fault-line, is much safer and easier than trying to force the pension fault-line into the HMPPS.

Closer working and assimilation of probation staff into the HMPPS around an otherwise broadly similar set of professional standards, pay rates and terms and conditions is much safer with a semi-independent NPS, holding on to its LGPS membership, than trying to force a square and funded pension scheme into a round and unfunded hole.

Dean Rogers
Assistant General Secretary

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Rethink or Reboot?

Here we are in mid September and the political calendar dictates that it's party-political posturing time and we can shortly expect to be both entertained and possibly enlightened as to what our government have up their sleeves for us over the coming months. 

Of particular interest to us on here is what the hell the new Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister intends to do about the crisis in our criminal justice system and especially the prison and probation parts of it. Having said that, of course we are well-versed in knowing that the probation part will invariably be ignored for as long as possible. 

And so it comes to pass that last week the Tory thinktank Centre for Justice Policy published a report into CJS matters entitled What happened to the rehabilitation revolution? It's something we've been examining for some time and it should come as no surprise that this tory-inspired document spends a great deal of time on the prison part of the problem, but pretty much ignores the probation bit as too difficult without naming and shaming Chris Grayling as the undisputed architect of the present crisis. 

However worthy much of the report may be in both highlighting and suggesting ways forward in trying to sort the politically-motivated prison mess out, the tories just can't get their head around the fact that none of the grand plans can work because they fucked up the probation service and this aspect of things must be sorted asap, or the whole pack of cards will have no chance of standing up.

I've not bothered spending any time on the merits or otherwise of the report's suggestions for essentially trying to shrink the prison population because I'm too annoyed by the dismissive treatment of probation, which of course will serve as a strong hint of what's to come at the Tory Party conference in a few days. Chapter one sets the scene:-        

The recent history of disappointing progress

The Rehabilitation Revolution has been championed in one form or another by at least two former Home Secretaries, five past Secretaries of States for Justice and a previous Prime Minister. Yet for all the ministerial support for the basic thesis of offender rehabilitation the reality of this so-called revolution has been a disappointment. 

For more than a decade, informed opinion has broadly agreed that the rehabilitation of offenders needs to be at the heart of an effective criminal justice system. Embedding rehabilitation across the criminal justice system can provide the basis on which the root causes of offending can be tackled, helping to reduce the volume and severity of offending and ultimately improving lives and enabling a reduction in the size of the prison population.

The paradox of this consensus is that successive governments have failed to live up to the bold policy statements which so many have promised in the area of rehabilitative criminal justice reform. 

There has been no shortage of fine words: from the Labour Government’s White Paper A Five Year Strategy for Protecting the Public and Reducing Reoffending introduced in 2006 by Home Secretary Charles Clarke; through a compendium of speeches advocating offender rehabilitation from successive Conservative Justice Secretaries Kenneth Clarke (2010–12); Chris Grayling (2012–15); Michael Gove (2015–16) and Liz Truss (2016–17), to the speech given by David Cameron in February 2016. That was the first speech from a Prime Minister on prison and rehabilitative reform for some 20 years and yet there has been depressingly little in the way of tangible progress. 

Both the national reoffending rate and the size of the prison population have remained stubbornly high. While it is true that in recent years the custodial population has remained stable at just under 86,000, in April 2006 it was 77,000, and given recent increases it now approaches 90,000. This 12 percent rise has been accompanied by year-on-year falls in recorded crime. 

The prison estate itself has been changing – though arguably neither fast enough nor necessarily for the best. Her Majesty’s 136 prisons have now fallen to 117: cutting costs, but at the risk of exacerbating overcrowding. 

The recently opened HMP Berwyn, near Wrexham in North Wales, will offer modern facilities for more than 2,100 prisoners when completed – but the location and larger size of the prison means prisoners will be more distant from their families. For many this will make them inaccessible to their families and prove detrimental to effective rehabilitation, as highlighted in Lord Farmer’s recent and important review. 

In the prisons dangerous episodes have been getting worse. The latest statistics show that in the past year all records were broken in English and Welsh prisons by 40,161 selfharming incidents, 120 suicides, 224 other deaths in custody and 26,022 assaults of which 6,844 were on staff – 650 of them serious. 

So why have successive governments failed so consistently? Why has an apparent consensus stalled? It is worth recalling David Cameron’s speech in 2016 on prison and criminal justice reform, with the major commitments made in that address having mostly already been trailed in the speeches of the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and some of his predecessors: 

1. Making sure that prisons are places of positivity and reform designed to maximise the chances of people going straight when they come out. 
2. Addressing prisoners’ illiteracy, addiction and mental health problems. 
3. Revolutionising the prison education system. 
4. Measuring the performance of individual prisons. 
5. Giving prison governors new powers to set up therapeutic communities, drug free wings and abstinence-based treatment programmes that prisoners need. 
6. Delivering Problem Solving Courts in England and Wales. 
7. Helping prisoners to find work on release. 
8. Delivering lower re-offending rates. 

Many of these commitments are themselves born out of policy recommendations made by the Centre for Social Justice in such seminal reports as Locked Up Potential (2009), Green Paper on Criminal Justice and Addiction (2010), Meaningful Mentoring (2014) and Drugs in Prison (2015). 

Although some small steps towards this “Rehabilitation Revolution” agenda have been started, there has been little significant progress, and the most recent reports from both Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation paint a depressing picture. 

Last year’s changes in senior ministerial appointments, most notably the departures from office of both David Cameron as Prime Minister and Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, may have slowed these developments – as might the weakened minority government of Theresa May following the June 2017 general election. 

The Prime Minister and Justice Secretary – aside from the omission of the Prison and Courts Reform Bill from the most recent Queen’s Speech – have given no indication that offender rehabilitation should be dropped from the agenda of criminal justice reform. David Lidington, appointed by the Prime Minister as the new Justice Secretary in June 2017, published an open letter reiterating a commitment to reform and rehabilitation: 
The work to make our prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation is already under way – and it will continue unabated. 
Indeed the Prime Minister’s own continued references to social reform and tackling burning injustices speak to a desire to see a more equitable criminal justice system which will require the delivery of effective rehabilitation. 

That said, the revolutionary zeal for rehabilitation seems to have been replaced by an understandable, though myopic and almost exclusionary, emphasis on prison safety – understandable given the increases in prison suicide and assaults. 

While the current prison safety challenge may have taken the focus of Ministers and civil servants away from the underlying drive towards fundamental reform, the need for a Rehabilitation Revolution is as pressing today as it ever has been. The revolution is at risk of stalling before it has really begun – and the government must do more than recommit to the consensus that exists and think boldly on making rehabilitation a reality. 

One of the deeper causes of this failure is the widespread erosion of morale across all areas of the criminal justice system. Prison officers, probation officers and those working in the new CRCs have been adversely affected by the pressures that their respective organisations face. 

The morale issue is also being experienced in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), and the judiciary. The numbers of lay magistrates have plummeted; court closures are widespread; and recruitment to the lay magistracy has slowed almost to a halt, as their previous workload has been diverted to automatic fixed penalties. Both the full-time judiciary and the lay magistracy feel widely unappreciated by the government and by the community to whom they should be serving. 

So there are deep seated problems felt by both the sentenced and the sentencers. It is therefore timely to ask what has happened to the Rehabilitation Revolution and how might the role of sentencers evolve to aid rehabilitation, improve lives and boost public safety.

--oo00oo--

This extremely limp section is pretty much all the report has to say on the probation end of things. I guess the researchers either got bored or their political masters know it's too hot to handle right now:-

4.9 Only joint working between probation and sentencers will achieve the intended transformation and deliver effective supervision 

The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 split responsibility for supervising those on licence or on probation between the National Probation Service (“NPS”) (high and very high risk offenders) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (“CRCs”) (medium and low risk offenders). The split of responsibility is at best artificial, since the risk of harm is dynamic – it can and does fluctuate over time, depending on the changing circumstances of those under supervision. 

Since the 2014 Act came into force, morale within both NPS and the CRCs has plummeted. As we note in Section 4.5, recalls to custody have risen dramatically over time, with up to 55 percent being solely limited to ‘non-compliance’. 

The merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, in substitution for the discredited NOMS, provides the ideal opportunity to introduce the reforms we outline in this paper. 

Since CRCs took over the supervision of medium to low risk offenders in 2014 the results have, in the words of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, been reported as “mixed, significantly lower than that formerly seen in the Probation Trusts, and in some respects poor”. 

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, has grown increasingly critical of the CRC regime. Reporting in December 2016, on the largest of the 21 CRCs in England and Wales, the London Community Rehabilitation Company, which supervises over 28,000 offenders, the Chief Inspector of Probation said: 
Due to the poor performance of [this CRC] … services are now well below what people rightly expect, and the city is more at risk as a result. 
Among the serious faults identified in the report were a 20 percent shortage of staff, a heavy reliance on inexperienced agency recruits, an impossible overload of casework on individual officers (some of whom are overseeing 900 cases) and a failure to prioritise those offenders who posed most risk of harm to the public. 

In remarks to the All Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group on 28 February 2017, Dame Glenys Stacey made it clear that similar failings had been found in CRCs all over England and Wales. 

She highlighted the problem of CRCs being notified of offenders being released from prison only the day before they came out of the gate. This means many cases received little or no meaningful support. The most recent joint Prisons and Probation Inspectorate report in June 2017 on the provision of Through the Gate (TTG) services has declared that the work of CRCs “was not making any difference”, with Dame Glenys commenting:
The gap between the government’s aspirations and reality is so great. There is no real prospect that these services as they are will reduce reoffending. Instead there needs to be a renewed focus and effort. 
Financial problems, staff shortage and workload problems, staff inexperience and a widespread absence of mentoring seem to be endemic within the new CRC system – a position echoed in the TTG inspection. 

Reports of HM Inspectorate of Probation, while accepting that the performance of NPS had satisfactorily monitored the most dangerous offenders, pointed to similar shortcomings across the board in relation to the rehabilitative support NPS is required to offer. 

So widespread a failure of the regime of supervision, which NPS and the CRCs were designed to undertake, can only lead to increased reoffending – that means more crime, more victims and more suffering. 

We reiterate in this paper that partnership working, spearheaded by judicial leadership, as exemplified in the PSC approach, between sentencers and all arms of probation will deliver the transformation which the proposed legislation is intended to achieve; and will provide an effective blueprint for helping to enable the rehabilitation of those who are supervised on licence or on community sentences.

Recommendation: Changes to the probation landscape as part of Transforming Rehabilitation have only increased the need for effective supervision and for greater collaboration between sentencers and all arms of probation. The growth of the progressive monitoring of those under probation supervision through the PSC approach which we propose will incrementally bring this about.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Latest From Napo 163

Here's the latest blog post from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence:-

TUC lifts the lid higher on the Probation crisis

This week’s TUC in Brighton had a definite feel of renewed hope following the unexpected result of the General Election.

Two key issues were hot topics for debate. One was obviously the need to break the public sector pay cap (click here to read the statement from myself and Yvonne Pattison issued to all Napo members), the other being the impact of the current Brexit ‘negotiations’ for want of a better word, that are going on between the UK government and the EU. I intend to give this latter and very important issue some coverage in the next Napo Quarterly (NQ) and given the seriousness of developments, I would not be surprised to see an emergency motion appear from somewhere into our upcoming AGM.

The pay cap is an insult

On pay, it’s absolutely clear that the important work that Napo has been doing on re-modernising the probation pay system has now been relegated to the ‘Jam tomorrow’ section of the Ministers to-do list.

Instead, came a pathetic and patronising announcement from the self-styled ‘Workers Party’ about the need to do more for public service staff followed by insulting pay offers to different groups of workers with a clear intention to divide and rule.

As can be seen from the Napo statement above, I will shortly be setting out plans to the Officers Group for a series of ballots on pay across all of the 24 Employers where Napo are represented. These will be indicative ballots to reflect the strength of feeling amongst our members about the attitude of their employers to decent pay both now and going forward. The ballots will be specifically tailored to ensure that any formal process down the track will clearly spell out the particular trade dispute that we may have to register with the NPS, PBNI, Cafcass or a CRC.

More details will follow shortly, but if these plans are approved we could do with a big turn out and a big ‘yes’ to the prospect of industrial action should this become necessary.

Congress gives probation campaign a big boost

Amongst the myriad of other important topics that were discussed at Brighton were of course our two motions on the state of the probation service (Motion 68 and Motion 69)

Some members may have live streamed the debates but if not then here is what I said on Motion 69 and here is the Morning Star take on probation the same day

Both Yvonne and I engaged with a lot more delegation members than usual at the various fringes and networking events and received many compliments for the way in which we spelled out the problems in the few minutes that are afforded to all speakers.

The good run of media coverage that we have had in recent weeks has been added to by today’s excellent article by Hardeep Matharu a talented young journalist who has followed the probation crisis since Grayling caused it all in 2014. Lots more next week, have a great weekend.

--oo00oo--

The article referred to above:-

'PRIVATE COMPANIES RUNNING FAILING PROBATION SERVICES MUST BE MADE PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE'

Community Rehabilitation Companies supervising released prisoners should be stripped of their contracts, says probation workers' union boss

Public control and accountability must be restored to the failing privatised arm of probation if it is to stop putting the public at risk and reduce reoffending, the head of the service’s union is urging.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), which represents those working in the public and private sectors, said the time has come for the “chaos” engulfing the service to come under proper public scrutiny. Probation services – responsible for supervising offenders released from prison and those given community sentences – were public sector-run until 2014, when the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling introduced reforms to drive innovation and slash costs as part of the Government's austerity agenda.

The service was split into a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) supervising high-risk offenders, and 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) managing low- and medium-risk offenders. Three years on, the warnings voiced by staff and unions at the time about the scale and speed of the changes have, predictably, been borne out.

“The whole infrastructure has been disrupted," Mr Lawrence told me. "Some pockets of good practice exist, but it isn’t like it was and that raises questions about who is going to fix this broken system?” Both the NPS and CRCs are beset with problems. But, while the NPS is struggling with excessive caseloads without the staff to match, it is the situation of the CRCs that is most worrying.

In its latest report into services in Gloucestershire, the Chief Inspector of Probation said the work of the NPS was “reasonably good”, although “efforts to rehabilitate offenders often came to little or nothing”. More troubling: “the CRC’s work was so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters”. A similar picture has been painted in other reports, including one on services in north London which found the CRC’s work to be “poor… with the public exposed unduly to the risk of harm in some cases” and “little or no likely impact on reducing reoffending”.

Through the Gate, Chris Grayling's flagship policy aimed at reducing reoffending by helping prisoners to resettle into the community – a process that is meant to begin as soon as they step inside a jail – has failed to get off the ground. If it was removed tomorrow, "the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible", the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation said in a report published in June.

So, what is going wrong in the CRCs?

Unmanageable case-loads, probation officers rarely seeing offenders face-to-face, staff shortages, high staff sickness levels, lost contact with offenders and new recruits with no probation qualifications have all become commonplace. It is difficult for cases to be referred between the companies and the NPS is an offender's risk changes, as it often can. And with fewer low- and medium-risk cases referred to them than was projected, many are now operating at a loss. 

“So many staff cuts have taken place,” Mr Lawrence said. “The CRCs said to the MoJ ‘we can deliver that contract for that price with less staff than you’ve got’. But, they haven’t now got the trained, skilled staff in place to deliver the services expected of them."

“When you introduce new operational supervisory models that our members believe are unsafe and flawed, when people aren’t getting seen and some people are being seen every four weeks and some with telephone support, how is that supposed to work?" he added. “The low- and medium-risk cadre is one area where more serious offences tend to emerge from. We have seen a number of serious further offences – murders – in the last year or so, where people who should have been under supervision in these categories haven’t been supervised properly.”

The problems cannot be taken in isolation. Together with wider social issues, such as a lack of housing for ex-prisoners, the failures of probation are feeding into the prisons crisis. “For some people, recidivism is the only route to the next hot meal or dry bed and that’s a pretty sad indictment,” Mr Lawrence said. “When you look at that alongside the crisis in prisons – because there are too many people in prison for offences that arguably you could do something else with in terms of reparation – you’ve got a real pot-boiler.

“Mental health, drug abuse, alcohol problems are typical of the types of issues that people present with. You’re never going to solve all of society’s problems, but it’s a cycle – we have to do something in the prison estate for people in a way that gives them some chance of changing their lives when they emerge.” But, he added: “You could do quite a bit of good work in prisons and it would still fall down on the outside because there aren’t enough people with the skills or capacity in the CRCs to take the next steps. “The whole model on which the privatisation was predicated has failed and the Government is in such a state over it, the only option it seems to have is to plough more taxpayers’ cash in. It’s outrageous.”

The CRCs – run by companies including Sodexo, Interserve, MTC Novo and Working Links – have been given at least £22m of public money this year to help keep them afloat, while another £277m will be paid to them over the next four years. (The figures only came to light after Private Eye raked through the Official Journal of the European Union in which member states are required to publish such payments.) The bail-outs were alluded to in a parliamentary written statement by Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah in July, but no amounts were given.

A MoJ spokesman told me it had “taken steps to improve probation by amending CRC contracts to ensure providers can focus on delivery of core services". The press office did not confirm the £22m figure, but said the payments were still “expected to be below original forecasts”. The £277m was not a “an additional one-off cash payment”, it added, and “we are not paying these companies more than originally expected”. It changes the payment mechanism over the life of the contract to better reflect CRCs’ costs,” the press office said. “If volumes increased significantly, for example, some CRCs could end up being paid less in total than they would have been paid before this contract variation.”

Mr Lawrence believes the work of the failing CRCs has to be restored to public control.
“If it is clear that the CRC contract is failing and has been subject to one, two or more adverse reports from the Inspectorate then I’m in no doubt whatsoever that the minister should strip the contracts." With the NPS unlikely to be able to cope with the influx in its current state, the Napo boss said elected regional mayors and police and crime commissioners could take over the reins. He spoke to London Mayor Sadiq Khan about such a prospect after the inspection report into probation services in north London was published last year. The mayor was receptive. Publicly, he said he would “continue to make the case to the Government that responsibility for probation services in London should be devolved to City Hall”.

While City Hall could provide the probation services itself, taking expert advice on the best model of offender supervision to use, it could also commission a CRC to do so – but not to decide how they should be delivered, Mr Lawrence told me. “They should not run those contracts. You cannot expect people who are making a profit from justice to take a detached view about what is the right system to use [to supervise offenders].”

He believes the CRCs' lack of accountability could also be addressed in this way. “They’re only accountable to their contracting body, the MoJ, which means that there isn’t the level of scrutiny that there ought to be,” he said. “The Government holds the contracts and pumps more money in. Why? Because politically it’s a minefield. There’s not going to be one Government minister who’s going to stand up and say this has failed because, as soon as they take the contract from one, if one of these hands the keys back, it could have a domino effect. “Because the CRCs have concluded – and I speak to some of the owners quite regularly – that there’s no money in it for them. They’re not in this because they have a deep vocational perspective on rehabilitation, they’re in it so they can get their feet in the door for other contracts in government – employment, training etc. You hone it down so only a few contractors have got the expertise, no matter how badly they perform, then they get more money and they get more contracts. The public doesn’t get to see how this is run, where the money comes from, how they can justify giving these people that sort of cash. “And our members’ work is effectively subsidising these private companies.”

The MoJ press office told me that CRCs are accountable to HM Prison and Probation Service (an ‘executive agency’ of the MoJ) and “improvement plans can be triggered” if they fall below contracted performance levels. “CRCs can be required to pay financial penalties if performance targets are not met,” it added. Mr Lawrence said he understands that any penalties incurred by CRCs have been waived by the Government for this financial year. “It’s a system that needs to be pulled into accountability.”

The traditional role of the probation worker was to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ offenders through one-to-one contact and mentoring. Today, much of their time is spent directing offenders on to programmes considered relevant to addressing their behaviour, with form-filling replacing individualised support. “The ‘befriend and assist’ approach is what gave rise to ‘probation officers are just woolly social workers, care-free liberals who don’t get tough on the causes of crime’,” Mr Lawrence said. “But it was a more holistic approach where the majority of a practitioner’s time was spent 80% on actual supervision and 20% on bureaucracy. Now the position is pretty well reversed. It’s become a very much tick-box culture, a risk-oriented process and many officers don’t have enough time with their clients to actually spot the nuances and changes in behaviour.”

So, does probation need to return to its roots?

“We need to look at restorative justice as opposed to the old probation model going back and the punitive model now,” he said. The plight of victims has been overlooked and I would like to see a probation service that provides a greater level of victim support. “When I read accounts from offenders who have been able to turn their lives around, often it is having a degree of interface with the victim’s family or other people who have come from similar circumstances.” 

Mr Lawrence said work to reduce reoffending has to progress beyond a focus on the more punitive elements introduced in the 1990s, when a retributive element was introduced to community sentences. “What can we do to encourage people within the system to interface with communities in a far more positive way? Depending on the offence and risk, there’s got to be some reparation so I don’t knock the idea that people pick up the dog’s turd or clear the parks. That’s part of it, but it can’t be all of it. It’s about making a difference. It has to go beyond the punitive.

“We’ve got to start taking rehabilitation seriously. Otherwise this crisis in our prisons will be in total meltdown in five, ten years and the only solution will be for the Government to build titan prisons like they do in America. Let’s open this up and get a bigger public debate going about what the taxpayer wants from its justice system.”

Hardeep Matharu

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Latest From Napo 162

Mailout to all members yesterday:-

Dear member

At yesterday’s debate at the Trades Union Congress in Brighton where Yvonne Pattison and Ian Lawrence are representing Napo, we voted in favour of motions calling for affiliate trade unions to support the campaign to break the public sector pay cap. This campaign will be officially launched on 17th October with regional and London rallies and a Parliamentary Lobby. (Further details to follow).

More pay for Police and Prison Officers but what about Probation and Family Court staff?

Napo members across all of the 24 employers where Napo is recognised will have reacted with anger at yesterday’s news of this minority government’s derisory offer to lift the pay cap in respect of Police and Prison Officers which their respective union leaders have described as an insult.

Our members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are among the millions of public service workers who have suffered from the austerity driven pay policy that has been in place since 2010 which in turn has seriously devalued your pay and your standard of living. This has heaped further pressure on our members who, despite having different employers, have faced the common problems of workloads, increased stress and inept political leadership from a government that simply does not understand the value of the vital contribution that our members make to society.

Officer Group to consider a recommendation to ballot members.

In light of the above developments Yvonne and I will be urgently reporting the outcomes of the TUC debates on pay to Napo’s Officer Group. We can also report that both of our motions on the crisis in Probation were unanimously carried. We will also be making a firm recommendation that Napo ballots our membership on a consultative basis to explore your willingness to take industrial action in support of the TUC Campaign to break the Public Sector Pay Cap. Subject to that recommendation being agreed, more information will be issued to our members shortly.

Standing together

A major theme at the TUC this week has been the need for working people across Britain to stand together in the face of increasing attacks on their pay, terms and conditions and the pay cap policy which is designed to set particular groups of public service workers against others. We believe that Napo should have no truck with such clearly divisive strategies and that all public service workers should receive a decent pay rise. This makes it vital for all Napo members to seriously consider what may be needed in order for your union to play its part in a progressive campaign of opposition against this insidious policy.

Ask someone to join Napo today

Whether you work in the NPS, a CRC, Cafcass or Probation Board Northern Ireland, Napo is working every day to help defend our members against the impact of regressive policies on pay and attempts by employers to get more from you while they give you less. Please offer a copy of this statement to a colleague who you may know who is not currently a Napo member.

Together we are stronger.

Ian Lawrence              Yvonne Pattison
General Secretary       Napo Co-Chair

Monday, 11 September 2017

CRC Dispute Latest 25

Once again, thanks to the Napo member for forwarding the latest communication relating to the on-going dispute with Working Links:-

To J Wiseman Ceo DDCCRC
SSW Branch Correspondence.

Date 07 September 2017

Dear John

In our recent branch meeting and from wider discussions with NAPO members there have been some concerns raised that leads to this letter. It is important to formally place on record NAPO SSW members’ concerns. Despite the ongoing differences and issues, we remain in dispute over some of the matters noted below. The list is not exhaustive:-

  • Issues arising from the trapped staff. 
  • The failure to observe agreed and contractual obligations. 
  • Offering inappropriate and unfair terms in order to reduce staff by voluntary severance arrangements.
  • The continued failure to implement a realistic workload weighting tool in line with the national and required Workloads employee care agreements. 
  • Failure to harmonise all staff policies upwards regionally and locally. The dispute continues over implementation of the staff transfer arrangements.
  • The cuts to staffing numbers and the continued Trade Union objections to your working model which was claimed to be safe and fit for purpose by your in house company Innovation Wessex team. 
  • Lack of proper staff surveys in both well being and health and safety as requested by the joint trade unions. 
  • The attempts to vary terms and jobs without meaningful consultation and formal agreements. 
  • The continued attempts to reduce staff without their entitlements or agreed procedures, despite recent significant additional public funding of several millions of pounds. 
  • The lack of understanding the national protections of staff transfer arrangements for the life of the contract. 
  • The NNC collective terms and recognition agreements. 
  • The attempts to vary terms of reference and undermine existing entitlements. 
  • Failure to engage in meaningful consultation
  • Failure to provide financial accounts, outcomes of alleged staff surveys, and necessary document materials. 
The SSW branch does not speak for the Gloucestershire area. However, what cannot be ignored is the incredibly damning report released from the HMIP. This report partly covers the DDC area. The model in BGSW is the same in DDC and you have continued an agenda to merge the areas despite the CRCs supposedly being separate entities. Ian Lawrence NAPO General Secretary, and the wider Unions, will be preparing a detailed response to the issues which the report illustrates. No doubt there will be a range of issues that will need further examination. The indications from the report make it clear the Working Links model and what has been implemented is neither fit for purpose and is just not working. This exposes the public to greater risk of harm.

The NAPO branch membership want questions raised as to what the MOJ contract managers are actually doing to have not realised the absolute failures of the working links model in the Gloucester area? What, if anything, did they know about such a situation developing from their contract management assessments? How have their observations and auditing missed such important detail in the first place and what in fact have they been measuring?

NAPO locally and nationally have maintained the current dispute and warned of the obvious failures. These were clear to us that they were inevitable, yet you and your whole team denied any likelihood of failure. You will recall the JNCC meeting NAPO criticized the BRAG introduction and from which your working document had completely omitted to describe the process of Amber caseload management. It was astonishing to us that you had not noticed this until the trade union sides pointed it out.

The Inspection looks at the same operational model that was also imposed within the DDC area. The Union branches have continued to oppose the model. To this date we have still not received the working proposals. Napo are seeking to ensure you are prompted to look beyond the response of the Working Links Spokesperson. These was not a properly constructed response that should have looked to reassure the public and staff in all Working Links contracted areas. We want to encourage you to formulate an action plan of remedial steps and engage appropriately skilled staff and ensure they are equipped and qualified and that support staff are properly and critically trained.

Staff in Gloucester will be concerned in continuing in the current working model, and of those in DDC where the implications impact negatively on our members morale, which is at an incredible low point given the feedback we have been receiving. The report describes high staff sickness absence across all grades. The differentials of staff on reduced terms have led to a two tier working arrangement for new staff on poorer terms. You will be aware as we are of the number of POs leaving for the NPS from the CRCs.

I appreciate you will not welcome any further criticism, however the report is of serious concern to anyone who reads it, especially for those within criminal justice services. Working Links and Aurelius will find the issue impossible to defend with any credibility. The way they have set about deconstructing what was an outstanding performing probation area when we were a trust, under proper care of the public sector ethos. NAPO SSW Branch remain concerned about your continued race to the bottom and must not go unchecked. We require that all remaining working links Aurelius contract areas are inspected to ensure this territory and the model is thoroughly assessed to avoid any further risks to the public and further damage of reputation of the good intention of probation work.

While the authors of the report will have already considered this aspect, we shall call on you as the responsible officer and our General Secretary to invite such an inspection.

Dino Peros Chair Napo SSW Branch
Denice James JNCC Rep

CC Ian Lawrence NAPO General Secretary

All NAPO Members.
Unison.

--oo00oo--

In conjunction with the above, I've included the following from early August that somehow was missed in amongst blog posts on a number of other issues:- 

To John Wiseman Re - Open letter

Hi!

As usual we seem to be at odds with our perspectives about where we are in the process of the implementation of the operational model.

In reference to your open letter about Denice's email to Napo South Western branch members, I feel it is necessary to inform you that I do not agree with everything you have said. I have confirmed my support to Denice about her communications which, in my view, have only been realistic and context based during the ongoing period of the dispute. For your information, prior to drafting this email I have consulted the members of Napo Western branch, who wish to convey that they support South Western branch and exec.

Napo Western Branch members are disappointed that CRC senior management are arranging local meetings in relation to the operational model implementation, when Working Links and the CRC's have yet to resolve the dispute. I have recently explained to the various parties why it is inappropriate that JNCC reps attend these meetings. I have also stated that our absence should not be marked as disinterest of very important matters which should be negotiated through the dispute/ACAS meetings, or that our lack of comments on the matters be seen as reason to for the CRC and Working Links to carry on regardless.

In conjunction to this I have to re-iterate the fact that sending JNCC reps important documents at short notice is not acceptable. In this case I am referring to the 2 week time slot the union reps were given to respond to the Workload Management Indicator documents. This was hardly sufficient time for the reps to view the contents and give a professional opinion, due to the fact that there was no WLM tool in use at the time, the JNCC reps are practitioners and our caseloads are ever increasing. The latter is my valid reason for not responding sooner as the workload indicator, which the joint unions have not agreed to, fails to represent the work load weighting of our caseloads and duties.

Kind regards


Ceris Handley PSO
Napo Western Branch Chair
JNCC rep
Member rep
Vice Chair of The Forum and PSO rep

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Latest From Napo 161

Here we have the latest blog post from the Napo General Secretary:-

Probation campaign focuses on accountability

The Trade Union Congress gets underway in Brighton on Sunday and Napo has two keynote motions which will be up for debate on Tuesday morning. We always have two motions at the TUC and they always get carried; but I have been doing some work with the senior TUC leadership to try and secure a bit more than the usual ‘supported by the General Council’ statement that precedes the vote by Congress.

It will be for Frances O’Grady to decide whether or not she will oblige here, but in a week where the issue of greater accountability has loomed large in all sorts of political areas then I am hopeful. The reason being that the debate on the future of probation and for that matter how things got to where they are now, will of course continue. But with an increasing number of politicians and elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) showing an interest in what is going on in their patch (see last week’s Blog and the BBC link for an example) it’s as good a time as any to argue that the track record of the CRC providers (not just the dreadful Working Links efforts that featured last week) must be more transparent to the public than is currently the case.

Accountability is an important facet of a democratic society, but in terms of the post-TR landscape it’s in pretty short supply. For beyond the internal MoJ/HMPPS mechanisms that are supposed to reassure the public that robust performance measures are in place to keep poorly performing contractors in line and that due reparation (service credits) is made to the contracting body when they don’t meet expectations, the curtain marked transparency is a heavy one to lift.

Aside from our work on this aspect of TR, the HM Probation Inspectorate is about the only other public body who has been able to step under that curtain and I eagerly await the outcome of their further work especially in other parts of the Working Links CRC estate and London, the latter of which is a follow up to the disastrous report on the MTC Novo - owned CRC which featured 9 months ago.

So the addresses that Yvonne and I are due to deliver in moving motions 68 and 69 (reports to follow) will urge the TUC to show a greater willingness to engage with the debate that is quickly developing. With information reaching me that PCCs are queuing up to see Ministers to press the point about the lack of accountability then perhaps Frances will be able to find some time to help us press our case in high circles.

What is actually going on in the Working Links CRCs?

Whilst on the hot topic of accountability, here is a letter that I have sent across to senior HMPPS management as a follow up to the publication of the HMI Probation report into service provision in Gloucester.

Jim Barton, Executive Director
Community Interventions Directorate
Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

7th September 2017

Dear Jim

HMI Probation report - Gloucestershire

Following our brief discussion yesterday I am writing to request that Napo and the Probation Unions be afforded an opportunity to meet with you, together with representatives of your CRC Contractors Aurelius/Working Links, your contract managers and the NPS Divisional Director following the publication of the above report.

You will I am sure, appreciate the serious concerns that I have been expressing in recent media coverage and my written communications to Napo members about the report’s conclusions. Our current view is that serious consideration must be given as to whether this provider is fit to continue with the management of probation services not only within the BGSW CRC but also the two other parts of their contract package.

This request has been made on the basis that a similar opportunity was afforded to the trade unions immediately after the publication of the HMI Probation report into service provision in Greater London where, with Sonia Crozier’s assistance, we were able to have some constructive dialogue about the remedial steps that were to be put in place as a result.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and Annoesjka Valent will be pleased to try and co-ordinate diaries at this end.

Yours etc.

PAYE and Pension Contributions in the NPS: Update for members issued earlier today

On 7th September Representatives from Napo, Unison and the GMB met with NPS senior management and discussed the ongoing problems with SSCL and the collection of pension contributions, which in turn impacts on individual pay and tax rates.

Despite being made aware of these specific failings more than a month ago the unions were disappointed but not shocked that the NPS were still not able to quantify the numbers impacted and the scale of the shortfall in contributions. Indeed, whilst seeking to offer assurances that the problems were being fixed, no one from the NPS was able to explain how or offer any assurances that all or any of these failings would not happen again.

They did say that new P60's for 2016-17 will be sent to impacted staff although these will reflect the incorrect pension contributions. This will affect anyone who has not had their full contributions collected who are due to retire or anyone who leaves the NPS between 1st February and the issues being rectified. It could also have marginal impacts on people's tax where they are on marginal tax rates (ie near a tax band or child benefit tax threshold). Napo is seeking advice in this regard but members in this position should notify the Employer, specifically on this point immediately, copying in the GMPF. All members are urged to check whether their LGPS contributions have been missed by the NPS, using our previous guidance.

Other payments

The employer confirmed that unspecified numbers of staff who had been in receipt of unsocial hours payments, sick pay or maternity leave had also been impacted but they could not confirm if, as we suspect, the problems extends to other groups also listed in our last advice. Nor could they confirm that all new starters have been auto-enrolled into the local government t pension scheme, in accordance with their legal obligations.

Unbelievably, the NPS Representatives were unaware that, whilst these issues had been under investigation, some members had been written to and told that pay protection afforded under E3 arrangements was deemed to be non-pensionable. The unions do not accept this premise but had not even been informed of this view or told that these letters would be issued to members. That the senior NPS HR team had no knowledge of who or how or why these letters had been authorised for issue, was the clearest sign yet of the continuing lack of control and order in their systems. The unions intend to formally ask for these letters to be immediately retracted until an explanation is presented.

Napo response

Accordingly, it is evident that the NPS does not have control of its PAYE and pension systems. Napo has raised this already at the highest levels - directly with the Pension Ombudsman and Ministers. We are now seeking further advice as to how we should advise members in challenging individual problems. We will also be considering whether there are collective actions that could help bring about an urgent and credible solution.

Our priorities will continue to be:

  1. Doing everything we can to make sure the problems are addressed centrally and the threat of further failures is neutralisied. Napo believes this can only be guaranteed by unpicking the systems supporting NPS pay, pension and HR advice from the rest of the MoJ.
  2. Maintaining that no member should suffer any further stress and detriment worrying about having to make up many months of pension contributions which the employer has not deducted, or any related tax liabilities. The scheme established when the NPS and CRC's were created to address maladministration of pension schemes should be invoked, however politically embarrassing that is for the MoJ.
  3. Making sure the credibility and sustainability of the pension scheme (LGPS) is not undermined any further by the incompetence of the NPS / SSCL systems - including an assurance that hat all staff are correctly auto-enrolled.
The NPS have, at least to union Representatives, expressed their anxiousness and concern about the scale of the failings and the urgent need to address them. Our view is that at least amongst those employed to directly support the NPS, this is genuine. This however only amplifies our concern that they have demonstrated no capacity to get the problems under control and address them, highlighted by their continued failure to know what advice was being sent to their staff in their name. We are less convinced that senior MoJ officials are prioritising and addressing these failings, against the need to cover their part in their creation and the costs to the MoJ of addressing them fairly.

Accordingly, all members are urged to:

  1. Revisit our previous guidance and check their August and September pay statements accordingly - then follow this advice where needed.
  2. Look out for further Napo advice and information on these failings.
  3. Talk to colleagues who may not be in Napo urging them to join so that we can advise and represent them if required.
AGM Motions you get to choose what should be debated

Transparency and accountability are also hallmarks of Napo’s work for, and with, its members. A great example is the facility for members to prioritise which of the 34 motions and 2 constitutional amendments should be tabled for debate at the Nottingham AGM. So whether you are going or whether you are not, (although I hope that you are) here is the link where you can decide.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Something A Little Different

Every now and then this blog goes off piste and as it happens tomorrow I'm having another short sojourn to le continent where internet access may be somewhat restricted. Whatever, I know you will all keep things ticking over and your eyes peeled for any relevant news and developments. 

So, a guy called Peter Reynolds recently resigned from the Tory Party. Enjoy:-

My Resignation From The Conservative Party

Dear Chris,

After the disastrous handling of the EU referendum result, the ludicrous decision to appoint one of the most incompetent and out-of-touch ministers as prime minister and her farcical election performance, I have been wrestling for some time as to whether to renew my membership. The Conservative Party is now far divorced from its fundamental principles of liberty and small government and Mrs May is an authoritarian bigot stuck in some 1950s delusion of what Britain is today.

Following her ridiculous announcement last night that she intends to stay on as leader I am now tendering my resignation forthwith. She has no mandate, no respect and in my view is held in utter contempt throughout the country. It is also self-evident that all other minsters are too weak, cowardly and neurotic about their own jobs to do anything to stop her.

Mrs May failed consistently over six years at the Home Office. She is a Remainer and should never have been permitted to lead the party or the country after the referendum result. Mrs May and all ministers failed entirely to plan for a leave vote and they have dithered, waffled, dodged and tripped up again and again, achieving absolutely nothing in the period since the result.

Brexit was a huge opportunity for the UK but the Conservative Party has wrecked it and damaged Britain irreparably in the process. If I had my way Mrs May would be led in chains out of Downing Street and placed in stocks in Parliament Square to endure the humiliation she so richly deserves.

I refer you to my article ‘Has There Ever Been A Worse UK Government Than This?’ which has produced the biggest response to anything I have ever written about politics in more than 30 years of journalism. It well sums up the tragic and diminished state in which she leaves our country.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Reynolds
August 31, 2017

Has There Ever Been A Worse UK Government Than This?

I am a member of the Conservative Party – just. My annual subscription is due and I feel physically sick at the prospect of doing anything that is supportive of the appalling collection of third and fourth rates that presently sit round the cabinet table.
The Conservative Party has Lost Its Way. We Need To Get Back To Being Tories.

We need to re-focus on our fundamental principles: individual liberty, individual responsibility, small government, free markets, evidence-based policy and a benevolent, responsible, one-nation approach.

Let’s face it, we’ve had a privileged toff, little more than a ponce on the nation, who from his position of wealth found it very easy to impose austerity on people with whom he was totally out-of-touch. Throughout his political career he vacillated and dithered on policy because he has no principles except self-advancement. Now we have some fake Tory, an authoritarian bureaucrat with big government, nanny state instincts, daughter of a high Anglican priest stuck in some 195os delusion of what Britain is today.

Meanwhile, a socialist activist but a man with integrity, courage and vision has stolen our place. Jeremy Corbyn provides more leadership in the UK than the entire Conservative cabinet put together. He was magnificent at Glastonbury, seizing the hearts and minds of not just the young but the young at heart – seizing the future! Where is the Tory alternative? There is great excitement, belief and enthusiasm for Brexit, 17.4 million people voted for it! Where is the Conservative spokesperson passionately declaiming this? The party has been hijacked by Remainers, determined to undermine the referendum result, interested only in the ambitions and concerns of the Westminster Elite.

When I try to talk to my MP, Sir Oliver Letwin, formerly number three in Cameron’s cabinet, although I am talking to someone a few months younger than me, I feel I am talking to my father’s generation – and to someone particularly old-fashioned and out-of-touch. My local Conservative Party branch, charming though many of the members are, is like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, as disconnected from the rest of the UK as Cameron is from anyone on less than £250k per annum. At 59, I’m a youngster.

It’s outrageous really that my party has got itself into such a state with years of weak opposition, popular support for non-socialist policies and, until Corbyn, an absence of effective alternative leadership. It’s nothing less than disastrous and unless we change now we are doomed. The membership is old and dying. If we don’t get a grip within five years we will be gone forever.

A Perfect Storm Of Failure, Corruption And Arrogance

I’ve been fascinated by and active in politics since the late 1970s. Never in my lifetime have I seen such a combination of mistakes and scandalous cock-ups. Brexit has been sabotaged by dithering and delay – and I’m quite ready to believe this is a calculated deceit. With the BBC, the bankers and the Twitterati renewing Project Fear on a daily basis, is it any wonder that the going is tough? Cameron resigned because he said we needed a Leave supporter to take charge but instead we have a Remainer, one of the worst performing government ministers ever. How, after six years of persistent failure at the Home Office, she became PM is beyond belief but even more incredible is that after her terrible election performance she is still in No.10. It is ridiculous!

The failures are all too easy to see but let’s list them to be certain that the huge scale of this crisis is understood.

Brexit – Total failure to plan, perhaps deliberately, best illustrated by the absurd spectacle, just last month, of the Home Office commissioning analysis of the economic and social contributions and costs of EU citizens in Britain. Surely something that should have been done years ago? Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have both proved themselves to be lacking in courage and leadership skills. The bumptious fool Dr Liam Fox, who does seem to stick to his principles on Brexit, shames us by his foreign adventures, recently praising the murdering thug President Duterte of the Philippines as having ‘shared values’ with Britain.

NHS – Persistent deceit from ministers, including the utterly in-credible Jeremy Hunt, about how much money in real terms the health service is receiving. Scandalous failure to keep multiple promises about mental health having parity with physical health.

Democracy – The UK’s system of government is now a joke compared to other modern democracies. Our electoral system is primitive. Conservative and Labour parties conspire to keep the system as it is because it keeps them both in power. It is obvious that we should be moving towards some form of proportional representation, online voting and a radical shake-up of the House of Lords. MPs also need to be much more accountable. The terrible murder of Jo Cox has let too many of them off the hook that the expenses scandal put them on. Recently they have been whining about the abuse they get online. In general they deserve it for the terrible job they are doing. Also, they get protection from the police for such abuse. The police are useless when it’s a member of the public under attack. We need a job description for MPs, rights for constituents and a complaints procedure with teeth.

Social policy – I am ashamed at how Conservative ministers in reality are indistinguishable from the populist caricature of the ‘arrogant, uncaring, effing Tories’. The Grenfell Tower tragedy encapsulates everything that is wrong with the high-handed view that they take of the people who pay their wages.

Justice – After food, shelter and health what is more important than justice? The destruction of legal aid is one of the most dreadful developments in my lifetime. All governments delight in making more and more law but what use is it if it cannot be enforced? There is no justice if it is not available to everyone. I am delighted at the Supreme Court’s ruling that makes legal aid available once again for employment tribunals Without it employment law was literally useless and thousands have been deprived of their rights. And for his disastrous, destructive, incompetent and thoroughly nasty attitude the man who defines injustice in modern Britain is Chris Grayling. No other minster has more disgraced our party. He is unfit to be in government and why he remains anywhere near ministerial office is unbelievable. No one individual better epitomises the nasty, arrogant, incompetent Tory.

Prisons – There is no greater truth than that in a free society we are defined by how we treat those we send to jail. This is a terrible condemnation of Britain. Our prison system is a production line for turning petty criminals into alienated, aggressive, violent repeat offenders. There is no one who deserves the additional punishments we impose on top of deprivation of liberty. I would make an exception for Chris Grayling who really should be made to experience a taste of his own medicine. The Netherlands is closing prisons because it doesn’t send enough people to jail. We should swallow our pride and copy their system exactly.

Technology – As the nation that has led the world in virtually all new technologies, we are now falling a long way behind. The government has failed miserably to give enough priority to high speed internet. We will never catch up now and our children and our businesses are forever disadvantaged. Progress is hampered in development of new energy sources, transport and infrastructure by bureaucracy, endless bickering between special interest groups and weak strategic management. The EU has magnified all these problems and prevented progress in GM foods and other technologies that are essential to our future.

Transport – With Chris Grayling at the helm and the farce that is HS2, there is no hope for a sensible transport strategy. I simply don’t buy the argument that a slightly faster journey time between north and south will do anything to create a better future. Train fares are ludicrously high. The conditions commuters are expected to travel under are ridiculous. The Southern Rail scandal is a microcosm of government incompetence and inaction. It should have been re-nationalised at least a year ago and there should be massive fines and penalties on those responsible for the chaos, including individuals. I see no conflict with Conservative principles in re-nationalising the whole network. The mess that has prevailed since privatisation could not be any worse and compare us with railway networks and service on the continent for a true picture of our national shame and decay.

Environment – Technology and transport converge with environmental policy and this is a difficult, challenging area of policy. What we need is strong leadership – no, not the empty claims of Mrs May but the real leadership of Mrs Thatcher. Even the despicable Tony Blair showed more leadership than we have had from any current Conservative politician. We need to take bold decisions and act on them. Ecology and controlling pollution must be a real priority but we must not be distracted by the greeny loons and their endless prevarication and delays. I have no objection to fracking as long as it is strictly regulated and in recent visits to Ireland I have seen how forests of wind turbines do not destroy wonderful countryside and can have their own beauty, just as we now revere Victorian aqueducts and civil engineering. Most of all though we should racing ahead with tidal power. As an island it has to be our future and its potential is unlimited.

Northern Ireland – I hope one of the by-products of Brexit will be a united Ireland. There is no longer a real majority of unionists in the six counties and it only ever existed because of immigrants from Scotland. The UK’s shameful history in Ireland places a heavy obligation on us. We are one and the same people and the damage inflicted by the English Parliament on our neighbours must be put right. We are far closer to the Irish than we are to the French, the Dutch or the Belgians. As independent nations, with Ulster properly restored, we could be closer than ever and if Ireland wishes to remain in the EU, we should respect that.

Drugs Policy – No policy better demonstrates the incompetence, prejudice, cowardice and corruption of government ministers from all parties. Deaths from drug overdose have reached an all time high. There has been an explosion in highly toxic new psychoactive substances and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 has increased harms, deaths, associated crime and potency, exactly as was predicted, warnings the government chose to ignore. The government has refused to consider or take any expert advice on introducing legal access to medical cannabis, something that virtually all other modern democracies are moving forward on. Its continuing policy on cannabis defies scientific evidence and real-life experience from places where reform has been implemented. It also supports the criminal market, encourages street dealing, dangerous hidden cannabis farms and the production of poor quality, low-CBD, so-called ‘skunk’ cannabis.

Defence – A catalogue of cock-ups, dullards in charge and weak, indecisive leadership. In my view we should cancel the renewal of Trident and spend more on conventional weapons and defence measures which we may actually have to use. We should retain some battlefield nuclear weapons but invest more in our soldiers and their technology. We should also look after them far better when they leave the service

Foreign Affairs – The UK is the world superpower in ‘soft power’. Our culture, language, history give us more influence than any other nation and we should be proud to exercise it. We should have the courage to stand for our principles, independently of the USA and Europe. The £12 billion we give in international aid is far too much when there is real poverty at home but even if we halved the present budget we would still lead the world. We are responsible for the injustice perpetrated on the Palestinian people when we facilitated the seizure of their land in the 1940s. We should be standing up to Israel which has become an out-of-control monster. We created it and we must take responsibility for bringing it to order and helping it to live alongside its neighbours respectfully. Its conduct is unacceptable and we should be pursuing war crimes prosecutions against Netanyahu and many of his cronies.

Housing – The housing crisis needs a courageous, radical solution, not the pathetic, sticking plaster gimmicks and gestures that is all we have had for 50 years. Massive investment in social housing would create jobs and boost the economy all round. We shouldn’t hesitate. We shouldn’t fear a dramatic fall in house prices caused by massive extra supply. We have to get real and government must stop shirking its responsibility for a strategic role that only it can fill.

I have not yet decided whether I shall renew my membership. I’m not even sure if there is any future in the UK for me. Brexit was a great opportunity which has been sabotaged, perhaps fatally. Britain may well become a tourist destination, fascinating for the way such a small nation led the world for centuries. We are being led by weak, ineffectual, self-serving, out-of-touch and out-of date politicians. As the Conservative Party is dying, it is dragging Britain down with it.


Peter Reynolds
August 6, 2017

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Why I Have Joined The Conservative Party

I would vote against Theresa May. She would be a disaster for Britain and for the Tory Party. Sadly, I will not have been a member long enough to vote in the leadership election.

Now, more than ever, we need to walk towards the enemy, not run away. The entrenched, bigoted, old-fashioned, anti-evidence faction of the Conservative Party, of which Theresa May is part, is the enemy of Britain and the enemy of a progressive, enlightened society. I will work from within the Tory Party to campaign for more rational, reasonable and responsible policies. We need to tackle the future head on and only from within the Conservative Party is there any realistic possibility of having meaningful influence.

I resigned from the Liberal Democrats shortly before the EU referendum because I believe its support for the remain campaign was a betrayal of fundamental values of liberalism and democracy. Support for the unelected, unaccountable oligarchs of the EU is the nemesis of the Liberal Democrats and Tim Farron’s subsequent hate speech, branding all who voted leave as ‘intolerant, closed-hearted, pessimistic and inward looking’ has moved his party’s talent beyond self-harm to political suicide.

Clearly, in my special interest area of drugs policy and particularly medicinal cannabis, the Conservatives, and particularly Ms May, have not been our allies. Yet another reason why I, and others, must now grit our teeth and get involved with the Tories. We will make no progress unless we do. We have to appeal to the libertarians, to those who value personal liberty and who believe in evidence-based policy, not prejudice.

The response of both remainers and the left to the Brexit vote has been appalling. Aside from Tim Farron’s conduct, the chattering classes, particularly the soft left which dominates the drugs policy debate, has been defeatist, bitter and negative. It will spend its time, as it always does, in endless circular discussions talking amongst itself, the same old faces, the same old ideas. Someone needs to take the fight to where the real battle is.

I recognise that my decision to join the Tories will be difficult for many to understand. It will not be an easy path but the drugs policy and cannabis campaign needs someone to lead it into battle, to take on the establishment, to engage with and change minds.

The Labour Party is unelectable and if it survives at all, it will never see power again for many years. All other parties are irrelevant. There is no other route to power in the UK except through the Conservative Party.

Peter Reynolds
June 30, 2016

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Peter Reynolds is a writer, communications advisor and proud Welshman. He lives in the picturesque village of Sutton Poyntz just a couple of miles to the north east of Weymouth, sandwiched between tall moorland hills and the rugged cliffs of the Jurassic Coast.

After “dropping out” from life as a hippy musician, Peter experimented with direct sales and the motor trade before training as a copywriter and eventually making it to the top of his profession as a creative director with Saatchi & Saatchi. Along the way he developed special expertise in technology and healthcare working with clients such as IBM, Hewlett Packard, GSK and the Department of Health. He also worked as a freelance journalist and had a weekly column in The Independent based on the simple idea of riding a bike but ranging across subjects such as politics, sport, technology and the media.

More recently he has worked as a consultant to organisations such as Nokia, the British Army and Pinewood Studios. He now writes for a wide range of publications on subjects as diverse as technology, politics, healthcare, medicine and thecountryside. He is presently writing his third novel.

Peter has been a cannabis campaigner for more than 30 years. In February 2011 he was elected leader of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform, the UK’s largest drugs policy reform group.